The Ibn ‘Arabi effect

Dear T,

They left as night let its curtains down in folds. – Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi

I am neither an authority on, nor a partisan of, Camatte’s worldview and am thus unable to confidently recommend to you one of his works above the others. In my life, I have found that I am unable to perform either the role of teacher or student and so habitually avoid all approximates of such relations. Equally, as I do not know what questions you wish to ask in your readings of these, or any other works, I cannot even make a guess as to how to best inform your curiosity.

Instead, and I admit this is quite unlooked for, I am able to discuss other more immediate but still related matters. The question I wish to raise with you is the nature of the breaking away of individuals from the elective relations which, to a great extent, have formed their characters. The reason I have discussed Camatte here, and elsewhere, is that he fits this model very well, he is the most readily recognisable and accessible embodiment of the tendency to depart from our milieu on a personal voyage. In fact, I am almost tempted to term this tendency, ‘the Camatte effect’ but it seems a little unfair to utilise the name of someone still living for such purposes… for want of a more apt term, I have therefore settled on the almost arbitrary, ‘The Ibn ‘Arabi effect’ as he is an exemplary figure who voyaged spiritually and then was unable to return home – he is a person who found himself in a different place.

Dear T,

They left as night let its curtains down in folds. – Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi

I am neither an authority on, nor a partisan of, Camatte’s worldview and am thus unable to confidently recommend to you one of his works above the others. In my life, I have found that I am unable to perform either the role of teacher or student and so habitually avoid all approximates of such relations. Equally, as I do not know what questions you wish to ask in your readings of these, or any other works, I cannot even make a guess as to how to best inform your curiosity.

Instead, and I admit this is quite unlooked for, I am able to discuss other more immediate but still related matters. The question I wish to raise with you is the nature of the breaking away of individuals from the elective relations which, to a great extent, have formed their characters. The reason I have discussed Camatte here, and elsewhere, is that he fits this model very well, he is the most readily recognisable and accessible embodiment of the tendency to depart from our milieu on a personal voyage. In fact, I am almost tempted to term this tendency, ‘the Camatte effect’ but it seems a little unfair to utilise the name of someone still living for such purposes… for want of a more apt term, I have therefore settled on the almost arbitrary, ‘The Ibn ‘Arabi effect’ as he is an exemplary figure who voyaged spiritually and then was unable to return home – he is a person who found himself in a different place.

Up to this juncture, those who have broken from their milieu, to follow their own path, have tended to disappear from its records… how many radicals have joined and then departed from the organisations that they thought best expressed their interest? The loss of these individuals is an occurrence that is little discussed – perhaps we are more tempted to contemplate how the organisations themselves operate homeostatically and always somehow maintain the same numbers even though these numbers are constituted by a constantly replenished membership of individuals. The great problem of this breaking away of individuals is not the schism itself so much as the constant rate of loss of knowledge that these individuals have gained in their intellectual journeying – this has developed to such a level that it functions as a critique of the specifics of membership itself. And the result for the organisations concerned has been catastrophic in that they are perpetually bound to a fallback set of principles only new recruits are capable of adhering to. The endless circulation of membership and the hanging on of a grizzled old guard induces organisational inflexibility. By contrast, we know by experience that where there is a constant long term relation, there is always, tinkering and internal modification of the terms of that relation.

I mentioned above, this juncture because for the first time those who have set off on their own journeys from the milieu are being registered as a positive phenomenon by those who do not wish to see them disappear. The problem has been that those who broke from organisations had no structures to ensure the continuity of their ideas… and so the milieu has been consistently losing the insights (and occasional theoretical breakthroughs) which were not aligned to any particular group or party. For the first time, the opinions of those who break away from the milieu’s organisations are being sought out and also organised in order that they cannot be so easily lost again. But why should I presume that those who break from the party are its most intelligent elements?

My understanding of the movement of human consciousness is that it is based firstly in a tendency to band together and secondly, in contradiction, in a tendency to divergence (hence, The Ibn ‘Arabi effect). We might say that Intelligence is thus always defined in terms of divergence from what is established whereas interest is expressed in terms of a reverted to solidarity. From this understanding, it is a small step to perceive ‘organisations’ as structures whose unrecognised function is, in reality, to produce embodiments of the Ibn Arabi effect, that is, they are devices for the production of dissent and breaking away.

I belong to a speculative (i.e. non-existent) group called Forward Unit, the purpose of this group is to engage those individual bearers of fragments of consciousness who have undertaken journeys away from the milieu orthodoxies which have formed them. The purpose of this engagement is to feed their knowledge back into the milieu so that such voyages have their social content returned to them.

Camatte’s break with marxism is remarkable for two reasons: a. that he did not fall silent (which is most significant for the work of [Forward Unit as the not falling silent of those who are intellectually dissatisfied with the given forms of pro-communism is the highest of its priorities); b. his break produced a number of concrete theoretical problems (i.e. the total subsumption of the proletariat/the community of capital; the rejection of organisations and politics). Specifically, in my opinion, Camatte’s greatest contribution is found in an almost nondescript sentence in The Wandering of Humanity in which he states, (I paraphrase), communism is the return of all of human intelligence in non-traumatised form.

In other words, the invariant commitment of communism to humanity is not to be found in the adherence to a particular ‘communist’ theory (as this produces numerous unintended political, ethical and psychological side-effects, not the least of which is a destructive compulsion to heresy) but rather it is the structural and practical facilitation of other people’s intelligence within a safe and supportive environment. For myself, Camatte’s account (which he opposes to Marx’s later celebration of the development of the forces of production) was something of a revelation, as I have always found the certainty of pro-revolutionary groups embarrassing and counterproductive (i.e. the very forms they operate within are bound to produce violent and unhelpful disagreement both internally and externally)…. and the idea that communism is the realisation in the form of social relations of a set of principles is equally abhorrent as it denies the basic subjective content of all other human forms, past and present, that have appeared in the world.

What then is the status of the findings of those who break from the milieu? It seems to me that the Ibn ‘Arabi effect is some sort of embodied expression of the external world’s corrective of internal subjective formations and the sticking points of consciousness that belong to them (i.e. overvalued ideas, overvalued relations, overvalued objects, overvalued histories). Those who take an individualist turn in their activities renew the appropriate form of subjective thought within the milieu which habitually seeks an objectivist perspective despite its minority status. The individualist turn, as it expresses the generality’s corrective of small group pretensions, asks, ‘what is it of that which defines you, are you now prepared to give up?’

Up to this point in time, the pro-communist milieu has not had to actively engage with the Ibn Arabi effect, the fresh and eager enthusiasm of new recruits has simply supplanted the radical non-commitment of those departing. But now, it is possible for those have become disillusioned with the milieu to examine what it is that has caused them to undertake their voyage away from it without their having to renounce the entirety of the problems of social transformation which they previously were so engaged with.

If communism is not the realisation of a set of principles then perhaps it is a set of recuperative practices which attempt to field and process other people’s tendency to the Ibn ‘Arabi effect… this assertion is based, as I remarked above, on the assumption that disagreement (or, the filling in of not occupied space) is fundamental to the human species and that the therapeutic relating of the components of disagreement are of greater liberatory value than the content of the disagreement itself (or put another way, there is a commensurability between the freeing up of the different levels of discourses and the maximisation of those who have access to them.)

What happens when, through the efforts of Forward Unit, the findings of those who have voyaged away from it are fed back into the milieu? The first implication, I think, will be a reduction in the over-influence of clichés in young masculinity (that cycle of initial Hotspur militancy and denunciation followed by rapid decline into indifference); the event of radical divergence will also become less traumatising (i.e. it will not be so understood as alien or as a ‘betrayal’) and will be more generally welcomed as contributive. There is also the question of commissioning those who have not yet deserted the ranks to undertake their independent divergences… Overall, after long contemplation of Camatte’s (not-complete) marginalisation within the pro-revolutionary milieu, it seems that the preferable option (if we are to include such vital intelligences within our schemes) is to construct organisations that are actively and positively productive of divergences in place of those which have previously valued conformity. Divergent ideas and themes must be re-circulated within the milieu to be always up for their reconsideration in a new light – this work of reconsideration is the very core of a living social relationship.

I view the class struggle in its most totalised form to be more productive of, rather than receptive to, conscious intervention in its great churnings. No subjective consciousness has the capacity to successfully divert the flow of the struggle at that level. The process by which ideas are circulated on the largest scale is, under stable conditions, tied to capital expenditure on communications machinery (although even this is no guarantee of success of particular ideas). But during unstable periods, the means by which a new idea becomes popular is a mystery. Nobody could anticipate the linking of Camatte with Ibn ‘Arabi for example. The territory of communist intervention therefore is extremely narrow and I have come to see it in terms of a form of pastoral care undertaken at a very small scale. Camatte was the first marxist (since Marx perhaps) to reintroduce the individual’s scale in the question of opposition to capitalism… it is the individual who most resists quantification, abstraction and his interchangeability as a unit of the economy. More precisely, it is the role of communists to re-present to the most militant anti-capitalist formations of the moment, the centrality of the individual.

The purpose of communist activity after Camatte is to increase the conscious proportion in decisionmaking process at all levels and to thereby diminish the influence of this hostile environment. And where there occurs within the milieu an identification with the forces of production and the ideology of progress, where it is demanded that some individuals will necessarily be destroyed to achieve the realisation of some greater process – the communist must step in, even where he has no power to effect the outcome and argue, ‘’not this individual and not this process.’

I also think a new theory of the proletariat becomes possible at this juncture, a theory which accepts Camatte’s insight into domestication but does not consider it as the end of the matter. Domestication, or real domination, is productive of further contestations but on a different terrain, we still find evidence of objective (i.e. non-conscious) class struggle. However, the struggle is now occurring, as a friend has put it, beyond politics and at the level of affectivity… that is at the level of the proletariat’s recent acute sensitisation to its environment, at the level of its incapacities, of its multiplying illnesses, of its dependency, its lack of agency and non-productivity, its deskilling, its flight from responsibility and politics.

It seems that capitalism cannot survive without the continual reproletarianisation of the world’s population, and yet within vast numbers of humanity this process has induced a terrible enervation and incapacity for productive work… Beginning from Camatte’s perception of a condition of total domination we see that if communism cannot now occur in the form of a supercession of and through capitalist production then it may begin materially as a collapsing away from the productive relation altogether.

If in the past the mighty workers movement could not subdue capital and bend productive forces to its will then the proletariat’s current high maintenance costs and its increasing uselessness may indicate a separation of humanity from its domination by dead labour – we see here how the Ibn ‘Arabi effect works out on a society wide scale – the proletariat is diverging from its productive role and is passing into a condition of errancy, or listless wandering.

The therapeutic attempt to realise all this unarticulated alienated drift as a radical and conscious incompatibility with capitalist forms and then link it to a project of total social transformation is central now to pro-communism’s historical role – although at first, before this therapeutic intervention may occur, it is likely that even more pain, loss and anguish (or ‘austerity’) must be passed through.

You asked for a reading recommendation and instead I have provided you with a reading of my own. Did you expect anything else?

Aimiably,

frére dupont

Hey Italo, congratulations on your rediscovering the élan of molluscs!

A review of Calvino’s Complete Cosmicomics

’In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class. (…) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the changing of men on a mass scale is, necessary, a change which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it, can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.’
The German Ideology

Science fiction and pro-revolutionary literature share the same highest of high priorities, namely the separating out of moments of freedom from the reproduction of existing constrained relationships. Both discourses are most concerned with the image of an overflowing of activity which cannot be mapped back onto the co-ordinates of already established behaviour but which, on the contrary, defines itself on its own terms and may thus be presented as exceptional.

A review of Calvino’s Complete Cosmicomics

’In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class. (…) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the changing of men on a mass scale is, necessary, a change which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it, can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.’
The German Ideology

Science fiction and pro-revolutionary literature share the same highest of high priorities, namely the separating out of moments of freedom from the reproduction of existing constrained relationships. Both discourses are most concerned with the image of an overflowing of activity which cannot be mapped back onto the co-ordinates of already established behaviour but which, on the contrary, defines itself on its own terms and may thus be presented as exceptional.



Freedom is always novel and freedom always steps out of all established registers in its wilful creation of a new register. What is free is thus understood as traces of consciousness commingling with fragments of activity within a unified project; freedom is always to be evaluated on the terms it generates itself out of the mixing together of its constituent parts.

’The shock of freedom works miracles. Nothing can resist it, neither mental illness, remorse, guilt, the feeling of powerlessness, nor the brutalisation created by the environment of power. When a waterpipe burst in Pavlov’s laboratory, not one of the dogs that survived the flood retained the slightest trace of his long conditioning. Could the tidal wave of great social upheavals have less effect on men than a burst waterpipe on dogs?’
Vaniegem

But, once it has lost it glimmer, the image of freedom becomes that of caprice in relation to fate. As time lapses, the faded image of what it means to be free is transformed into the defining constraint on reproduced activity. Oppression is never more than freedom plus time.

Somewhere within that most esteemed collection of science fiction stories Cosmicomics Italo Calvino considers the freeing of shellfish from their submarine greyness. He notes that their achievement of colour is not complemented by their developing sight so that they might somehow gain benefit from their achievement. He represents this ‘just so’, the why it had to be, as a delicate process of accidental developments, of distribution of faculties, of the interplay of internalities and externalities, of constraints and the overcoming of constraints, of collapsing complexities and destabilised simplicities, of enticements and dead ends, of slow builds and sudden rushes.

In particular, Calvino presents the relationship of experimental engagements of the self (wherever this may be located on the circuit of material forces) within the context of a blank world as a series of subjectively achieved breakthroughs. He records how the evolution of sight does accompany the embodiment of visuality in the world but he also considers how the capacity to gaze is allocated to a different organisation’s line of descent than the developmental line of what is to be gazed upon – and yet, we discover, that far from having separate lineages the looking and the looked upon are necessarily integral to each other even if they do not inherit the same genetic patterning.

The object of my study here is Calvino’s displacement of the concept of work-activity from what is ordinarily understood as such (as encapsulated in the Theses on Feuerbach) to the works and activities of that which we have previously thought performs neither.

During those long moments of equilibrium in the world, when nothing much is happening, and everything slides gradually without a fanfare, my attention slides too and away from the agitations of those whose function it is to make a difference. Slipping further, my preparedness is then disconnected from the horizon where I had just now been looking for punctuating, emergent events, for extinctual crises and upfolding cataclysms, for any and all those eruptions which are going to shake new terms from out of the sky and down upon us. Quite unexpectedly, I pass into a state where I am neither looking for the signs nor listening for the prophets of the signs. And during such times I find myself engaged with, as if for the first time, all in the world that does not, and will not ever, change.

Because nothing is happening, my attention is drawn rather to the work, which is not a work at all, of that which is acted upon – to the stoney ground. That is to say, my attention is attracted to the passive role in the relation of the revolutionisers to the revolutionised.

My interest begins to attach itself to the receptor unit in communication, to the cloud of reactions which does not appear of its volition but is perhaps only ever defined by the actions of external forces. This cloud is divisible into two distinct modes:

A. affectiveness – by passivity, by reaction, susceptibility, suggestibility, responsiveness, pliability, permeability, mutability;

B. impermeability – by neutrality, by resistance, by inertia.

My interest in nothing doing, is primarily located in that substrate through which active principles either percolate down or flow across. Why is it that so much of the world does nothing but is content to either be changed from the outside, or even remain as it is? To focus the question more sharply, why is it that the communism as proposed by communisers is vulgar, forced, artificial whilst that which appears spontaneously within the communised is subtle, natural, well-proportioned? Why do we naturally prefer to find instances of communism than instigate it?

My interest then, is directed towards the work of receptor units, the passive bodies, the inert materials, the mute objects, the acted upon, in-themselves, subjects.

’I’m talking about sight, the eyes; only I had failed to foresee one thing: the eyes that finally opened to see us didn’t belong to us but to others. Shapeless colourless beings, sacks of guts stuck together carelessly, peopled the world around us, without giving the slightest thought to what they should make of themselves, to how to express themselves and identify themselves in a stable, complete form, such as to enrich the visual possibilities of whoever saw them. They came and went, sank awhile, then emerged, in that space between air and water and rock, wandering about absently; and we in the meanwhile, she and I and all those intent on squeezing out a form of ourselves, were there slaving away at our dark task. Thanks to us, that badly defined space became a visual field; and who reaped the benefit? These intruders, ho had never before given a thought to the possibility of eyesight (ugly as they were, they wouldn’t have gained a thing by seeing one another), these creatures who had always turned a deaf ear to the vocation of form. While we were bent over, doing the hardest part of the job, that is creating something to be seen, they were quietly taking on the easiest part: adapting their lazy embryonic receptive organs to what there was to receive: our images.’
The Spiral (from The Complete Cosmicomics)

The narrator, an unidentified mollusc, is describing how he has evolved a beautifully coloured and perfectly proportioned spiral shell. It is strange is it not, he observes, how his shell, this calcareous exoskeleton secreted from ectodermic cells within that part of his anatomy called the mantle, and supposedly developed as a mode of defence against predation, should also realise itself in terms of a visually pleasing logarithmic spiral growth, and an equally aesthetic complementary set of colours when he and his kind do not possess sight.

The narrator, and his kind, are visual objects and yet cannot see themselves. He goes on to explain, first in terms of love, and then in terms of the external evolution of sight, the work, his work, of passivity; he describes how the loved draws forward the lover, how the image catalyses the development of the eye.

The mollusc’s account of evolution here shifts its focus from the ‘active’ work of genes and instead emphasises the passive role of environment – sight is drawn out of bodies by the establishment of a visual field. Living beings develop the capacity to respond to visual stimuli, and this responsiveness enhances their existence, because there are things in the world to stimulate them visually.

By the same means, whilst the things I think about do not have to possess the capacity for thought for me to think of them, it is still the case that what seem like my thoughts actually belong to them as much as to me. And by extension, whilst the process of my existence is attuned to change in the world I do not record my attempts at change as changes but only as a continuation of the same terms of my self. So it is that whilst change is my project I am not able to satisfactorily effect it. I am waiting to be changed by that for which change is not, as far as I can make out, the project.

Why do we prefer to find instances of communism than instigate it? This has something to do with the law of unintended consequences. Every intervention into a complex system will produce outcomes that are both unpredicted and undesirable… we find we cannot successfully unify our plans with the actions which were supposed to realise the plans.

Whilst we are greatly satisfied with that which is undesigned (the shells we disinterestedly find on the beach whilst deep in thought on other matters) and whilst we are heartily pleased with that which we encounter outside of our own projects, that which surprises us and throws us back into a simple and unreflected upon relation with it, we are to the same degree discontented with that which we have authored – because it has spiralled irregularly beyond our intentions, because we are responsible for it. And we feel most responsibility for that which we are least contented with.

Transformation is typically described in terms of the actions of agents of transformation, and yet nothing would change at all if the passive figure in the relationship were not susceptible to the actions of that agent.

The world in which we live is not changing in response to the efforts of communisers and would-be revolutionaries and this has little to do with either the quality of their efforts or their selection of incorrect opportunities for intervention.

The world is not changing because the great passive, unchanging mass, is not receptive to, or even commensurate with, the messages of the agents who are attempting to act upon it.

And strangely, as soon as the work of passivity has been undertaken, that is, as soon the world becomes receptive to the works of would-be revolutionaries, it has already passed into a state of transformation in advance of the buzzing, exhortatory messages intended for it. And therefore, from the perspective of the agents of change, who would seek to lead it, the world remains equally impervious, passive, inscrutable even at its most revolutionary junctures.

frére dupont