One of my favorite experiences encountered when pouring through a new work, uncovering new terrain, is the rare but profound illusion of clarity that may arise. I’m well past referring to those moments as illuminations of truth; I’ve spent too much time with the thoughts of Jacques Lacan and Michel Serres to believe such pure truths are approachable (mere approximations are my aspiration, at best). Perhaps, however, they’re best recognized as moments of new creation. A new synthesis. A witnessed vortex.
Earlier last week, we encountered over a foot of snow followed by blizzard winds in excess of 40 mph. Jay and I spent time looking out our back sliding glass door where periodic snow vortices gave rise to temporary moments of order, arising out of laminar flows, etching near-perfect ellipses below and embracing life-like presence as they danced before us. Eventually they disappoint, lifting away or deconstructing into insignificance and chaos. Temporary moment, policy round, new song by a favorite artist, ascending in experimental form only to drift away.
Of Debate and Angels
As our local debate circuit experienced, we cut our first Serres affirmative (one doesn’t dare call a Serres-influenced case a “critical” affirmative) in one of those vortex moments. It functions on multiple levels, as I’d imagine Serres would certainly encourage, embracing pedagogy, hermeneutics, post-epistemology and other aspects of comprehension. As a first iteration, the case operates as a black box, helping us understand the expectations of our circuit’s condition of discourse as much as it does to introduce Serres to the circuit. In this primary respect, the bidirectional discourse is exceptionally true to the philosophy Serres. We use this case as a team and school who has no tradition in debate, let alone policy debate, and the evaluation, reaction, criticism, inspiration and argumentation that occurs within the round as well as outside (especially through the conceptual engagement of the judge) are all moments where the initial vortex forms. Being outside the institution and discursively naive, another parallel.
But this first swirl is fleeting and immature. There is much work to do as we share the experience of the Serres contribution. While I plan on a greater introduction to his thought and why it’s overdue for a significant presence in policy debate (as well as elsewhere), I thought I’d provide a first iteration of post-constructive explanation to those who are curious and courageous enough to venture here. It’s a fragment at best; no system or totality. Vortexes don’t work that way, they come and go as experiments.
Serres is an creative, positive optimist. We’ve had decades of post-modernism (more than a century, if you recognize the critique of German Expressionists like my favorite, Franz Marc). Ultimately, the post-modern led to Deconstruction, Derrida, Dismay, Disfunction, Delusion, Deleuzian, Distrust, Discouragement and other Depressions. Left with scraps to defend, fragmentation, schizophrenia and psychosis. Akin to a Millard South Fight Club case (with or without aquafication), there was a rock bottom to realize to the (post)modern. But where does one go past this bottom?
Often, when one’s lost, we retrace steps. Question earlier forks taken. Serres, described as a truly amodern philosopher by Bruno Latour, returns to pre-Socrates in his origination of a new fork. Serres is shockingly radical through a rejection not only of the Enlightenment’s claim that natural science has exclusive access to reason, but rejects over two thousand years of institutional construction on science, reason, time and culture. It’s usually at this point that the PhD in Philosophy, frustrated at all the “great poetry but incomprehensible constructions” throws the book out the window, protecting his decade investment in an established institution of thought. The Church precedes the Faith. But for the rest of us who are more interested in uncovering “that which exists past deconstruction” — the open door to the next epoch, the subsequent plateau, the emerging island of order in the sea of chaos — Serres presents one of the strongest indications as to the location of the door. And if you’re a debater who is skeptical of the puppy-mill format of policymaker debate, realizing it’s yet to attain a single net benefit after four decades of practice, chances are the door Serres opens to the realm of the reason we’ve excluded might just be for you.
All indications are that this next island is one where the attribute of interdisciplinarity is a primary strength, both individually and socially. Breadth, not depth, is key to understanding the challenges before us. Particle colliders approximating energy levels within a second of the Big Bang. Billions of hungry Hiroshimas rotting in silos. Nanobots seeking a grey goo meal. More than sufficient depth with no progress in understanding. The singular march of Enlightenment’s Science has birthed the Society of the Idiot Savant.
A second hermeneutics arrives. This potentiality is an curious one, for should it resonate in the next island’s construction, it will have a powerful synthesis that advances systems that embrace difference. The philosopher of relational metaphor, post-modern systems of difference are replaced with temporary orders constructed of unique likeness. Can it be that the post-modern of homogeneity that gave rise to Third Reichs and other great de/reterritorializations can suffer its final critique? Certainly much mischief resides in the next epoch, but one has to wonder just how significant the heterogeneous systemic value will affect the systems of order built upon it.
When approaching such a (re)construction of philosophical thought as Serres undertakes, explanations of the thought requires more than illustrating difference. Serres’s unique conceptualization of time, history, rejection of the Enlightenment’s Ju-Piter (separation of the natural sciences from the social sciences with a unique role of the hyphen), significance of relationship as primary and subject/object as ancillary, the post-Marxist ascent of the first world creating a third and fourth world in structural poverty, the post-structural semiotic role of prepositions as messengers in semiotic systems of meaning, the role of chaos and uncertainty giving rise to systems of order, and so on are all major explanations in themselves.
Indeed, as several astute critical case writers have commented, “there’s a hell of a lot going on… probably way too much for a constructive case” when covering just a small part of Serres. With that simplification in mind, seeking a momentary discursive clarity, the next few weeks over the holidays will hopefully provide an opportunity for this exploration and coverage as the next 1AC vortex conceptualizes.