The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

July 19, 2017

LISTS, 1971

Commentary starred, i.e. *thus*

*I wrote LISTS when I was 28; it was either self-published, or
published through Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I was
influenced, clearly, by Wittgenstein, and by the Tractatus
(TLP); what I took away from it, among other things, was that
differentiation was both structure and variable raster; the
world was not determinative, but fine- grained. I never read
TLP as hierarchical, or ladder-like, in spite of the last
section, although the indexing of the statements appeared to
imply otherwise. But - and this is the point of LISTS itself -
I did see the world in terms of _listing, lists_ - statements
which might or might not follow from each other, stemming from
a body, consciousness, and writing in a more or less particular
time and place. I still find this a somewhat radical idea, as
opposed to the orderliness, for example, of Badiou. The surface
and protocol depths of the Internet might form a (loose) model.
What follows, below, is the first page of LISTS, with commentary
situating it and my thinking in general, more than 45 years
later. I'm no wiser now than I was then. (But at least now I
recognize my ignorance.)*

*LISTS is about 25 single-spaced pages long.*

[Gen.] *section of general statements*

There is a certain consistency.

*The world is not a random, the world presents a "certain style"
related to fundamental appearances and sensations. Unlike a
virtual world, for example, mountains and landscapes do not
immediately appear and disappear - or if they do, one looks
towards asteroid collisions, earthquakes, etc., as explanation.
We count on the _style_ of the world in our fundamental
relationship to it. On the other hand, people in extremely
stressed situations, in states of anguish, terror, and so forth,
may misread everything, or "read" nothing at all. So underlying
the style is also the notion of normativity and consistency; in
the future, given prosthetic technologies, our deep reading of
the real and its attendant deep ecology, may become entirely
untethered of course.*

There is a certain style.

*See above. "Certain" is deliberately undefined; it's basically
undefinable. Think of the _ordinary_ in this regard.*

There are no surprises.

*Of course there are surprises; by "surprise" here, however, I
refer to those that might be considered fundamental. The concept
of bracketing might help; if for example, we wake up and find
polka-dots in the sky, we might bracket that as a phenomenon in
need of explanation (for example stationary drone fleets); the
surprise becomes subsumed, on one hand - and still exists as a
surprise ("Why, what on earth!") on the other.*

There is a general property of distinguishability:
i.e. boundaries.

*Distinguishability also characterizes Spencer Brown's Laws of
Form, and both the Sheffer stroke and its dual. Of course there
are morphisms, dynamics, striations, categories, catastrophes,
etc., but these are analytical processes. When amorphousness
does occur, for example in the appearance of slime molds, we are
thrown into untoward and abject states; what is both form and
formlessness, fundamentally disturbs us.*

I am immersed in the world.

*Immersivity becomes difficult to define in relation to AR, VR,
etc. Here the world is thought of in terms of an extended
habitus, in relation to one's placement. "The world" can easily
be problematized by dreams, hallucinations, etc.; at the same
time, the world's "style" provides a form of grounding, related
to Rosset's "idiotic real" and the notion of the _obdurate._*

I possess a body.

*My body is not possessed; there is no possessing; I am not
possessed. What is inextricably entangled is endlessly described
by phenomenology; here, I'm only referring to embodiment, in
spite of the paradoxical nature of phantom limbs, tinnitus,
etc. "Possession" is clearly incorrect; in fact, almost any
description founders in ordinary language.*

The body and my self present a past to me; I assume this past
has had some reality. [I assume this past has "had" no reality,]

*The presenting of the past, as well, is inextricably entangled.
I assume the past is real to some extent, in spite of the fact
that memory is always a construct (related to fallibility, etc.)
With this statement, the first of the accompanying bracketed
statements appears. These were written at the same time, 1971,
as the main text; they're modification that open other pathways
- since the statements of LISTS are _always_ problematic, always
meandering. First, then, LISTS doesn't assume a coherent
underlying structure governing the statements and their order
(in opposition to TLP); second, there's no assumption that any
statement is necessarily true; in many cases, the statements
obviously branch. Hence the bracketed statements.*

*Thus here the "reality" of the past wavers; what does it mean
for the past to be "real" in terms of the present where the
"real" is already in doubt, but surely present. The problem is
with our language, not with the world.*

There are Others (like myself). [I am unique.]

*There are Others - capitalized to imply alterity - who are
similar and dissimilar. But "[I am unique.]" goes further,
emphasizing a fundamental regime of separation; I find Sartre,
not Furtherfield, lurking in the background.*

Others likewise possess bodies.

*Likewise, in the sense of visibility, presence, verification.
"Others" also extends to any organism, defined in part by
ongoing processes, motility, negation. But it also extends to
anything defined as an entity, any entity, and here issues of
form and definition are foregrounded. Around this time I began
to consider the intersection of an object with its negation,
x^-x , in terms of negation-relative-to-x, so that definition
and insertion have a history and phenomenology tied to the
naming and potential "being" of x. This is an attempt to remove
a layer of abstraction in considering x, considering the

Others likewise possess pasts. [Others are imminent.]

*By inference and introspection, Others possess pasts. But
Others are also imminent, presenced, and perhaps by inference
then, I am also imminent and presenced.*

There is a certain reality which is at least in part exterior to
myself. [My outlines are blurred: there is an ambiguous
threshold connected to my body.]

*Against solipsism. The ambiguous threshold is well-covered in
Dorion Sagan's writings, the mutualist convocation of microbial
and other communities constituting what I think of as myself,
ourselves. The threshold is fuzzy; even my death is ambiguous on
a microbial level. What is emphasized in the statement as well
is that we are immersed, con-vocated, Bell-theorized, in the
world, but almost the entirety is imperceptible, out of touch,
out of reach, to us.*

There are objects within this reality. [My body is, is not, an

*The status of the body, given interiority and fuzziness, is
problematic; what constitutes an object, including the body, is
problematic. Culture bounds, constructs; it's here that
decisions are made vis-a-vis objectivity, classes of objects,
and so on.*

Certain of these objects present a consciousness which may be
equatable with my own; these are Others. [Do I use this as

*We assume consciousness and its presence, perhaps, even among
non-humans. I assume consciousness and culture "all the way
down." This brings up an important point for me, in relation to
LISTS: that the background to the writing is classical founda-
tions of mathematics, the statics of logic and set theory, for
example, even, I think, in intuitionism. So the background isn't
a _dynamics_ which is a different background altogether, and, I
think, far more accurate - one that isn't hierarchical, that is
related to category theory, morphisms and transformations,
foldings and unfoldings (and I think of the dynamics across
epigenetic surfaces and catastrophe theory). The dynamics is
more radical than Freudian/Lacanian processes (a child looks at
a mirror etc.); it may be fractal, stochastic, roiling,
untraceable. I try to come to terms with this and other
processes in my notion, stemming far from classical semiosis, of
semiotic splatter / splatter semiotics, in which reading- and
writing-times and their dislocations are fundamental to thinking
about our ongoing and current crises.*

Certain of these objects do not, or do so in part: this is the
rest of the world, the animate, inanimate.

*To reiterate above, I now think of consciousness and culture
all the day down. This draws to some extent from Heinz von
Foerster and the idea of negation, internal boundary-drawing, as
a fundamental cultural signifier.*

One may have a "reasonable certainty" concerning the future.

*i.e. that the sun will rise tomorrow, that catastrophic events
are reasonably few and far between. This is increasingly
changing as global resources shrink, climate change accelerates,

There are no duplications of macroscopic events.

*This isn't to say that each event is unique, but even different
locations of otherwise similar events, for example, particle
physics experiments, create differences that may or may not be
important or reported.*

There is no extension of myself elsewhere - i.e. outside my
physical vicinity. [Extension in the sense of physical, or
normal, consciousness.]

*In relation to paranormal consciousness, where there may be the
possibility of extension - again, Bell's theorem.*

Most of the time what I am seeing exists in a form related to
what I am seeing - the world is not largely composed of "optical

*And, again, arguing for the normative, ordinary, everyday, as
constitutive of the world; for example, as far as I know, if I
have no form of transportation but my body, and I have to go a
mile down a path, I'll walk. Another way of putting it: in spite
of S-F, there are no jump-cuts in the obdurate, or at least such
jump-cuts have an almost infinitesimal chance of occurring.*

There are various boundaries to the world, to my world. [By
"boundaries" I mean "levels."]

*"Levels" is a problem here; I'm referencing microscopic,
quantum, etc.*

My world is normally in direct correlation to the world.
[Dreams are not in direct correlation to the world. Dreams my
possess optical illusions as a constant operative within them.]

*By "direct" I don't mean one-to-one, only that, again as well,
the world and my being in it are correlated. I keep trying, in
1971, to express myself clearly on this point.*

I shall die; Others shall die. The world shall not cease upon my

*The limits of my life are not the limits of the world. The
limits of my body are problematic. I extrapolate that Others
shall die.*

We can differentiate between the world and "my" world.

*This is full of entangled difficulties; it implies that
everyday life in the world recognizes the difference between
imminence and immanence, even given one's beliefs. One might set
a goal to recognize such distinctions, but there's no indication
that 1. this is a goal one would desire; and 2. this is a goal
that one might achieve. It also founders on the meaning of
"differentiate" of course. I knew the issue back than, as the
quotation marks around "my" indicate.*

The world is somewhat characterized by change, and by stochastic

*Nonsense; all I am saying is that the world changes through
time; there's no definition given for "stochastic" as well. At
this point, I'm not sure what I was thinking.*

The world of mathematics exists in-itself, although it does not
occupy material space. [The world of mathematics is a
convention.] [The world of mathematics is a formal scheme.] [An
expediency.] [An ideal realm.]

*I've always read philosophy of math; some of the recent writing
is difficult for me. But I do have a somewhat platonist or
Godelian neo-platonist view of the field, that it's more than a
convention, expediency, or formal scheme. I'm not sure what
would constitute ideality, but my thinking tends in that
direction - as well as the inextricable entanglement (those
words again) between mathematics/mathesis and physics in the
greatest possible sense, involving cosmology and particle
physics, and so forth.*

Objects which occupy material space (likewise) occupy a
particularization of space and time.

*Not exactly true of course, given multiverses, particles, etc.
On the other hand, if the objects are "ordinary" life-world
objects, the statement is roughly true.*

My vision is not likely to extend to microscopic phenomena
without the aid of intermediaries.

*I was working shortly after with scanning electron microscopes
and already had done considerable light-microscope work. And of
course one can argue that the eye itself is an intermediary,
interstitial, that there is no perception without perceptual

There is a limit to my knowledge.

*Of course this is clear; the mind itself can only process so
much. There is always a dynamics of clearing and reconstitution
involved in perception and memory. But the limits to my
knowledge are not the limits to the world, nor to "my" world.*

There is a limit to the possibilities of my knowledge.

*There are absolutely unknowable regions of the universe and
multiverses; limits everywhere. Even particle physics may not,
ultimately, have a "complete" theory.*

The sun shall rise tomorrow.

*This is the heart of LISTS at this point. It is more than
chance that the sun shall rise; its rising is ordinary, in an
ordinary way (whether or not obscured by clouds etc.). We move
and live and work within this structure. Debilities, anguish,
and other issues, however, may result in one's taking nothing
for granted, not even imminence. There is always an issue of
health and well-being in philosophical discourse which is rarely
discussed or admitted (I'm thinking of Levinas' account of
insomnia for example.) The sun shall rise tomorrow is part and
parcel of a _dynamics_ of the obdurate, the idiotic real, etc.

I am bounded by my light cones.

*We all are, and our light cones are always slightly out of
sync/kilter. Is sync to kilter as space is to time?*

I am "largely in contact with the surface of the earth."

*By "surface," I mean the sea, the atmosphere, and so forth.
This is a statement of habitus, related to Arne Naess's writing,
for example "An Example of a Place: Tvergastein." It is as if
LISTS were an attempt at securing a home or place to be, a safe
space, a space of living and perhaps writing. The place appears
to expand or contract in the writing; there's an underlying
unease to all of it.*

All other human beings in the sense of the term employed here
are largely in contact with the surface of the earth.

*An extension of the previous statement, not connected by logic,
but again by loose belief. The title LISTS reflects this, a
rough compendium of related and somewhat "lonely" statements,
which, however, in the later pages, are extended to issues of
community and education.*

*end of page 1*

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