V – Inertia, metaphor, oxymoron and conceptual flexibility

Text in pdf : Clémence Ortega Douville – The place the hands can’t seek – V – Inertia, metaphor, oxymoron and conceptual flexibility

‘Oui, je suis horrifié à l’idée qu’une femme que j’aime et qui a répondu à mon amour puisse se donner à un autre sans aucune pitié pour moi. Mais dans ce cas aurai-je encore le choix ? Si j’aime cette femme, si je l’aime à la folie, dois-je lui tourner fièrement le dos et périr dans mon orgueil ? Dois-je me tirer une balle dans la tête ? J’ai deux idéaux féminins. Si je ne trouve pas une femme noble et radieuse, une femme fidèle, bienveillante, avec laquelle partager mon destin, alors pas de demi-mesure, pas de compromission ! Je préfère être livré à une créature immorale, infidèle et impitoyable. La grandeur égoïste de ce genre de femme en fait aussi un idéal. Si je ne peux goûter pleinement, entièrement, aux joies de l’amour, je veux boire jusqu’à la lie le calice de ses souffrances et de ses supplices. Je veux être trahi et maltraité par la femme que j’aime. Plus elle sera cruelle et plus je serai content. C’est aussi une jouissance !’ In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, La Vénus à la fourrure, Editions Rivages poche, 1870 (2009), p. 64

The power of Sacher-Masoch’s words in his famous novel Venus in Furs cannot leave us without great resonance if we observe the world we are living in. We have discussed in earlier articles some of the specifities of the neoliberal ideology and its systemisation. What we have forgotten to say, is that it has been ingineered with people who studied on the human psyche, in many ways – even not recommandable ones.

When Bill Clinton formulated an apology for the secret conduct of unethical human radiation experiments in the United States during the Cold War (1944-1974), in a speech about the Bioethics Report at the White House conference of october 3rd 1995, what message did it send ? It happened because the families of the victims raised complaints and advocated for compensation. Advisory Commitee, directed by Dr. Ruth Faden, was charged in 1993 to investigate what happened during this period in hospitals, universities and military bases, where many times the individuals’ rights, interests and knowledge were ignored. Files had to be declassified.

Like the War led against Iraq after september 11th, United States can apparently afford to appear like the bad guys picking a fight against other bad guys, and by the same time lying to their constituents to do so. As well, when we learned, just after the American subprime crisis in 2015, that Goldman Sachs bank helped to hide the true extent of Greece’s national debt in 2001 – doubling it in the process while charging 600 million euros the service -, it came alongside a large history of lies and truth unfold.

Yet the United States are not the only devil in the party. In France, it seems not to be a problem for President Emmanuel Macron to be celebrated ‘Champion of the Earth’ in New-York and allowing at the same time catastrophic oil drillings in Guyane.

Oxymorons have become a political norm.

Without being versed in conspiracy theories to an excessive extent, we know we can simply look at History and the way it is constantly revisited, rediscovered. Unforunately, it is also mostly vailed by the growing pauperisation and the insecurity of the populations of almost every countries in the world.

The figure of the bad, cynical government doesn’t scare at all nor prevents the tenants of the latter to embody this charge. ‘Democracy needs the people’s consent, so we have to create the consent’, that was public relation’s founder Edward Bernays’s motto.

Those governments, serving the neoliberal financial structures, are cooperating with the marketing and public relation industry to crush people and at the same time still appear desirable. We hate them, the devilish capitalists, yet we love what they provide us with at the same time. Remember, synchronicity is the key, because we can’t cope with it.

In a system defined by attraction, by gravity, by fate, there is an irresistible force of inertia taking hold of us. And inertia is a differential system.

The definition of inertia in Physics is that : A body distant enough from other bodies persists with its state of rest or rectilinear and uniform movement. Which means that the faster an object goes, the more energy it amasses and the more difficult it is to move it or slow it down. Inspired by that definition, the famous Albert Einstein equation E=MC² was in fact using light speed – the C of Celerity – as a limit, as a crushing effect of inertia. You can’t pass it.

In fact, it came from the Lorentz transformation (after physicist Hendrick Lorentz) that allowed Einstein to express the time coordinate – in the four dimension Minkowski space – by the equation : Lorentz. If the speed of the object – v – reaches light speed – 300 000 km/s -, the equation annuls because the fraction is not defined and then impossible (t = 1/0).

This is the mathematical expression of the limit to the range of speed any physical objects could reach. And it is of course a differential problem.

Differential analysis was introduced in Mathematics by Fermat, Newton and Leibniz in the XVIIth century, inspired by ideas dating from Archimedes (IIIrd century B.C.). The main idea was that ensembles of numbers formed series. You could count the numbers, as detached sequences of the series (0, 1, 2, 3, … 45, … for the whole numbers).

Analysis is then the branch of Mathematics which tries to approach a value by framing it. For instance, 15,219<15,22<15,221. We try to approach the value of 15,22 in the order of one thousandth. Depending on how close we want to get to the exact point where 15,22 should be, to the limit of its reality, we would only add decimals.

This is infinite. In fact, differential calculus is working from infinite and infinitesimal analysis. This means that the spectrum of mathematical values is continuous, and that we can approach those values as part of a continuum. Just like matter, the living, the mind.

The operation of the limit is the operation by which you evaluate the behaviour of a function when the variable (x for example) is approaching a certain limit – like zero or the infinite. Using that, differential calculus permits to find a function’s derivative.

For that, you would try to compress one moment in the continuum of your function – as long as it is a continuous and a differentiable one -, for example : one moment in the acceleration of an object, until you’ve reduced this moment the closest to zero.

The ratio between, let us say, the value of the speed of the object by the time encompassed in the moment gotten close to zero is giving you two very close points : a straight line (in basic cases). This straight line appears to be the tangent to the curved line of the function (if the graph of the function is representing a curved line).


Then, still, differential analysis is forced to work by series, should it be by tiny bits. Result is that on this point made out of two very close points, on this moment, the curve (the continuous acceleration, for instance) is crushed under a straight line (the determination of the instantaneous speed of the object).

Let us now pretend that we push an acceleration on an object in some abstract conditions : once we would stop the acceleration, the object would not slow down nor continue to accelerate on its own. The derivative is that : at a certain point of the acceleration, we shut the engines down, and then the object is set in space and time at a certain unchanging speed.

This is inertia. You derive something straight, an immutable force, linear, from a changing, accelerating or turning one.

‘The knowledge of quantities must as well be guided, as Geometry itself demonstrates, by the qualities and the similitudes.’1 This eternal dilemma stated by Leibniz whether you should focus on form and identity or on applications and indifferentiation, has been in other words summarised by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze :

‘C’est la notion même de limite qui change complètement de signification : elle ne désigne plus les bornes de la représentation finie, mais au contraire la matrice où la détermination finie ne cesse pas de disparaître et de naître, de s’envelopper et de se déployer dans la représentation orgique. Elle ne désigne plus la limitation d’une forme, mais la convergence vers un fondement ; non plus la distinction des formes, mais la corrélation du fondé avec le fondement ; non plus l’arrêt de la puissance, mais l’élément dans lequel la puissance est effectuée et fondée. Le calcul différentiel en effet n’est, pas moins que la dialectique, affaire de « puissance », et de puissance de la limite.’2

In his philosophical exploration, Deleuze parallels the continuous action of infinite(simal) shrinking and distending in differential calculus with Hegel’s dialectics of the negative and positive. As well, we find reminiscences of that thinking in Hannah Arendt’s inspection of the rupture, of the major collapsing of Western Culture during the Second War (The Crisis in Culture, 1961).

That is where we catch up with earlier suggestion that we were living in a system of society that manifested what Sacher-Masoch would have called ‘a contract’.

No straight lines can be found in nature. Even geometrical spider webs don’t really have straight lines but entangled lines. The idea of something infinite but that in some way we could cross, a road, that could carry our thoughts and participation, our steps, our chanting it, this is plain human creation. We organise and we create predictability amongst the chaotic and permissive happening of natural living and mineral perpetual breathing.

The ontogeny of the mind is difficult to catch, to fully grasp either. Yet somehow, we are creatures of metaphor, and the Mathematics as well as the Physics are using such tools as drawings and symbolical markings of language.

What does it mean ? That it works through a system of meaning, signifyers, that convey our imageries of the world. That also means that the cohabition between two different logics – the natural and the moral logics – is still in course.

The straight line is that you can’t fight without a fight back. So you are trying to break the unconscious with an inertia strategy. You would like to protest an unequal system, but you don’t want to loose much more than there would be to win immediately, in the short term. However in the long term, all you would need to do is to overthrow the verticality of power by, as La Boétie said, removing the base of the tyrants’ statue.

But the problem is still a matter of masses. The heavier the mass, the more difficult it is to move it, turn it or slow it down. Inertia. The contract. From a curved line that would demand flexibility of the mind, to a straight line that only demands to stay still. Not accelerate, nor slow down. Only stay the way things are.

We love to hate them, those who clearly take advantage on our preference for not fighting, not so big a monster, not so heavy a mass of aggressiveness. So we fight small problems. We damage the network. We phantasise. Under the straight line, taming us. Erasing the alternatives. The change.

Sacher-Masoch’s dialectics is that in absence of liberty, we resist change, and we chose to move a straight line back to a curved one. Only we are vibrating in a prison, and whatever hits us on the back, we still agree to be moral people, docile, and not to fight.

1In G. W. Leibniz, Mathesis universalis : écrits sur la mathématique universelle, ‘Mathesis Universalis’, Ed. Vrin, 2018, p. 123.

2In Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition, Ed. PUF, coll. Epiméthée, 1968 (2011), p. 62.

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