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Twelve Rules to Orient Thought


I Let be

Maximize the possible. Entertain the possibility of material things, of real as well as imaginary things, of each part of every thing, of each occurrence of every thing throughout time, of contradictory things, of impossible things;

Treat each possibility equally;

Make free and equal possibilities the element of thought.


II Map the situation of thought

Tell great theoretical accounts, so as to understand our situation: e.g., the emergence of modernity, and its decay;

Ascertain the principles that circumscribe a situation of thought: classical concepts of the absolute, the eternal, the in-itself, authority; modern concepts of autonomy, presence, intensity, emancipation;

Understand how each concept is the hidden alliance of an image and an idea.


III Locate the cardinal promises of thought

In learned thinking, in popular cultures, seek everywhere and always for the concepts that undergird an era or culture as its principles;

Find the initial sense of a thought’s promise, and the image that first struck the mind to allow an idea to direct life (e.g., the image of electric current, which has paralleled the modern idea of intensity and of “intense living”);

Set thought’s promises against their longterm effect on life: fulfillment, resistance, exhaustion, failure.


IV Take seriously any idea that orients a thought

Learn to familiarize yourself with any idea, though it seems distant, foreign, antagonistic;

Demonstrate nobility and never belittle an antagonistic idea;

Strive to augment, rather than resist, what comes through thought.


V Never set one principle against another

Avoid moral and external criticism of a thought; such criticism does no more than object to consequences;

Do not conflate an idea with its defenders; rather, show yourself capable of making it your own as well;

Nothing that can be thought is foreign to anyone who can think: engage as thoroughly as possible in the ethical and internal criticism of any thought.


VI Determine the advantage and the cost of every thing

Establish the inverse functions of the thought in question, as in: what is gained for what is lost, and what is lost for what is gained;

Identify the advantage of a radical bias: what it alone can allow you to see and think (i.e., the advantage of idealism, the advantage of realism);

Estimate the price to pay for adopting a bias: the blind spot of a lucid thought (what idealism lacks with respect to realism; what realism lacks with respect to idealism).


VII Set the most radical biases back to back

Find and raise the watershed ridge between two thoughts oriented by two radically opposed ideas;

Accept without the slightest pathos the tragic irreconcilability of the situation. Above all, do not seek a compromise between or hybrid of the two positions or otherwise negotiate an intermediary solution;

Use the arguments of one side against the other. Allow one to illuminate the failings of the other, and vice versa. Do not claim that each side has its share of the truth but, rather, that the one and the other are completely correct, until one shows the other to be wrong. Pay heed to extreme ideas. Work always with the most radical thoughts, the ones that put the most strenuous, opposing stretch on the field of thought.


VIII Draw a new line of thought that is distinct but equal, equal but distinct

Find a line of balance, a ridge, from which to consider the most opposed camps at an equal remove;

Be not cowardly but courageous in maintaining a line of thought that evades all camps. To classical and reactionary minds, which condemn the indistinction of all things to which late modernity has led, reply the following: You are correct, we must draw distinctions; but your purpose in drawing them is to reintroduce hierarchies. To modern and postmodern minds, which condemn the introduction of hierarchies in all things, reply: you are correct, we must equalize; but you seek to equalize by making everything indistinct, by eliminating all categories (species, genres, classes);

In all areas of thought, make do by observing at the same time both the need for distinction and the need for equality;


IX Transform a current non-place of thought into its future locus

Have the patience to linger long in a fallow middle ground of thought, and refuse to take part on either side: like the world itself, split yourself between antagonistic ideas, not to reunify the world but to transform the no-man’s land between enemies into a new locus of thought for others one day to settle;

Rather than deliver content to serve as a lesson in thought, make your thought into an exemplary gesture, which others can imitate in their own way;

Build your thought to be a space where future minds can freely dwell.


X Resist the future domination effects of your own thought

Behave in such a way as to change your ideas as little as possible when a dominated idea becomes dominant;

Draw no legitimacy from a mere sense of being in the minority and misunderstood: always envisage the moment when what you think becomes the majority opinion, and acknowledge that our idea will become that of a school of thought;

Neutralize in advance the authority effects of what you think, especially the paradoxical domination effects inherent to the most liberal and emancipatory ideas.


XI Keep thought from legislating over life, and keep life from determining thought

Do not think for the defense of your life (your tastes, your values, you biases);

Do not live for the defense of your thought;

Hold to thought as to a non-living part of a singular, sensitive, suffering living organism, a part that is universal, that never feels or suffers. Imagine thought as an organ of the universal, developed by the human species as well as by other animal species: the part of life that escapes—or tries to escape—life. Imagine thought as the sole irenic place, where each of us can try to escape the interests of our life, and seek concord with all that thinks. Imagine that life by the same token escapes thought;


XII Render powerful

Do not forget that the purpose of thought can be anything: that the purpose of life is whatever matters to life. Consider that he who thinks is dealing with anything that is possible, and that what lives is always choosing and sacrificing possibilities;

In thought anything is freely, equally, and distinctly possible; for what lives everything is linked and everything varies. Distinguish the possible from power (what renders possible or impossible). Acknowledge that the greater the possibility, the lesser the power; that the greater the power, the lesser the possibility;

Think so as to render possible; live so as to render powerful.


Tristan Garcia

TRISTAN GARCIA is a philosopher, novelist and essayist. He is the author of over a dozen books, including, in English, Hate, A Romance (FSG, 2011), and Form and Object, A Treatise on Things (Edinburgh UP, 2014).


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2016

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