Prefatory Notes on the Poverty of the Soul
“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.” – Victor Hugo
The word “soul” has been reprehensible for too long. The theologians that preach the salvation of the soul only end up strangling what little bit of soul we may have left. There is a soul, but it is fundamentally different than how we have thought about it until now. It must not be reduced to the mind or body: it is a third substance. An essentialist conception of the soul fails to recognize this important differentiation. What actually composes the soul is the question at the heart of these notes.
The soul is the trace. In this way, each soul is unique. Each body is an entry way to the soul. Turning to Derrida, we can see that the traces inscribed via arche-writing manufacture a spiritual past. This past is composed of the echoes of our never-fully-present experiences. The search for the soul is the search for a ghost, but a ghost that exists. The soul, as it is tethered to our bodies (which are both material and immaterial), must be finite. For Derrida, the trace is finite and infinite. The structure that the trace operates on must be finite, but the movement of the trace (i.e. substitution, spacing, etc.) is infinite. What Bernard Stiegler calls “retentional finitude” is the limit of the soul. Our traces can only extend so far before they fade into shadows, caves, and imaginations, but the act of tracing them is endless. Deleuze’s second passive synthesis of time reveals the play of these traces and also reminds us that this process is never fully conscious, present, or essential. Through the impossible-yet-necessary cataloging of our traces, we discover our unique path. In this moment, we discover the soul.
As Deleuze and Guattari remind us: “At any rate, you have one (or several).” The soul is the momentum of individual, proliferated and dispersed through desire. Its multiple rates change their velocities depending on external stimuli and the internal organization of intensities. In this way, the velocities of the soul are constantly changing; the soul can be suffocated and drowned, or can breathe and set fires. The science of the soul is to determine what obstacles strangle it and which inspire it. We demand a calculus of intensities, a transcendental empiricism of the unknown, cartographies of terra incognita. It all begins with intoxicated wanderings; wine, virtue, and poetry are oxygen for the soul.
The liberation of the soul must contend with various technologies of the mind and body that attempt to capture the soul. We encounter these apparatuses (daggers in the thigh of the soul, ropes around its neck) everyday: television, school, road-signs, clichés, toasters, pleasantries, medications, pharmakon, consciousness, urban policy, calendars, and so on. Any grammatisation is a direct assault on the soul (which, perhaps, explains the more unconventional technologies just listed). The ubiquity of these machines, which are veritable executioners of the soul, is telling of the poverty of the soul. Frequent trips to the doctor will not cure you of these diseases. We must find a way to enrich our souls, to dismantle the Bastille of culture and invent structures that derange all the senses.
How is this to happen? We have some clues: books, drugs, conversations, stars, uncontrolled laughing, and silences. However, one must make a life out of these revolutionary moments. Jake Hamilton’s work on pharmacology potentially speaks to this problem; pharmacology as the tele-communications of the soul. At all costs, we must embrace the trace. We should adopt an attitude of retentional finitude. Some of our souls are completely asphyxiated, but they can still be revived!
As I attempt to produce precarious cartographies of my traces, I am reminded of events that loosened the rope from around my neck. All the intense dawns spent in parks or garages, running away for the day, getting lost and asking the clouds for directions. I’ve read Tolstoy in foreign rooms and built entire empires out of a kiss. One event resonates with these remarks more than any other, though. The mantra of our liberation, as it was uttered by Derek Bobella, possibly with inspiration from Orion or the Muse: “I want to reclaim my soul.” Anything else is quotidian ritual and perpetual suicide.