Monday, February 13, 2017

Subjectivity and Do What Thou Wilt

 This is part 3 of the Crowley/Deleuze series with special guest Robert Anton Wilson.

Earlier, we suggested that a prime reason for misunderstanding Aleister Crowley's formula for personal liberation, "Do what thou wilt," had to do with confusion about what "thou" meant.  "Thou" is the subject of this formula; the question then becomes, who or what is the subject?  This essentially raises the question, "who are you?."  What is the subject? = Who are you?  Applying the formula 'do what thou wilt' means constantly asking and seeking to answer the question 'who are you?' This aligns with Gurdjieff's primary formula: to "remember yourself;" it also resonates with the Sufi's Zikr.

"What is a subject?" seems one of the juicier issues in philosophy.   Descartes', "I think therefore I am," known as "the cogito" seems the most conventional and common answer in mainstream philosophy; the model we get automatically and unconsciously programmed with in modern culture.  Who are you = I am that which thinks I am, according to this program.   The cogito appears almost a conceptual antithesis for Gilles Deleuze, the enemy, as it were, though he would likely hate that comparison as he's not down with dialectic method of thesis, antithesis, synthesis usually attributed to Hegel, but originating from Fichte.   Deleuze radically reconceptualizes subjectivity with conclusions that abolish the subject as we commonly know it.  Crowley takes a critical look at the logic of the cogito in his essay on Skepticism, The Soldier and the Hunchback: ? and !. (Equinox I Vol. I).  They were both strongly influenced by 18th Century philosopher, David Hume, as was Robert Anton Wilson.

For Deleuze, the subject is not a static representation of something, which is what your name is, or what you think you are,  but rather a dynamic mixture of forces and actions in flux and flow.  The constantly changing liquid nature of the subject (We are HERE TO GO cries this new subjectivity) makes it existentially inaccurate to pin a static label or identity to it.  Robert Anton Wilson relates a story where Timothy Leary was asked what he thought about a particular rock star. "Oh that guy is a real (expletive deleted), but wait, that was two years ago, maybe he's changed?"

We easily find a reason why "Do what thou wilt," was put into third person form; thou, as the subject, always changes - thou becomes a mixture of tendencies, forces, passions and actions in flux, flow and feedback; series of voyages abstractly bound by memory into a single voyage - your life.  You wouldn't be able to give this subject a unity of an unchanging fixed identity, so call it "thou."  It can't be, "Do what you wilt," because "you" automatically evokes one's personal identity of who we think we are, your "set," which inevitably seems permanent and limiting despite the clear evidence that it constantly changes.  One reason Crowley constantly emphasized the keeping of a magical diary, a lab report of all experiments, was so to see how radically we change over time.  It often feels like we've always been as we are now, but this seems part of the illusion of the fixed identity we can get locked into, but can also get out of.  See Chapter 23 of The Book of Lies for Crowley's O.U.T. formula to get out from ordinary identity.

Deleuze tackled the question of the subject in his first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, subtitled An Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature.  He established many themes in that book that would continue to develop throughout his lifelong voyage in philosophy. It should be noted that Crowley set up Thelema as an empirical system, a system valuing the gnosis of one's own experiences over unexamined belief and blind faith.  His motto, "the method of science, the aim of religion," and his insistence at scrupulously keeping records of every experiment make plain the empiricism of this school.  The invocation of Horus, or any invocation for that matter seeks to extend the experimenter's experience into other domains.  Deleuze later came to call this Transcendental Empricism. 

For many years, I searched in vain for the philosophical Rosetta stone that would put everything in place so that it all made sense.  Making a grand tour of all the great thinkers of human history seemingly lead nowhere - to a desolate, dry, god-forsaken mental landscape of despair and collapse. I was in mortal agony.  After coming across the intuitive voice of Hoor pa Kraat in the Thelemic material, a voice that is not a voice, rather a silencing of internal chatter, I realized that the source of my mental confusion had stemmed from the classic error of putting Descarte before the Horus. ...  (drum shot, please); putting the rational before the empirical.

The beginning of Deleuze's career as a published philosopher with Empiricism and Subjectivity (ES).  resonates with the Leary, Wilson, Crowley crowd as we shall see. The Preface begins listing Hume's major contributions to philosophy: "He established the concept of  belief and put it in the place of knowledge.  He laicized belief, turning knowledge into legitimate belief, and on the basis of this investigation sketched out a theory of probabilities.  (ES p. ix).  This connects with the concept of 'belief systems" used by Leary and Wilson to explain the processes by which people interpret reality. The convergence of belief systems that conditions how an individual sees things, they called "tunnel realities". The concept of belief also does away with the implied certainty of knowledge for a more cautious gamble of belief.  Hume introduces a healthy measure of skepticism into the mix making it not the absolute certainty of the true believer, but rather belief invested through a set pf probabilities.  Reality is what you can get away with.   According to James Fieser writing in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Hume liked to attack his own best theories to expose any inherent contradictions.  He kept up a balancing act of coming up with positive theories then tearing them down to expose any fallacies.  One method of his skepticism goes like this:

Our judgments based on past experience all contain elements of doubt; we are then impelled to make a judgment about that doubt, and since this judgment is also based on past experience it will in turn produce a new doubt. Once again, though, we are impelled to make a judgment about this second doubt, and the cycle continues.

Anyone who has ever read Aleister Crowley's keystone essay on doubt and certainty, The Soldier and the Hunchback: ? and ! will immediately recognize the inspiration from Hume's method.  Doubt = the Hunchback (?) while the Soldier (!) is what Hume called Judgement. Crowley frames the entire essay on the question "What is skepticism?"

I called it a keystone essay because the skeptical method so brilliantly described there seems essential for a successful practice of ritual magick or any kind of shamanic activity.  The first major publication for Aleister Crowley's school, the Argenteum Astrum (A.'. A.'.) was a ten volume series called the The Equinox published every six months on the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes from 1909 to 1913.  The Soldier and the Hunchback appeared in the very first volume of The Equinox.  To emphasize this procedure of checks and balances for any serious aspirant, Crowley begins The Book of Lies with a Hunchback, ?, followed by a Soldier, ! on the following page.  If someone only ever wanted to get one book by Crowley, I would recommend that be The Book of Lies.  It contains instruction on the entire system of alchemy presented by Crowley.  It's ideal for anyone who likes puns and riddles and doesn't mind having their beliefs challenged.  No blame if you don't like it because it's all lies anyway.

As mentioned before, Robert Anton Wilson began the Crowley 101 class with an examination of The Soldier and the Hunchback.  Wilson might be known more for his skeptical approach than anything else as this gave rise to his formulations of Maybe Logic and  Model Agnosticism, two of his signature concepts.  Out of skepticism comes a technique he calls Guerilla Ontology intended to stimulate the reader's skeptical filter, otherwise known as a bullshit detector.  This technique, as applied in his fiction, consists of presenting outright bullshit and lies about something, then presenting facts that obviously appear true, followed by the middle ground where information is given that could be true, but could also be another put-on.  "But what's puzzling you is just the nature of my game ..."  This literary device seeks to constantly introduce hunchbacks into the mix.  The effect of the perplexed state and the inevitable search for the soldier to assist the hunchback to his upright position, forces the reader by reflex to develop intuitive and deductive abilities; i.e. forces the reader to get smarter by reflex.  Guerilla Ontology slyly sets up a problem or series of problems for the reader to solve.  There doesn't seem a right or wrong way to solve these problems, rather making the effort to confront them sparks a particular kind of growth in the reader and actively engages them.  Anyone who has read a lot of Crowley will recognize the use of this technique from time to time.  Guerilla Ontology sparks skepticism by occasionally presenting a possible lie or absurdity as fact.  Most often there is an element of humor involved, sometimes quite subtle, sometimes outrageous  Recently E.J. Gold introduced a method of Fart Casting at a distance as part of the resistance against Mr. Trump.  I believe the idea was to cast farts into the Oval Office as a way to communicate public opinion about his policies. In the previous post we heard how Guerilla Ontology uses nonsense and humor to communicate a sense of something.  Guerilla Ontology produces sense.  Another of the usual suspects, William Burroughs became fond of saying, "We are here to GO).

Skepticism appears closely related to subjectivity and the question, "Who are you?" Social and cultural conditioning from nearly the time we are born assigns us various roles to play and expects us to comply.  We are given a name which evolves into a personal identity, or what Freud called the ego.  We are basically told who we are from early on.  A network of beliefs forms around our personal identity - a tunnel reality.  These beliefs can contain unnecessary, illusory and self-defeating limitations about what we can or cannot do. Skepticism effectively comes into play when one starts examining and questioning these ingrained beliefs.  Alice becomes skeptical and starts to question her identity when the Caterpillar asks her "Who are you?"  A Tibetan Buddhist technique called "neti neti," or "not that, not that" shows a way for someone to release beliefs about static personal identities when trying to reach the Deep Self by doing an inventory of them and rejecting them one by one: I am not a sound engineer, not a writer, not a philosophy student, not a fart caster etc. etc.  Those are things I do, functions performed and each one has its own micro-identity that can be put on or taken off like a mask; but they are not who I am.  The question, "Who are you? always introduces a hunchback - doubt, a question - into the equation.  The quest for the soldier, an answer to feed the hunchbacked question, Who am I?  becomes the event of who we are.  Soldiers are found: conclusions and formulations get reached, yet further questions inevitably arise in a spiraling process that will take the student far beyond where they started.  This becomes one function of "Do what thou wilt."

In the Translator's Introduction to Empiricism and Subjectivity, Constantin V. Bound states that an important theory of subjectivity runs through Deleuze's entire body of work.  He continues: "What is remarkable, first of all, about this contribution to a theory of subjectivity is that it combines a radical critique of interiority with a stubborn search for an "inside that lies deeper than any internal world.'  In this sense, the search for the fold - "the inside as the operation of the outside" is his own lifelong search."
 - ES p.11

In ES, Deleuze calls subjectivity, ".. a governing principle, a schema, a rule of construction." (p. 64).  Later, he defines the subject: "The subject is defined through the movement through which it is developed. Subject is that which develops itself.  The only content we can give to the idea of subjectivity is that of mediation and transcendence.  But we note that the movement of self-development and of becoming-other is double: the subject transcends itself, but it is also reflected upon (ES p. 85).  What Deleuze translates as  mediation Hume calls inference or belief with transcendence being called invention or artifice in Hume's terms.  "In short, believing and inventing is what makes the subject a subject.." (ES p.85)  We are what we believe ourselves to be combined with all actions and efforts to grow, change, and reinvent ourselves into something new.  The tunnel reality of the active subject always looks for lines of flight intended to break through or out of the tunnel.

An excellent metaprogramming praxis that directly confronts the subject's beliefs and stimulates invention is John Lilly's Beliefs Unlimited: In the province of the mind what one believes to be true either is true or becomes true within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally.  These limits are further beliefs to be transcended.  This is only the first two sentences, it continues from there, but the empirical approach of this method is obvious: empiricism and subjectivity.  Robert Anton Wilson documents his use of this exercise in Cosmic Trigger I.  I've made numerous recordings patterned after RAW's description with my own variations.  It will definitely expand your tunnel reality.

Here is a clip where you can hear the entire text.  It's only about 4 minutes, you don't have to watch the  whole video:

Deleuze speaks of the subject in relation to time:

"To speak of the subject now is to speak of duration, custom, habit and anticipation. Anticipation is habit, and habit is anticipation: these two determinations - the thrust of the past and the elan toward the future - are at the center of Hume's philosophy, the two aspects of the same fundamental dynamism. ... Habit is the constitutive root of the subject, and the subject, at root, is the synthesis of time - the synthesis of the present and the past in light of the future." (ES p.92)

Deleuze speaks of the subject as a process in this next quote which also shows resonance with Leary and Wilson's ideas of consciousness imprinting:

To the extent which principles sink their effects into the depths of the mind [i.e. our programming the ed.], the subject, which is this very effect, becomes more and more active and less and less passive.  It was passive in the beginning, it is active in the end.  This confirms the idea that subjectivity is in fact a process, and that an inventory must be made of the diverse moments of this process (or as Crowley advises, keep a magical record).  To speak like Bergson, let us say that the subject is an imprint, or an impression left by principles, that it progressively turns into a machine capable of using this impression. (ES p. 112-113).

The last words of Gilles Deleuze's first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, strike up a strong resonance between Do what thou wilt and his concept of subjectivity:

Philosophy must constitute itself as the theory of what we are doing, not as a theory of what there is.  What we do has its principles; and being can only be grasped as the object of a synthetic relation with the very principles of what we do. (ES p. 133)

This is Deleuze very early in his career writing in the early to mid '50s.  To me, it doesn't seem like he's familiar with Crowley, at that point, but rather, to use his terminology, the series that makes up Thelema and the series that makes up his philosophy maintain a disjunctive synthesis with one another through resonance.  That is, the two series, Deleuze and Crowley, have a relationship, but  also affirm their difference and go separate ways to get to the same place, more or less.  In Logic of Sense, a more seasoned Deleuze seems to address 'Do what thou wilt' quite directly, as I see it.   My guess is that Deleuze has read Crowley by now (1969). He refers to the subject as the event, to reflect its dynamic nature.  The first part of this next quote is referring to Joe Bousquet who philosophically wrote of a wound he sustained as a pure event:

"He apprehends the wound that he bears deep within his body in its eternal truth as a pure event.  To the extent that events are actualized in us, they wait for us and invite us in.  They signal is: "My wound existed before me, I was born to embody it."  It is a question of attaining this will that the event creates in us; of becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us, the Operator; of producing surfaces and linings in which the event is reflected, finds itself again as incorporeal and manifests in us the neutral splendor which it possesses in itself in its impersonal an pre-individual nature, beyond the general and the particular, the collective and the private.  It is a question of becoming a citizen of the world." (LS p. 148)

"What does it mean then to will the event? [ i.e. what does it mean to do what thou wilt? - ed.].  Is it to accept war, wounds, and death when they occur? It is highly probable that resignation is only one more figure of ressentiment, since ressentiment has many figures. [ ed. note: ressentiment is concept out of Nietzsche's philosophy that directly translates as resentment, but encompasses more in the direction of being pissed off or apathetic about life; reactive as opposed to active].  If willing the event is, primarily, to release its eternal truth, like the fire on which it is fed, this will would reach the point at which war is waged against war, the wound would be the living trace and the scar of all wounds, and death turned on itself would be willed against all deaths.  We are faced with a volitional intuition and a transmutation." (LS p. 149)

This idea of "death turned on itself" also appears as one of the core ideas at the heart of Thelema: to use a continuous series of simulated deaths to defeat death and reach a place of immortalitiy.

It may be because The Logic of Sense is a book of paradoxes written paradoxically that Deleuze correlates the individual with the event after he writes of willing the event.  The first part of this next quote links to  Crowley's formula getting for getting O.U.T., going beyond our self identity:

"The problem, therefore, is one of knowing how the individual would be able to transcend his form and his syntactical link with a world, in order to attain the universal communication of events, that is, to the affirmation of a disjunctive synthesis beyond logical contradictions, and even beyond alogical incompatibilities.  It would be necessary for the individual to grasp herself as event; and that she grasp the event actualized within her as another individual grafted onto her." (LS p. 178)

Deleuze gives an answer while stating the problem - the individual transcending his form becomes the individual grasping herself as event - i. e. the concept of "becoming-woman" that Deleuze and Guattari give in A Thousand Plateaus, a concept also at the heart of Crowley's Book of Lies, as discussed in the previous post.

He goes on to describe the individual not as an isolated discrete unit separate from the environment, but as one connected to everything else.  Our identity gets determined by the assemblages (to use another concept from ATP; what Buckminster Fuller might call "whole systems") we partcipate in; we are a different person, we have a different identity when we are with our parents than when we are with our lovers.  The event of our lives, who we are, constantly changes as we proceed through a series of different assemblages in different environments.  This introduces the element of chance into who we are because we can't predict the situations we'll end up in.  It's worth reading Deleuze on this point, LS p. 178 though it might require several readings and pondering upon it for comprehension.  He then quotes Klossowski to support the point which I found much more clear:

"the vehement oscillations which upset the individual as long as he seeks only his own center and does not see the circle of which he himself is a part; for if these oscillations upset him, it is because each corresponds to an individuality other than that which he takes as his own from the point of view of the undiscoverable center.  Hence, an identity is essentially fortuitous and a series of individualities must be traversed by each, in order that the fortuity make them completely necessary."

The last sentence is a bit of a puzzler, but I'll leave it for something to ponder.  Next up is Deleuze and qabalah.


  1. The discussion about the nature of the self was interesting to me, and made me wonder if you have read Alan Watts' "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are," which also takes on the topic.

  2. I read parts of it a really long time ago, but don't really remember it too well. I've always enjoyed and learned from anything I read by Watts.