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    Thomas Nail, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion + Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 8687
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    Thomas Nail, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion + Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion Empty Thomas Nail, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion + Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback Mer 9 Juin - 20:13



    "The first-century Roman poet, whose famous didactic
    poem De Rerum Natura was single-handedly responsible for the reintroduction of Greek atomism into Western thought and its influence on
    the modern scientific revolution, has now decidedly fallen out of favour. [...]
    De Rerum Natura has been abandoned as a contemporary text because a
    number of key modern atomist tenets have now been proven scientifically and philosophically untenable in light of twentieth-century discoveries in physics.3
    First, and most importantly, the core atomist thesis that all of reality is
    made up of discrete, indestructible, and indivisible atoms can no longer
    be upheld. Beginning with the discovery of electrons in the late nineteenth century and culminating with the discovery of other subatomic
    particles, the splitting of the atom, and the discovery of quantum fields in
    the twentieth century, it is no longer possible to maintain a philosophical
    or scientific belief in the core tenet of Greek atomism. The twenty-firstcentury scientific consensus is now that of quantum field theory: that all
    particles are fluctuations or effects of more primary field processes." (p.1)

    "Secondly, and correlatively, the modern atomist commitment to
    materialism remains fundamentally flawed. The modern interpretation of Greek atomism, primarily based on Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura,
    remained committed to a version of materialism defined by at least three
    core aspects: discreteness, observability, and mechanistic causality.
    Discreteness. For modern materialism, all of being is made of matter
    and all of matter is defined by discrete particles of three-dimensionally
    extended physical stuff. The particles of matter move around, but with
    respect to their own self-identity they remain unchanged. Matter can be
    divided up into smaller and smaller particles, but matter will always be
    nothing other than the sum total of divided discrete particles with extension in space.
    Observability. All of these discrete particles are defined by their observability and measurability. According to classical physics, if something
    cannot be observed or measured with accuracy then it is not material.
    Discreteness and observation are thus related. A non-discrete body will
    not yield to the totality of presence required by a total observation of the
    body, but only a partial and thus incomplete observation. Furthermore,
    discreteness is also the precondition of completely accurate measurability. Without the discreteness of atoms, measurements or quantification
    become stochastic or chaotic, changing in character by virtue of being
    measured. If the act of measurement or observation modifies the object
    of measure, then a completely accurate measurement becomes impossible. Today, such simple scientific empiricism has become a deeply
    flawed methodology.5
    Causality. Based on the intrinsic discreteness and measurability of
    corporeal matter, classical physics believed that the causal connections
    between discrete bodies could be mechanically broken down and made
    predictable. If the measure of one body could be determined, its relation
    to other bodies could be determined by the observation of patterns and
    so-called ‘forces’ between them. Matter, in this interpretation, behaves
    according to fixed laws, which are, in principle, rational, calculable, and
    predictable. ‘The great book of nature’, as Galileo says, ‘can be read
    only by those who know the language in which it was written. And this
    language is mathematics.’

    Flux. Contemporary physics, however, has rendered these three fea-
    tures of modern materialism, inspired by Greek atomism, absolutely
    Einstein’s famous discovery of mass–energy equivalence (E =
    ) fundamentally transformed our understanding of matter as some
    reified, discrete body. Discrete matter is essentially equivalent or transformable back and forth between continuous fluctuations of energy and
    discontinuous bodies of matter. Following the basic insights of quantum
    field theory, one can no longer maintain any such definition of matter as
    fundamentally discrete or reified.
    Interaction. Furthermore, since the movement of quantum fields has
    been found to be fundamentally stochastic, one can no longer maintain
    a philosophical or scientific commitment to the necessarily observable or
    measurable nature of matter. One can observe and measure the energy
    and momentum of a quantum field only with respect to the particle it
    generates. The direct observation and measurement of quantum fields
    is further complicated by the fact that they are in constant motion and
    superposition. The act of measurement interacts with the field itself and
    gives determination to the indeterminate fields. Prior to this interaction
    or measurement there is no objective discrete state or states, only an
    indeterminate flux.
    Pedesis. Finally, in quantum field theory matter cannot be understood
    causally or mechanistically. Since matter is fundamentally stochastic,
    the connections between motions are never absolute or predictable
    with certainty in advance. So-called immutable laws of nature are now
    mutable. We can no longer speak of absolute causality, but only probabilities of constant conjunctions between fields and particles. Fields are
    not discrete mechanisms with billiard-ball-like effects. Subatomic particles can ‘tunnel’ through solid physical barriers and become ‘entangled’
    over distances, duplicating the movement of the other and responding
    instantaneously to changes in motion. In short, the modern interpretation of Greek atomist materialism, from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries, can no longer seriously be entertained and has no place
    contemporary philosophy or science, except perhaps as a historical relic.
    Given the failure of the core ontological and scientific tenets of
    modern atomism, it is not surprising that their textual origin, Lucretius’
    De Rerum Natura, has suffered the same fate.

    "The argument of this book is that another Lucretius is possible beneath
    the rubble of its modern interpretation. In light of contemporary physics
    it is possible again to return to Lucretius and find in his work fresh philosophical insights that provide a poetic and theoretical coherence to the
    philosophical and scientific discoveries of our time. Beneath the paving
    stones of atoms, the sandy loam of flux." (p.4)

    "The history of De Rerum Natura is part of a subterranean current of philosophy that has been systematically decimated throughout Western history. People have been burned alive for reading this book. Copies of it have been destroyed and its ideas denounced as heretical, communist, atheist, hedonist, and materialist. It is not at all by accident that the writings of Epicurus and Lucretius were destroyed and those of Plato and Aristotle preserved. For all the diversity of the ancient philosophers, only one tradition was courageous enough to deny the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, and to reject the politics of the state and the aesthetics of representation: atomism. The fact that the writings of atomist philosophers, and therefore the robust legacy of their philosophical interpretation and development, have been destroyed and misinterpreted is a direct expression of a certain Graeco-Judaeo-Christian will to destroy their ultimate philosophical enemy. The current of materialism is underground, not by necessity, but by force of oppression. Like the damming of a flood, the primacy of matter in motion has been blocked up and systematically denied throughout Western philosophy." (pp.4-5)

    "With the exception of Parmenides, all pre-Socratic philosophers accepted the thesis of continuous motion, but none of them accepted the idea that there was always motion without a static first cause of that motion. At the centre of Greek philosophy has always been the eternal, the God, the One, or the first mover and cause of all motion. Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus alone rejected the idea of a static or eternal origin. ‘The atoms’, Epicurus writes, ‘move continuously for all time.’ Their movement has no origin and no end, no God and no immortal soul. There is only matter in motion. There are no static phenomena to appear to a stable observer but only kinomena, or bodies in motion." (p.5)

    "With the reign of Theodosius the Great began the destruction of all pagan rituals and the closing of cultic sites. Christian mobs were unleashed on the great ancient libraries, including the library of Alexandria, and their books and art burned. Plato finally got his wish. If there were any works of Democritus left, they were burned in libraries across the Empire. When the Roman Empire finally collapsed, the books salvaged by the Christians were rarely pagan ones, and even when they were, only pagan texts that might contribute to the theological positions of Christianity were chosen: deism, idealism, the immortality of the soul, and so on. The rest were left to rot." (p.6)

    "The second revolution of the underground current of materialism began
    in 1417 when the Italian humanist book hunter Poggio Bracciolini discovered and copied the last surviving and most complete existing manuscript of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, which he sent back to Italy. All the
    odds were against this discovery, and yet this text remains the last, only, and longest ancient text on atomism; without it one can hardly speak of
    an atomist philosophy at all.
    Monks in monasteries collected all kinds of crumbling ancient books
    and often did not know exactly what they had. Only an expert with a
    classical training in the humanities would be in a position to know the
    status of these kinds of works. Furthermore, after over a thousand years,
    many of the books were eaten by worms, decomposed, and illegible.
    Monks would then scrape a layer off the vellum (animal skin) and copy a
    new book over the first in a palimpsest. Additionally, these libraries were
    not open to the public, and pagan outsiders looking for texts would not
    be welcome. Luckily, Poggio Bracciolini had the right training, time,
    money, and the Christian prestige to get into these libraries and to know
    what he was looking for.
    By the end of the fifteenth century, the recirculation of De Rerum
    Natura had spread around Italy, and atomism had become a definitively
    heretical position. By the end of the sixteenth century, word of atomism
    had spread all through Europe, and the book had been translated and
    printed in a number of languages. It would never be destroyed again.
    The impact of the book on the budding scientific revolution was
    enormous. It gave a coherent philosophical account of the natural world
    and a non-theological explanation of a number of important natural
    processes well before many of them could have been experimentally
    proven. The influence of De Rerum Natura can be seen across the greatest
    minds of the humanities and sciences up to the beginning of the twentieth century: Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), Francis Bacon (1561–1626),
    Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), Thomas More (1478–1535), Galileo
    Galilei (1564–1642), Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), Molière (1622–73),
    Michel de Marolles (1600–81), the mathematician Alessandro Marchetti
    (1633–1714), Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), Baruch Spinoza (1632–
    77), René Descartes (1596–1650), Isaac Newton (1642–1726), Charles
    Darwin (1809–82), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), William Thomson
    (Lord Kelvin) (1824–1907), and Albert Einstein (1879–1955)." (pp.6-7)

    "n 1986, Louis Althusser traced this Epicurean idea of the contingency within matter itself through a number of figures in the history
    of philosophy including Lucretius, Machiavelli, and Marx, identifying
    them as thinkers of ‘aleatory materialism’, that is, philosophers who
    believe that matter itself is spontaneously creative and that this creativity
    is fundamentally stochastic. Althusser identifies the heroes of this tradition as well as the counter-revolutionary attempts to interpret it as identical to the mental freedom of human beings. Althusser thus provides an
    interesting historical lineage for the idea, even though he ends up oddly
    emphasising the ‘aleatory’ over the ‘materialist’ implications of atomism
    more than is accurate for Lucretius.
    Today, the echoes of a return to Lucretius can be heard in the footnotes of ‘new materialist’ philosophers, such as Jane Bennett’s Vibrant
    Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010), William Connolly’s A World
    of Becoming (2011), and Levi Bryant’s Democracy of Objects (2011), among
    others.22 All of these works emphasise the original Deleuzean imperative
    to reinterpret Lucretius according to the creative and immanent power
    of matter itself against the modern atomist interpretations of mechanistic particles and psychological freedom." (p.10)

    "Greek atomism
    espoused a number of philosophical positions, but all are derived from
    the rare and radical ontological thesis that being is in motion. Even
    among today’s atomist and materialist sympathisers, no one has dared
    to utter such a thesis, opting instead for theories of becoming, immanence, force, or neo-Spinozist vitalism. Being, for Lucretius, however, is
    nothing other than matter in motion.
    This book is thus opposed to the modern atomic interpretation of
    Lucretius in three ways, following the triple failure of classical materialism and physics: discreteness, observability, and mechanistic causality.
    First and most importantly, instead of positing discrete atoms as ontologically primary, as in the ancient and modern interpretation, this book argues that Lucretius instead posited the flow of movement as primary. The
    difference between Lucretius and the earlier Greek atomists is precisely
    that – the atom. For Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus, atoms are
    always in motion, but the atom itself remains fundamentally unchanged,
    indivisible, and thus internally static – even as it moves. Thus instead of
    positing discrete atoms as ontologically primary as both ancient Greek
    and later modern theories do, one of Lucretius’ greatest novelties was
    to posit the movement or flow of matter as primary.
    24 Lucretius did not simply
    ‘translate Epicurus’, he transformed him.
    For example, although the Latin word atomus [smallest particle] was
    available to Lucretius to use in his poem, he intentionally did not use it,
    nor did he use the Latin word particula or particle to describe matter. The
    English translations ‘atom’, ‘particle’, and others have all been added
    to the text based on a particular historical interpretation of it. The idea
    that Lucretius subscribed to a world of discrete particles called atoms
    is therefore both a projection of Epicurus, who used the Greek word
    atomos, and a retroaction of modern scientific mechanism on to De Rerum
    Natura. As such, Lucretitus’ writings have been crushed by the weight of
    his past and his future at the same time.
    In this book I argue that Lucretius rejected entirely the notion that things
    emerged from discrete particles. To believe otherwise is to distort the
    original meanings of the Latin text as well as the absolutely enormous
    poetic apparatus he summoned to describe the flowing, swirling, folding,
    and weaving of the flux of matter. Although Lucretius rejected the term
    atomus, he remained absolutely true to one aspect of the original Greek
    meaning of the word, ἄτομος (átomos, ‘indivisible’), from ἀ- (a-, ‘not’) +
    τέμνω (témnō, ‘I cut’). Being is not cut up into discrete particles, but
    is composed of continuous flows, folds, and weaves. Discrete ‘things’
    [rerum] are composed of corporeal flows [corpora] that move together
    [conflux] and fold over themselves [nexus] in a woven knotwork [contextum]. For Lucretius, things only emerge and have their being within and
    immanent to the flow and flux of matter in motion. Discreteness is a
    product of continuous, uncut, undivided motion and not the other way
    Secondly, for Lucretius, the material flows of being are not necessarily
    observable as such. Material flows never appear as discrete, observable or
    empirical particles. Material flows [corpora], he writes, are always just
    below the level of observation. This is because observation only notes
    discrete composites [rerum] and not the constitutive flows that produce the discrete product. Since material flows are fundamentally immanent
    to the constitutive kinetic flow which produces things, in principle one
    never finds a corpora but only an infinite corporeal flow as the material condition of any discrete composite or thing.
    Thirdly, instead of a mechanistic causality between atoms, we find
    in Lucretius a theory of stochastic or pedetic motion inherent in matter
    itself. Matter is not moved by an external will or force, but by itself.
    It is the source of its own motion. Matter by its very nature is not a
    predictable mechanism. It is fundamentally turbulent, disordered, and
    chaotic. But from this turbulent motion it also produces order and stability through the folding, circulation, and knotting of flows. Matter is
    therefore onto- and morpho-genetic." (pp.10-12)

    "My thesis here is not that Lucretius’ theory of matter and the quantum field theory of matter are strictly identical, or that one is derived from or legitimated by the other, but that they are historically compatible and mutually illuminating in the way that atomism once was with classical physics." (p.14)

    "Karl Marx (1818–83) and Henri Bergson (1859–1941) are the only two philosophers to have remained committed to the fundamentally stochastic nature of matter and the ontological primacy of motion." (note 17 p.16)
    -Thomas Nail, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, 281 pages.



    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. »
    -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 8687
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    Thomas Nail, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion + Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion Empty Re: Thomas Nail, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion + Lucretius II: An Ethics of Motion

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback Jeu 10 Juin - 15:33

    "Epicurus had many Greek and Roman followers who wrote and promoted Epicurean doctrine, but Lucretius did something no one had ever done before. He espoused a version of Epicurean philosophy in a book of Latin poetry written in Homeric hexameter. Why ? For pleasure. He wanted to make something new by mixing the old traditions." (p.IX)

    "In this book I argue that there is also a hidden Epicurean philosophy of Homeric myth. In the end this is where the real brilliance and originality of Lucretius lies: not in Homer or Epicurus but in their perverse and twisted entanglement. There is thus a becoming Homer of Epicurus. It is a genuine injustice to reduce such a radical enterprise to mere Epicurean ‘doctrine’.

    The idea of philosophical poetry is a satyr’s slap in the face to the entire Greek tradition of philosophy from Thales to Aristotle, including Epicurus. With few exceptions, Greek philosophers systematically reduced Homeric poetry to irrational and sensuous mythology in order to define their new abstractions and idealisms against the straw man of the oral tradition. This was a founding moment of exclusion that has stayed with the Western tradition up to the present – contributing to a perceived inferiority of oral and indigenous knowledge. It is therefore completely unsurprising that today, when Lucretius is invoked as a philosopher, he is treated as completely reducible to the real Greek master: Epicurus. By doing so, the Western reception of Lucretius has reproduced the same Grecocentric and idealist tradition that vilified pre-Greek and Homeric poetry and archaic materialism. This is the same Western tradition that continues to devalorise oral knowledge and non-Western mythologies today.

    Most Western philosophy, even in its most materialist moments, has in one way or another hated matter and the body. Lucretius was the first from within this tradition to produce a true and radical materialism of sensation and the body. However, like Homer, Lucretius also paid the ultimate price for his materialist sins and was largely exiled from the discipline of philosophy. Either Lucretius was treated as a skilled poet of the Latin tongue or he was treated as a slavish imitator of the great master Epicurus. Never has Lucretius been read as an original philosophical poet of a radical materialism that goes far beyond anything Epicurus achieved
    ." (p.X)

    "We are entering a century of motion. More than at any other time in history, people and things move longer distances, more frequently, more unequally, and more quickly than ever before. All that was solid has melted into air, and we are now all adrift like motes of dust on turbulent winds. In the world of the twenty-first century, movement and mobility increasingly define every major area of human activity, from society, science, and the arts to nature itself.

    We know now, for example, that the entire universe is accelerating away from us in every direction, driven by a mysterious ‘dark matter’, and that all of reality consists of continuously fluctuating quantum fields. Digital images stream across the globe along these same fluctuating fields through mobile devices that connect the whole world in beautiful and precarious ways. These same flows also allow more people to move around the world than ever before in human history. We are living in an age of mass migration, when there are more than 1 billion migrants. As carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures rise, the Earth itself is now becoming more mobile. Even glaciers are on the move, alongside half of all flora and fauna, migrating north at unprecedented rates. Rising sea levels threaten to displace millions more people in the coming years.
    This hyperkinetic modernity poses new ethical questions that require new ethical frameworks and responses appropriate to our century.
    " (p.2)

    "I think it gives us four things:

    1. It provides a strikingly contemporary and naturalistic foundation for all hitherto existing ethical theories. Ethics, like most of Western philosophy, has tended to locate its ground in human minds or human bodies, but has failed to explain how these so-called special ethical minds and bodies are the result of supposedly unethical natural processes in the first place. Lucretius’ ethics of motion helps us better understand and reinterpret the material and naturalistic foundations of ethical practice.

    2. It shows in detail several major errors in ethical thinking. For Lucretius, these errors all stem from the same source: the fear of death and the belief in transcendent sources of value. The purpose of the demystification of normative ethics is to help us to avoid falling prey to the unnecessary suffering that such sources produce, and instead direct us towards the realisation of our own immanent and collective desires within and alongside the natural world.

    3. The materialist ethics of this book also provides us with a badly needed ethical theory that is not centred on human beings and biological life. Ethics, for Lucretius, is not something that originates with life or with the human intellect and is then applied to other types of beings. Lucretius argues, quite radically, that ethics is something that humans share with the rest of nature because we are all in motion. Lucretius thus offers us a non-chauvinistic ethics much better suited to responding to climate change and ecological crisis than our current anthropocentric models, including those that ‘extend rights’ to or find ‘intrinsic values’ in nature.

    4. Finally, Lucretius’ kinetic ethics provides us with a user’s guide (rather than moral commandments) to managing our collective desires. Ethical habits, for Lucretius, are not fixed in stone but require us to continuously reproduce them. Therefore we can, in principle, always produce something new. Lucretius also offers us several thermodynamic lessons about the energetic precarity of beings-in-motion and the material risks associated with energetic accumulation and expenditure
    ." (pp.2-3)

    "For Epicurus there are two kinds of pleasures: katastematic pleasures and kinetic pleasures. Katastematic pleasures are those that occur in the absence of pain [aponia] and in an undisturbed mind [ataraxia]. Kinetic pleasures, however, are those that occur through movement and action. The aim of Epicurean ethics is to attain the former and try one’s best to steer clear of the latter. For Epicurus, only the gods exist in perfect ataraxia.

    There are without doubt similarities between Lucretian and Epicurean ethics, but let’s focus on two important differences. First and most important, for Lucretius there are only kinetic sensations because all of matter is in motion, including the mind. The interconnected, unceasing, and continuous movement of the mind, body, and soul is the main thesis of Book III. Lucretius is explicit in numerous places that there is nothing static in nature. The mind cannot escape movement through egoistic contemplation. Thus one never will find Lucretius saying, as Epicurus does, that one should try and avoid all kinetic pleasures. On the contrary, Lucretius’ poem is filled with sensuous scenes of moving desire the like of which Epicurus would never have dreamed of writing, such as the erotic love scene between Venus and Mars (1.32–5), the poet’s own intoxication and orgiastic penetration by the ‘wand’ of Bacchus (1.927–34), the auto-erotics of bodies along the riverbanks (2.29–33), and the ecstatic convulsions of reading philosophy (3.28–9). Lucretius even opens
    De Rerum Natura with a proem to Venus: the desire and pleasure of gods and men (1.1). There is perhaps no less Epicurean a way to open an Epicurean treatise than an invocation of a Venusian nature overflowing with desire, sex, war, and death, as Lucretius offers. However, Lucretius also never says that ‘pleasure is the highest good’. He even explicitly warns against the dangers of romantic idealism (4.1121–40).
    So Lucretius is neither a hedonist nor an ascetic, nor does he think there is any
    ataraxia in nature. This leads to a second difference with Epicurus: if there is no ataraxia in nature because matter is ceaselessly moving (2.97–9), then there can be no motionless and unperturbed Epicurean gods, either. Such gods are explicitly impossible for Lucretius." (pp.3-4)

    "If all of nature moves, there can be no unchanging, pregiven, or transcendent ethical values. Ethics is entirely immanent to action and sensuous practice. This means that there is no Platonic or metaphysical category of ‘the good’ for Lucretius. It also means that there are no Aristotelian virtues, either. Since virtues are by definition good things to do, the origin of this goodness that all virtues have in common only raises the metaphysical question of how such virtues became good in the first place. For Lucretius, there are no virtues or even any fixed definitions of virtues that precede or exceed the human movements that produce them materially, practically, and historically.

    Furthermore, if everything is in motion, then hedonism, asceticism, and utilitarianism are unable to determine in advance what will produce pleasure and what will produce pain. This is especially problematic in the case of the creation of new unknown pleasures. Lucretius explicitly rejects any attempt to calculate the wildly different and changing pleasures and pains of different people and creatures (3.310–15). This does not mean that there are not situations of more or less pain for certain beings ; it just means that the search for pleasure cannot be the a priori starting point of ethics. Pleasure-oriented theories all assume the existence of rational humans capable of the pleasure calculus, rather than showing how the value of pleasure itself emerged historically and practically in the first place. For Lucretius, pleasure and happiness have to be made through movement; they do not pre-exist the practical and sensuous conditions of movement.

    Finally, and for similar reasons, for Lucretius there is no such thing as a static, universal, moral duty independent of the historical and sensuous actions that are affected by moral demands and actively reproduce them. Humans might perform various duties as if they were universal, ahistorical, and given from a god or human reason, but duty ethics offers no explanation of its own origin in nature.

    In one way or another, all these ethical theories assume the existence of a transcendent value that simply exists without any explanation or theory of how such a theory could have emerged from nature in the first place. Ethics has largely abandoned nature. Instead, ethicists tend to posit the origin of such values in an unmoving human rationality, god, or other ‘non-natural’ form. Ethics has thus historically subordinated matter and motion to some other value as if this value did not come from matter and motion itself. For Lucretius, such ethical theories obscure the real desires of those performing them. The danger of this mystification, according to Lucretius, is that we become slaves to these ideas as if they had some kind of autonomy over our collective reproduction of them." (pp.4-5)

    "If there are transcendent and ahistorical values and we can think them, we believe this allows us to participate directly in their ‘immortality’ in some way. By participating in and contemplating such metaphysical values, including the a priori valorisation of sensuous pleasure or happiness, humans feel they have discovered something unchanging and fixed
    about nature. We have come to think of ethical abstraction and moral obedience as weapons against death
    ." (p.6)

    "In direct contrast to nature’s constantly changing and dissipating flow of matter, capitalist economics is also premised on the false notion of equality of exchange or equivalence. In nature, however, there is no such thing. Nature, for Lucretius, is neither identical to itself at any point nor identical between points. Matter always flows asymmetrically, entropically, and in metastable patterns of increasing non-equilibrium. Equivalence and equilibrium are, physically speaking, for Lucretius, violations of the historical tendency of the universe to kinetically dissipate and expend itself.

    By acting as if equivalence, equilibrium, identity, and exchange are real aspects of nature, however, economics, and capitalist economics in particular, have increasingly damaged the Earth. When we act as if nature moves in one way when it really moves in another, huge disruptions in those motions occur. Capitalist constructivists have acted as if they could simply make up or construct a set of rules or values on top of nature and live in their own reality. They are like someone swimming upstream while insisting that it is the easiest and most natural way to move in the river.

    Classical, neoclassical, and orthodox economic theory also acts as if economic exchange were a reversible process – when physically speaking, it is not. The philosophical assumption of economics since Hume has been that scarcity is the basis and starting point of economics – when, again, nothing of the sort exists in nature. The ideas of equivalence, equilibrium, reversibility, and scarcity are false – meaning that they have never been found in nature. By acting as if a commodity were strictly identical to its exchange value (how much money it is exchanged for), capitalist economics have not considered the ecological impacts of deforestation, pollution, and climate change or the human impacts of social devalorisation (racism, sexism, classism) as integral and constitutive aspects of the economic process. These devalued flows of matter literally have ‘no value’. As Marx rightly says, capitalists act as if the product is abstracted or independent from the process that produced it. As a counter-example, if we assigned even a modest monetary value to the energy expenditure of trees and plants, to women’s domestic labour, or to migration and human displacement, profit would be impossible. In short, all economics, and capitalist economics in particular, requires the constitutive exclusion of the material kinetic conditions that support its abstract exchange process.

    By privileging life, accumulation, conservation, and utility, capitalism devalorises and destroys everything it associates with death, expenditure, reciprocity, and non-useful waste. Hence, we have witnessed a long history of ecocide, indigenous genocide, slavery, patriarchy, forced migration, and biopolitics. Lucretius gave us the basic ontological and ethical diagnostic of this problem light-years ahead of his time." (pp.6-7)

    "[Lucretius] e alone embraced death because he alone believed in the active and creative power of continuously moving matter." (p.7)

    "Lucretius says he is ‘turning’ Epicurus’ philosophy ‘into my fatherly/ native words’ [in patrias qui possim vertere voces] (5.337). The Latin word vertere, to turn, takes on a crucial meaning here because it also refers to the unpredictable and unrepresentable ‘swerve’ of matter. Lucretius is not just copying Epicurus; he is twisting, turning, and swerving him in new directions. Lucretius was not deaf to the resonances of the word ver- in ver-tere in his ‘Latinis ver-sibus’ (1.137; verses are things that ‘turn’) in which he is considering the question of ‘truth’ [ver-um] by associating it with the dynamic changes of ‘spring’ [ver]." (p.10)

    "The primary enemy of ethics, for Lucretius, is religio. The Latin word religio, which is also the etymological origin of the English word ‘religion’, comes from the Latin root lig, meaning ‘to bind’ or ‘confine’. Lucretius understands all transcendent values as kinds of bindings that restrict our movements. Epicurus is celebrated in Book I for traversing a limitless universe [peragravit] (1.74) just as Lucretius says he traversed [peragro] (1.926) the ‘pathless’ ground of the Muses’ mountains." (pp.15-16)

    "What Epicurus found under his feet, Lucretius says, was the real material basis of ethics and of religion: the collective conditions for favourable or pleasurable life [commoda vitae] (3.2). The Latin word commoda is a composite of com, ‘together’, and moda, ‘way or method’. Commoda vitae is, therefore, a collective way of life or set of actions. The conditions for all ethical life are, for Lucretius, thus collective. Ethics is not just something individuals contemplate and follow on their own. All ethical action takes place in a social and sensuous world. Furthermore, Lucretius does not call this Epicurean discovery a maxim or commandment. Commoda vitae, or ‘collective ways of pleasurable life’, are the conditions for the emergence of ethical life as such and are thus not reducible to any single law or principle of action." (p.17)

    "Epicureans did not reject poetry entirely, but the greatest Epicurean pupil, Philodemus, says, in On Poems, that poetry is useless and of no philosophical value. This is obviously not Lucretius’ position." (p.18)

    "When Lucretius says he follows [sequor] (3.3) the footprints [pressis ... signis] (3.4) that Epicurus laid down, we should pay careful attention to his use of the word ficta, from the Latin word fingo, meaning ‘feign’, ‘falsify’, or ‘form’. Lucretius’ use of ficta indicates that he both follows Epicurus, ‘fixes his feet in his tracks’, but also deviates, ‘feigns or falsifies’ them at the same time.
    There is no doubt that Lucretius followed Epicurus just as Epicurus followed Democritus, but the three are not identical. The word
    sequor can also mean ‘to come after’. Just because someone comes after someone else under whom they studied does not mean that they are identical." (pp.18-19)

    "Lucretius says he is like a swallow compared to Epicurus the swan. This comparison is absolutely critical but is typically ignored in favour of more rationalist readings of De Rerum Natura that ignore Homeric and poetic influence and treat the text as a series of philosophical propositions. This rationalist method of interpretation has completely obscured the originality of Lucretius’ poetic and philosophical genius.

    The swan is an image of beauty, grace, and steady, rectilinear flying. More specifically, it is a mythological image of Zeus, who transformed himself into a swan to seduce Leda. Lucretius thus compares Epicurus with the steady rectilinear fall of atoms and the peaceful rational contemplation of them. In short, Lucretius compares the mythological god Zeus with the philosophical master Epicurus. Lucretius’ brilliance here is that he naturalises epic myth at the same time as he destabilises and renders poetic Epicurean philosophy.

    In Greek mythology the baby Zeus was hidden from his father, Cronos, in a cave and raised by birds, bees, and a goat, under the care of the Earth (Gaia). It is therefore
    absolutely no coincidence that Lucretius compares himself precisely to these three animals in this passage. Here we have an extremely clever critique of Epicurean rationalism. Zeus was only a powerful male sky-god because of the sensuous and material conditions of the earth, birds, bees, and goat that raised and protected him. Similarly, Epicurus could only have become the master philosopher he was because the earth and its creatures supported his material body with their desire. In other words, Epicurus can rationally endorse stasis and ataraxia only on the more primary condition of a moving, material, and desiring world of which he is part. Epicurus, like Zeus, is immanently constituted by his material natural conditions, but then strives to dominate them and deny their constitutive role. Epicurus and Zeus, in their own ways, both disavow the caring labour and material knowledge of the women and animals that make their action possible. The denial of the desiring labour that conditions ethical action in Epicurean ataraxia and Olympian authoritarianism is at the heart of Lucretius’ critique of both ethical systems.

    The conditions of ethical action, for Lucretius, however, are based on the primacy of the materiality of the earth and the caring/desiring labour of women and animals. Under the satiric veil of self-deprecation, Lucretius thus identifies himself with them against Epicurus and Homer. Ethics, for Lucretius, is neither contemplation nor divine authority. But let’s look more closely at the animals to which Lucretius compares himself, as they tell us about the nature of ethical practice
    ." (pp.21-22)

    "First, Lucretius says he is a swallow, but how is the swallow a poetic image of ethical practice ?

    Pedesis. Swallows are known above all for their chaotic and unpredictable flight paths as they hunt insects in mid-air. Swallows spiral, circle, dive, and make sharp turns and twists that few other birds can manage. Since humans cannot see these insects, it looks as though the swallows are moving ‘randomly’, when in fact their erratic-looking movements are the result of a highly relational and responsive entanglement with their prey. From the perspective of those who do not hear the music, the dancers (pedetes) appear insane.

    For Lucretius, the swallow is the perfect animal to express the pedetic movement of matter as it continually swerves and twists. The fall and flow of matter is never perfectly straight nor is it completely random. The flow of matter is not random because it is relational and responsive to itself, like the dance between swallows and insects. Since each is responding to the other, neither alone is the cause of the other. Causality is collective and immanent precisely because matter responds to itself through sensation.

    Wisdom. Swallows are also known for being prophetic birds. For example, the ancient Greek and Roman practice of augury was a way to divine truths about future events from the behaviour of birds based on what noises they made, how they flew, what kind of bird they were, and their direction (Fig. 1.1). Swallows, in particular, were signs of spring, fertility, and fidelity since they always returned home to the same place year after year in spring to mate. This is particularly appropriate in the context of Lucretius’ amorous poetic invocations of Venus (1.1–30), Favonius (the west spring wind) (1.11), Dionysus the fertility god at Delphi (1.734–41), the smiling spring weather that brings so much pleasure to bodies (2.29–33), and countless others. Lucretius is a poet of springtime, of nature’s fertility as well as destructive expenditure. Lucretius was well aware of the Homeric and Roman practice of bird-prophecy. He even explicitly describes it in lines 5.1083–6. However, Lucretius does not invoke augury because he believes in prophecy, but because he believes bird movements tell us something about nature, the weather, and so on (which they do). Lucretius the swallow is thus the wise and wily bird that announces the pleasures of springtime.

    Desire. Swallows are also associated with desire, specifically in Homer. The homecoming return of the swallow’s migration is associated with fertility, wisdom, beauty, and poetry. In the Odyssey, Athena (a goddess of wisdom, beauty, and poetry) turns into a swallow when Odysseus returns home to Ithaca (22.239).15 When Odysseus fights off Penelope’s false suitors, Homer says that the sound of the bowstring from his bow and arrow was like the note of a swallow (21.411). The sound of the bow paired with the appearance of Athena at the battle connect Odysseus’ homecoming with the renewal of life, springtime, desire, and poetic song at the same time. The importance of the swallow’s song is also crucial to mating. Swallows ‘sing before coition, and perhaps during it’. Lucretius, the philosophical poet of desire, calls himself a swallow in this mythopoetic context.

    Song. The swallow’s song is also known for its erratic twittering noise. In contrast to Epicurus, the Zeus-swan of ataraxia, Lucretius compares himself with the erratic and pedetic noises of the swallow. A parallel occurs in the case of Zeus. According to Hesiod and Homer, and as repeated by Lucretius (2.633–9), the cries of the baby Zeus were hidden from his father, Cronos, by the loud noises of the Curetes, who banged their shields and swords in front of the cave.

    There is an important philosophical consequence to be gleaned here from Lucretius’ perspective. The material conditions of ataraxia are not immobile. Stasis and katastematic pleasures occur only on the condition of a more primary movement and motion that protects, bears, and supports them. Ataraxia is not static but rather a kind of metastable state supported by deeply turbulent but patterned movements, like the swallows or Odysseus’ pedetic homecoming. Lucretius’ noisy swallow song shows us a different ethical orientation in which desire and action take primacy over tranquillity and contemplation." (pp.22-23)
    -Thomas Nail, Lucretius II. An Ethics of Motion, Edinburgh University Press, 2020, 224 pages.

    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. »
    -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

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