Philosophy and Life

What is philosophy? Or really the question I'm interested in is: What do we want from philosophy? Do we read it to find answers to questions? How does it stand in relation to life, whatever that is?

Most people think about philosophy as asking, and attempting to answer, big questions: What is self? What is mind? What is ethics? But these questions make all kinds of assumptions — that there even is such a thing as a self, as a mind, as ethics. I want to say these so-called philosophical questions seem disingenuous, not to mention specious, in that they leave the most interesting things off the table — that is, themselves. They sound deep and probing when, in fact, they seek to regurgitate the known. 

Deleuze and Guattari offer another definition: philosophy is the creation of concepts. That is, rather than trying to answer preordained questions, philosophy invents questions along with their concepts. In their conception, each philosophy births a different way of making sense of this life. Each philosophy is a different world that might or might not have points of intersection, zones of overlap, with other philosophies. 

I've always had two related attractions to philosophy. I like the intellectual acrobatics, the mechanics of it all, the practice of thinking through these different worlds — Kant's, Hegel's, Nietzsche's, Derrida's. Each one has an internal logic, its distinct terms of operation that might or might not turn me on. But that is irrelevant: I just like tinkering with them, like someone who loves cars. I simply enjoy seeing how they run.

But there has always been another element to my love of philosophy: the way this or that philosophy resonates with my life, with how I feel every day in every way. Which is to say, I've always wanted something from philosophy to go with me in this life, to move me, orient me, ground or unground me. It's not that I want to philosophy to answer my questions; I want it to move me, to sweep me along in its questions, its concepts, its machinations, its way of going. 

So while I enjoyed reading Kant and Hegel — tinkering with their mechanics was a pleasurable task — I've always been more drawn to those who make philosophy resonate with life — Plato, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari. For them, philosophy reckons day to day life — the living through of this life. It's not as much a matter of answering those big questions — What's the good life? — as it is: What are the ways of going that fuel and incite me? That orient me? That inflect my life in a healthy, invigorating, beautiful way? 

For these philosophers, what's at stake is not an idea or ideology but a life — their lives. In this sense, philosophy is almost moral, only without the morality. It's about leading the good life and each defines what counts as good and as life differently. 

Now, what's always irritated me about academic philosophy was that it could discuss interesting things but the stakes were always absurd — who could win or own an argument. The way of life was not only not present, it was prohibited from being part of the conversation. In fact, bringing a life lived into the equation marked you as a bad thinker, even a non-thinker. Philosophy as an academic process is woefully non self-reflexive. It doesn't like to ask of itself: Why am I doing this? It assumes the questions are self-evident. 

Osho, the Taoist Buddhist, says that philosophy is — more or less — bullshit. It talks about some interesting things but leaves itself, its life, its peace, off the table. Philosophy is so blind that it asks questions assuming there will be answers. But, for Osho, there are no questions as there are no answers. All this is is all this.  Which, for those academics out there, sounds an awful lot like Laruelle's non-philosophy, only without the pedantic crap. (Now, before you snap back in disagreement, ask yourself why. Who cares?)

Now, the minute I invoke Osho and Buddhism, the philosophers amongst you wince and turn away. What we call 'spirituality,' (I don't care for this word) has a bad rap amongst we so-called philosophers. Part of this, no doubt, is that much of it reeks of bullshit. So many people love to say and proffer profundities on the Facebook or bumber stickers when, in reality, saying it is usually a sign that you don't actually know it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing; perhaps you're reminding yourself. But it still stinks like bullshit.

But this is the same issue with what we often think of as philosophy: there is an infinite gap between speaking the truth — whatever that is — and walking the truth (which is what I'd call knowing it — and pace Morpheus). The most conservative academic I ever met — the one who most ardently upheld the patriarchal structures of the institution — is perhaps the most revered 'radical' feminist of the past forty years. Go figure. 

From a certain angle, philosophy looks so absurd, so silly, so adolescent as it nobly wrestles the big questions of existence! Or that's how it imagines itself. Watching academics deliver 'papers' and then watching as other academics attack with pedantic drivel is one of the most repulsive things I've ever witnessed — unless it's all parody in which case it's hilarious. I mean, they can't be serious, right? In what world, in what life, can such things matter?

This, alas, is the question I ask more and more of everything, a question I learned from Nietzsche: What life does these things? And so I wonder: What if there are no questions because there are no answers? What if it's all a matter of going in the world, a matter of being congruent with circumstance, of experiencing peace, love, joy, delectation? What if having an answer not only is silly, what if it's the very thing that stands between you and said peace, love, joy, delectation?

No doubt, such an inclination can lead to a certain anti-intellectualism. Which, I have to say, is not necessarily a bad thing per se. Well, I take that back as being anti anything seems like a waste of energy (as Nietzsche would say). But there is certainly an a-intellectualism to those such as Osho who suggest there are no questions as there are no answers. 

And as so much of my identity is wrapped up in my understanding of myself as an intellectual. And so, sometimes, I want to punch Osho in the face. Or just tell him to bugger off. But perhaps that's because I don't want to put myself on the line. I want to be the smart guy, preach some psychedelic cool shit, and then go on home. 

But the philosophers I dig — Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Guattari, and, yes, Osho — refuse to let themselves off the hook. Their thinking and their lives may not always have been aligned but they sought that alignment, that harmonic resonance. To me, the best thinking is the best living. It demands all of me, not just my head, my mind, my ideas, and my words but also my belly, my ass, my peace, my life. 

I am not suggesting we not think, that we not question. I'm suggesting we question more ardently, that we question the role of the question to the point of exhaustion, until the question has thoroughly enfolded the asker, enfolded us all, until the only reply is: this. 


Eating Books, Learning Food

[I wrote a version of this many years ago for a magazine called Satellite.]

Nietzsche tells us that the greatest question of philosophy is nutrition: What do you eat?  What makes you the healthiest, feeling the best?  What do you most desire in your mouth, in your belly? Are your desires and your health well aligned? Or does one undo the other, a malignant, all too human trait?  Nietzsche himself doesn't drink coffee: "Coffee spreads darkness."  "Tea," he continues, "is wholesome only in the morning.  A little, but strong: tea is very unwholesome and sicklies one o'er the whole day if it is too weak by a single degree."  Then again, he warns us, it all depends on the environment, on the weather. And on the size of your own stomach.  One's ideal diet—the only real concern of the philosopher—is a complex configuration of ever changing particularities. 
You are your metabolism.

And so I find myself standing in front of my bookshelves as if they were an enormous refrigerator. Hmn, what'll I have?  What am I in the mood for? What will sate me? Ew, Heidegger's Being and Time. Have you ever tried to read it? It's bereft of humor, joy, wit, elegance and eloquence. It's like eating sand. And so it remains on the shelf the same way that ancient bottle of mustard remains in the fridge —it's too big to just toss in the garbage and I'm too lazy to figure out what else to do with it.  And who knows? It might come in handy one day. (I can feel all the Heideggerians bristling, as they are wont to do.)

Look, there's Moby Dick. I've probably read the first 100 pages five or six times and each time I am absolutely mesmerized by the baroque prose, the wit and erudition, the unabashed joy. But I'm not going to finish it; it's too rich for my blood, a gustatory leviathan. Hmn, perhaps a sampling of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari's prolific buffet: a stimulant, it infuses my body with giddiness. Or a dram of ee cummings' delicate confections—nah, not filling enough. Maybe a fix of William Burroughs' complex body of work? 

Oh, Berryman's Dream Songs it'll be: light yet resonant, fast but lasting, tasty and easy to eat. Perfect.

If books nourish us, food teaches us. I've always considered Uni — raw sea urchin gonads — one of my great teachers.  With its oceanic pith, Uni questions the nature of knowledge itself. Murky yet vaguely coherent, skanky yet delectable, always subtly different, Uni is a way of knowing in and of itself. Uni teaches me, with the most intimate whispers, that something can be supremely confident without being the least bit rigid, that something can be at once self-possessed and flexible, that something can flirt with the fetid and retain its elegance.

Uni teaches me, through its steady insistence on itself as an experience—an experience that belies ready description, an experience that dissolves the ready distinction between solid and liquid, teeth and tongue, between ocean and food, between the delicious and the repulsive—that to know the world one must eat the world. And vice versa.

Not all food proffers knowledge worth knowing. The mindless reach for popcorn in a movie theater is not a learning experience—it's vacuous consumption. Habit impedes learning.  Often, it is not until one experiences something radically different, something unfamiliar, that one begins to experience experience, that one begins to know.

To eat is literally to become something other than oneself, to become delighted, joyous, healthy, grumpy, smart. The consumer often thinks that the only thing to change is the thing consumed. But that's silly. The thing consumed transforms the consumer words, sushi, tequila, the love of another: they're all consuming us as we consume them. Power is rarely straightforward.


Making Sense of Images

 The beginning of an introduction I wrote some time ago on the phenomenology of viewing art. Some of this is repeated here.
Foucault's reading of this painting that opens The Order of Things baffled and exhilarated me.
The image, for Foucault, was not a sign; it was itself a site of knowledge.

I remember looking through an art magazine years many ago. It was 1998 and I’d just finished my doctorate in rhetoric. So I’m flipping through the magazine and thinking, This is terrible! I can’t read a word of this. And when I can, it’s drivel. My friend  — a well heeled filmmaker and image maker — leans over and says, No, no, you’re looking at it all wrong. Let me show you. He grabs the magazine and starts flipping wildly through it. Ah, man, look at that! Gorgeous! Then, turning pages with flippant determination: Nah, whatever, blech, blech, hmm, O, there! Nasty!

I looked first and foremost for words and the things words are especially good at — concepts and ideas.  But he looked first and foremost at the images and the experience he had with them. Yes! Ahhhhh! Eeesh! No way. Dull. Dull. Eh.

And that’s when I learned, in a flash, that I didn’t know how to read images. Sure, I’d seen plenty of art. And while my knowledge was by no means extensive, I had clearly delineated opinions about this and that (I was a recent doctoral student, after all; we have to have opinions). But the fact is I was blind. Images were everywhere and I had no real way to make sense of them.

When I looked back over my extensive years of upper education, I had never been offered a class in how to make sense of images. There were film classes in rhetoric but they were not about images at all. They were about pornography, power, gender, psychoanalysis. Images were always considered symptoms of something else, something nobler and more important: big ideas, ideology, patriarchy. The images themselves, while no doubt enjoyed, were not themselves an event, were not themselves sites of power, were not themselves ways of going in the world. They were examples of more important ways of going.

I took a modern art history class in college in which I learned the least about images, even if I did learn some good things. The class was a survey in which we were shown image after image and given name after name, movement after movement, coupled with some historical reduction of that movement’s philosophy. We were being taught a topology, a system of classification. We did not spend one moment actually reckoning images, learning to see, to feel, to process or articulate what was happening directly in front of us. Knowledge about the images was laid over the images, keeping us from ever seeing anything at all. 

There have been a few moments that stood out along the way. John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was a revelation. He taught me that seeing is not neutral, that an act we assume to be mechanical and neutral — the eyes just see — is in fact run through with ideology.

But I was taught the book in the context of Marxist-feminist critique. And while ideology critique is an important way to see the world, it has a tendency to look over the head of the image all together in order to see what’s behind it. The image once again becomes a symptom of a societal disease that’s out there.  You don’t really see the image; you see the system that produced the image.

Then there was the opening of Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things in which he performs this incredible, acrobatic reading of Velasquez’s “Las Meninas.” At the time, I found it baffling and exhilarating. He maps an elaborate scene of seeing and being seen, an entire economy of social seeing. And while he sees the image in terms of a vaster episteme, this was not ideology critique. This mode of seeing he finds in the image is the very mode of seeing that Foucault finds operating elsewhere. The painting is not a symptom but is part and parcel; the politics do not happen elsewhere. They happen in, with, and of the painting. The image itself was a site of knowledge.

For me, the most important writing I encountered about seeing was Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and, in particular, his essay, “Cézanne’s Doubt.” While the essay seems to be biographical — there are lots of quotes from the painter and his friends as well as lots of facts about his life — the biography does not determine the work.  The last paragraph of the essay begins, “Thus it is true both that the life of an author can teach us nothing and that — if we know how to interpret it — we can find everything in it, since it opens onto his work.” The painter doesn’t as much create the work as the work creates the painter. Or, rather, they are of the same engine, the same necessity. 

Merleau-Ponty has no desire to look over the head of the painting to find the meaning. He doesn’t need to understand the culture at large or the mind-set of Cézanne the man. He can find all those things in the paintings, not because the paintings are symptoms of something else but because they are worlds themselves — worlds we live in, worlds Cézanne lives in. Because, for Merleau-Ponty, image making is not mimetic but digestive: it's a way of processing the world, taking it in and shitting it out.

Looking at Cézanne’s paintings, Merleau-Ponty finds a way of seeing the world — as well as a way of knowing the world:

The composition of Cezanne's palette leads one to suppose that he had another aim. Instead of the seven colors of the spectrum, one finds eighteen colors—six reds, five yellows, three blues, three greens, and black. The use of warm colors and black shows that Cezanne wants to represent the object, to find it again behind the atmosphere. Likewise, he does not, break up the tone; rather, he replaces this technique with graduated colors, a progression of chromatic nuances across the object, a modulation of colors which stays close to the object's form and to the light it receives.

Look at where Merleau-Ponty is looking: at the image. At the colors, the composition, the play of light and form and hue. He begins with the image and sees where it takes him, what it has to teach him.

And it is here that he discovers more than just ideas, more than just biography: this is where he discovers an entire onto-cosmology, the very manner in which things are and come into the world. Not behind the painting, not in biography, but in the paintings. Just as there is no outline to predetermine the form of Cézanne’s pears, there is no outline to pre-determine Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Cézanne’s paintings. Things appear as they will. Their limits emerge and flourish in the middle of a thing!

Doing away with exact contours in certain cases, giving color priority over the outline— these obviously mean different things for Cézanne and for the impressionists. The object is no longer covered by reflections and lost in its relationships to the atmosphere and other objects: it seems subtly illuminated from within, light emanates from it, and the result is an impression of solidity and material substance.

Merleau-Ponty sees Cézanne seeing.  And this seeing is literally a perspective, a point of view, as rich and articulate as any philosophy, ethics, cosmology.

And so I began to understand that images offered a way of making sense of things. An image is a distribution of the world, a way of taking up things, ideas, affect, color, mood, history, desire, metabolizing it and spewing it out. Every image declares: Here! This! See my seeing!


Artists Don't Need to Know How to Draw

Marc Lafia creates all kinds of images, usually with photographic technology (but he's not a photographer in that he doesn't seek to capture the world through photographs; more on that momentarily). He recently created a book of his images, along with some essays (including a foreword by me), that includes the re-imaging or re-photographing of other images — from nature books, from Tumblr, from many sources. (I wrote here about a show he had several months ago.)

A friend of mine was looking at the images and while she found many of them beautiful and intriguing, she kept looking for the original creator. Why doesn't he include the source of the image? she'd ask, repeatedly and with increasing urgency. She began almost to get angry. She needed to know who created the image in order to judge it. Just looking at it was not enough. 

When I pushed her, she insisted that art begins with drawing. The artist, she maintained, should be able to draw what's there. I didn't push her on where 'there' is. What if it's that mood there? Or happens to be a sensation way over there? Anyway, she maintained that then, and only then, can the artist move into concepts and abstraction. The implication was that whoever created the so-called original image was the true artist; Lafia's images were just reproductions. 

I once believed the same thing. I'm not sure where I got this idea from or where my friend got it from. It's some kind of strange Platonist ideal that must float through the ether and into our skin. Of course, many art schools used to believe this and, I suppose, many still do — hence the insistence of studio classes as the core curriculum. 

Why Platonist? Because this literally antiquated belief conceives of art as mimetic. First comes the world, then come images of the world. There is an implied hierarchy of the real: the real is real, duh, and images are references to the real, coming after the fact, paling in relative comparison. 

This prejudice is repeated in a different form in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. First comes bodily survival — food and shelter. And then comes a whole lot of other stuff — safety, family, self-esteem— before you get to creativity and art. While Maslow might feel art is an apogee of human existence, he still believes, like Plato, that it's fundamentally unnecessary. Art is ornament; it's secondary. There's first the so-called real world and then, and only then, can we move into representations of the world, into images, into art. 

Nietzsche gives us a very different view. Art, he argues, is primary. Man is first and foremost an artistic being. His first creation is himself as a continuous being, as a social being capable of making promises. This first artist used his body as a canvas, whipping it and marking it into something more interesting, at once a kind of body art, sculpture, and conceptual art. For Nietzsche, man doesn't emerge from the state of nature through reason. He leaves his beastly ways because he has an instinct to create. And that is the birth of man as a social creature — not his drive for safety, security, and survival, not his considerable cognitive reasoning, but his instinct for art. (For Nietzsche, the entire edifice of science and knowledge is an elaborate sculpture that's forgotten it's art.)

As Derrida would say: there is no raw food, no culture without writing, no pure humanity. Food is always already cooked, writing is always already happening, and humanity is always already enculturated.

Drawing, then, is not the basis of art. Creation is the basis of art. There is in fact no correlation between one's ability to draw the world as it is — to draw realistically — and art. In fact, I might go so far as to say they're opposed! It's a nifty skill, for sure, and not to be poo pooed at all. But the ability to draw a vase that looks like a vase is just not art. It's copying. And art, by definition, doesn't copy. It creates the new, even if always from within the life of the old. (Art repeats, it doesn't copy, and the definition of repetition is the introduction of difference, of living through what has been in a different way, pace Deleuze. But that's a longer discussion.)

We come to the world of images as images. As Henri Bergson says, all is image. We can use the word matter or the word image, it's the same. All there is is all this stuff we are always perceiving. Everything is experienced as an image — my face, these words, that painting, these photographs, that idea, my love, your needs and desires. They're all images.

This is why I don't call Lafia a photographer. Photography is haunted by Plato. After all, isn't a photograph just a copy? Photography has been cast as a way to capture the real — to find those key moments in life and monumentalize them. Think about the 'great' photographers — Ansel Adams, Weegee, Diane Arbus. They all are loved for how they capture what is. This is not to knock them at all; I love much of their work — not because they capture the real but because they take the real and create something new. I only point out that photography is still premised on the real, even as photography's very existence undoes the sanctity of the real. 

What's beautiful to me about photography is that it uses the real as samples, as fodder, to create a new real, another real.  This is precisely what Lafia does: he takes images from anywhere, from everywhere, all the images making their way through the ether, and uses them to create new images (he does more than this for sure). The original image doesn't matter; what matters is the new image. 

The artist is not the one who accurately depicts reality — whatever that is — but is the one who can spin, hedge, juxtapose, fold, maneuver in such a way as to create some kind of new perceptive and affective experience. That is, the artist creates new things to see, new ways to see, new ways to feel and experience the world. This has nothing to do with drawing. Yes, it sure helps if the artist has some technical skills — painting, coding, thinking, writing, drawing, exploding, filming, lighting, doodling. But these are all modes of something more elusive, something more mysterious: creating the new from within the old.


Ethics, Morality, and Doing the Right Thing

How do you — how does one, how do we — decide the right thing to do in any circumstance? Most of the time, we do things unthinkingly. We wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, tie our shoes. We go here and there, say this and that. We make decisions as a matter of training and habit.

Needless to say, not all of these things are necessarily the right things to do. Habit is not always right. In fact, one could argue that habit is the very thing we want to avoid, that doing the right thing is doing something knowingly rather than through blind repetition. In this view, it's not the what that determines if something is right or wrong but the how.

Habit has a way of breaking down, especially as you age. After all, we develop these habits when we're young(er); as we age, the very make up of the system in which habit operates changes its terms. I used to eat spaghetti almost every night and all was good. Now, at this point, in my life, I can't eat pasta at all. Habit ran into the reality of my everyday as I began to experience dyspepsia. Suddenly, things that I took for granted became things I had to consider.

But how do I consider them? How do I decide the right thing to eat? Well, it's a combination of lots of different kinds of information. There's my history, things I've eaten and enjoyed in the past. There are cravings and desires I have now. There is research thanks to the proliferation of opinions and so called facts all over the internet. Which is all to say, deciding the right things to eat is a complex calculus of facts, feelings, principles, ideas, and habits which conspire to be this breakfast smoothie. Yum! (At least for now.)

How about when we're out and about and dealing with others? How do we decide how to act? As a pedestrian, what makes me wait for a green light, cross when I see opportunity, or j walk? Again, it seems like a complex calculus of my desire to stay alive, a sense of respect for drivers, perhaps a fear of the law.

The law, however, seems like the least compelling reason to do something or not. Sure, there are some things I don't do out of fear of being caught by the cops; I'm thinking of paying taxes. I wouldn't pay taxes — at least not all of them — if I could get away with it without fear of retribution. But the law is certainly not the reason I don't kill people, drive on the wrong side of the road, or rob banks. And there are some things I do which may be illegal but I feel pretty sure I won't get caught. The mere fact of the law is definitely not enough to compel my actions — at least for me as a white, middle class dude who pays his taxes. Obviously, for some people in this culture, the law is a conspicuous, powerful, and coercive force.

Then there are principles of action to help guide our decisions. We sometimes call these morals, those hard and fast things we should never do because, well, because they're just plain old wrong (these may or may not follow the law; more often, law emerges from them, unless the law comes from some rich douchebag). Always follow the word of the law! Don't covet they neighbor's wife, even if her every way of being melts your soul and she's estranged from her husband and on the verge of divorce! Sure, there might be arguments as to why you shouldn't kill or screw but morality doesn't work primarily via argument; it works via fear and authority (hell and the wrath of god and all that).

There is always moral philosophy which does indeed work via a kind of argument rather than through fear. This is what the Enlightenment was all about: rather than God, they gave us Reason. Kant, for instance, claims that any action you do should be able to be an action everyone can do. I used to think about this when I'd pee behind a tree. If everyone peed in public, oy, it would be gross — hence, I shouldn't be peeing behind this tree. On the other hand, most people don't pee behind trees, so who cares if I do? And we let dogs piss any old place and they don't pay taxes. So I can piss here if I want! Yes, this all went through my head — as I peed. 

And then there's Hobbes who argued that man is primarily base and violent. But because man has reason, too, he enters into a contract with his fellow man and agrees not to be base, to act in the interests of the social because that is in his own best interest. This idea that man is fundamentally base and needs to be controlled dictates most moral discussions. Without morals, we'll just kill and rape and steal and masturbate all day long! Freud argued a form of this. Our id is primal and drives us; we need the super ego to keep it in check. (Yes, Freud is more complex than this.)

But by assuming that we are primarily base and hence in need of external constraints, we come to lean on these moral principles. Only our morals don't always agree with each other, not to mention our morals don't always agree with circumstance. And when we believe morals are the very thing holding everything together, then we have to defend those morals and make people who don't believe them, believe them. Which becomes war and torture and the Inquisition and imperialism and most forms of violent domination and subjugation. Morality, alas, breeds self-righteousness: We must be moral! So you must be moral! Be moral, dammit, or else I'll crack your head open! 

Ethics are of another order. Ethics are the modes with which we encounter the world, things as well as people. Ethics are premised on the idea that man is not first and foremost a wild, self-interested, violent creature but is, in fact, always already a social creature. Which is to say, contrary to what Hobbes and Rousseau say, ethics proffer that there was never a state of nature, that man was never outside the social. There is no contract; there is no movement from the individual to the social. We are, as individuals, already social.

Think about humiliation. It is a private sensation but it only exists in relation to the social. And so much of what we do is dictated and coerced by the terms of humiliation. I'm sitting in a cafe right now and everyone is so goddamned well behaved. I could sit here and pick my nose, fart, break into song, lie down on someone else's table. None of these are illegal or immoral. But I don't do it — not out of fear of external retribution but out of fear of humiliation.

Of course, one man's humiliation is another's glory. I, for one, find the idea of going to work every day, all day, to make someone else money humiliating. Many find that ambitious. These are the powers of what Foucault calls discourse, the powers of what we say and can say that define our conversations and, often, our feelings. This is why discussions of such things are so important: they shift the terms of discourse which shifts the terms of the social which shifts the terms of the individual, that is, what you and I feel and experience, what you and I decide is the right thing to do.   

This is Foucault's great move. Power doesn't come from the top down, he tells us. Power doesn't just say No. Power comes from all things. Power says Yes. The very terms in which we construct ourselves — I am a guy, I'm white, I'm Jewish, I'm an asshole, etc — are social as much as they're private. The moral view of the world would imagine us alone in our rooms, free from the reach of the world and then deciding to do the right thing (or not). But we're never alone, not really. We are always and already amidst the social, always negotiating the right thing to do.