If I had to create a cosmology — well, I did actually create one a few years ago — so if I had to create a new cosmology — something, in a way, that I am always doing in some way to some degree — anyway, were I write a cosmology akin to, say, Leibniz's Monadology, I think I'd begin with this: Everything is a metabolism. What I mean by that is that everything is a function of taking in, taking up, pieces of the world, processing and distributing said pieces in more or less complex ways, and then making something of it all, namely, itself.

Everything makes itself. But this making doesn't begin from scratch. I'll listen to Lear on this one or, better, Lucretius — Nothing from nothing ever yet was born. There is only so much stuff in the world. There's a lot, sure, but there's only so much — so many atoms and particles, words, images, ideas, colors, bugs. Which is all to say: the amount of stuff in our world — and even in the cosmos — is enormous, yes, but it's still finite (even if if each thing, and the universe itself, is infinite). Which means that everything is made of some or other of this stuff. In other words, something else always comes from something else.

Yes, the difference between things comes from which things this or that takes up. I take up air, gin cocktails that are dry and spicy (just a hint of sweetness), baseball, blood, English words and, on a rare day, a few French and German ones, too. Meanwhile, this keyboard takes up plastic and electricity and some kinds of metal. I suppose I have some metals in me (my cavity fillings; some zinc; some colloidal silver). And I certainly have electricity, too, but it might be of a different sort than this keyboard. But the amount differs drastically, for sure.

Perhaps comparing myself to a computer keyboard is silly. So I'll consider  friends of mine. All take up blood and air, electricity (in differing amounts), hair (in differing amounts), fingernails, food. But some take up wine (oy!) or beer (I don't take up either, or very rarely); Kate Atkinson; Burning Man; soccer. Different like things take up different like things, or at least in differing quantities.

But the difference between this and that or me and you is not only what we take up but how we take it up. After all, we are not three-dimensional figures, bodies with a list of ingredients. We are four dimensional (at least). That is to say, we are temporal; we extend across or, better, as time. You and I may take up the same things, even in the same quantities, but that doesn't make us the same precisely because we do different things with the same things. We are, each of us, a how. And not just a how but a particular how, a distinctive and adjusting algorithm of desire, fear, lust, love as well as Yo La Tengo, gin, and Nietzsche.

I remember in grad school, I was coming up with my bibliographies for my exams (before you start writing your dissertation, you have to take an oral and written exam in three fields you've determined with three different professors; together, or not, the books that define those fields are, uh, defined). One field of mine was called, 20th Century French Literary Theory; my examiner and advisor was the inimitable Charlie Altieri (I really liked, and miss seeing, Charlie). He suggested, among other things, one essay by someone I'd never read: Maurice Merleau-Ponty's great essay on Cézanne . So I read it and, well, it did something to me. I went on to read thousands of pages by Merleau-Ponty; it felt like necessity of the best kind.

Anyway, I go back to see Charlie a few weeks later (when I'd knock on his office door, he was inevitably asleep on the floor, behind his desk; he's wake up disheveled and grumpy. This enamored him of me enormously). I tell him: Whoa! Merleau-Ponty! I've read nearly everything now! He hesitated, furrowed his brow, leaned back in his chair and said, Really? That's not what I told you to do. Don't you find him....priestly? (or something to that effect).

A similar thing happened once when my good friend played me Broken Social Scene's "You Forgot It in People." I went nuts. I bought everything they made; I bought everything everyone in the band made. I did the same thing when my big brother played me Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" when I was, like, 10. I went on to buy every album and see the band live over 30 times.

Charlie Altieri, my friend, and my brother: we all shared certain things — Merleau-Ponty, Broken Social Scene, Jethro Tull. But what I did with those things and they did with those things was very different.

There are many ways to explain that difference. I like to think of it as a matter of vibration, of harmonic convergence. I vibrate at just the right speed and intensity as Merleau-Ponty, Broken Social Scene, and Jethro Tull; they turn the bridge I am to mush.

Which is to say, there are a series of other concepts, figures, and functions that come into play when we discuss style and differentiation — speed, shape, intensity, convergence, health. But there is another figure, another function, that in some sense supersedes them or, better, accompanies them: metabolism. The system I am knows how to make sense of those things; and, even more, wants to make sense of those things. They fuel this local system of input, process and distribution, and output (me!).

As a philosophic figure, if that makes sense, metabolism does a lot of things for me. It provides a function of differentiation, a way that this body differentiates itself from that body when they take up quite similar things. It provides a distinctive how within the uniformity of what.

But it also makes sense of the differences in the what. My metabolism doesn't like — can't process — very cheesy things (at least in food; it does enjoy some cheesy images such as Michael Bay's Armageddon; I cry every time when Bruce Willis says goodbye to his daughter, Liv Tyler).

Which is to say, metabolism is a great figure in that it is situated at the juncture of this and that, of inside and outside. To say everything is a metabolism is to say everything is a productive consumption: it is at once a taking in of other things and a mode of self creation. It always already breaks down any rigid distinction between self and other, between inside and outside, without erasing it all together. If a thing is a metabolism, it is a process of making itself by taking up these things, at once inside and out.

And it works at every level. Galaxies are a metabolism, taking up stars and gasses and asteroids and assembling them so. But a star is a metabolism, too, taking up heat and gas and whathaveyou (that's the scientific term for it, mind you). A cloud is a metabolism as is a single water droplet in that cloud as is the hydrogen in that water were you to extricate it. The universe, then, is a system of systems — all these systems operating at different scales, systems intermingling within other systems to greater and lesser degrees, all of them relentlessly, ceaselessly, making the world.


Unknown said...

Another classic blog post! Love it, hope you keep more of this stuff coming ! Just have a question would it be a fair comparison to compare your idea of metabolism with deleuzes assemblage?

Unknown said...

A lot of things really reminded me of deleuze! But put in a way which is fun and easy to read

Daniel Coffeen said...

There is a bunch of D&G in here; I am increasingly influenced by their notions of an apparatus, of little engines. But my inspiration here in Nietzsche for whom metabolism and digestion is everything (have you read Ecce Homo? I highly recommend, if not. He gets into his diet in some detail).

Anyway, thanks again, Gavin — for reading and for your support.

drwatson said...

Daniel - It's been a while, but I used to/have started back writing Philosophicalmatters blog. I just found out about two days ago about your book and I bought it immediately and quickly realized I was going to put everything aside for a couple of days. It's so fucking good, man. And I know you'll get this: it's not exactly like I'm learning new things (though I am, of course) but it's more like I'm nodding and going Yes, oh man that's good. The book is invigorating and it's made the world look more interesting.

Sorry if this is weird - but any chance I could get you to sign a copy.



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