Idolatry, Orthodoxy and Heresy

This essay is motivated by feedback, no, not from you, the reader. I mean no one probably even reads this, so, as you might guess, it’s from article reviewers, my judges, if you know what I mean. It’s also somewhat relevant to what I came across recently, so I’ll see if I can mesh them together. Of course, it’s a given really, who provided the feedback is not indicated because that’d just add too much integrity to the whole process of judging other people’s work. This is a general thing, not related to this case or journal. This time it was indicated that the rejection was based on the comments from the editors and reviewers, but I reckon it all came from the reviewers. I don’t understand why the editors would even put it to review if they didn’t find the manuscript to be ok, in the sense that it’s ok enough to make some other people read it and judge it. Seems a bit unnecessary to have it reviewed, only to reject it yourself in the end.

Before I get things started, it’s worth pointing out that not all reviewers or referees, whatever you want to call them, despite their anonymity, act the way this or these persons did. It’s unclear who wrote what. It’s not evident whether it is a summary or whether the two paragraphs are by two different people. I’m not going to name anyone, the reviewers (not that I even could), the editors (they probably have nothing to do with the reviews, they just go with it, probably don’t even read what they have to say, nor could I confirm if they did, or didn’t) or the journal (it’s enough for me to know). The specifics don’t do any good. The issue is larger than that. It’s a systematic practice not limited to one journal. So, yeah, it is its own discourse, it’s own thing and that’s what needs to be addressed. I guess I should say should be addressed though. I mean, come on, it’s not like me pointing out the obvious is going to change anything. Don’t be silly. But do read on though!

So, I was reading Baruch Spinoza’s first book of ‘Ethics’. I ended up reading it because it had this bit that apparently he came up with or, well, at least made it popular. I’ll save that for another essay. Right, so, in the appendix Spinoza (78-79) states:

“Hence anyone who seeks for the true causes … and strives to understand … phenomena as an intelligent being, and not to gaze at them like a fool, is set down and denounced as an impious heretic by those, whom the masses adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods. Such persons know that, with the removal of ignorance, the wonder which forms their only available means for proving and preserving their authority would vanish also.”

Now, this hit me, hit me hard. It struck a chord. To be denounced. To be treated as impious, as a heretic. By whom? By those who are in position to interpret how the world works. Why they’d do that? Well, not because it matters, not because they know how the world works, really, but because it proves and preserves their authority. Simply put, it’s a sweet gig. Okay, you might object to this, point out that Spinoza was dealing with religious authorities and that we no longer deal with such. After all, science is objective!

Fair point. Spinoza is referring to actual religious authorities. Acknowledged. This also led me to read Gilles Deleuze’s short book on Spinoza, ‘Spinoza: Practical Philosophy’. As noted by Deleuze (10), he got his fair share of condemnation from religious authorities, “Jews, Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans”, as well as “the Cartesians”, which is, you know, basically all of them. On top of that, he (10) notes, “all the[se] right-thinking circles … competed with one another in denouncing” Spinoza’s work. He (10) adds that it went on and on, to the point that “‘Spinozism’ and ‘Spinozist’ became insults and threats” and the denunciation ended up being extended to even those who were against Spinoza but weren’t harsh enough on him. This is what is known as excommunication, anathema, herem and ostracism, to give the practice a few names. The reasons are, as Spinoza himself points out, related to deemed impiety or heresy, some sort of wrong think.

This leads me to the word itself, heresy, defined in a dictionary, in this case the Oxford English Dictionary (OED, s.v. “heresy”, n.), as:

“Theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the ‘catholic’ or orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox.”

The point here is that there is a right opinion. Heresy is in opposition, hence it is wrong think. It is also (OED, s.v. “heresy”, n.):

“By extension, Opinion or doctrine in philosophy, politics, science, art, etc., at variance with those generally accepted as authoritative.”

As well as (OED, s.v. “heresy”, n.):

“In sense of Greek αἵρεσις (see etymology): Opinion or doctrine characterizing particular individuals or parties; a school of thought; a sect.”

So, as you can see, it is not limited only to religion, albeit, in a sense, as it has to do with opinions and beliefs, whatever the context, it does, arguably, have that religious characteristic to it. In Spinoza’s case it was certainly the case, no doubt about it, but, as you can see, it doesn’t have to be about religion.

Deleuze and Félix Guattari (116), more or less, say the same thing in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, when they characterize the situation as one consisting of a hysterical crowd of people who stand outside a temple, waiting, anxiously, while, inside, the priests interpret the will of a god, or a despot-god, the stand-in for or viceroy of god, the icon proper.

Of course, this is all just nonsense, the priests have no idea of what there are doing. They don’t know any better than the people outside the temple. They just claim they do. They are just talking out of their hoops. Now, you might object to this. You might ask if I’m also just talking out of my hoop as well. Well, yes, you could say that. I reckon I am talking out of my hoop, all the time. The thing is that everyone does, all the time. The difference is that the priests claim that they don’t. If they didn’t claim that they do know their shit (sorry, it’s only fitting here, with the hoop and all), do you think the crowd outside the temple would ever ask them anything? Of course they wouldn’t. That’s why the priests tell people otherwise. It’s a sweet gig! Why would anyone let go of such? Duh! This the point Spinoza makes. That’s why the priests seek to stamp out any behavior that just might undermine their authority as the interpreters of this and/or that and viciously strike down anyone who dares to think otherwise, anyone who dares to challenge their authority by branding them a heretic. The great thing about authority is, for them that is, that people already believe them to be the arbiters of truth, the will of a god, and therefore people rally behind them, in fervor. They don’t have to prove anything. They just need to state that it is the will of god. Deus vult!

To make this a bit more contemporary, Deleuze and Guattari (116) argue that:

“This … is applicable to not only to the imperial despotic regime but to all subjected, arborescent, hierarchical, centered groups: political parties, literary movements, psychoanalytic associations, families, conjugal units, etc.”

Aye, you are fool if you think the same logic isn’t applicable elsewhere. After all, a sweet gig is a sweet gig! It doesn’t matter if in your job description it is actually stated that you are a priest or not. I’ve pointed out this before and I’ll do that now as well: a priest is a conceptual persona, someone who occupies this or that position or office, which entails certain things. It just happens to be that actual priests, more as they were as opposed to how they are, are the ones that give us the moniker. So, no, this has nothing to do with someone’s relationship and/or understanding of a deity. It’s about how that, or anything similar, lands them a sweet gig in which they are elevated into a position of authority. If you are interested in that, conceptual personae, do yourself a favor and check out ‘What Is Philosophy?’ by Deleuze and Guattari.

You should have by now got the gist of this. In case you don’t, let me summarize this all for you. If you have authority, you get to be right. If you are positioned in a way that allows you to exercise power over others, you get to be right. Those who do not have authority, those who are positioned outside the temple have to ask you what is right. If they don’t, if they don’t know their place and ask silly questions, they shall experience the wrath of god, or so to speak. This is all because, as Spinoza points out, the priests have to prove and preserve their authority, otherwise they don’t have it. They would otherwise lose their sweet gig.

Why does no one oppose the priests then? That is a good question. It’s not like people haven’t tried. Spinoza asked that question in the mid-1600s. That took some proper guts to do back then and it sure wasn’t great for his health. I’m sure others tried that as well before him but you just don’t get to read about them, for obvious reasons. That said, to be honest, I don’t think most people have any clue of Spinoza, but that’s pretty much the point here. As Deleuze (11) characterizes him, with, what I take to be, in reference to Friedrich Nietzsche, as someone “who overturn[s] values and construct[s] their philosophy with hammer blows” and “disturb[s] the established sentiments, the order of Morality and the Police”. It is in ‘Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer’ that Nietzsche (4) states that, simply put, the purpose of the hammer is to test whether we bow down to false idols, whether our idols are but are mere hollow shells. To answer my own question, people don’t want to challenge priests because it might do them harm. They might even see the issue, but the temptation is just too much. If you go against the priests, you won’t be able to land such a sweet gig. In other words, you won’t challenge the priests because you probably want to be one yourself.

So, to flesh this out, how did the reviewers react to my work, my manuscript? Well, I pointed out already that the editorial decision was a rejection. Here, I think, it’s worth conceding that my work is not perfect. It is never is and will never be. Simple as that. The way I look at what I’ve written, in hindsight, is always underlined by how this and/or that could be better, how that could be stated in this and/or that way and how I could have incorporated this and/or that into it, here or there. It often seems, after a while, quite drab, as if someone else wrote it. That’s because, in a way, someone else did write it. That’s sort of the travesty of writing, how something you wrote is torn from you the moment you’ve written it, the moment you lift your pen(cil) or you stop applying pressure to the keys on a keyboard in rapid succession. It ends up existing in isolation of you and your will. It becomes a thing of its own, really, while you’ve moved on and have become someone else. That’s why it’s so weird, as if looking at what someone else wrote, albeit, perhaps, in somewhat similar fashion that you might write, right now.

That said, it having its issues, there always being this and/or that, unavoidably really, the feedback was, for me, underlined with the voice of authority, that of a priest. This year has been, let’s say, an interesting one, pitching articles, trying to make them all sexy, according to whatever angle and/or latest trend some journal wishes to emphasize, only to get rejections for whatever reasons. This one markets itself as interdisciplinary, which I take to be a good sign, but, as usual, it seems to be just some buzzwords on top of buzzwords. Fair enough, I cant’ blame them for that, really, when everyone is in the habit of doing that.

The typical response is the straight forward one, takes a week or so, perhaps two, at best, to be told by the editor that this is just not our thing, as interesting as this may be. Try somewhere else. That’s fair enough. I mean the editor is in charge and that’s part of the job, to assess whether something fits or not, according to this or that preset criteria. If it doesn’t, then, well too bad. That’s pigeonholing 101. No biggie. In my experience, as limited as that may be, the editors are actually fairly reasonable people. They have no time for any nonsense. It’s like working in a big corporation. They never get personal about anything because that’d be too much of a hassle. Sometimes you even get you get good tips, recommendations to check out this and/or that article or a book, something that you probably wouldn’t have come across yourself, possibly because of the reasons elaborated in this essay (it ends up accepted in some seemingly obscure publication that a search engine won’t land you upon).

What tends to irk me is the reviewers or referees. As I pointed out already, there are no names and thus no risk of misrepresenting anyone, considering that, technically, this, might as well, could all be made up as there is no transparency in the process (as I have pointed out a number of times in the past). For all I know it could all be made up by an AI or some dude in some office called Chuck. There is just no way to know. In this case, I reckon, there are two reviewers, hence the two paragraphs.

The first one seems like the person just couldn’t be bothered, as if it was too much to ask to write more than two sentences, to actually explain and justify why it is that my work is, supposedly, not worthy of publishing. To me, it is merely an assertion that it’s trash, oh so neutrally assessed and well justified. It gets called “student work”, “despairing” and “mechanistic” in terms of its approach, building on dated work, some three decades and over old, and is, simply, insignificant with regards to the results, hence far from being worthy. It highly amusing reading, how I’m, by default, positioned outside the temple by the reviewer, as this unworthy, utterly devoid of any hope, at best an automaton.

Firstly, I love how the reviewer thinks it’s somehow a good argument, to begin with, mind you, to imply that someone is a student. So what if I’m a student? What does that prove, in itself? Projection of your own privileged status, perhaps? Also, seriously, devoid of hope? Opinionated much? Also, again, projection of your own privileged status. Secondly, what one calls mechanistic, I call rigorous, paying attention to the nitty-gritty details, taking data seriously and going through it systematically. Thirdly, how is it that the date of publication of anything is anyhow relevant, as opposed to the content? Where do we draw the line? This year? The year before? Is it five years? Ten years? Do tell me. By that logic, while I’m hardly a fan of the man’s work and influence, overall, we might just ignore Plato just because he lived over two thousand years ago. Don’t think he is relevant? Good luck trying to ignore his influence. He is pretty much responsible for the way most people think, so, yeah, sure, let’s just ignore everything that wasn’t published this year. That only makes sense. Oh, and this is definitely not just some random gripe that I just now encountered. This keeps happening, as if it was a legit argument.

The second reviewer was less frugal with words, but equally, if not more so, dismissive. It is all, again, assertions, albeit this reviewer actually does actually use the first person pronoun ‘I’, cushioning the blows a bit with a hint of subjectivity, unlike the first reviewer who just dismisses the whole thing, as if the work was, objectively, trash. Anyway, in this case as well what is asserted is not backed up. My work is, apparently, superficial, insignificant, unenlightening, uninteresting and focuses on the wrong things, not to mention artificial, imitation or an inferior substitute of an approach that the reviewer seems to consider out of date. The way the final bits are worded implies that the reviewer does not approve the study of linguistic landscapes, at least not anymore. It is, as if it was this fad, something that ran its course, provided some good insights, but should now longer be done, hence the point made how it’s inappropriate for the journal in question, not just in general but especially in the way I do my research. There’s also the bits that, once again, as this has happened before, the reviewer simply doesn’t understand. Fair enough, the reviewer, sort of, concedes that this may be the case, that the reviewer just fails to see it. Then again, it seems to me that it is a mere show concession, so, actually just build up for the following derision of what I wrote (the typical formula of ‘I may be wrong … but …’).

In particular, the part where I explain my goal through the words of Paul Klee, how making or rendering something visible isn’t about the appearance but about apparition, seems to be something people just don’t get (even though you only need to look up the words in a dictionary in case you don’t get it). Simply put, it’s not about how we see something but about how that what we see comes to be, so that we may see that something. Okay, perhaps I need to reword it as unspecific to vision, albeit I’m not sure how that is going to make it easier to comprehend, considering how ocularcentric we tend to be. You’ll understand the whole thing wrong, from the get go, if you think that my goal is to show some pretty pictures of the world. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do. Doing that would be pretension to mimesis, which is, oddly enough, what I get criticized for. Quite ironic, really. On top of that, it is indicated in the manuscript, multiple times, that the focus is on the apparition of materialized discourses, how certain practices come to result in certain material manifestations in the landscape. It is not about how those discursive objects look, their appearance, but how and why it is that they come to appear in the landscape, their apparition. This is the connection to agency then.

For me, the reviews are textbook examples of orthodoxy in science and scholarship. There is a dominant school of thought that dictates the right opinion and my opinions are wrong opinions, those of a heretic, a wrong thinker. I made it absolutely clear what my stance is, as I think one should. I reckon that is something that, in particular, irked the reviewers. It’s almost like they fell into a trap, getting upset about me pointing out that much of existing research tends to subscribe to a dogmatic image of thought, marked by the thinking autonomous subject, as I’ve discussed in the past, only to then assert the dogma in the feedback to me. I’m actually quite surprised how clear they are on that, how they show their true colors, or so to speak. I would have expected highly polished wording, where one is dismissive but very politely so, as if it wasn’t personal but actually is, you know like in legalese, just toeing the line, so that it’s virtually impossible to fault the reviewers for anything. The wording is clever though. I’ll give them both that. None of the comments are, strictly speaking, directed at me, but at my work, so any ad hominem arguments are to be implied by the reader.

I’d like to end this short essay by going back to Spinoza, so that, in case you find my reaction to the reviews a mere rant, at least you can get something out of this. Deleuze (13) puts it aptly in his book on Spinoza:

“[For Spinoza] satire is everything that takes pleasure in the powerlessness and distress of [people], everything that feeds on accusations, on malice, on belittlement, on low interpretations, everything that breaks [people’s] spirits (the tyrant needs broken spirits, just as broken spirits need a tyrant).”

The way I read the comments provided for me, detailing why my manuscript was not accepted, the writers seem to take pleasure in what they’ve written. They seem to enjoy accusing me, belittling me and providing interpretations that are only backed up by their authority over me, their position above me. They probably also enjoy the fact that I appear to be helpless, having no actual recourse. As I’ve pointed out this before, to repeat myself, the reason why any review is anonymous is not because it makes what is reviewed better in any way, shape or form, but because it makes it impossible to challenge them. It shelters them from criticism. It is there to preserve their authority which is the only thing they need. The point is to keep the riffraff outside the temple, where they belong. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but, yeah, that characterization of satire is fitting here. It explains the comments.

In the words used by Deleuze and Guattari (28) in ‘What Is Philosophy?’, these people criticize me “on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs” and “melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons.” The point they are making is that people do not even want to agree. Instead, they want to be in the right. As they (28) point out, it is unavoidable that you will struggle to understand what someone else is doing when it is situated on a different plane, a different foundation, to put it in other words. You have to look at what someone else is doing in its own light, otherwise you will likely, albeit not necessarily, end up misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting their work. Of course, that is, assuming, that you want to try to see where they are coming from and make it work for you. They (28) state that there is no shortage of people do not do this:

“But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.”

Ah, yes, to criticize without creating, that is it. That is the comments I got this time. No backing up the criticism, only criticizing for the sake of criticizing. No willingness to make it work, no willingness to understand it. Now, as you can see, I’m not saying that they could not make it work. They could. They just don’t. Why? I reckon it has to do with a sweet gig. On top of that, getting to understand what I understand, why I say the things I say and how I say them, takes a lot of work, a lot of hours that need to be spent reading, thinking and possible even writing. It might take years to get to that point, so, yeah, they just won’t. No one wants to do any hard work these days.

This has everything to do with the doctrine of judgment, as Deleuze calls it in ‘To Have Done with Judgment’. In it, he (127) states where the logic of judgment stems from:

“[It] merges with the psychology of the priest, as the inventor of the most somber organization: I want to judge, I have to judge.”

And who it is that gets to judge then (127):

“The power to judge[,] and to be judged[,] is given to whomever stands in this relation.”

And how it actually functions (127):

“But the judgment of knowledge in this sense implies a prior moral and theological form, according to which a relation was established between existence and the infinite following an order of time: the existing being as having debt to God.”

The peer review system is exactly like this. People want to judge. People have to judge. This also means that there has to be someone to be judged. This gets rather warped because the judge is never an equal, a peer, in this arrangement. It is not a contract between two parties, between equal partners, but three parties, the judge, the judged and the third party that the judged is deemed to be in debt by the judge, as explained by Deleuze (127-128). The judge always gets to win because the appeal to a third party is how the game is rigged. In peer review, as exemplified by this case, there is some moral claim, in this case that it is inappropriate, unenlightened and unworthy, thus rejected from publication. It is also implied, well that’s my take anyway, that I should be ashamed of my work, for it is a desperate attempt at, something that only a student would come up with. This is the hallmark of the modern form of judgment, in which, as explained by Deleuze (129):

“At the limit, dividing oneself into lots and punishing oneself become the characteristics of the new judgment or modern tragedy.”

So, as I pointed out, I’m not only judged by people who are presented as my peers, but I am to also judge myself, to be ashamed of my failings pointed out to me by my judges and self-flagellate to remind myself of these failings, of my debt that can never be paid. Therefore, as stated by Deleuze (129):

“Nothing is left but judgment, and every judgment bears on another judgment.”

The only way out of judgment is replacing it with combat, replacing judges with combatants, having the two parties (note, not two plus that one outside party, the one to appeal to without prior agreement between the two parties) go head to head with one another, as explained by Deleuze (132). Of course, in order to do so, to not just fall back on to relying on judging others, one must first come to terms with oneself, to combat oneself, as elaborated by Deleuze (132) as the combat-between, which is to precede combat-against others.

How would one go about it then, if we were to swap judgment with combat? Simply put, to escape the doctrine of judgment, one has to come to terms with others without recourse to any outside party, be it actual or made up. It is merely a matter of agreements and disagreements between two parties. As Deleuze (134) characterizes it, it becomes a matter of decisions that resolve combat. To get to that, to become a combatant instead of a judge, well, that’s not going to be easy because you can then no longer make appeals to a third party.

When it comes to me, I am truly sorry, for denouncing me, mocking me, ridiculing me is not going to work. You can claim to superior to me, all you want, with or without fancy titles or degrees. Feel free to elevate yourself all you want by calling me a student. A knave or a knight. Makes no difference to me. I treat everyone the same. You can try to appeal to some sense of shame, bad conscience or guilt, that I am, somehow, in debt to a third party, but that won’t do any good. I know how that works and why priests appeal to such. I know its a ruse, a powerful one, one that is intended to ruin my day, make me feel bad about my failings, dwell on them and, perhaps, seek recourse, to complain bitterly to the editors. Yeah, I see right through ressentiment. It is hallmark of the doctrine of judgment. I am a combatant, so, instead of complaining about the issue to editors or to my superiors, in attempt to change anything through some appeal to professionalism or propriety, I will feel content about the amusing fact that you had to endure reading something that you clearly resent, possible because the hammer hit too hard and/or precisely.

It is highly amusing, if it is the case that is, if those who reviewed me, sorry, no, my work, were upset, if not outraged, by my assertion that much of previous research (not all, mind you) subscribes to a dogmatic image of thought. Why? Well, because, as I explained in a previous essay, in more detail, the doctrine of judgment is part and parcel of what Deleuze (129-133; 103-110) calls the dogmatic, orthodox or moral image of thought in ‘Difference and Repetition’ and in ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’. The main issue is, contemporarily, that it is largely associated with the Cartesian Cogito, which involves the presupposition of the subject, the self, posing something a posteriori as something a priori. That is the modern source of judgment, both highly passional and super cold at the same time, being the master and the slave at the same time, as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari (130) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. This results in people immediately getting triggered and judgemental. Why? Because it threatens their very foundation, their image of thought that they subscribe to, albeit largely unwittingly as they probably take their opinion, their belief, that is to say doxa, to be the truth. I guess it can even feel like someone is questioning your sanity, which is not very desirable to you. What is desirable to you is the doxa, that you come before everything else, that you are free to think and act. I reckon that explains their reaction. I explained how this works, in the quite detail, in my manuscript. It is, actually, something that most reviewers struggle to comprehend, how that point is so important in my research, how subjectivity and signification connect to the faciality/landscapity complex and how they end up mutually reinforcing one another. This all applies in particular to priests, who, probably, always knew that there is nothing fixed to interpret, that faciality is just a sham. Simply put, challenging the dogmatic image of thought, the doctrine of judgment, threatens not only their image of themselves and how the world works but also their authority to tell others how it is. As noted by Spinoza, challenging them makes it very hard for them to prove and preserve their authority. Of course, we can’t have that, riffraff trying to enter the temple and challenge the priests to combat, now can we?


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