“WHAT OTHER POSSIBILITY COULD THERE HAVE BEEN FOR EACH OF US?"
This interview on Çetin Balanuye’s Naturans I: Yeni Bir Ontolojiye Doğru [Naturans I: Towards a New Ontology], published in 2020 and Naturans II: Yeni Etik Politik [Naturans II: The New Ethical Politics], published in 2022 by Ayrıntı Publishing House, was conducted by Güçlü Ateşoğlu, editor of both books.
Güçlü Ateşoğlu: My dear friend, hello once again. We have a long-standing friendship outside the publishing world, but we actually have a long-standing friendship in the publishing world as well. It started with your first book, Spinoza: Bir Hakikat İfadesi [Spinoza: An Expression of Truth], in 2012. That book, which was published by Say, aimed to explain Spinoza’s three main works systematically in Turkish and was a first in this sense. I can happily say that the book fulfilled its aim and as far as I know it has reached its fourth edition. Then there was “cheerful” book in 2017: Spinoza’nın Sevinci Nereden Geliyor? [Where Does Spinoza’s Joy Come From?]. In this book, published by Ayrıntı, again you talked about Spinoza, but this time it was a “different” text both content-wise and style-wise. If I’m not wrong, that book broke a record in Turkey among philosophy books written originally in Turkish, in terms of the number of editions and reader diversity. It has reached its tenth edition and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The subject of this interview is not that cheerful book, but I wouldn’t want to start without asking you this much: following the cheerful book, which has fascinated readers of almost all kinds, backgrounds, and age groups, Naturans I and Naturans II has confounded readers. No doubt, your characteristically clear, easily understandable language stands out in these books too, (in fact Naturans I is already in its second edition), but the subject is suddenly much more serious, the debate is deeper and readers are invited to participate in fields such as metaphysics, ontology, ethics and politics, considered philosophy’s main sources of woe. I would like to begin by asking you the reason why you planned this process in this way.
Çetin Balanuye: My dear friend, thank you so much for your gracious introduction. As usual, you are being modest. You have made a bigger contribution to all my books than most editors, but your contributions have remained hidden among the pages. Thank you once again. As you just said, Spinoza: Bir Hakikat İfadesi was a “first” from many points of view. It was a text that aimed to introduce Spinoza in a systematic way to those who didn’t know him at all and to explain practically, page by page, his three main works. It was almost a textbook. I followed your guidance on that project. It was clear that there was a need for it, and you were right. I hope that the book responded to that need to a certain extent. As I frequently point out, in the last thirty years a substantial number of books on Spinoza have been published in Turkey. Almost all are of great importance. I see Turkey as an intellectual interlocutor on Spinoza scholarship that needs to be taken more into consideration.
On the other hand, Spinoza’nın Sevinci Nereden Geliyor?, the book that you refer to as “cheerful”, is the product of a completely different construct. In that book, in a sense, I wanted to illustrate Deleuze’s hypothesis through daily life. Deleuze referred to Spinoza’s Ethics as “practical philosophy”. And he actually explained what he meant. However as both Spinoza and Deleuze speak on the basis of a given philosophical background vocabulary, the meaning of the said practicality was not very clear. In Spinoza’nın Sevinci I wanted to examine what this kind of philosophical joy might mean in daily life. In terms of form, I adopted a language known as “creative non-fiction.” I attach great importance to this language and I believe that we should always look into its relationship with philosophy. This language gives us the opportunity to address everybody on different levels. It has the power to transform things. This is something that a purely academic-didactic language would never succeed in doing. That language is also necessary, there is no doubt about that, but I think the language that is able to communicate with the “witty criticism”, which I believe to be common among readers from Turkey, is this kind of creative prose, which needs to be tried out without compromising intellectual depth.
The Naturans series which followed that book actually consists of an attempt to amplify the project which I have been concentrating on since the early 2000s, and that is the criticism of the established ontological concessions which determine our worldview and the examination of the possibilities of the new ontology which I hope will replace it. This project has gained some visibility with the help of the first book of the series, Naturans I: Yeni Bir Ontolojiye Doğru [Naturans I: Towards a New Ontology]; on the occasion of our first meeting, readers needed to be introduced to certain concepts, terms, and approaches. For example, it is necessary to present assumptions such as hierarchies, teleology, essentialism, and anthropocentrism, which in philosophy are hidden within the traditional ontological understanding, to evaluate their consequences and to debate how these assumptions have alienated philosophy from an ontology; but it is also necessary to maintain the fact that philosophy’s metaphysical stagnation can only be possible through a new and renewed ontological approach. I wrote Naturans I with the purpose of explicating this relatively complicated argument. I aim for this new way of thinking, which I refer to as the Ontology of Power, to become a new way of speaking about reality. “The expression of power” is of primary importance in this new way of thinking. We don’t know much aside from the meaning of affecting and being affected in encounters, but even this meaning is “realist” enough. Because what we refer to as reality is a plane of immanence, outside of which there is nothing, it can only be shaped through the interactions that emerge from encounters and simultaneously re-shapes those interactions itself as well. The Ontology of Power suggests that what makes a thing “that” thing is not an intact metaphysical essence, but the type and degree of power it expresses in encounters, and therefore the “whatness” of something, whether it is known or not by humans, is continuously redefined by the parties to the encounter. The expression “IEEP” (It Exists if and only if Expresses Power) used repeatedly in the book is related to the importance of being content with this ontological answer.
GA: Naturans I: Yeni Bir Ontolojiye Doğru, is “different” in terms not only of content but also of style. Fragments have been intertwined with an academic text. We can see a similar example in Ur, Uruk, Urşu, where the great Uluğ Nutku intertwined poetry and history. Is there a special reason behind your choice?
ÇB: I’m flattered that you have associated Naturans I with Uluğ Nutku’s great poetic work. But my approach is much more modest; I believe that the inspirational power of the fragments goes beyond the language of the explicatory prose. Poetry doesn’t always help; poetry can even lead a couple dancing romantically to tumble down a precipice. Nietzsche was aware of this. What is suggested by the fragments and what is explained by the prose never coincide completely, the first always overflows from the second. So, contrary to expectations, “less” is always “more”. On the other hand, the prose continues to speak, as if accompanying the fragments’ boomerang-like reflections on themselves. This way of thinking is just one of many possible ways of thinking. In fact, each reader witnesses the fragments’ thoughts on themselves in a different way and each witnessing multiplies the new way of thinking. In this sense Naturans I is not a difficult text, the fact that it is complicated should be considered natural to the extent that it is able to accompany reality (and exactly because of that). (On the occasion of this interview, I would like to announce that my passion for fragment writing continues. Orange Fragments: To Read and Contemplate in a Sunny Day, which consists of close to 200 fragments has recently been published in English, by TP London.
"IT WAS THIS TOTALITARIAN MAN WHO KEPT TELLING US WHAT REALITY IS LIKE”
GA: What is it that is new in the ontology that this book tries to develop and why is there a need for a new ontology?
ÇB: I must begin with the second part of this question. There is a need for a new ontology, because not only have we given a life sentence to the previous one, but we have also turned a deaf ear to its attempts to sneakily determine our worldview. So, in a sense, we have buried our heads in the sand. In the book, I have defined this as “the alienation of philosophy from the idea of truth”. “What exists?” has been reduced to “what do we humans refer to as ‘exist’?” which revolves around a type of human that we have been convinced to believe in. And the type of man that we have been convinced to believe in has been elevated quite a bit due to hierarchical ontologies, it presents a God-like perspective, it enjoys free will, it is subjectivated as the expression of a characteristic “essence”, it progresses, it has its own telos, it is generally white and male and is totalitarian and “egocentric” in appearance. It was this totalitarian man who kept telling us what reality was like. We have actually experienced the ontological closure imposed by this man up to the mid-20th century. It was this ontological totalitarianism, which did not result in anything good (world wars, the ever-increasing exploitation of the natural environment, income inequality, persecution of the organic and inorganic world, gender inequality, etc.), that the subsequent criticism of ontology criticized (and that is what postmodernism consisted in). And it was right in doing so, but it overdid it. An overdose has occurred. This time, the idea of truth was completely avoided, including even the effort to recognize objective reality less erroneously. The relativity of “according to what, according to whom?” has reached such a stage that the attempt to understand objective reality’s immanent flux has been prevented by the man himself. Man has given up on the “attempt” to get to know reality with as few errors as possible. Realism in philosophy was interpreted as evidence of ideological bad faith. Nowadays there is this sad situation behind the recuperation of new realists, speculative realists, new materialists, or critical realists. The problem is crystal clear: what would an ontology look like, if it enabled man to accompany with as few errors as possible the “one” and “the same” reality which shapes and is shaped by in accordance with the power it expresses and outside which or beyond which there is nothing?
The first part of your question follows from here: Ontology of Power suggests defining all entities as “IEEP” (It Exists if and only if it Expresses Power) and considering them as the equal dwellers of objective reality, in line with their capacity to affect and be affected. It refuses to grant man the final word on “what exists” and “what is real”; existing and being real, is not a status that man can bestow anymore; persuading those that it encounters to its existence in line with its capacity to affect and be affected turns into a matter of performance for each single and/or unified IEEP.
GA: The Ontology of Power you are proposing brings with it the claim of both being “perspectival” and being “realist”; however, according to widespread opinion, the more you prioritize perspectives, the more you distance yourself from realism. How does your proposal cope with this issue?
ÇB: This is a very important question: I believe that almost all of Nietzsche’s postmodern readings are based on a weak assumption. I have dealt with this extensively in this book. Nietzsche thought that one could both “be perspectival” and “be realist”, and that this was the only possible way in terms of the Ontology of Power. What matters is what can be defined as a “thing”: imagine that you apply one cubic meter of pesticide to a garden with an area of one square kilometer. Here we have at least two “things”: a garden with an area of one square kilometer and one cubic meter of pesticide. These are two of what IEEP-Man refers to as “things”. In other words, their “whatness”, their borders, and their effects are to a great extent clear to you. However, according to the plants, which with their roots extend outside the garden from under the fence and according to those which from the outside extend into that area, this garden, the “whatness” of which is so clear to you, is not that kind of “thing” at all. Similarly, the “whatness” of pesticide too, is “reified” in different ways by the organic and inorganic entities, large and small, that encounter it, in line with the intensity of the encounter. In other words, entities that encounter each other are “reified”, “exist” and are “real” in accordance with their capacity to affect and be affected during those encounters, and if they are not able to perform in that way, they may cease existing and being real within and through that reality.
This approach isn’t only perspectival, it is also realist: as long as you are not able to point out a thing that has the power to affect and be affected but doesn’t exist/isn’t real, or a thing that exists/is real but doesn’t have the power to affect and be affected, no one can object to the realism of the proposed approach.
GA: There seems to be also an issue regarding epistemology: in the context of the Ontology of Power you have proposed, epistemology is not granted the final word, but it still occupies an important place in that context. Isn’t this contradictory?
ÇB: Let me continue from my previous answer. We would have a contradiction if ontology and epistemology were reduced to each other (identity) and one of them was negated by the other (self-contradiction). This is exactly the risk that the Ontology of Power doesn’t take. Man is not the only interlocutor of the question “what exists?” anymore, the Ontology of Power asserts that the answer to this ontological question will be continuously renewed at every encounter, in accordance with the infinite number of encounters and interactions in the immanent plane of reality. In fact, entities that encounter each other, at every encounter persuade the other regarding their own existence, their reality, and their capacity to fold and twist reality in line with their own power. “Ontology” thus turns into the common performance plane of everything that exists and is real and no IEEP is given the opportunity to finitely define this plane.
That’s when epistemology comes up. Once you have grasped this new meaning of ontology, each IEEPs attempt to get to know the parties to the encounters, making as few errors as possible, acquires great importance. Each IEEPcarries on with these attempts in its own way. “Epistemology” is the term used by IEEP-Man for these attempts. In other words, for example, a fungus’ attempt to get to know the parties to an encounter is no doubt very different from epistemology in the sense that we know, but in fact, our epistemological questioning, that is the “whatness” and reliability of knowledge, is applied by a fungus in a completely different way. A fungus is also required to be part of encounters on the same level of immanence, and the fewer errors it makes in getting to know the parties of the encounters, the more it increases its degree of survival and endurance and its power to act. The difference nowadays between the concepts of organic and inorganic have turned in this sense into a difference in the “variety of the power to act”. In encounters, inorganic substances (solid matter) do not exhibit as varied and as rich a capacity for interaction, but the difference is only one of “degree”.
At this point, the distinction/association between “virtual” and “actual” powers, which has been proposed by Manuel De Landa, upon inspiration from Deleuze, and which I have also tried to develop, upon inspiration from De Landa, acquires great importance. This proposal regards our attempt to think of, understand and grasp without prejudice the powers that all entities (IEEP) exhibit in encounters. If there is an IEEP in an encounter, it becomes aware of the other IEEPs “actual” power peculiar to that encounter. But we must be aware that every IEEP has certain “virtual” powers which may become actual in other encounters. By “virtual” we do not mean the Aristotelian “potential”, that is a power that a fixed essence keeps to itself and will allow actualizing only when the conditions are right. “Virtuality” is a capacity that each IEEP can add to itself, transform, enlarge or reduce during encounters on the level of immanent reality. Both the “actual” and “virtual” capacity can only be determined by the infinite variety of encounters on the level of immanent reality. There is neither an “essence”, nor a “finality” peculiar to that essence.
GA: Conversations with the new realist literature, with schools such as speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, flat ontologies, and new materialism occupy a central place in the book. However, the book also persistently wishes to preserve its claim to be a completely Spinozistic approach. Spinoza is a monist, while all the new realist philosophers seem “pluralist” in a metaphysical sense. In short, how do you explain your view of Spinoza as a source for the new realist philosophy?
ÇB: We must not overlook Deleuze’s “monism=pluralism” equation. If we examine carefully Spinoza’s “substance”, we will see that “natura naturans” is not a container and “natura naturata” is not its content. That is what Deleuze means by the above equation. Spinoza doesn’t wish us to think of a transcendent substance that existed much before, and which then produced entities out of itself. What he encourages us to think about is much more complicated: substance is reality’s way of expressing itself, a manner of acting, it’s an expression of power that enables differentiation, multiplication, and the emergence of what is “new”. When we perceive it like that, the distinction between single and multiple becomes meaningless. We need to extend Deleuze’s equality and transform it into a cyclical equality: substance=reality=expression-of-power=different(c)iation.
GA: Naturans II: Yeni Etik Politik’s aim seems to be to question the ethical-political awareness necessitated by the ontological approach developed in the first book. Would you agree?
ÇB: I agree completely. Naturans II asks a very simple question: “Given that the way things are, what must we do, how must we live, how can we live ‘together’?” If we adopt an idea of “reality” of the kind expressed by the Ontology of Power, outside of which there is nothing, on the one and the same level of reality shared by all IEEPs, and that is shaped by all IEEPs and shapes them in return, what can we, as IEEP-Human, do with this thought? Before beginning to look for an answer to this fundamental question, I wanted to explicate our situation. It’s a terrible situation from all points of view! I wanted to show that our transcendent, anthropocentric, hierarchical, teleological (in a cosmic sense), essentialist, and antirealist (in an idealist sense), established thought image (what Deleuze referred to as the “dogmatic image of thought”) has resulted in a complete fiasco in terms of both the ethical question of “how should I live? and the political question of “how can we live together?”. I have maintained that we have to a great extent lost our ability to accompany reality (the type of reality expressed by the Ontology of Power) on an individual and social scale and that behind this there are our philosophical, metaphysical, ethical, and political misunderstandings.
The rest of the book is dedicated to questioning the possibility of a worldview with fewer misunderstandings and to criticizing the established ethical-political assumptions, rules, and institutions that stand against making this possibility real. In short, I tried to show that what we refer to as an “individual” is not at all the way we perceive it and that in consequence “essence”, “subject,” subjectivity”, “subjective desires” and the representational and political results of these desires do not have to be the way we are required to perceive them.
"NEOLIBERALISM IS HUMANITY’S CHEERFUL ACCEPTANCE OF ITS CONSENT TO SLAVERY”
GA: The term “new” is part of the title in this book too: what is new in this ethics and this politics?
ÇB: This is a very important question, but I’m afraid that summarizing it here is not only difficult but would also be in vain… I would be afraid of complicating things even further. So, I’d rather refer readers to Chapter 1.2 (Yeni Etiğin İçkinci Karakteri [The Immanent Character of the New Ethics]).
GA: I found Naturans II's criticism of “capitalism” particularly interesting. The book talks about a way that is difficult, but also promising. To what extent do you think it is difficult and to what extent promising?
ÇB: It is equally difficult and promising. First capitalism and now neoliberalism are not ordinary phases among the phases of our civilization. I think that the “desire based on the conatus”, which I consider Spinoza’s compass, and which expresses each IEEPs’ power to exist and act, is being repressed as never before in the whole of history, by so-called subjective desires produced, reproduced, and continuously renewed in line with the wishes of capital owners. The subject, which is the product of a completely manipulative construct, has been severed through its own subjective desires. As long as our so-called subjective desires are fulfilled, we remain passive, hesitant, and restrained. Neoliberalism is humanity’s cheerful acceptance of its consent to slavery. And that is what is so difficult about it. The subject wears the best clothes and puts on expensive perfume, then heads to the office cheerfully to spend ten hours in the office in a skyscraper to fulfill the wishes of capital owners, thinking that he/she fulfills his/her own subjective desire. Equally punctual “call center” workers reach their beehive but they are tired, unhappy, unsatisfied… But they too act in line with their subjective wishes! None of us questions whether the wishes under our so-called subjectivity actually do belong to us or not. What other possibility could there have been for each of us? Why doesn’t the HR assistant in the skyscraper office play a string instrument or a wind instrument? Why has she never made a sculpture? Why hasn’t she written an article on the underground architecture of ant colonies? Let’s take into consideration of our friend at the call center: When will she find the time to learn to tango? When will she learn to distill lavender, obtain its extract and make her own perfume? When will she become so good at repairing that her bicycle will be totally brand new, as it was on the first day?
In a nutshell, when exactly will we be able to increase our power to act by increasing our diversity of affecting and being affected in pursuit of our so-called subjective desires?
The answer of capitalism to all these questions is a loud “never” or “when you get rich”. The subjects, which have long forgotten that none of these activities actually have anything to do with money, endorse capitalism with their subjective judgments and say, “If everybody were to live a life of idleness, what would happen to the world?” We have forgotten that idle productivity will create a paradise and that the ambition to produce in a state of slavery has long turned the world into a hell for billions of people, animals, plants and the biosphere. Because capital owners do everything to prevent us from remembering that. The wishes of capital owners have settled inside our subjectivity like the Trojan horse and they punctually mobilize our subjective wishes against us.
These are the difficulties in question! Nevertheless, this is not enough to make us hopeless. The Power Ontology demonstrates that both individual IEEPs and clusters of IEEP cannot be forever detached from their power of encounter, interaction, and action. Sooner or later, a power-made IEEP or Unified-IEEP turns to their conatus-based desire, encounters can never be prevented, and they realize that their identities are constantly reshaped in accordance with their power to act, moving away from perceiving themselves as opaque subjects with definite limits-essence-capacities. “I am the present capacity of a certain power to affect and be affected, and this capacity is capable of continuous transformation.”
In this sense, Naturans II considers micropolitics together with macropolitics on a much larger social scale. It invites thosewho find the fundamental expression of the Ontology of Power meaningful enoughto reflect on the idea of Agonistic Democratic Socialism (ADS), and it proposes to create a new, non-hegemonic association of IEEP (IEEP-ADS).
GA: You have planned the Naturans series as a trilogy; if you are still of that idea, what will the mission of the third book be?
ÇB: Yes, I’ve planned it as a trilogy. The main reason for this is that this file I have opened under the heading of “Naturans”, is an open-ended research program. The scope of this program is way above me. I need for this my readers, my colleagues, and intellectuals from a variety of disciplines. Right now, only the title of the third book is established, and it’s: Naturans III: Yeni Gündelik Yaşam [Naturans III: The New Daily Life]. But it doesn’t absolutely have to be that. As I said before, in an open-ended research program you can never know in advance where the research, the reading, the thinking, and the debates will take you to. I attach great importance to the source of inspiration I tried to explain in this interview and I persistently am trying to pursue it.
Balanuye is a lecturer at the Philosophy Department of Akdeniz University. He completed his BA at the Middle East Technical University, in the field of Psychological Counselling. Balanuye holds two Master's degrees, the first of which he received at METU, in the sociology of education, and the second at the University of London, in the philosophy of education. He received his PhD from the Department of Philosophy at METU. Balanuye, who has published several academic and popular works on a minor tradition developed by Spinoza-Nietzsche-Deleuze within the framework of the thought of “immanence” in philosophy, is also the author of Spinoza: Bir Hakikat İfadesi [Spinoza: An Expression of Truth]. His previous book, Spinoza'nın Sevinci Nereden Geliyor?: Reddedilemeyecek Bir Felsefi Teklif [Where Does Spinoza’s Joy Come From?: An Irrefutable Philosophical Proposal] appeared in 2017, become one of the most popular books in its field, and is still a bestseller.
Ateşoğlu is a lecturer at the Philosophy Department of the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, as well as the editor of the philosophy series at the Ayrıntı and Say publishing houses.
Translated by Leyla Tonguç Basmacı