Brian Rotman

Brian Rotman
Becoming Beside Ourselves
The Alphabet, Ghosts and Distributed Human Beings
Duke University Press 2008

Becoming Beside Ourselves: The Alphabet, Ghosts, and Distributed Human Being is the third in a trilogy devoted to the nature and functioning of certain signs and the writing practices associated with them. I explore ideas, imaginings, conceptual innovations, subjectivities, and forms of consciousness which the signs facilitate (and prevent), as well as the absent agencies and metaphysical beliefs that seem to arrive with them.
Signifying Nothing: the first essay is focused on the mathematical zero, 0 -
it’s contested entry into European thought as an infidel and paradoxical concept; its relation to the various understandings of “nothing” and emptiness; its disruptive semiotic effects; and the complexities of its dual mathematical role: as a number like any other and as a meta-sign at the heart of the familiarHindu-Arabic place notation that assigns names to the endless progression 1,2,3,… of whole numbers.
Ad Infinitum – The Ghost in Turing’s Machine. An Essay in Corporeal Semiotics persues the metaphysical and disembodied agencies that accompany the writing and thinking of the mathematical infinite.

Boe: ...a questioning of Aristotle’s nous, the source of the supposedly natural ability to repeat endlessly. The ability requires a supernatural – disembodied - agency operating, as God is presumed to operate, metaphysically, outside the exigencies of time, space, energy, and physical presence; in short, an immaterial ghost.
...the transcendent ghost-space appropriate to a bodiless “mind”

Becoming Beside Ourselves pushes the question of supernatural agencies further back, situating them mediologically, in the context of their production.
It asks: How, by what material, cognitive-affective, means, did God and “mind” come to be - to exist, to be known, to be objects of belief - within Western culture?

Specifically, I argue the following thesis:
God and Mind (mind, nous, psyche, soul) are media effects of the alphabet, hypostatized entities, ghosts that emerged from the writing of “I” in the sixth century BC within the respective Jewish and Greek deployments of alphabetic writing, born at a point when the medium had become naturalised, the effects of written mediation invisible.
Crucial to the argument is a fundamental mediological point, namely the insistence that any act of self-enunciation is medium specific. This immediately implies that the four reflexive acts - a gestural self-pointing “I”; an “I” spoken in language; and inscribed “I” within alphabetic writing; and the digital “I”, as self-enunciation within contemporary network media - though interconnected and co-present are to be distinguished from each other. They project different sorts of affect, have different relations to embodiment, operate differently in their milieus, and engender their own forms of subjectivity.