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Aristotle 2: Cause


The following passage is cited from Avatar Emergency, as a point of relation or passage from that text to this project.  Aristotle's use of elements, form and matter, and the analogy of craft production, all provide a relay for a heuretics of electrate metaphysics.



We need to receive the whisper (intimation) from the Superfund site, to learn the uncanny discourse of Nemesis. We inventory the peculiar operations of the figure in the accident as avatar, or daimon (intimating the specific nature of macro-limit) by observing the technics of the scene. What does technics intimate? Pine tar, obtained by cooking pine wood, involves the distillation of an organic substance (wood in this case, but coal also is treated in this way). Wood, the fifth element, carries a fifth metaphysical cause. Aristotle proposed four causes operating in physical reality — four dimensions of explanation. Applied to Koppers production of Pine Tar, the causes are:

 Material:  that out of which a thing comes to be, as a constituent in the product. The raw material is wood (pine trees).

Formal:  the formula of what it is to be the thing in question. How is Pine Tar produced, the chemistry of distillation, the cooking of pine wood that produces the tar.

Efficient:  the origin of the movement or rest.  The makers, Cabot-Koppers corporations are responsible and get credit for the production.

Final: the end or aim, the purpose of the thing in question.  Pine Tar was produced in order to (that for the sake of which) treat wood, to preserve it from deterioration in the environment. These four causes must be supplemented with a fifth dimension, active in events of purposeful modification of nature.

Gift: the by-product, unintended consequences of the process. It is “gift” in the macaronic sense appropriated from the German word:  gift/poison.  Pine distillation that produces Pine Tar also produces charcoal.  Charcoal is a welcome present.  The other by-product is creosote, an unwelcome poison. The production of pine tar at the Cabot-Koppers site, beginning as early as 1911, and continuing until 2010, resulted in environmental disaster.

Instruction: count five causes;  Material, Formal, Efficient, Final, Gift. It is an electrate update of cause.

Aristotle prepares us by using as analogy for the relation between matter and form, the process by which a craftsman transforms “wood” (matter) into “table” (form). Our concern is with wood processed into pine tar and creosote. The process is “distillation,” which gives us an operant term, the equivalent for a Koppers emblem. Distillation includes vaporization and condensation. To distill (the dictionary supplies all the concepts) extracts a concentrate. By extension, distillation is any concentration, essence, or abstraction. We promote the effect into a proverb: purification pollutes. The vocabulary resonates with descriptions of the commodity form itself (pine tar as paragon of commodity as such). Commodity as a relation of universal exchange perform a reduction, “which we might as well call the analysis, the decomposition or destructuration of the thing into its most elementary components (if there are any)—ought to reveal, as if by distillation or purification, the common core which exchangeable things share, the likeness on the basis of which they can be put into relation, measured proportionally” (Keenan, 110). This abstracting distillation empties out (kenosis) the properties of a thing, erases all difference, but leaving always a certain fatal remnant, personified as ghost or spectre by Marx (and Derrida after him), that returns to haunt the measure of value. “There is nothing of them left over but this very same ghostly objectivity, a mere jelly of undifferentiated human labor” (Marx, qtd in Keenan 115). This ghostly jelly is gift cause.