I’d like to see somebody write a theory of the irreducible unit. What’s more, I’d like to see two kind of units defined: static and variable units. For Saussurean linguistics, the phoneme is always the static irreducible unit. For an addict, though, the irreducible unit is the hit. The hit is always exactly what’s required, no less. But what’s required is always different. For the addict, some chemical interaction between the body and the drug determines the content of the hit, and so the the theory of units has to come into contact with biology.

How does the dedication to the unit govern the organization of drives? What is the administrative or disciplinary capacity of the unit? How much weight should the theory of the unit receive once embedded in any theory of social relations?


  1. wow your questions zoom out to super-meta status really quickly! Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (hah as opposed to Spinoza’s?) was the first thing that jumped to mind when I read this post; there you seem to have irreducibility as a major if tacit element of his whole epistemic program: units of language corresponding to units of the world/reality; of course the dude later realized the formalization of that unit-to-unit relationship != the end of philosophy; but hell I bought it; the irreducible unit for some reason makes me think of social isolation which makes me think of monads and anomie; I suppose an association with Gödel (and by extension Hilbert) enters my mind too; maybe the theory of the unit will be emerge in the endgame of some sociological/epistemological Langlands program in the future

  2. I think I go to irreducibility because I want to think of the unit as a material(ish) constituent of other things, rather than a principle of containment or sets. So an atomic theory – which, so yeah, Wittgenstein for sure. The sociological thing seems interesting to me, and it also reminds me of the good old “network of signification,” maybe because that conjures up images of interstitial nodes that would determine the network’s structure. But nodes aren’t quite units — maybe Poovey’s “History of the Modern Fact” has something to say …

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