Previously, I objected to Althusser’s invocation of the clinamen (the mythical swerve of the atoms) in Lucretius when talking about historical contingency. (He, Deleuze, and the young Marx all seem to have fixated on what seems to me this most dubious — even if charming — aspect of Epicurean thought. I’m enough of a Leibnizian to believe in the principle of sufficient reason. I just don’t think that all determination takes the form of univocal causality.)

I actually enjoy Lucretius, and also found the strangely titled book about him, The Birth of Physics by Michel Serres, quite interesting. Lucretius is full of poetic descriptions of hydrodynamic phenomena. Serres argues that Lucretius considered the conceptual norm for matter in general to be liquid rather than solid; that he wanted to use hydrodynamic phenomena to model aggregate behavior of the atoms, always considering them in aggregate; and that this has widespread implications for thought. It is a not-so-atomistic atomism.

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