On the recommendation of David Chalmers, I had a look at The Self and the Phenomenal by Barry Dainton. Dainton expertly lays out some of the philosophical problems arising from the recognition of a stream of consciousness. His solution strikes me as rather mechanical, and he too easily dismisses the argument that under ordinary circumstances we never truly lose consciousness (dreamless sleep being but a low level of consciousness), but nevertheless it presents an interesting alternative to a strictly phenomenological treatment of the topic.
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Thursday, April 28, 2005
The Overseas Press Club has given photographer Paola Pellegrin the Olivier Rebbot Award for best photographic reporting from abroad in magazines and books for the series How Did Darfur Happen? which appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. (A copy of the story by Scott Anderson is now available from the Sudan Tribune.) The awards committee notes:
These pictures speak a totally different visual language than the usual reportage. They are very sophisticated and impressionistic. They unify the human plight of this story with the landscape in a dramatic way, creating a vision unlike anyone else has shown in a much-covered story. The pictures are unique and unforgettable.
Meanwhile the government of Sudan continues to harrass and detain photographers, most recently Brad Clift of the Hartford Courant, whose situation remains uncertain. Also of note, a student from the University of Southern California who was working with a humanitarian aid agency in Sudan had been arrested for carrying a camera into a hospital. He is now safe and sound back in California. (ht: Coalition for Darfur.) It should be obvious why awards such as those given by the Overseas Press Club matter, but I'll say a few words anyway. Merely to travel to Darfur requires courage; to carry a camera extraordinarily so. And to put one's heart into a public showing, finally, to fully lend one's creative impulse and sensitivity to the telling of an urgent and difficult story requires a courage and integrity beyond measure. Financial rewards alone are incommensurate with the gratitude we owe those individuals who take such risks on our behalf, that we might better understand parts of our world that would otherwise seem remote, devoid of meaning and life. One of Pellegrin's unique and unforgettable images:
©Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for the New York Times
It should be obvious why awards such as those given by the Overseas Press Club matter, but I'll say a few words anyway. Merely to travel to Darfur requires courage; to carry a camera extraordinarily so. And to put one's heart into a public showing, finally, to fully lend one's creative impulse and sensitivity to the telling of an urgent and difficult story requires a courage and integrity beyond measure. Financial rewards alone are incommensurate with the gratitude we owe those individuals who take such risks on our behalf, that we might better understand parts of our world that would otherwise seem remote, devoid of meaning and life.
One of Pellegrin's unique and unforgettable images:
posted by Fido the Yak at 5:08 PM. 1 comments
The problem of temporality represents perhaps both the most refractory and most essential topic in the field of existential phenomenology. Under the care of eminent phenomenologists, temporality always seems to open onto discussions of the structures of Existence, of being within its world, its relations to others, of the reflexivity of consciousness, scissiparities, dehiscences, infinitions and all manner of idiolectical fractiousness; yet seldom are the reasons for going off the metaphysical deep end made clear. As luck would have it, I recently discovered a book by Grace A. de Laguna entitled On Existence and the Human World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), which presents the core issues in a strikingly lucid and sensible way.
De Laguna's project consists in a marriage of existential phenomenology with American pragmatism and cultural anthropology that might have been considered pioneering had she waited another couple of decades before collecting her essays into a book. Her discussion of temporality in the chapter "Existenz and Existence" (esp. pp.93ff.) covers much the same ground as her European contemporaries, but with a low jargon quotient and a clarity of exposition characteristic of her style throughout the entire book.
To begin with, de Laguna rejects the idea that the being or essence of what exists can be contained within a present, for that would render the idea of temporal succession meaningless (or let its meaning depend upon the introduction of some outside agency to perpetually recreate the world of the present, in which case not only the durability but the being of what exists would be jeopardized, effectively placing it beyond inquiry while leaving the problem of temporality intact).
Temporality must lie at the heart of the being of what exists. Since the distinction between past, present, and future is essential to temporality, this distinction must be grounded in the being of every existent individual. To find such a ground we must abandon the conception of existence as an external addition to the essence of what exists. The being of what exists cannot be wholly actual, completely determinate, as just what it is at any present moment. As existence in a "present" has no meaning without reference to a possible "future," so the being of what exists in a present must include the potentiality of realizing its possible future.
We've performed the Sartrean flip in three easy steps, but we had to break a few eggs to do it. "If the being of what exists is temporal, then that being must include both actuality and potentiality" (p.94). These inclusions are not to be considered as inert:
The oncoming flow of time from the future to the present, and from the present to the past, must take place through the activity of the individual being in actualizing the potentialities of its being. While these potentialities (the "ways of being possible to it") are constitutive of its being, they do not actualize themselves. The future does not passively become present, nor does the present simply lapse into the past. To exist is to be active; it is to "make present" the future by actualizing the potentialities inherent in the being of every individual existent.
Action, of course, understood as an attribute or capability of existence, implies certain contingencies. (Is there an ontologically pure form of action? I couldn't say.) An existence that exhausted all of its potentialities or enacted all of its possibilities would cease to be. And so we are confronted with the first limit to the being of what exists, its finitude, which is established by the temporal structure inherent to existence.
To endure, an individual must so act as to maintain itself as potential--as capable of acting in the ways of acting constitutive of its being. This means that no individual can endure unles it is organized with reference to the end of its own existence. To endure--and there can be no temporal existence without endurance--an individual must be so structured as to be able to act in ways directed to the maintenance of its own being as a dynamic whole. The ontological self-relatedness that Heidegger found to be a distinctive characteristic of Dasein we thus find to be an essential condition for all temporal existence.
Having reduced Sein und Zeit to managable proportions, de Laguna prepares her tour de force:
No individual exists solitary, and in a void. As Dasein has his being "in a world," and every organism in an environment, so every individual existent has its being in an environing universe of other existents with which its own being is conjoined in reciprocal interdependence. The acts of each individual are its own individual acts, and it is through its own inherent activity that it actualizes the potentialities constitutive of its own being. Yet, as ways of acting possible to it they are subject to conditions, although they are not to be conceived as caused by external agency. No individual, not even Dasein, is its own possibility in the sense that its possibility is unlimited and absolute. Every individual must co-exist with others whose ways of acting are complementary to its own. The actualization of the potentialites of one individual must be conceived as conditioned by, and as a condition for, the actualization of reciprocal potentialities on the part of other individuals.
As each individual has its own possibilities which it realizes by its own individual acts, so it has its own individual future. But as it must act in conjunction with other individuals, it must, insofar, act in a common present, and therefore share a common time. Since an individual acts in accordance with a "way" of acting possible to it, its action is subject to conditions. But since each act is an individual act, an unrepeatable "this," the acts of an individual remain unconditioned. There can be no sufficient conditions for individual acts. The problem of the temporality of Being and the being of individuals are one and the same problem; it can be solved only in the context of a philosophy of nature yet to be achieved. But while this goal is distant, we may hope to discern its outlines and trace in advance the route that lies before us.
I leave it to you, dear readers, to follow the route de Laguna has mapped out for us, to diverge and rush and linger here and there as you will.
posted by Fido the Yak at 3:00 AM. 0 comments
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
The appointment of John Bolton to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations will, contrary to the opinion of many of his ardent defenders, do nothing to prevent the ongoing genocide in Sudan. This is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from his evasive answers to Senator Russ Feingold's questions concerning the genocide that took place in Rwanda. Several bloggers have made the argument, starting from the case laid out by Fred Kaplan in Slate, most forcefully and convincingly by Laura Rozen:
Look, the cause of stopping a genocide or massive humanitarian suffering goes beyond partisan politics. It is something that Americans on the right and left overwhelmingly agree on. It is also something that the US can't do alone. The US ambassador to the UN plays perhaps the most crucial role at the UN in exercising leadership to mobilize support both in Washington, New York, and foreign capitols in overcoming the tremendous obstacles logistical and political to save human life. Darfur presents that kind of challenge today, and Chinese opposition on the Security Council to a more robust intervention is not something Clinton didn't face regarding the Kosovo intervention six years ago. John Bolton has no interest in playing that role of exercising leadership at the UN to save lives. He wants to use it to bash the UN. For people who care about this mission, it should automatically disqualify him. Either it's more important to stop genocide, or it's more important to kick the UN, not both.
I cannot say that I am pleased with the politics of the Bolton nomination. Senator Feingold, in his public statement in opposition to Bolton, made no mention of the Rwandan genocide. If Senator Feingold, an expert on African affairs with presidential aspirations, cannot see it in his interests to publicly make the case that the United Nations must have as its mission the prevention of genocide and other grave crimes against humanity, and that our national interests lie in ensuring that the UN can and will meet this challenge, then one is led to conlcude that as far as our Senators are concerned there is no difference between genocide and halitosis. Both are excrable, but neither can be expected to be met with purposeful, effective action, much less an overarching agenda. The probablity of the Senate truly and actually doing something to prevent genocide is equivalent to the probability of Listerine being shared across the aisle. One can be certain that if a Senator rises to speak out against Bolton on the grounds of his alleged halitosis--and that looks rather likely in the current political climate--that same Senator will not be applying those same high standards of personal hygiene and grooming when the shoe is on the other foot.
For citizens of good conscience this is worse than a conundrum; it just plain sucks. The nearly total disconnect between how a Senator ought to vote and the reasons given for voting in a particular way render such a vote meaningless as a guide to future action (pettiness, gridlock and empty rhetoric notwithstanding). Nevertheless, we are left with a duty to hold our elected officials accountable. Fido the Yak urges you to contact your Senators and let them know how you feel about genocide and crimes against humanity, and what you think is the proper role for the United States to take regarding such matters.
Update: Tacitus cuts straight to the heart of the issue in his post on the Bolton nomination, Wesphalian Man. He treats Bolton more charitably than the sources cited above have, finding evidence of Bolton being both for and against humanitarian intervention; however, he is left with the same sort of doubts:
Where, then, does John Bolton stand? Does he pass the "Rwanda test" of being willing, in retrospect, to intervene there? Does he pass a Darfur test? Does he support the Iraq war rationale which justifies intervention based in part on Ba'athist atrocities? Does he support the Afghan war rational which justifies intervention based in part on Taliban atrocities? There's a lot good about Bolton -- among other things, you'll find few more solid on Taiwan -- but there's enough on this count for concern, and it is something that demands clarifying.
posted by Fido the Yak at 9:53 PM. 0 comments
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
© Estate of Robert Doisneau
"I now think of it as a picture that should never really have existed," Françoise Bornet, the kisser, told the media. "That's why I'm getting rid of it." Her print, autographed by photographer Robert Doisneau, sold at auction for €155,000.
And so we discover that the kiss was not quite spontaneous, although the couple was a couple, fleetingly, practiced in modes of public affection--if not so daring as osculation, charming nonetheless--that would catch a photographer's eye, and, with light and magic and affectation, become symbolic of the mood of Paris after the Second World War. (Ah, yes, I remember it well.) And we learn that the deal between the photographer and his models was not quite fair, which is also symbolic of a certain postwar attitude. But who ever said that Life was fair?
Fido the Yak remains imperturbable in his romanticism, a veritable Gilbert Bécaud, or more likely Pepe le Pew. Naturally the photo was never meant to exist. C'est la vie. L'amour est mort? But of course. How else are we to revive it?
A caveat, dear readers: Fido the Yak has frequently identified with the chap in the beret--Now there are stories as yet untold, full of espionage, wagging tongues, double entendres, mistaken identities, white noirs, and Thelonious Monk playing "April in Paris"....Not all that melts into the background is lost, but if you call on Fido the Yak to retrieve what's dear to you, you're asking for trouble.
posted by Fido the Yak at 10:20 AM. 0 comments
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Senator Jon Corzine, posting in a diary at Daily Kos, explains What the Darfur Accountability Act Means.
posted by Fido the Yak at 9:15 AM. 0 comments
Friday, April 22, 2005
I stumbled across a mention of Plato's disdain for misology (mi_so/logos) in the in the midst of an ongoing discussion of Phaedo at Dissoi Blogoi, in which I sort of intend not to get involved for the time being, as it's learned and deep, whereas I am feeling overwhelmed by ideas and inexplicable urges to pronk. (I happened to be searching for a discussion of metaxu/, which is neither here nor there at the moment, but more on which later....) But the passage and its reading by blogger Michael Pakaluk caught my notice, perhaps because it rang so true given my questions about what is meant by the label "extremism" in the current political debates.
Anyway, to move on to the marginalia, there are two other uses of "mi_so/logos" by Plato. One is in Laches (188c ff.), given here in the Lamb translation from the Perseus server:
Laches: I have but a single mind, Nicias, in regard to discussions, or if you like, a double rather than a single one. For you might think me a lover, and yet also a hater, of discussions: for when I hear a man discussing virtue or any kind of wisdom, one who is truly a man and worthy of his argument, I am exceedingly delighted; I take the speaker and his speech together, and observe how they sort and harmonize with each other. Such a man is exactly what I understand by “musical,”--he has tuned himself with the fairest harmony, not that of a lyre or other entertaining instrument, but has made a true concord of his own life between his words and his deeds, not in the Ionian, no, nor in the Phrygian nor in the Lydian, but simply in the Dorian mode, which is the sole Hellenic harmony. Such a man makes me rejoice with his utterance, and anyone would judge me then a lover of discussion, so eagerly do I take in what he says: but a man who shows the opposite character gives me pain, and the better he seems to speak, the more I am pained, with the result, in this case, that I am judged a hater of discussion.
There is also a passage in Plato's Republic that discusses misology. The following snippet of dialogue (411a-412a) is taken from the Shorey translation on Perseus.
Socrates: Now when a man abandons himself to music to play upon him and pour into his soul as it were through the funnel of his ears those sweet, soft, and dirge-like airs of which we were just now speaking, and gives his entire time to the warblings and blandishments of song, the first result is that the principle of high spirit, if he had it is softened like iron and is made useful instead of useless and brittle. But when he continues the practice without remission and is spellbound, the effect begins to be that he melts and liquefies till he completely dissolves away his spirit, cuts out as it were the very sinews of his soul and makes of himself a "feeble warrior."
Socrates: And if he has to begin with a spiritless nature he reaches this result quickly, but if high-spirited, by weakening the spirit he makes it unstable, quickly irritated by slight stimuli, and as quickly quelled. The outcome is that such men are choleric and irascible instead of high-spirited, and are peevish and discontented.
Glaucon: Precisely so.
Socrates: On the other hand, if a man toils hard at gymnastics and eats right lustily and holds no truck with music and philosophy, does he not at first get very fit and full of pride and high spirit and become more brave and bold than he was?
Glaucon: He does indeed.
Socrates: But what if he does nothing but this and has no contact with the Muse in any way, is not the result that even if there was some principle of the love of knowledge in his soul, since it tastes of no instruction nor of any inquiry and does not participate in any discussion or any other form of culture, it becomes feeble, deaf, and blind, because it is not aroused or fed nor are its perceptions purified and quickened?
Glaucon: That is so.
Socrates: And so such a man, I take it, becomes a misologist and stranger to the Muses. He no longer makes any use of persuasion by speech but achieves all his ends like a beast by violence and savagery, and in his brute ignorance and ineptitude lives a life of disharmony and gracelessness.
Glaucon: That is entirely true.
Socrates: For these two, then, it seems there are two arts which I would say some god gave to mankind, music and gymnastics for the service of the high-spirited principle and the love of knowledge in them--not for the soul and the body except incidentally, but for the harmonious adjustment of these two principles by the proper degree of tension and relaxation of each.
Glaucon:Yes, so it appears.
Socrates: Then he who best blends gymnastics with music and applies them most suitably to the soul is the man whom we should most rightly pronounce to be the most perfect and harmonious musician, far rather than the one who brings the strings into unison with one another.
Fido the Yak scribbling madly ideas for an automatic crônica of the cante jondo, ¿Dónde está el duende? and so on.... Either that or get some exercize.
posted by Fido the Yak at 5:05 PM. 0 comments
What kind of tune is Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower"? It's often treated as an example of modal Jazz, which it is, but that doesn't say much about the tune itself. Or does it? It's a tune that modulates between Dorian and Major (Ionian) modes. NB: Ionian may be regarded as an inflected form of the Major mode in Jazz, the raw form being a blues Major tonality (very roughly myxolydian) or something akin to George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, in the same way the Aeolian may be understood as an inflected form of the blues minor tonality, the more natural approximation being Dorian. Huh? Well, of course it does have to do with quartal movements, the key being how one relates to the third. In every Jazz tonic there is an implied blue third that colors the sixth and the seventh (which may also be blue in relation to the third). The blue third sixth seventh concord need not be sounded out in order to have a presence. It is a feature of the jazz musician's acoustic horizon. Thus the major sixth of the Dorian functions as a stronger affirmation of the music's essential blues tonality, and may be preferred at the expense of a well-tempered minor tonality which emphasizes the flat sixth. The flat sixth stands in relation to the blue third as a diminished fourth--a jarring discord in any functioning harmonic system I should think.
The Major 7th chord, Δ or Δ7, has a long history in Jazz and particularly bebop. Nonetheless, I'm not sure that its tonality has ever been fully settled. It seems to invite chromatic and quartal experimentation (and post Coltrane, triadic and whole tone experiments as well, e.g. in the form of augmented major seventh chords, whereas for example in the Shorter harmonic tradition these relations tended to be explored from the dominant rather than the tonic, or from a more traditional blues tonality, e.g. by the use of alt chords (assuming a dominant seventh, #9, b13, b16 (commonly reduced to b9) and b19 (commonly reduced to b5 or sometimes #11), which almost calls for laying a traditional blues scale over the b2, lending the tonic a dominant or subtonic function in terms of voice-leading, and being consistent with the strong movement towards the fourth in traditional blues melodic practice). Hubbard's tune, "Little Sunflower," appears within this tradition as a meditation on two alternate modalities of the Δ-blues tonal nexus.
The experimental nature of "Little Sunflower" is apparent in its form (AABBCC), which makes it not quite a standard ballad, not quite a Samba, not quite a blues. In fact many cats routinely blow the form--some have even done so behind Hubbard--iiyayow!! The reason the form is difficult is not simply the unorthodoxy of 48 bars, or the three part breakdown, though for some less-skilled musicians that may be a problem. Part of the problem I suspect is that the bridge doesn't really resolve, or, I would argue, it does so silently. How does one go from DΔ to d-7? Is there an A7 or its equivalent implied in the trailing a note of B or the half rest that begins C? Sure, it's the EbΔ that begins B. Did you think that was accidental? You can let it guide you, or you can let it trip you up.
In any case, the tune is highly digable. Listen to it, play it, vocalize it, think about it: it's all good.
And a happy Earth Day to you.
posted by Fido the Yak at 1:01 PM. 0 comments
Thursday, April 21, 2005
General Roméo Dallaire appeared on The Charlie Rose Show Wednesday evening. (Also appearing was Nancy Soderberg, who shared some of her own keen observerations on international relations). General Dallaire was the leader of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda, 1993-94, which really didn't do a whole lot to assist the victims of Rwanda's genocide, as recounted in Dallaire's memoire Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. The failure did not occur at one point, but was distributed throughout the framework of international relations, from the leaders of the world's military powers, through industrialized world leaders that Dallaire calls the middle powers (Germany, Japan...), through the United Nations under Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali, through the Security Council, through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations headed by Kofi Annan, down to Dalliare himself and others. Auxillary institutions such as humanitarian agencies, churches and news media also failed.
Naturally, as Hannah Arendt had occasion to note (in "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," which will be the subject of a blog posting here before long), if everybody's responsible, nobody can be held responsible. Dallaire's argument hardly makes such an error, for in his analysis there are definite levels of repsonsibility, and particular decisions that can be pointed to as leading to a failure of humanity in Rwanda. And we can see these points of failure also in similar cases of egregious crimes against humanity such as are presently being committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. As much as these failings would appear to be endemic to the international body politic, Dallaire remains optimistic--his choice of words-- that over the next hundred years or two we can collectivity place a concern for humanity at the center of international relations.
I'm not sure about whether or how the Charlie Rose Show makes its transcripts or recordings freely available--they seem to have changed policies in recent months. If you can catch the show, do. In any case Dallaire has given many interviews which are widely available online. I've made a list of some with brief excerpts that highlight Dallaire's perspective on conflict resolution in the present era, exploring the moral imperatives and dilemmas of preventing crimes against humanity, and offering practical guidance for future missions. In no particular order: Can you talk about the personal impact that all of this has had on you? Like veterans of other wars and other conflicts … you are affected by not only what you've experienced, but as a commander even more you're affected by the decisions you took, or didn't take, and as such have a significant level of guilt, of responsibility, particularly when the whole scenario has failed. I came back with and still live with this enormous guilt. I was the commander, my mission failed and hundreds of thousands of people died. I can't find any solace in statements like I did my best. … A commander can't use that as a reference in any operation. He succeeds or he fails and then he stands by to be held accountable. My mission failed and that's that. …The old theory of "you work hard and with time you forget" is a false statement. What you do is you remember the stuff in digitally clear slow motion. It's a matter of how you handle it, and how intrusive it is and what sort of prostheses you have that prevent you from falling into these bubbles of terrible depression, losing your objectivity totally and moving you even to suicide. …You want to hide, you don't want to see people, and you find solace in all of a sudden being in that bubble, even when that bubble is leading you to try to kill yourself. In fact, there's enormous solace because the pain of killing yourself is nothing compared to the pain of living with this, and it's only by flukes and by chances that some of us don't actually do it. My suicidal attempts were based on booze. I starting falling into these depressions, and I'd just drink and drink and then I'd cut myself or try to jump off things, but more often than not that was totally ineffective because I was pissed to the gills. It's only that and people checking up on me that prevented me from killing myself. I'm not the man I was, and never will become [him again], but hopefully with some drugs or medication that I take, just like someone who's got diabetes takes insulin, to keep me stable...-- that will be my life Given everything, are you glad you took the job? Absolutely. Never ever a doubt. My whole life was to command, … to be given missions, to accomplish missions -- of course accomplish them with the minimum amount of casualties or destruction, and with success. I've never ever even pondered that if the opportunity was given to me again would I do it, even knowing what's going on, because I'd say to myself I'm sure I will be able to change it. Ted Koppel:General Dallaire, this will be the last question and it brings us back to where you and I began a little over an hour ago. The question reads as follows, "Many people have forgiven or not held you responsible for this tragedy. Does this knowledge bring you any peace, any comfort? Do you allow yourself the flexibility of being human?" .... Roméo Dallaire:.... You can't just say well, it's eight years ago or nine years ago and you did what you could. Did I do everything I could? Did I have all the tools? Did I or should I, like you said, have walked up to Kofi Annan or Boutros-Ghali and throw my commission in front of him and say, "To hell with you. Nobody's coming so I'm going"? Should I have commenced opening fire? The first morning it was made very clear to me that if I opened fire I would become the third belligerent because then it's open season. But with the force I had there was no way that I could open fire and guarantee the security of my force. I didn't have enough ammunition to be able to hold out in a fire fight for more than half an hour. Those are the nations that sent the troops without the ammunition and the bartering between the UN and those nations, who is going to pay the ammunition, and in the middle of the war we had none. No, there is no conceivable way of actually being able to walk away from the immensity of what it is. You can't imagine the smell, the sounds of dogs eating humans throughout the night howling by the hundreds, of seeing children living amongst the corpses of their families because there's nowhere else to go and there's no orphanage and nobody could pick them up at the time, of watching women who are being moved to safety and all of a sudden a sniper just shoot her head off and say that you can come back from that. And imagine the moral dilemmas we had of all those people calling that morning screaming at the end of the phone for me to send troops to get them and hearing the people smashing down the door and shooting them at the end of the phone or deciding which I could go and rescue and which I couldn't go rescue. Of the moral dilemma of the soldier who is all of a sudden seeing a crowd encouraging a girl of 14 or15 with a machete and a child on her back to kill another girl of 14 or15 with a child on her back. What do my soldiers do? They're held up at the entrance of a village and they see these hundreds of people edging on this girl to kill another one. Do my soldiers open fire into the crowd killing God knows how many and injuring to go save that girl? Does the corporal who is 19, 20, 21 coming out of our same schools take a sniper and order him to shoot the girl with the machete, probably killing her child? Does the corporal simply walk away with his guys? What's the answer? What is the answer? What will you be held accountable morally and what will you be held accountable technically? If he had opened fire he went directly against the mandate and God knows what the reaction was. He didn't open fire. He negotiated and negotiated and as he's negotiating this girl was being chopped up and her child was chopped up and the crowd roared and it was finished. MotherJones: You also argue that peacekeeping needs to be redefined in the post-Cold War era. What do you see as the main changes needed to respond to today’s world? Roméo Dallaire: I think the term peacekeeping is of another era. Classic chapter-six peacekeeping does not exist. In conflict resolution, we should be looking for far more enlightened leadership, people who are far more multi-skilled, who handle different disciplines in-depth -- meaning military, humanitarian or diplomatic/political. I believe we don’t even have the right lexicon to be able to handle these missions. I think that generals who stand there and need clear and absolutely transparent exit strategies and orders are generals of the old era of classic warfare. What you need now are people who can not only fight -- because they may need to protect and defend -- but people who have a whole new set of skills in order to be value-added in these conflicts. So you need them to have more intellectually based skills like anthropology, sociology and philosophy. There is no such thing anymore as a blue-collar soldier because conflict is far more complex than outright fighting and has so many more traps to it, with ambiguous moral and ethical dilemmas. So in order to prepare troops, you need to bring them to a different plane of competencies than the fighting skills that we know. You need something far more in the psyche of the soldier. I believe that the big powers should maintain themselves as world powers, and not be the first ones in when there is a looming conflict or a crisis. I think middle powers are capable of influencing and creating more flexible diplomats and soldiers to maneuver in that, with the big powers’ oversight. Then, if we move to a crisis that cannot be resolved by the middle powers through the U.N., then intervention with the might of the big powers is required.
In no particular order:
Can you talk about the personal impact that all of this has had on you?
Like veterans of other wars and other conflicts … you are affected by not only what you've experienced, but as a commander even more you're affected by the decisions you took, or didn't take, and as such have a significant level of guilt, of responsibility, particularly when the whole scenario has failed. I came back with and still live with this enormous guilt. I was the commander, my mission failed and hundreds of thousands of people died. I can't find any solace in statements like I did my best. … A commander can't use that as a reference in any operation. He succeeds or he fails and then he stands by to be held accountable. My mission failed and that's that.
…The old theory of "you work hard and with time you forget" is a false statement. What you do is you remember the stuff in digitally clear slow motion. It's a matter of how you handle it, and how intrusive it is and what sort of prostheses you have that prevent you from falling into these bubbles of terrible depression, losing your objectivity totally and moving you even to suicide. …You want to hide, you don't want to see people, and you find solace in all of a sudden being in that bubble, even when that bubble is leading you to try to kill yourself. In fact, there's enormous solace because the pain of killing yourself is nothing compared to the pain of living with this, and it's only by flukes and by chances that some of us don't actually do it. My suicidal attempts were based on booze. I starting falling into these depressions, and I'd just drink and drink and then I'd cut myself or try to jump off things, but more often than not that was totally ineffective because I was pissed to the gills. It's only that and people checking up on me that prevented me from killing myself. I'm not the man I was, and never will become [him again], but hopefully with some drugs or medication that I take, just like someone who's got diabetes takes insulin, to keep me stable...-- that will be my life
Given everything, are you glad you took the job?
Absolutely. Never ever a doubt. My whole life was to command, … to be given missions, to accomplish missions -- of course accomplish them with the minimum amount of casualties or destruction, and with success. I've never ever even pondered that if the opportunity was given to me again would I do it, even knowing what's going on, because I'd say to myself I'm sure I will be able to change it.
Ted Koppel:General Dallaire, this will be the last question and it brings us back to where you and I began a little over an hour ago. The question reads as follows, "Many people have forgiven or not held you responsible for this tragedy. Does this knowledge bring you any peace, any comfort? Do you allow yourself the flexibility of being human?" ....
You can't just say well, it's eight years ago or nine years ago and you did what you could. Did I do everything I could? Did I have all the tools? Did I or should I, like you said, have walked up to Kofi Annan or Boutros-Ghali and throw my commission in front of him and say, "To hell with you. Nobody's coming so I'm going"? Should I have commenced opening fire? The first morning it was made very clear to me that if I opened fire I would become the third belligerent because then it's open season.
But with the force I had there was no way that I could open fire and guarantee the security of my force. I didn't have enough ammunition to be able to hold out in a fire fight for more than half an hour. Those are the nations that sent the troops without the ammunition and the bartering between the UN and those nations, who is going to pay the ammunition, and in the middle of the war we had none.
No, there is no conceivable way of actually being able to walk away from the immensity of what it is. You can't imagine the smell, the sounds of dogs eating humans throughout the night howling by the hundreds, of seeing children living amongst the corpses of their families because there's nowhere else to go and there's no orphanage and nobody could pick them up at the time, of watching women who are being moved to safety and all of a sudden a sniper just shoot her head off and say that you can come back from that.
And imagine the moral dilemmas we had of all those people calling that morning screaming at the end of the phone for me to send troops to get them and hearing the people smashing down the door and shooting them at the end of the phone or deciding which I could go and rescue and which I couldn't go rescue. Of the moral dilemma of the soldier who is all of a sudden seeing a crowd encouraging a girl of 14 or15 with a machete and a child on her back to kill another girl of 14 or15 with a child on her back. What do my soldiers do?
They're held up at the entrance of a village and they see these hundreds of people edging on this girl to kill another one. Do my soldiers open fire into the crowd killing God knows how many and injuring to go save that girl?
Does the corporal who is 19, 20, 21 coming out of our same schools take a sniper and order him to shoot the girl with the machete, probably killing her child? Does the corporal simply walk away with his guys? What's the answer? What is the answer?
What will you be held accountable morally and what will you be held accountable technically? If he had opened fire he went directly against the mandate and God knows what the reaction was. He didn't open fire. He negotiated and negotiated and as he's negotiating this girl was being chopped up and her child was chopped up and the crowd roared and it was finished.
MotherJones: You also argue that peacekeeping needs to be redefined in the post-Cold War era. What do you see as the main changes needed to respond to today’s world?
Roméo Dallaire: I think the term peacekeeping is of another era. Classic chapter-six peacekeeping does not exist. In conflict resolution, we should be looking for far more enlightened leadership, people who are far more multi-skilled, who handle different disciplines in-depth -- meaning military, humanitarian or diplomatic/political. I believe we don’t even have the right lexicon to be able to handle these missions. I think that generals who stand there and need clear and absolutely transparent exit strategies and orders are generals of the old era of classic warfare. What you need now are people who can not only fight -- because they may need to protect and defend -- but people who have a whole new set of skills in order to be value-added in these conflicts. So you need them to have more intellectually based skills like anthropology, sociology and philosophy.
There is no such thing anymore as a blue-collar soldier because conflict is far more complex than outright fighting and has so many more traps to it, with ambiguous moral and ethical dilemmas. So in order to prepare troops, you need to bring them to a different plane of competencies than the fighting skills that we know. You need something far more in the psyche of the soldier.
I believe that the big powers should maintain themselves as world powers, and not be the first ones in when there is a looming conflict or a crisis. I think middle powers are capable of influencing and creating more flexible diplomats and soldiers to maneuver in that, with the big powers’ oversight. Then, if we move to a crisis that cannot be resolved by the middle powers through the U.N., then intervention with the might of the big powers is required.
posted by Fido the Yak at 10:34 AM. 0 comments
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Kofi Annan's oped in yesterday's New York Times (ht: Eugene Oregon at Coalition for Darfur) got me to thinking about the vital function of journalism in today's world, and whether the profession is meeting its obligations, especially with regard to international reporting and the Sudan crisis in particular. For the socalled print media, I think the answer is a tentative yes. Obviously more could be done, but the major newspapers and magazines have been at the vanguard of covering the story in Sudan.
Yesterday the American Society of Magazine Editors announced the winners of its annual awards (the Ellies). The New Yorker picked up five well-deserved Ellies, including one for Samantha Power's Dying in Darfur. Time Magazine won an Ellie for its publication of Tragedy in Sudan, a photoessay by James Nachtwey. (For a version of the photo essay that doesn't require the Macromedia plugin, see Tragedy in Sudan from VII photo).
Nachtwey's work in Darfur has not gone unnoticed, winning two poyi awards for general reporting and a First Place Award from World Press Photo in the Contemporary Issues Category. And there has been some acknowledgement of his work and consciousness raising in the blogosphere.
Well, I'd like to show the picture of Nachtwey's that speaks to me most in this space, but viiphoto appears to be blocking direct links to its photos. Oh well.
posted by Fido the Yak at 3:05 PM. 0 comments
The discussion of personhood between Brandon and Chris et al continues. I haven't much to add at this point, as the different sides are ably represented and worth reading in their entirity. I will make two recommendations for additional study:
Brain Dead Person by Masahiro Morioka, and To Be Two by Luce Irigaray (2001, trans. Rhodes and Cocito-Monoc).
The relevance of Morioka's work should be obvious. Irigaray was cited by another commenter somewhere in the maze of previously linked posts (I'm sorry I can't recall by whom). Irigary claims to be essentially and necessarily a woman, which has implications for our understanding of embodiment from the phenomenological point of view (to which she applies her critique) and more broadly I should think.
In the context of the discussion at hand, her arguments about the caress and silence strike me as particularly germaine. However, it would be a disservice to present those arguments without outlining how she arrives at them. A clear formulation comes at the end of "Daughter and Woman," in which she presents her response to Sartre's thoughts pertaining to the constitution of the We. Irigaray argues that she is protected from the transcendence of the "any body" in three ways:
I am sexuate, I am not neuter, anonymous or interchangeable;
I am animated by my intentions towards the other, in particular towards you, and not simply determined by the world which surrounds me;
I am a mystery for you, as you are for me, and our intersubjectivity is protected from the imperative originating in the exterior world and in the anonymity of its destination addressed to an "any body."
The second and third follow from the first, of course, but on the basis of certain premises that may be controversial. In the first place Irigaray maintains that the gendered body is inherently intentional. To be gendered is to have an intention pregiven in ones body, an orientation towards the other. Is this a defense of compulsory heterosexuality? Not quite, but Iriagary says "I can neither deny nor fail to take into consideration, in my becoming, the relationship with the other gender which goes with belonging to my own. To be a woman necessarily involves --as far as human essence and existence are concerned-- to be in a relationship with man, at least ontologically. Supposing that is even possible" (p.34, see pp. 32ff.). Okay, let's suppose. Either our previous thinking on the topic has been disgracefully onedimensional, or the notion of a "human being" represents something of a misnomer. For the sake of argument we will retain the notion of the human being and try to comprehend the ontological significance of our being essentially and existentially related to each other.
For Irigary this path leads to a rediscovery of mystery, a respect for the interiority of the other as essential to the becoming of the self.
The limit which derives from belonging to a gender is not only a limit to my presence: in the world, in my encounter with the other, with others; it is also a limit which delineates a horizon of interiority. Because I am not you, I can return within myself, collect myself, think. Without this limit, consciousness can be reduced to the "pursuit of an impossible future," as Sartre says; it can be placed in search of an autistic absolute, corresponding both to a singular subject and to a people, and can expand towards transcendence situated beyond the one who thinks, in the direction of an in-finite space or time. From the moment that I am not you, every instant allows me to return to myself. You are the one who helps me remain in myself, to stay in myself, to contain or keep me in myself, to remain present and not paralyzed by the past or in flight towards the future. Your irreducible alterity gives me the present, presence: the possibility of being in myself, of attempting to cultivate the in-stasy and not only the ex-stasy.
Well, I won't delve any further into Irigaray at this time. I'm symapathetic to her view, but applying it to the current discussions of brain death would require more explication and argument--more than anybody else would care to read perhaps. For me it enough to say that the performative notions of personhood to which I am partial have not been sufficient to account for my concern for the wellbeing of brain-damaged individuals. Irigaray's exploration into the intersubjective has illuminated some of the key problems to my way of thinking, so for that I recommend it wholeheartedly.
posted by Fido the Yak at 12:12 AM. 0 comments
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm sealed the deal to allow Toyota Motors to build a new research and development facility in York, Michigan (about 15 minutes south of Ann Arbor), saying it would "further cement Michigan as the global epicenter of the automobile industry" (stories here here here and here). Interesting choice of words.
Fido the Yak recalls Ann Arbor as a lovely place, rife with bright ideas, nostalgic buildings, affordable apples, pulp incunabula and espresso. It would be a shame to see a natural disaster befall such a place, but one shouldn't paper over economic realities with fond sentiments. If there is a subduction zone where General Motors and Ford Motors are being buried under Toyota, Honda et al, --and plate tectonics offers as good an explanation for the woes of the American automakers as any that's been offered by company executives and industry experts--then Michigan probably is at the epicenter, cement or no.
Fido the Yak owns no shares of the companies mentioned here. He keeps an eye on auto and truck manufactures, but has yet to be convinced that over the long haul the industry will outperform bison, horses, camels, llamas, alpacas and the like.
Everybody loves alpacas, to take one example. They get good mileage from a bale of hay, rollovers tend not to be fatal, and for most pastures earthquake resistant design is not an issue. Acceleration isn't stunning--and like llamas they love to pronk at high speeds, yeehaw!1--but their wool makes for lovely sweaters and scarves, so that will appeal to some alternative demographics. So herding alpacas could be very lucrative and fun, or not. Fido the Yak recommends that you do your own due diligence.
1For an elaboration upon the essential meaning of pronking see Taking the Mandala Literally - The 'Couette System' in Chaos Science, the Mandala, and the Enneagram, by John Fudjack (1999): "It is probably safe to say that if there is an advantage to the loss of symmetry that results from the presence of the 6-pointed figure in the Enneagram, we will find it in the psychological PROCESSES of individuals - the equivalent in the mental life of individuals to locomotion in the physical sphere. As we've shown in our series on mandalas, an analysis of this 6-sided figure, the central tool associated with the 'Enneagram of Process' teachings, leads one to the concept of a NON-LINEAR sequencing order (ie, a circle) which encourages feedback and feedforward moves (leaps forward in the sequence, and leaps back). It does this in a way that is responsive (at point 6) to forces that break into the system from the outside (at point 3), or from higher 'levels' of the system, and produce something 'new' OUTSIDE of the system, at that higher level (at point 6). The Enneagram is thus, in its function, not unlike that other mandala that we've studied in our series, the Shri Yantra. The loss of symmetry deliberately designed into that figure, the reader may recall, results in the creation of OPPORTUNITY, an opportunity for the birth of something new - something that is indeed 'superfluous' from the point of view of the prevailing paradigm, which is thereby 'transcended'.
In this way the mandala in general, and the Enneagram in particular, reveals a basic truth about psychological process. At its most fundamental level, psychological process in the human being is a function of mental shifts that mirror the phases in a war between incommensurable rival paradigms as they are simultaneously held in mind by the individual.
To put it more simply - psychological 'process' emerges from how we deal with reconciling the incommensurable orders of existence that we cannot avoid as beings with a consciousness that is liminocentrically structured and ESSENTIALLY paradoxical. The bifurcation of consciousness that results from the paradoxical nature of its structure is the happy 'fault', the grand asymmetry in its design, which permits the entire world to come into existence for us. This is the asymmetry that is reflected in the design of the Shri Yantra. And the ramifications of this asymmetry with respect to psychological process is the aspect that the Enneagram, in particular, seeks to follow up."
posted by Fido the Yak at 10:13 AM. 0 comments
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
All of the critics are wrong about Eros, the triptych featuring "The Hand" by Wong Kar-Wai, "Equilibrium" by Steven Soderbergh, and "The Dangerous Thread of Things" by Michelangelo Antonioni. Mostly they are right about the contributions of Wong and Sodergbergh, but they have collectively missed the boat on Antonioni's piece. Even Roger Ebert doesn't get it, which is disappointing though not entirely surprising. Antonioni's story is about eros, eroticism and cinema, but its mode of presentation is stunningly obvious and direct, too direct apparently to be understood by professional film critics.
"The Dangerous Thread of Things" is in simple terms a myth, a story about Mercury (Christopher) and Venus (Linda) and a character I take to be Vesta (Cloe) though it doesn't quite square with Bullfinch's. In any case the characters clearly represent Roman dieties wrapped up in a love triangle, which Antonioni portrays with a good measure of mythopoetic license.
Mercury dresses in black and tools around in a Maserati convertible with power mirrors--you know, the kind that fold like wings. He seems shallow, peevish, saturnine at turns, perhaps even venal. Make what you will of the telephony. Tomes could be writted about the hermeneutics of boredom/desire as revealed through the messages of Antonioni's Mercury, though most critics seem to be satisfied with a snarky comment or two.
Vesta is down to earth and homey even when she's not at home--and one gets the feeling she's not quite at home in this story until the final frame in which she appears to find some relief for her nostalgia, so to speak. Her most revealing scene isn't focused on her sheer blouse (which is like ironic, duh), but the glass of laughter scene in the restaurant. She's rather blasé about this goddess of the hearth business. Hmmm.
Venus, played by Luisa Ranieri, radiates sex. Pure eroticism by Jove, and a voluptuous eroticism at that. Antonioni's Venus loves horses and public nudity, ascends staircases to her otherwordly abode, calls herself beautiful ("Linda"), prominently fore-somethings her mound of Venus, and sports a heart-shaped pillow on her loveseat. When she lets Mercury into her house she plays with being eristic, but this can be taken as another expression of her essential curvaceousness. She does love a good laugh.
Why is Venus so childlike? Why does she roll around in the seafoam? Do we really need to see her breasts? I don't know. I imagine if the critics had asked these sorts of questions in earnest rather than mocking the strangeness of it all, they might have actually enjoyed the film. Of course one does not expect Venus to behave like an ordinary dramatic character, like a person. Antonioni's Venus is both true to herself and true to his cinematic vision. If for all that she also appears to be untrue to life, that's a bit of irony worthy of reflection.
I guess I sort of knew that Roman gods and goddesses were imperfect, markedly so, but the implications of that had rather escaped me. What do they represent? Ideas? Not pure abstractions, perhaps, but ideas about living. Personifications. Narrative elements of a particular sort, or perhaps a mode of representation, significations, a metadiscourse. And continuing to pilfer from Roland Barthes, we see in Antonioni's Venus the imposition of second order (tertiary, quartenary...) semiological system upon a perfectly fine pair of breasts--who would want to denaturalize such a natural beauty? Well, it couldn't be avoided. Such is cinema. It empties its objects of meanings so as to prepare them to be filled with new significations--or rather, it places original meanings at a distance.
But the essential point in all this is that the form does not suppress the meaning, it only impoverishes it, it puts it at a distance, it holds it at one's disposal. One believes that the meaning is going to die, but it is a death with reprieve; the meaning loses its value, but keeps its life, from which the form of the myth will draw its nourishment. The meaning will be for the form like an instantaneous reserve of history, a tamed richness, which it is possible to call and dismiss in a sort of rapid alternation: the form must constantly be able to be rooted again in the meaning and to get there what nature it needs for its nutriment; above all, it must be able to hide there. It is this constant game of hide-and-seek between the meaning and the form which defines myth.
From Myth Today
So now we can understand why Venus plays in the seafoam as she does, when she does, and in what capacity our gaze becomes part of the experience/critique. Something to do with the irrepressible.
And what does it say, this myth? There's something kind of horrible about the thought of being Mercury or Venus for an eternity. Then again, not really. It's not like they are objects of pity. We can see our delusions in their delusions, and it puts our mortality in a different light. Make of it what you will.
It has occured to me that my interpretation might be pretty far off base. Nevertheless, I'm confident that it's in the right ballpark, playing baseball and not soccer or hockey. I say this not as an Antonioni-ite or as one especially enamored of his work. I simply like good movies, and Eros is very good. Serious film connoisseurs will need no other reason to see Eros than Wong Kar-Wai's "The Hand." Everybody else can go enjoy the whole thing, despite what the critics have said.
UPDATE: At least one critic gets it, which is great for the dig and scroll crowd (to which you surely belong, dear reader).
posted by Fido the Yak at 11:51 PM. 0 comments
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
The Habsburg dilemma, defined by anthropologist Ernest Gellner as "the principle that a culture is most stridently defended when it is irretrievably lost" (Language and Solitude: Wittgenstein, Malinowski and the Habsburg Dilemma, Cambridge University Press, 1998), may well encapsulate the essential problem of the social sciences. It certainly ought to serve as more than a cudgel for beating anthropologists over the head, the primary use Roger Sandall has found for it. Alas and Oh well. One can read more sympathetic reviews if one so desires.
I haven't read Language and Solitude (though I've placed an order for it), but I can make a couple of points about the argument: (1) it strikes me that most anthropologists are aware of the phenomenon, though nobody I know of has named it or thematicized it as Gellner has; and (2) whereas stridency may be regarded as unseemly among the anthropologists, defenses of the irretrievably lost are rather commonplace.
It should be understood that there is a bit of a taboo against telling an ethnogrpaher that the culture he's describing has ceased to be. It's generally acceptable to say as much (a) if the ethnographer has explicitly acknowledged the fact, (b) if he's not within earshot, or (c) if one says as much without saying as much, i.e. employs a tactic of circumlocution. This last option has engendered a fair amount of theoretical elaboration within the discipline, and not a little confusion all around. Wouldn't it be simpler to come to terms with culture death from the git go? But then that would hardly be anthropological, and certainly not ethnographic. It's quite the conundrum.
UPDATE: A word of envy for the students of Slawomir Kapralski's Theories of Culture.
posted by Fido the Yak at 10:43 PM. 0 comments
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Emily Wax has been awarded the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for her coverage of Darfur. Eugene Oregon at Coalition for Darfur covers the story.
Courageous doesn't begin to describe Wax's work. She conveys the essence of the big story through the stories of ordinary people, telling us no more and no less than what we need to know, even if it hurts. And it does hurt. Wax's reporting from Sudan has often been singled out for praise (e.g. see Déjà Vu at the American Journalism Review and this interview from the Columbia Journalism Review). Among her most memorable stories in my mind:
- A Family Torn by Sudan's Strife
- In Sudan, Death and Denial
- "We Want to Make a Light Baby"
- Wells of Life Run Dry for Sudanese
- In Sudan, "a Big Sheik" Roams Free
A Family Torn by Sudan's Strife stands out as exemplary of her style and the best kind of journalism. It sheds light on the ethnic dimension of the conflict, and its tragic consequences.
BAHAI, Chad -- His gut was twisted into a knot, his head pounding, his leg searing in pain from a gunshot wound. Ibrahim Mohamed Doud, a village elder in an African tribe, remembers the day an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed attacked his village.
He had been hit in the left leg. His two wives knelt by his side to soothe him as he twitched in the burning sand. But in his moment of agony, he recalled that his deepest concern was not about the wound, but about one of his wives. Aisha Haroon Mohamed, 29, his Arab wife with the almond-colored eyes, is from the same ethnic group as the attackers. Her uncle was a Janjaweed commander.
Doud begged her to flee. He was fearful that African villagers would turn against Aisha. She stood frozen, her eyes watering with tears. She refused to leave his side. In the end, they all escaped, fleeing the village in western Sudan's Darfur province in an arduous, month-long journey through the desert sands of the Sahara.
Today, Doud sits in a tent at the Oure Cassoni refugee camp here, 15 miles north of the Sudanese border. His two wives are safely at his side, but his anxiety from that day still runs deep. "I just kept shouting at her to leave. It hurt me to do that," he recalled of the day of the attack, in January. "At first, I confess, we were all scared of hatreds brewing."
"We were a family before all of this happened," he added. "Now what are we?"
posted by Fido the Yak at 7:48 AM. 0 comments
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Prometheus 6 posted a link to James Baldwin interview some time back. It's fascinating to watch. You get the sense that Baldwin is a writer who means every comma he writes, even when his thoughts are racing.
I didn't like a lot of my teachers, but I had a couple of teachers who were very nice to me -- one was a Negro teacher. You ask me these questions and I'm trying to answer you. I remember coming home from school -- you can guess how young I must have been -- and my mother asked me if my teacher was colored or white, and I said she was a little bit colored and a little bit white. But she was about your color. As a matter of fact I was right.
That's part of the dilemma of being an American Negro; that one is a little bit colored and a little bit white, and not only in physical terms but in the head and in the heart, and there are days -- this is one of them -- when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel, white majority, that you are here? And to be here means that you can't be anywhere else.
I'm terrified at the moral apathy -- the death of the heart which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long, that they really don't think I'm human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say, and this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters. It's a terrible indictment -- I mean every word I say.
Baldwin's articulation of "doubleness" and the like has always struck me as deeply anthropological--come to think of it I was introduced to Baldwin's essays by a student of anthropology--as well as personal. I'll be exploring that theme in the near future. For now I'll just allow the interview to soak in.
posted by Fido the Yak at 5:00 AM. 0 comments
Friday, April 01, 2005
Terri Schiavo has died. My condolences go to all who cared for her. Your grief will weigh on me as I explore the questions Terri's situation has raised for my fellow citizens, my neighbors.
A few days ago Brandon at Siris initiated a serious discussion of being a human person and what that means in the context of the public debate about the life and death of Terri Schiavo. Andy at Under the Sun asks What Is A "Person"? He maintains that person and human are analytically orthagonal, though in practice they are not (a formulation which I should like to unpack). Brandon's reply to that argument was met by Chris at Mixing Memory with his thoughts about higher brain death and personhood.
Chris presents a cogent argument for the neurological view of the person, and comes to the conclusion that when our higher brain structures are gone, we are not persons; "we are merely bodies with life, but no lives." Being a provocateur by avocation myself, I can appreciate Chris's argument, but I cannot accept it--certainly not as a conclusion. As a conversation starter, it works. One bit of conversation that caught my attention appears to be a rather straighforward rejection of Cartesian dualism from Macht of Prothesis:
It isn't clear to me why we should single out the "history that is recorded in the configurations of our higher-brain structures" from the entire "bodily history." .... I can understand isolating the brain from the rest of the body in order to make studying it easier, but when we are talking about personhood it seems wrong to talk about "a person is a brain and the rest of his or her body" rather than "a person is a body (part of which is a brain)."
My reading of Macht's argument is anything but unbiased. It reflects a general prejudice I have against Cartesianism, which may owe itself to certain life experiences of mine, a defensive ignorance, or simply the residue of an excess of Husserliana in my youth. In any event I had been fishing for perspectives on the Terri Schiavo case informed by a reading of Descartes (of which Aaron's Descartes would be proud is a sterling example). I've been uncomfortable with some of the political baggage that has been brought into this discussion--for the most part these critiques have been articulated by conservative Republicans whereas I am for most intents and purposes a liberal Democrat--so I appreciated Macht's directness on this point.
As much as I sympathize with the emotions on display around this case-- anger, shock, indignation, sorrow--the polemics make no sense to me. Heartless or braindead: as a political proposition it ought to be a nonstarter. When one of the two dominant parties points to the other and says "braindead" or "heartless," they reveal themselves to be either braindead or heartless, and probably too much of both. The culture of life or the culture of death: by and large the people offering such a choice are not the intellectual descendants of Arnold van Gennep.
The irrealities are not limited to binary oppositions (though dissertations could be written on the current profusion of facile dichotomies more diversionary than insightful). AI isn't real, but it may have real consequences insofar as it informs the thinking of bioethicists and the decision making of medical and legal practioners. Even as a possible or conceivable personhood, if not an explict model, AI ought to be considered real even by serious Epicureans, if only for the sake of minimizing their own suffering. Disembodied voices are not real, not really, and yet a legal doctrine (dare one speak of hegemony) of "silence equals consent" and a culture of hyperrepresentation set the stage for acts of hideous ventriloquism by which the living become the living dead and communicate their wishes to be merely dead, not silent, but dead. As if a person could aspire to dead letter status, much less would want to, and would sacrifice life and limb to do so. Are there rational political responses to such irrealities? In bits and pieces, sure, but the partisan grand narratives can't persuasively claim to cover the hypertrophies of the Logos in all its particulars, such is the extent of its suffusion into our daily lives.
How is language possible, asked Julia Kristeva with some urgency, as she proceeded to lay out her distinction between the symbolic and the semiotic orders of language. To put it crudely, Kristeva's distinction maps to the one between res cogitans and res extensa, langue and parole, theory and practice, etc. Naturally, being an intellectal of the truest sort, Kristeva laid emphasis on the latter side of the polarity, the semiotic. This would seem to be the weak position, for the symbolic self-evidently has the means of explaining itself and may (therefore) well claim to speak for its putative other half. But that begs the question. We know that for the most part the semiotic goes without saying, but then we forget that we know it when assume that the possibility of language is given. What are its conditions of possibility really?
To all of the definitions of the person floating around, I will add one more: the person is a mask. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
c.1225, from O.Fr. persone "human being" (12c., Fr. personne), from L. persona "human being," originally "character in a drama, mask," possibly borrowed from Etruscan phersu "mask." This may be related to Gk. Persephone.
The mask, for the ancients, was "that which represented the character and at the same time was the device through which the actor sounded the character's spoken words" (Towards A Contemporary Anthropology of the Person, by Kenneth Schmitz. See also Persönlichkeit werden: Zum höchsten Glück auf Erden, by Bazon Brock.) Our modern courts no longer rely on masks to amplify and distort the voice, to terrify, entertain, and hide the face of the executioners, but the functions remain, and the vestiges of ancient mysteries are nowhere more apparent than in the legal concept of the person.
The prime contingency, the body, of course does not go away simply because its essential contribution to the subject is ignored. It may be deprived of speech, or even denied water and food, in which case it is affirmatively starved to death, but it does not simply vanish. It cannot be willed out of existence; if death is the intention, the body must be killed.
So who speaks for the res extensa? Who speaks for the dehydrated? Jesse Jackson, who speaks of our obligation to stamp out poverty and starvation wherever it exists? Then what of Tony Blair? Paul Wolfowitz? And who shall we hold accountable for the high rate of malnutrition in Iraq today? Is there one side of the political divide in the United States that will join the chorus to feed all those who are hungry? At present Jackson is largely being ignored by liberal opinion leaders, while conservative Republicans have almost nothing to say about widespread starvation in Iraq. We are given every reason to doubt whether the genuine political voice of the res extensa can be anything other than pragmatic and provisional.
The res extensa speaks in the subjunctive, as Victor Turner might have said, but there's no reason to suspect that the voice is not therefore real. The body's voice is completely real, though it wants completion. Its realization as signification depends upon a symbolic faculty, or one might say a hermeneutic faculty. We who have the freedom to speak must necessarily have responsibilities to listen, to cultivate faculties for empathic, interpretive understandings, and to enact these understandings in our daily lives to the fullest possible extent. It is a question of how we live and die; and for that it is no less a matter of life and death.