Friday, May 27, 2005

Freedom and Nature

I've been reviewing Paul Ricoeur's Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary (1966, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, trans. Erazim Kohák). The following passage encapsulates what it's all about:

If we remain faithful to living experience, barely elaborated by metaphors, we shall have to say that existence is a paradox for analytic understanding and a mystery for a more covert unifying consciousness, for it is both willed and undergone. It is a focus of acts joined to the state of living. The expression, state of consciousness, which is otherwise so erroneous, finds its justification here. The state of living is the state of consciousness par excellence. The act and the state of existence are conceived as two and lived as one: my act and my state are one for us in the "I am." In this sense alone the Cogito as act includes the fact of existence: "Cogito, ergo sum." But "ergo" is not a logical connection: it is a paradox encroached upon by a feeling of mystery. Existence in the Kierkegaardian sense includes existence in a Kantian sense, but this implication is a supra-logical bond which holds by connivance and pact, and which breaks up as soon as it is thought into act and state, into freedom and necessity of existing.

Thus we reach the third and ultimate expression which the paradox of freedom and necessity assumes. Freedom is bound not only to a finite manner and an indefinite matter, but also to the pure fact of existing "in life."

(p. 414)

Not sure what to say. I imagine Ricoeur will inform my reading of Martin Buber's Ich und Du, freely and necessarily. Already is. Buber speaks to me aphoristically and sytematically at once, which makes it difficult for me to give an honest account. I find my mind racing off six ways to Sunday, yet I remain cognizant of a Buberistic sphere of interpretation. If Cassini-Huygens were to suddenly achieve reflexive consciousness, I would expect it to feel just so ambivalent. Do we really want to be able to posit ourselves? Egads.

Reviewing Freedom and Nature, I'm struck by a continuity in Ricoeur's life's work. Was he consciously striving to elaborate a monumental hermeneutic project, or was it more like revisiting themes out of habit--or, let's be honest about our thinking--an everyday kind of affection? (If Sisysphus smiles, it surely cannot be for quite the reason Camus offers--that really would be absurd.) With Ricoeur, I don't see the dilemma of the voluntary and the involuntary being dispensed with so easily. But it can't hurt to ask.

I just happened upon an apropos passage in Time and Narrative, Vol 3 (1988, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer):

This connection between self-constancy and narrative identity confirms one of my oldest convictions, namely, that the self of self-knowledge is not the egotistical and narcissistic ego whose hypocrisy and naiveté the hermeneutics of suspicion have denounced, along with its aspects of an ideological superstructure and infantile and neurotic archaism. The self of self-knowledge is the fruit of an examined life, to recall Socrates' phrase in the Apology. And an examined life is, in large part, one purged, one clarified by the cathartic effects of narratives, be they historical or fictional, conveyed by our culture. So self-constancy refers to a self instructed by the works of culture that it has applied to itself.

(p. 247)

Okay, so maybe "happened upon" is too handy. It seemed like at the moment I became fully conscious of the passage as speaking to me, I had reached for the book, opened it, and voila. But surely I must have made me happen upon it in such a way. I scan faster than I realize, percieve without affixing meanings, assigning great swaths of the conscious field to hums and blurs. This seems to be the normal state of consciousness, yet upon introspection it cannot be completely without purpose. It too is activity, composed of acts or gestures intended to facilitate meetings, what might be called experiences. If Buber is right that one can only experience its, that is if experience fundamentally occurs in the modality of a third-person relation which cannot be the whole of being or its relations (NB Buber speaks here of Erfarhung rather than Erlebnis), then the recognition of the happening upon as an experience requires a non-recognition of the conscious agency that enabled it, for otherwise it would not be an experience but some other sort of encounter, and the non-recognition may itself be arranged in such a way so as to avoid bumping into oneself--it could hardly be you, could it?--which may be as good as saying that serendipities are a perfectly normal feature of our everyday consciousness. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that although serendipities happen in the empirical space, we can't very well predict our own serendipities, allowing of course for certain deviations of personality type or modus operandi. On the other hand, who's to say that Buber is right? Paul Ricoeur? Well, he does insist on a certain duality of existence. Beyond that, I reckon he has his own story to tell.

posted by Fido the Yak at 2:37 PM.


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