Saturday, January 14, 2006


The idea of distance is that of standing in two places at once. It is in the first place the imagination of a journey after the journey has reached its end. Naturally one can project. One can view distance in the mode of the "as if," "as if the journey had been completed" or "as if the journey were yet to be completed." This latter mode of imagining distance is the source of endless philosophical debate. It is paradoxical, because in order to imagine distance as a journey yet to be completed, we must first imagine it as a journey that definitely has been completed, as distance. It is also merely confusing, because in playing with the "at once" of distance, we may wonder if the journey will ever end, if the two places of a distance might ever be joined. That would represent a transcending of distance. It's easy enough to imagine transcending distance from within the root metaphor of the journey; from within the idea of distance, it's a bit tricky.

A key difference between indeterminacy and infinity is this: indeterminacy supposes that the journey's end has yet to be reached, infinity that it has no end. Thus indeterminacy pertains to distance, while infinity does not. When we speak of an "infinite distance" we are speaking of distance in a transcendental way, as a paradox, or a poetic metaphor. We have gone beyond describing the idea of standing in two places at once--a strange and wonderful notion in itself.

In common English we sometimes say "off in the distance" or just "in the distance," meaning roughly what "yonder" means to people who yet use that form. Projecting the idea of distance into three-dimensional or Euclidean space doesn't seem to present any obstacle to the mind. Are we truly projecting an idea of distance in such instances, or are we using another idea of spatiality that's also called "distance"? Is there a standing yonder, in the distance?

Deictic systems like here, there and yonder are primarily spatial ideas, but their spatiality is not primarily geometric. The spaces involved are those of discourse, proxemic in nature, and therefore also epistemological--after all, how well do I really know you? In distinguishing between proximal, medial and distal markers, have we admitted to a second notion of distance, call it "distality" for the moment, which appears not to be rooted in the idea of the journey, and calls into question the personhood of the standing in the distal place, which isn't definitively a place so much as "off in the distance"? Maybe, maybe not. In recognizing distality, we give the space beyond the intimate and the interpersonal over to the geometric. Isn't this also the space of the journey?

Does the journey necessarily imply moving from the known to the unknown? If we imagine a journey to a place we know, are we imagining a different way of knowing the other place, a deeper knowledge, intimate, routine, sure?

Indefinitely standing between infinity and intimacy, a distance. It's a wonder to me that people ever learn to walk.

posted by Fido the Yak at 10:11 PM.


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