Thursday, September 14, 2006


Here Grassi (The Primordial Metaphor p.37, footnotes omitted) echoes Giacomo Leopardi's praise of assuefaction (from Zibaldone di pensieri):

The sense of priority inherent in each situation or circumstance prompts us to respond to the appeal it issues forth; in other words, we must achieve assuefaction to it: "Not only do all of man's faculties constitute the single faculty of assuefaction, "but this same faculty of assuefaction is dependent upon assuefaction itself." In acknowledging the mutable nature of needs, we are compelled to discover new relationships among beings:

Having stated elsewhere that ingenium corresponds to the ease with which one achieves assuefaction, and that this implies the readiness to move from one type of assuefaction to another, to develop other forms of assuefaction which contrast with the preceding one, etc., I conclude that men of great intellect (ingegno) must ordinarily be extremely versatile (with respect to opinion, taste, style, manner, etc. etc), not on account of capriciousness born of the superficiality deriving from little intellectual and conceptual strength or from insensitivity, but on acccount of their readiness towards assuefaction and hence of their ability to develop.

What then is the origin of the world of human beings? It is neither a construct nor a revelation of reason, but rather the product of what Leopardi calls illusion, namely, the compelling force of the abyss: without illusion there is no life, no action.

For Grassi the pleasure principle corresponds to the appeal of the abyss, and this underlies his rather unusual reading of Leopardi. (Incidentally, the turn towards Freud in this chapter would seem to answer some of the objections I raised regarding organic thinking, but Grassi's reading of Freud is emphatically not psychological; as with all existential ontologies in the Husserlian tradition Grassi has no interest in psychic structures that manifest themselves, it is assumed, only from the perspective of an objective science.) So does it wash? Not squeaky clean, it doesn't.

A friend of mine once told me that he experienced no pleasure in life, not even from sex. This despite the fact that he shared the bed of the most glamorous woman in the fair city that was our stomping ground. As he was speaking it occurred to me that he might be trying to conceal or downplay the nature of his affections, but he made no secret of his feelings for this woman. I quickly realized that he was describing an aspect of his illness, schizophrenia of some kind, or perhaps a side-effect of the medication he was taking. But clearly he was describing a real quality of his experience. Psychologists refer to this condition as anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure. The problem with anhedonia for Grassi's analysis is that the anhedonist indubitably exists. Anhedonia is better described as a purely psychological phenomenon than as an ontological problem.

There are of course existential implications to the condition of anhedonia. And it's the sort of thing that admits of degrees, so if one wanted to maintain a thesis like Grassi's one could tie oneself in knots trying to explain anhedonia. Occam's razor favors the generic psychological explanation of anhedonia on the face of it, though concievably a case could made for a far more thorough ontology than Grassi provides.

Thus I'm left with the feeling that any field of scientific inquiry the existential phenomenologist chooses to excide or bracket off–this may be a problem of all postmodern intellectual endeavors, yet it is acutely foregrounded by the phenomenological method–will come back to bite him, and bite him hard. This will take some getting used to.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:15 AM.


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