Thursday, November 30, 2006
I checked out Isabelle Stengers' Power and Invention. I'm not sure exaclty why it appeals to me. Maybe it has something to do with the phenomenon of the strange attractor, the attractor that lacks the quality of stability, but instead the system "wanders between possibilities" (Isabelle Stengers, "Complexity: A Fad?" in Invention and Power, p. 7).
I often catch myself falling back on old habits of thought. Is this an attempt to maintain equilibrium? Can it be that simple? Say thinking does tend towards equilibrium. Why then doesn't thinking just stop? Is existence so disturbing to thought that it simply cannot rest?
How long does it take for the system called thinking to evolve, to reach its attractor?
Is a habit of thinking like repeating a single thought ad infinitum, or is it ever more productive than that? Can't we make habits of ways of disturbing our own equilibria? Can we say that's true and still say that thinking tends towards equilibrium? Whose equilibrium? Is there any reason to believe that thinking tends towards the equilibrium (or disequilibrium) of a thinking ego? Who owns the system called thinking?
Labels: Stengers, strange attractor, thinking
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I've just peeked into Paul Bains' The Primacy of Semiosis: An Ontology of Relations. It really does appear to be an ontology of relations, which seems rather remarkable to me. One of his germinal ideas, following John Poinsot (John of Saint Thomas), is that concepts are "relations that bring into awareness something other than themselves" (p. 9). These relations are understood as ontological, and they are univocal in their being, meaning they are indifferent to any distinction between ens reale and ens rationis, between the real and the ideal.
Okay, so what does this say about being? "Relations are an intrinsic dimension of being," Bains says, "and every being becomes the active centre of a web of relations with other beings"(p. 11). Is this active centre the same thing as a person? Perhaps only in a special sense. In Bains view the "self" becomes "a sign relation or interpretant rather than an unrelated ontological entity" (p. 11). So is the self then precisely a related ontological entity? I think that's the point.
Labels: Bains, ontology, semiotics, sign
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
During the period of infancy from three to six months the visual-motor system is virtually mature, allowing the infant to engage with its primary caregiver as a more or less equal partner in gazing activity. So says Daniel N. Stern (The Interpersonal World of the Infant, p.21), who continues:
[I]nfants exert major control over the initiation, maintenance, termination, and avoidance of social contact with the mother; in other words, they help to regulate engagement. Furthermore, by controlling their own direction of gaze, they self-regulate the level and amount of social stimulation to which they are subject. They can avert their gaze, shut their eyes, stare past, become glassy-eyed. And through the decisive use of such gaze behaviors, they can be seen to reject, distance themselves from, or defend themselves against mother. They can also reinitiate engagement and contact when they desire, through gazing, smiling and vocalizing.
(pp. 21-22, citations omitted)
(NB: Stern uses the terms "mother" and "primary caregiver" interchangably.)
No deep thoughts here. Is the gaze in absence of immediate social contact a diminished form of the essential phenomenon? A simple variation? I wonder how much time infants spend gazing off into spaceStern I think would say "staring" off into space, but I'm not sure there isn't such a thing as gazing off into space as well. What do we mean by gazing?
Labels: development, gaze, infant, sociality, Stern
Monday, November 27, 2006
The whole ambiguity of the sign derives from the fact that it represents something for someone. This someone may be many things, it may be the entire universe, in as much as we have know for some time that information circulates in it, as a negative of entropy. Any node in which signs are concentrated, in so far as they represent something, may be taken for a someone. What must be stressed at the outset is that a signifier is that which represents a subject for another signifier.
The signifier, producing itself in the field of the Other, makes manifest the subject of its signification. But it functions as a signifier only to reduce the subject in question to being no more than a signifier, to petrify the subject in the same movement in which it call the subject to function, to speak, as subject. There, strictly speaking, is the temporal pulsation in which is established that which is the characteristic of the departure of the unconscious as suchthe closing.
(Four Fundamental Concepts, p.207)
I think my problem with this passage is that I simply lack imagination. For me, the for someone of the sign must refer to a somebody, a person who has a body and can speak, or, more generally, do signs. I cannot regard speech as a mere function while I know it as a praxis. Oh, it's terrible. I know. I just don't know how I'm going to get around it.
Labels: Lacan, language, subject
Friday, November 24, 2006
Structural linguistics is all about the question "Where does meaning come from?" The simplest way to undermine structural linguistics is to turn the question into "Who does meaning come from?" However the result of such a turn tends to be that people talk past one another, each side believing that the other is responding to a question that really doesn't matter. But if we stick with the question "where does meaning come from?" it is not a foregone conclusion that structural linguistics provides an answer that is true to language or necessarily adequate for general purposes.
A case in point is the phenomenon of phonesthesia or sound symbolism. Phonesthesia is perhaps best attested in "exotic" languages, but it occurs in European languages too. In English phonesthesia is frequently found in the elements of speech known as phonaesthemes. Are phonaesthemes rather anomolies, or are they rather more pervasive? Is there in English a broad pattern of creating meaning from the way a word is spoken?
Take for example the set of words tip, tap and top which are not, as far as I know, commonly regarded as phonaesthemic. Also keep in mind tape, type, and taupe. The structuralist is absolutely correct about taupe. The difference between taupe and top for instance is a case of a purely abritrary relation between sounds and meanings. Is the same true of the differences between tip, tap and top? I don't believe so. All three convey a meaning of being at an extremity symbolized by the letter t; the p symbolizes abruptness; and the vowels indicate the nature of the extremity, whether pointed, flattened or rounded.
What then of tape? It's a little sticky, as is type. Are the meanings of these words colored by the phonaesthemic element of tip, tap and top? It's ambigiuous. They could be ceded to the structuralist, but perhaps the poet would take better care of them.
The claim against structuralism is not absolute here. Frequently, but not in all cases, meaning comes directly from the way a word is spoken. The claim gives us sufficient reason to question some of the conclusions that are drawn from structural linguistics. The reality of language may be more ambigiuous than any current theory admits.
Labels: meaning, phonaesthesia, structuralism
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Does the tryptophan in turkey make you sleepy? Expert opinion suggests that it doesn't really. I'm not so sure. Would eating the same meal with chicken or roast beef instead of turkey really have the same soporific effect? My experience suggests that it wouldn't, but I'd like to see some real testing of the hypothesis. Meanwhile, I'll just sleep on it.
Sinthome (of Larval Subjects) has shared with me a paper of his on the phenomonological implications of Lacan's theory of the subject. Lacan's way of thinking does constitute a radical critique because he takes aim directly at the Cartesian subject. Lacan summarizes his approach:
The unconscious is the sum of the effects of speech on a subject, at the level at which the subject constitutes himself out of the effects of the signifier. This makes it clear that in the term subjectthis is I why I referred it back to its originI am not designating the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject, nor any sort of substance, nor any being possessing knowledge in his pathos, his suffering, whether primal or secondary, nor even some incarnated logos, but the Cartesian subject, who appears at the moment when doubt is recognized as certaintyexcept that, through my approach, the bases of this subject prove to be wider, but, at the same time much more amenable to the certainty that eludes it. This is what the unconscious is.
(Four Fundamental Concepts, p. 126)
Now I have something to say to this, but first I want to clarify what Lacan means when he says that the Cartesian subject appears at the moment of doubt. Lacan writes:
Descartes apprehends his I think in the enunciation of the I doubt, not in its statement, which still bears all of this knowledge to be put in doubt. Shall I say that Freud makes one more stepwhich designates for us sufficiently the legitimacy of our associationwhen he invites us to integrate in the text of the dream what I shall call the colophon of doubtthe colophon, in an old text, is that small pointing hand that used to be printed, in the days when we still had typography, in the margin. The colophon of doubt is part of the text. This indicates that Freud places his certainty, his Gewissheit, only in the constellation of signifiers as they result from the recounting, the commentary, the association, even if they are later retracted. Everything provides signifying material, which is what he depends on to establish his own Gewissheitfor I stress that experience begins only with his method. That is why I compare it to the Cartesian method.
The Cartesian subject emerges in response to a radical doubt. That much seems uncontroversial. If we take the next step and integrate the "colophon of doubt" into the text of the cogito, must we then follow the path Lacan has laid out? Personally I would balk on the grounds that Lacan's understanding of experience is too narrowly logocentric, too exclusively psychoanlytic. Here's a question, then: In Husserlian phenomenology, does the lifeworld signify merely a living substratum of the transcendental ego? Perhaps the answer depends on how we understand what it means to live. My sense is that living should be understood in the broadest sense possible, as open-ended. So the colophon of doubt is not then something that dissappears or is necessarily neglected in phenomenological analysis. There is, however, clearly a problem with the transcendental ego, and Lacanian analysis offers one way to explore that.
Labels: Descartes, experience, Lacan, lifeworld, phenomenology, the unconscious
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
While commenting upon Merleau-Ponty's Le Invisible et l'invisible Lacan offers the following aside:
Precisely this gives me an opportunity to reply to someone that, of course, I have my ontologywhy not?like everyone else, however naïve or elaborate it may be. But, certainly, what I try to outline in my discoursewhich, although it reinterprets that of Freud, is nevertheless centred essentially on the particularity of the experience it describesmakes no claim to cover the entire field of experience. Even this between-the-two that opens up for us the apprehension of the unconscious is of concern to us only in as much as it is designated for us, through the instructions Freud left us, as that of which the subject has to take possession. I will only add that the maintenance of this aspect of Freudianism, which is often described as naturalism, seems to be indispensable, for it is one of the few attempts, if not the only one, to embody psychical reality without substantifying it
(Four Fundamental Concepts, p. 72).
I must admit that I'm having a diffucult time understanding exactly what Lacan means by reality, or the encounter with the real, which he designates as tuché. The reason I press on is precisely because I see in Lacan an attempt to embody psychical reality without substantifying it. A general question: Can experience be grasped apart from its particulars? How do we go about understanding the entire field of experience?
Labels: experience, Lacan, psyche, reality
Monday, November 20, 2006
I wanted to say something about Kristeva's Strangers to Ourselves other than it perplexed me at times or that she had keen things to say about cosmopolitanism in the ancient world. Here is her main thesis, which is really rather straightforward:
The image of hatred and of the other, a foreigner is neither the romantic victim of our clannish indolence nor the intruder responsible for all the ills of the polis. Neither the apocalypse on the move nor the instant adversary to be eliminated for the sake of appeasing the group. Strangely, the foreigner lives within us: he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which affinity and understanding founder. By recognizing him within ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself. A symptom that precisely turns "we" into a problem, perhaps makes it impossible, the foreigner comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises, and he disappears when we all acknowledge ourselves as foreigners, unamenable to bonds and communities.
And there you see the problem. I can acknowledge myself as a foreigner easily enough, but can we? I think so, but then I don't believe the foreigner does make "we" impossible. The question remains, "Who is this we?" The hetero-ipseic we? Is it also a pragmatic we? A provisional we? Under what conditions can it become effective? (And yes, the thought occurs to me that it may be a very priviliged we. I don't know what to do with that.)
Before the recent elections in the United States, I would have thought that explicitly xenophobic sentiments were taboo. In any event, the electorate by and large repudiated xenophobia in its most extreme forms. If explicit xenophobia is indeed politically unpopular, is that pretty much the end of the matter? I'm dubious. I just don't know what to make of the persistence of xenophobia. It seems to come and go. We can recognize some of the conditions that accompany its recrudesence, but do we know enough to make it stop? Is there truly a historical trajectory away from xenophobia, or is that just wishful thinking? I really don't know.
For more on the topic, check out Eliot Benítez' Denial of Recognition of the the Subjectivity of the Other.
Labels: cosmopolitanism, difference, Kristeva, xenophobia
Sunday, November 19, 2006
In response to Lyotard I had asked "Does one have a sense of rhythm about thoughts one is not prepared to think? What sort of phenomenon would this be?" Could it be a phenomenon of the unconscious? Lacan speaks of the pulsative function of the unconcsious, "the need to disappear that seems to be in some sense inherent in it" (The Four Funamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, p. 43). Does a sense of rhythm touch on that? If so, are certain forms of musical praxis more attuned to the pulsative function than others, or is this attunement more generally an aspect of having a sense of rhythm? I wouldn't know for sure, but I can comfortably speak of the blues.
Playing the blues doesn't feel like sublimation. It feels like exposure. It's as raw as sobbing, crying, shouting or laughter. But it does come and go. There are moments where the form comes to the fore, and moments when you play on riffs or licks. The form is most prominent in the turnaround, which has the effect of wiping the slate clean. The player's time, his or her sense of rhythm, is constantly on display. What is the relation between this display and blues feeling?
If you will allow that a sense of rhythm touches on the pulsative function of the unconscious, what then does the musician do with this? Is it a question of mastery, or rather of allowing oneself to be open to the unconscious? Is it more simply a mode of bodily praxis that lends itself to the ruptures of the unconscious?
Labels: blues, Lacan, Lyotard, music, pulsative function, rhythm
Saturday, November 18, 2006
What is ontology? Nancy writes:
"Ontology" does not occur at a level reserved for principles, a level that is withdrawn, speculative, and altogether abstract. Its name means the thinking of existence. And today, the situation of ontology signifies the following: to think existence at the height of this challenge that is globalness as such (which is designated as "capital," "(de-)Westernization," "technology," "rupture of history" and so forth).
(Being Singular Plural, pp. 46-47)
Nancy's definition of ontology here emerges in response to both Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis (which he views as symmetrical). My immediate interest in the problem stems from Lacan's argument that the unconcsious is pre-ontological, or that it doesn't lend itself to ontology (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, p. 29). What is meant by that? What could it mean? Lacan holds that the unconscious is "neither being nor non-being, but the unrealized" (p. 30). He later claims that "the status of the unconscious, which, as I have shown, is so fragile on the ontic plane, is ethical" (p. 33). He seems to suggestbut don't hold me to it if you have a better readingthat the unconscious is the product of an operation, or more broadly of a psychoanalytic praxis.
So what is the claim being made here? Is it simply that the unrealized neither exists nor does not exist? What else then wouldn't lend itself to ontology? Or is Lacan rejecting some specific way of thinking about the existence of the unconscious? "Ontically," Lacan says, "the unconcscious is the elusive" (p. 32), so it would seem that he is able to think of its existence.
A clue perhaps: Lacan writes of the unconcsious: "Rupture, split, the stroke of the opening makes absence emergejust as the cry does not stand out against a background of silence, but on the contrary makes the silence emerge as silence" (p. 26). Cannot this phenomenon of the cry and the silence rather be understood as a co-arising, where neither the cry nor the silence is solely responsible for the emergence of the other? Well, I couldn't tell you. I only offer it as a clue to how Lacan is thinking about the unconscious.
Is Nancy right then to read into Lacanian theory a grappling with the enigma of co-ipseity (or hetero-ipseity) (Being Singular Plural, pp. 44-45)? Is his claim for ontology premised on such a reading, or does it stand to reason regardless of how he reads pyschoanalytic theory?
Labels: Lacan, Nancy, ontology, the unconscious
Friday, November 17, 2006
comes to my attention by way of Butler (Giving an Account of Oneself
) who rather dismisses her as not being Hegelian enough (or Foucaultian enough). Hmm. Cavarero does appear to be an interesting thinker. Here's
a brief statement of hers on natality. It shows her indebtedness to Nancy and Arendt. If you'll recall, I had voiced some doubts about Arendt's claim that being and appearance coincide
. Cavarero takes those same passages from Arendt and runs with it:
Properly speaking, the individual and the community should be considered as opposites. The first term refers to something indivisible that stands by itself, while the second term, as can be seen from its root (cum), expresses the very essence of relation. Corresponding to the concept of the individual there should be that of a collectivity in which individuals are together because they form an aggregate. But the with implicit in the community does not in fact stand for the simple fact of being together, one next to the other, as an aggregate; it refers rather to an internal or constitutive relation. In this relation the uniqueness of each individual constitutes itself. Each one is a unique existent for whom the other cannot be lacking. Each one, in so far as they exist, exists with the other and cannot exist without the other. Its uniqueness, and that of the other, appear [compaiono] in the relation that constitutes them. This explains why Hannah Arendt endows the uniqueness of each human being with the status of appearance, and why Jean-Luc Nancy refers to the community as an appearance [comparizione].
I've added Cavarero's For More Than One Voice: Toward A Philosophy Of Vocal Expression to my reading list. It may take some time to get to because I also have books from Lacan, Stern and Stengers on the way.
As to the question, "Who gave birth to Adriana Cavarero?" would it be fair to answer "Hannah Arendt"? Is this ever a fair question to begin with? I'm not really sure. Often we do ask of the singular human being "Where are you from?" or "Where are you coming from?" and that suffices. To really know an intellectual, though, we also want to know who. What is this who of the intellect? Who is it? Is it simply the who of one's birth, or do we take natality as having another extended meaning? What is the extent of whoness?
Labels: Arendt, Cavarero, Nancy, natality, plurality
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I was able to revisit Binswanger's "Dream and Existence" (in Being-in-the-world: Selected Papers of Ludwig Binswanger, trans. Jacob Needleman) and also the original (in Ausgewählte Vorträge und Aufsätze von Ludwig Binswanger, Vol 1.). Here's Binswanger's essential argument (the translation is mine, but leans on Needleman):
When, e.g., we speak similarily of a high and a low tower, a high and deep tone, high and low morals, high and downfallen spirits, what's involved here is in no way a linguistic translation from one of these essential spheres to another, but rather a general orientation of meaning which is "distributed" equally among the particular regional spheres, i.e., that contains within it the same particular meanings (spatial, acoustic, intellectual, psychic etc.). Sinking or falling thus represent a general orientation of meaning from over to under which contains a special existential meaning "for" our existence, according to the "ontological existential" of, say, the extending-outward of spatiality, the thrownness of mood, or the explication of understanding. In sudden disappointment we fall from the skies or from the clouds not, as Wundt says, because disappointment or terror represent an "asthenic affect" that manifests itself as a threat to the upright posture as a bodily staggering, stumbling or falling, and thus serves for its part as a real bodily model for a poetic image; rather, language independently grasps in this alleged simile one of the deepest special elements lying within the ontological structure of humankind, the ability to be oriented from above to below, and designates this element as falling.
So now I know what Binswanger would make of the hypnic jerk. Can't say I find it very satisfying. But it's good to question causal explations of such phenomena. In the case of the hypnic jerk it seems to make sense that the relaxation of the body causes the dream experience of falling. In the case of depression, however, causality seems to work the other way. The emotional state of being down causes the body to be weakened. What then does causilty explain? That it is possible to transfer meaning from one sphere to another? Essentially I feel that the body and mind are one and the same, and in that respect I can take Binswanger's point. But I wonder about this ontological structure of human existence. How could it not be an artefact of human embodiment?
Labels: Binswanger, embodiment, falling
Before phenomenological intentionality and the constitution of the ego, but also before thinglike consistency as such, there is co-oringarity according to the with. Properly speaking, then. there is no anteriority: co-originarity is the most general structure of all con-sistency, all con-stitution, and all con-sciousness.
(Being singular plural, pp. 40-41)
Isn't this exactly the problem of the lifeworld in Husselian phenomenology? Is it a solution? Nancy's "problem of the city" (p.35) goes directly to the heart of the matter of coexistence. The coevality of what exists upsets the privileged position of the transcendental ego. On what basis do we understand the coeveality of existence? Nancy suggests ethical and experiential grounds for accepting coevality, but the core of his argument is an appeal to reason: How can one be counted unless more exist to be counted?
Assuming Nancy's reasoning about the singular plural is correct, does it follow that the "with" of being is (logically) prior to intentionality? Can being-with not be being-with-something? What does the doctrine of intentionality make of indefiniteness in general? Are there limits to the open-endedness of coexistence? If so, where would those come from?
Labels: coexistence, intentionality, lifeworld, Nancy
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I haven't kept up with guitarist Fareed Haque since Opaque. The summer issue of Jazz Improv included Haque's "Lahara Cadenza" from the upcoming Flat Earth Wow. This is superfunky. I've never been a great fan of the genre known as "jam," but I do appreciate grooviness in all its guises. Too many jazz guitarists seem to be groove-impaired, so I cut a lot of slack to any jazz guitarist who can groove. Now I'm listening to some live performances from Haque's website, and adding some of his recent cds to my wishlist.
Labels: Haque, improvisation, jazz, music
Monday, November 13, 2006
"Being does not preexist its singular plural," writes Jean-Luc Nancy (Being Singular Plural, p. 29). Strictly speaking, he adds, "nothing preexists; only what exists exists." This is an essential claim of ontology as first philosophy. What's at stake here in Nancy's recommencement of an anti-totalitarian Heideggerian existentialism? Nancy says:
The themes of being-with and co-originarity need to be renewed and need to "reinitialize" the existential analytic, exactly because these are meant to respond to the question of the meaning of Being, or to Being as meaning. But if the meaning of Being indicates itself principally by the putting into play of Being in Dasein and as Dasein, then, precisely as meaning, this putting into play (the "there will be" of Being) can only attest to itself or expose itself in the mode of being-with: because as relates to meaning, it is never for just one, but always for one another, always between one another. The meaning of Being is never in what is saidnever said in significations.
The alternative approach here is to say that meaning is indeed what is said in significations. But what then do we make of the between-one-another quality of meaning? Do we assign it to the speech chain and more or less forget about it? Is it purely epiphenomenal? Does it only come into play in order to mediate? Is it the system that truly possesses agency? Is its embodiment in speakers then essentially accidental, something that could be otherwise?
On the other hand, if we follow Nancy, aren't we left with a watery concept of meaning, a sense of meaning that may be preconceptual? Do we need another concept of meaning to sort this out, or is it enough to separate meaning from the systems of signification? What does it mean to be meaningful? If we say "to coexist" are we travelling in circles?
Labels: coexistence, meaning, Nancy, ontology
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Butler writes that "[t]he dyadic exchange refers to a set of norms that exceed the perspectives of those engaged in the struggle for recognition" (Giving an Account of Oneself, p. 29). I'll put question marks around the struggle business (which seems to come by way of Hegel) and set it aside for the moment. The basic claim being made here seems obvious enough. But I wonder about this notion of excess. Isn't the dyad itself excessive? Surely it exceeds the monad. In what way? By simple addition? Is the we simply an addition to the I, or simply the sum of an addition? Is we another singularity? Is it factorial? Have I already exceeded myself before I met you, or is it only through you that I exceed myself? Is excess of oneself the meaning of recognition, or is recognition more simply a reiteration? Is there any perspective that isn't exceeded by experience? Does it matter how we come to experience sociality? If it does, how then do we come to experience sociality? As excess? Am I taking excess too far, or do I merely repeat myself?
Labels: Butler, dyad, excess
Friday, November 10, 2006
If Deleuze is right that philosophy is about creating concepts, then I wonder if I will ever be a philosopher, because the simplest concepts stupify me. Lately I've been ruminating on concepts of thinking, being, life, the body, the subject, the world. I don't know what these concepts mean, not conceptually, not with any certainty. I don't have knowledge of them, don't know what such knowledge would resemble or how it could be described. I read descriptions and occasionally offer some of my own, but they remain provisional in my mind. I'm not dead certain about anything I write here. Even my recent disagreement with Judith Butler, which I feel strongly about, really boils down to little more than a sense that the kind of evidence that would support her assertion isn't the kind of evidence that would matter; it's a question of having the right perspective about what is originary in experience, and while I can't say exactly what the right perspective is, I feel I can recognize a strong claim such as hers as being dubious, as not being true to life. That's not a whole lot offer, I know.
Nontheless I remain open to creative philosophical concepts, and I take some pleasure in reading and sharing those with you. So allow me to mention "passibility," as understood by Jean-François Lyotard ("Something Like: 'Communication....without Communication,' in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, pp. 108-118). Passibility is neither an activity nor a passivity, but rather a feeling, a possibility of experiencing (pathos) that presupposes a donation (pp. 110-111). This feeling is "the immediate welcoming of what is given" (p. 111).
Lyotard is talking about aesthetic sentiment, but I wonder whether this mode of experiencing (pathos) isn't more generalizable. It's not perfectly clear. Lyotard states that the donation, equivalent to what Heidegger calls Being, "which is experienced before (or better, in) any capture or conceptualization gives matter for reflection, for the conception, and it is on it, for it, that we are going to construct our aesthetic philosophy and our theories of communication" (p. 111). Now is this passibility then the inauguration of a philosophy of the aesthetic or an aesthetics of philosophy? Perhaps it depends on what we make of his emphasis on the word "in." In one sense the conceptual, philosophy's stock-in-trade, becomes like so much gift wrapping, an inversion of the priveleged relation of concept over style.
Should philosophy be disconcerting? If so, there's a lot to be said for Lyotard's passibility. But even then I don't know what to make of gift wrapping. People handle it in all kinds of ways, and I can't say any one of them is the only right way to do it. Here's Lyotard to walk it home:
Passibility: the opposite of 'impassibility'? Something is not destined for you, there is no way to feel it. You are touched, you will only know this afterwards. (And in thinking you know it, you will be mistaken about this 'touch.') We imagine that minds are made anxious by not intervening in the production of the product. It is because we think of presence according to the exclusive modality of masterful intervention. Not to be contemplative is sort of an implicit commandment, contemplation is perceived as a devalorized passivity.
Labels: givenness, Lyotard, philosophy
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Judith Butler, drawing on Foucault, asserts that "the social dimension of normativity preceeds and conditions any dyadic exchange, even though it seems that we make contact with that sphere of normativity precisely in the context of such proximate exchanges" (Giving an Account of Oneself, pp. 23-24). I think this is precisely wrong. I have taken note of some phenomena of early childhood development and also nonhuman primate social cognition (for example Joint Attention) in order to better understand this problem. If the sphere of normativity has any effect on the development of the human infant, it is only insofar as it conditions dyadic relations with primary care-givers. These dyadic relations however are the primary reality of the infant, regardless of which set of social norms acts to condition them. They do not simply mediate, they construct. Butler's subject makes me think of a feral child who by some twist of magic is able to speak a language and operate within a sphere of social norms. Real life isn't like that.
Labels: Butler, dyad, infant
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
What touches us in music or any of the other arts? Is this phrase a simple metaphor, or does it directly express a quality of our experience of music? For Jean-Luc Nancy, touching is a primordial way of experiencing the plurality of beings at the source of Being. He writes, "Being in touch with ourselves is what makes us 'us,' and there is no other secret to discover buried behind this very touching, behind the 'with' of coexistence" (Being Singular Plural, p. 13). For Nancy, any of the arts represent "the exposition of an access, concealed in its own opening"(p. 14). An access to what? Not to an Other exactly. To an orginal plurality? Nancy elaborates:
Art always has to do with cosmogeny, but it exposes cosmogeny for what it is: necessarily plural, diffracted, discreet, a touch of color or tone, an agile turn of phrase or folded mass, a radiance, a scent, a song, or a suspended movement, exactly because it is the birth of a world (and not the construction of a system). A world is always as many worlds as it takes to make a world.
That says a lot. What can we make of the expression the world of so-and-so, e.g. the world of John Coltrane? Aren't there an multitude of worlds wrapped up in the world of Coltrane? When I say Coltrane's music touches me, is that the equivalent of being in Coltrane's world? And when I'm playing under the influence of Coltrane, not the system of Coltrane changes, but the sound of Coltrane, Coltrane's world, then where does my world end? Does it end where I can't go? I can go all kinds of places. I'm touched by all kinds of music. Yet still there are places I can't go. I know I can't go somewhere when it feels like an effort. Is having a world generally effortless? Is it only giving birth to a world that strains our abilities? Are we perpetually creating our world in one way or another? Is this what touches us in music?
Labels: Coltrane, music, Nancy, world
Monday, November 06, 2006
"Being prepared to recieve what thought is not prepared to think is what deserves the name thinking," Lyotard writes ("Time Today," in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, p. 73). If we define thinking this way, as an openness to the event, Lyotard says it follows that the thinker is "ipso facto in a position of resistance to the procedures for controlling time" (p. 74). Lyotard follows this unusual statement with a more conventional restatement of what it means to think: "To think is to question everything, including thought, and question, and the process" (p. 74).
Does thought have the character of an occurrence? I can surely think of it that way, but, as they say, thinking doesn't make it so. To question questioning, isn't that an activity that presupposes more than one occurrence, i.e. the question and the answer? Even if the answer is glacially slow in coming, or so slow that it never quite arrives, hasn't its arrival already been anticipated by thinking in the mode of questioning? So should we say that thought has the character of relating to or between occurrences rather than itself being an occurrence? Yet isn't thinking still like an occurrence, something that goes on?
Lyotard, ever concerned with negentropy, puts forward as a consequence of logical positivism this idea: "the real 'user' of language is not the human mind qua human, but complexity in movement, of which mind is only a transitory support" (p. 72). Once the thought has occurred, is there not an obligation to resist? What then would be the source of this feeling that one ought not be alienated from one's thinking?
In music is there such a thing as playing the right note at the wrong time? I tend toward the opinion that there is no such thing, that timing is everything, and at the wrong time one can only play wrong notes. But how much of a delay are we able to accept, in music or in thinking? That I think must be open-ended, impossible to determine in advance. Does one have a sense of rhythm about thoughts one is not prepared to think? What sort of phenomenon would this be?
Labels: Lyotard, rhythm, thinking
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Opening up Jean-Luc Nancy's Being Singular Plural is a real treat because I feel like here at last is an affirmation of what is apparent, and a healthy scepticism about the kinds of "wonder" that signal a desire to escape from the world. Under the heading "People are Strange," Nancy criticizes Heidegger's impoverished notion of everydayness:
One cannot affirm that the meaning of Being must express itself starting from everydayness and then begin by neglecting the general differentiation of the everyday, its constantly renewed rupture, its intimate discord, its polymorphy and its polyphony, its relief and its variety. A "day" is not simply a unit for counting; it is the turning of the worldeach time singular. And days, indeed every day, could not be similar if they were not first different, difference itself. Likewise "people," or rather "peoples," given the irreducible strangeness that constitutes them as such, are themselves primarily the exposing of the singularity according to which existence exists, irreducibly and primarilyand an exposition of singularity that experience claims to communicate with, in the sense of "to" and "along with," the totality of beings.
Labels: everydayness, Nancy, ontology
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Arendt asks "Where are we when we think?" I don't quite share her view that thinking is necessarily a withdrawal from the world. On the contrary, thinking may be in the manner of a projection into the world, or a coming to grips with the world. Nevertheless, the world is something I can't exactly put my finger on, and still I wonder where we are when we think.
Where am I when I think of the planets of Upsilon Andromedae? Or the number two? When I was a child extrasolar planets were, like black holes were, a matter of imagination, or informed speculation at best. The number two had a firmer basis in reality than any planet outside of our own solar system. It was not possible to point to Upsilon Andromedae and say with any kind of certainty that there are planets there. Nevertheless there was and still is a kind of worldliness to the heavens. Every night the little patch of Earth where I make my abode turns towards the cold, starry vastness of deep space. Interstellar space is as present to me as a morning fog, or the warmth of the sun during the day, and the stars appear to me visually much the same way objects appear to me here on Earth.
Gazing at the stars, imagining other planets, I may forget temporarily my own body. My ears are cold, but my thoughts are elsewhere, or so it would seem. But aren't my ears and my thoughts both exposed to the coldness of space? Well, I could imagine loafing on a tropical beach which really would seem to be more of a withdrawal from the here and now. And what about the beaches of Upsilon Andromedae c? What sort of distance is that? It reflects a different kind of worldliness than the simple acknowledgement that there is in fact a planet called Upsilon Andromedea c, being more of an imaginative projection. Astronomy has shown that some of our imaginative projections have not been so far-fetched. Are there not then degrees of withdrawal? And isn't the measure of withdrawal tied to a sense of presence, to what matters as being worldly?
After Mimica (Intimations of Infinity), I'm not even sure that simple twoity isn't profoundly existential. Certainly we can reason abstractly, just as we can momentarily escape the awareness of certain brute facts of bodily existence. Can escape from the worldly really be the sine qua non of thinking? Of that I am not convinced. Perhaps the possibility of escape, withdrawal or transcendence is essential, but that's covering a lot of territory. A more primary truth may be that thought itself is tied to movement.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Nothing perhaps indicates more strongly that man exists essentially in the plural than that his solitude actualize his merely being conscious of himself, which we probably share with the higher animals, into a duality during the thinking activity. It is this duality of myself with myself that makes thinking a true activity, in which I am both the one who asks and the one who answers. Thinking can become dialectical and critical because it goes through this questioning and answering process, through the dialogue of the dialegesthai, which actually is a "travelling through words," a poreuesthai dia tōn logōn, whereby we constantly raise the basic Socratic question What do you mean when you say . . . ? except that this legein, saying, is soundless and therefore so swift that its dialogical structure is somewhat difficult to detect.
(Life of the Mind, Vol. 1, p.185, emphasis in original)
So what does she mean when she says solitide actualizes self-awareness into a duality? What does it really mean to be alone with one's thoughts? If we assume that we're talking about thinking in linguistic concepts and this is representative of all thinking, then what sort of phenomenon is this internal dialogue? Can you, for instance, sustain more than one voice simultaneously? Musically I can entertain more than one voice at a time, linguistically I'm not sure that I can. Well, I can, but it's pretty muddled. Can you think in different languages at the same time? Again, for me it's pretty muddled.
I might say that every thought, because it is personal, implies an adressee, a respondent if you will. In internal dialogue, what we are doing is riffing on the addressivity of personhood. Duality does not belong to thought except insofar as thought takes place, as it must, as the activity of a person. Thought may thus be implicitly a correspondence. However, can we or do we typically ignore this implication? It would not be typical of critical thinking to not ask questions of its own thinking, but I am not sure that critical thinking represents the all of what thinking is. So is it possible to conduct a monologue? I couldn't tell you. I'm just saying.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Lyotard writes that historical periodization "is a way of placing events in a diachrony, and diachrony is ruled by the principle of revolution" ("Rewriting Modernity," The Inhuman, p. 25). If the obsession with revolution is characteristic of modernism, as Lyotard would have it, then I should want to question the premise that diachrony is ruled by the principle of revolution, on the grounds that diachrony is a universal feature of narrative, whereas the obsession with revolution appears to be a particular feature of modernism. Yet it's not easy to get around the fact of modern history's preoccupation with periodization. Perhaps it would help to consider other forms of diachrony, mythic and genealogical, for instance, or the two together. Are mythic genealogies governed by a prinicple of revolution? There is a case to be made, so I will provisionally accept Lyotard's premise about diachrony, in which case I wonder whether the obsession with revolution is truly a special trait of modernismyet how could it not be? I'm a bit flummoxed. I think I need a clearer definition of the historical, and I need to be clear about what kind of texts narratives of historical periodization actually represent. If they are mythic, they are surely mythic in a different way than narratives of the Olympians are mythic. The disjuncture between the historical and the mythic appears to be historical, but it may also be mythic. I think I'll have to remain a bit flummoxed.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A human life, Arendt argues, only becomes a complete entity after its death. She continues, "death not merely ends life, it also bestows upon it a silent completeness, snatched from the hazardous flux to which all things human are subject" (The Life of the Mind, Vol.1, p. 164). This line of thinking has it all backwards. Death is the ultimate hazardous flux. Is ontology really up to the task of elucidating anything about what it means for a person to exist? Why is quotidian existence such a problem for ontology? My neighbor whom I don't know very well can at least ask me how my day went. Perhaps I should turn to him for philosophical guidance. Well, I'm not quite ready to abandon all hope. I bought a copy of Jean-Luc Nancy's Being Singular Plural and plan to dig into it this coming weekend. In the meantime I'll amuse myself by wondering what sort of quality a being must have in order to understand daily life as something that really exists.
Arendt renders the third fragment of Parmenides (τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι) as "To be and to think are the same" (Life of the Mind p. 136). The Burnett translation gives us "For it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be." The Elpenor translation is "The same is thinking and being." Professor Cherubin at George Mason offers "for the same thing is to conceive (be aware) [of] and to be." Although it would be presumptious to say exactly what Parmenides was getting at in this fragment of a line, the equation of being (estin) with thinking (noein) nevertheless invites meditation on the nature of thinking and being.
If thinking is dimly understood, a vague concept at best encompassing a great variety of conscious experiences, the concept of being is downright mysterious. What does it mean finally to say that something is a being or has being? Is a rock a being? Can I deny the being of a rock without denying the reality of a rock? The rock may appear to me as a mere transitional form, something between a boulder and a grain of sand. It is part of a rock cycle. When it doesn't appear to me as a pragma, something that might be useful to some purpose, then I wonder what significance to attach to its present form. I imagine its beginning and its end. I imagine its intimacy with water. In this aspect, I can see the reality of the rock as schematic or ideal. Is being required for the rock to hold this place in reality? Perhaps, but in this case its being would be mediated by consciousness. I wouldn't need to accept the being of the rock outside the realm of the phenomenal in order to acknowledge its reality as a rock.
What about a house plant? A philodendron? Like a rock, the philodendron exists within the earth's great cycles. It photosynthesizes, transpires, consumes nitrogen and so on. Yet the philodendron appears to me more than the rock as being rather uniquely its own thing. The shape of its leaves has adaptive significance, I assume, but I also know that other shapes would also be adaptive, and yet the philodendron produces only philodendron leaves. It seems to be a more refined creature of its history than the rock is. Could that be an illusion due to the vast differences in time scales between the rock cycle and the more superficial cycles the plant is sensitive to? Could it be an effect of syntropy? Why do I want to ascribe some sort of ontic quality to the plant that I am willing to let slide in the case of the rock? Is it because I love the philodendron? Does this cloud my judgement? Do I project an awareness of my own thinking as a living entity onto other objects that also live? I'm not sure that's the case. I may have an awareness of other lives that is not merely a projection of my own awareness of being alive. That would be most evident in the matter of relations with other people, but it may be a way of relating to plants too.
On the flip side, there is the materialist view that would deny the isness of thinking. I don't have any rebuttal against that view, except to say that I'm certain that anybody who can think thoughts don't exist surely does exist. A nuanced materialist critique that would differentiate between the isness of material objects and the (presumably diminished) isness of thinking would strike me as both reasonable and not altogether satisfying.
In sum, although the Burnett translation of Parmenides' third fragment is the odd man out, it appears to have some truth in it, although I'm not convinced it holds up when we examine other lives. By the same token, I'm much more willing to ascribe to being to nonsentient living organisms than I should be if thinking and being were truly identical.
Labels: Arendt, ontology, Parmenides, philodendron, stone, thinking