Saturday, December 16, 2006

La La La La La

What happens when we say "la la la la la"? Are we saying "la" five times, or is there a sense of doing one thing, saying "la la la la la"? If there's a sense of unity to saying "la la la la la," where does that come from? What kind of phenomenon is it?

A longish excerpt from Henry:

The determination of the original being of the body as subjective movement furnishes us with the principle of a phenomenology of memory whose possibility thus rests entirely on the ontological theory of the body. When a sound is heard, the sonorous impression is constituted, but the subjective movement in which the power of constitution here at work consists is originally known as such, because it is given to us in an internal transcendental experience. It is precisely the possession of the interior law of constitution of the sonorous impression which allows me to repeat this impression, to reproduce it myself again as many times as I care to, and to recognize it constantly in the course of this reproduction, because the knowledge of the power of constitution is immanent to its exercise and is one with it. That which repeats the sonorous impression is the body, and consequently, the ego–which amounts to saying that the power of constitution of the sonorous impression is the ego itself. As long as I repeat the sonorous impression, I know that I have already had the experience of this impression; I know that I now repeat it, that it is I who repeat it, and that it is the same impression of which I already had the experience which I now repeat. Actually, the remembering which is implied in this phenomenon is divided into a remembering of the power of constitution, a remembering which is the repetition strictly speaking, and a remembering of the sonorous impression which is a remembering of the repeated or reproduced terminus. The first remembering takes place on the level of transcendental immanence, it is produced without the intervention of any constitution and is known itself as such interiorly and immediately. The second type of remembering concerns the transcendent level on which the sonorous impression is constituted before being recognized and repeated there. To the first sort of remembering Maine de Biran gave the name "personal remembering," to the second the name "modal remembering."

(Philosophy and Phenomenology of the Body, p. 80).

William James, by contrast, argues that strictly speaking it is impossible to hear the same sound twice (Principles of Psychology: Chapter IX, The Stream of Thought). James says the apprehension of sameness in the case of the repeated sound is a matter of referring two different sensations to the same object. It is impossible to hear two instances of the same sound with the same brain, because the brain is always changing. And so is experience. Experience for James is always in flux, "the river of life, the river of elementary feeling." What's true of hearing is also true of thinking. We can't experience the same idea twice, can't think two instances of the same idea with the same brain.

Yet we commonly do believe that we can think the same idea twice, or hear the same sound again. To explain this belief James credits language for an assist, and he speculates that if we spoke a more agglutinating language the tendency to believe we could think the same idea twice would be lessened. Having learned a couple of Bantu languages, albeit imperfectly, I don't quite buy it. I think it shows, however, how James may be failing to review all the options. If there is an assist factor, if there is something that helps us believe we can hear the same sound repeated, and grasp a unity there, it plausibly comes from a bodily capacity of remembering, from Biranian personal remembering.

Is personal memory then fundamentally illusory? Does it lend itself to illusion? The question, I think, is whether the power of constitution of sonorous impressions remains constant, or whether it is in flux, whether it develops or changes at all in the course of life. And what kind of constancy would we be talking about? Just enough to talk about what happens when we say "la la la la la"? More broadly it becomes a question of how memory works existentially.

James' view, which seems reasonable, is at least partially true to experience. I can acknowledge that every "la" is singular from the outset, but when I string together this "la" and that "la", "la la la la la," it feels like a repetition, and there is some sense of unity in it. And yet if I attend closely, the singularity of each "la" becomes apparent. What James says about the flux of experience seems to be true, but it also seems that he isn't telling the whole story. On the other hand, if we apply his insights to Henry's Biranian analysis, it seems that Henry has left some questions unanswered. At the end of the day, I can't say exactly what happens when we say "la la la la la."

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:21 AM.


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