Monday, October 30, 2006

The Urge to Music

Arendt's Life of the Mind is really tiresome at times. She claims that "no speechless thought can exist" (p. 100), and that language is "the only medium through which mental activities can be manifest not only to the outside world but also to the mental ego itself" (p. 102) and so on. Did she really stop and think before pursuing this line of argument? There's little evidence that she did. She makes no mention of music, dance, sculpture or any other medium besides language. A certain kind of logocentrism may be justified by her topic, but her extreme position is unwarranted.

I often talk about music because it's a part of my day-to-day reality. I don't expect everybody to feel the same urge to music that I feel. I do expect that it won't seem strange to readers that I sometimes have musical thoughts. Thinking about musical thinking can be discursive, which is kind of startling if you think about it. It doesn't have to be discursive though. I can and often do think about musical thinking musically. Is this a shocking claim? I don't think so.

Update. Arendt is fond of the example of flute-playing as an activity that is an end in itself. There's no sense that she considers it a mental activity or sees its mental aspects at all. I find this an egregious oversight on her part precisely because she has gone to great pains to distinguish thinking from (mere) cognition. If the fundamental question for her is the search for meaning rather than truth, then she should at the very least take notice of the diverse modalities of the human quest for meaning, i.e., the arts.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Body as Analogon for Thought

In "Can Thought Go On Without a Body?" (The Inhuman, pp. 8-23) Lyotard explores the analogy of thinking with the perceptual field. He writes:

A direct, focused vision is always surrounded by a curved area where visibility is held in reserve yet isn't absent. This disjunction is inclusive....Continuing vision preserves along with it what was seen an instant before from another angle. It anticipates what will be seen shortly. These syntheses result in identifications of objects, identifications that never are completed, syntheses that a subsequent sighting can always unsettle or undo....

In any serious discussion of analogy it's this experience that is meant, this blur, this uncertainty, this faith in the inexhaustibility of the perceivable, and not just a mode of transfer of the data onto an inscription-surface not originally its own....Real 'analogy' requires a thinking or representing machine to be in its data just as the eye is in the visual field or writing is in language (in the broad sense).

(p. 17)

Lyotard's concern is with the possibility of artificial intelligence, which is the only sort of solution he sees to the problem of impending solar death. The argument doesn't quite work for me because I don't believe the future of humanity will necessarily remain earthbound. Interstellar travel is far more likely to be realized than thinking without a body, for the very reasons Lyotard lays out.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:52 PM. 0 comments

Lyotard on the Human Condition

In his introduction to The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, Jean-François Lyotard entertains the idea that if humans were born human it would not be possible to educate them. This is not exactly a viewpoint Lyotard adopts, but I want to consider it before getting to what Lyotard's view actually is. I don't know how long it takes for a human being to fully develop. Several decades at least, and most people should like a little longer than that. Is there any stage at which one, finally, becomes human, any stage at which one ceases becoming? What is the truth in the status of "adult"? Is it really a cultural universal, and what does its apparent universality suggest? Hannah Arendt (in Life of the Mind) put forward the idea that all living beings reach a point of epiphany, a full flowering of their potential which irrevocably defines them, after which they have only senescence to look forward to. Can that really be true? Don't we all know people who seem to undergo multiple epiphanies, who never cease to develop? If lifelong development represents the true potential of the human being, then isn't wrong to regard any stage of development as marking a boundary between the human and the inhuman?

For Lyotard the dilemma is this: "What shall call human in humans, the initial misery of their childhood, or their capacity to acquire a 'second' nature which, thanks to language, makes them fit to share in communal life, adult consciousness and reason" (p.3). He comes down on the side of the former:

Shorn of speech, incapable of standing upright, hesitating over the objects of its interest, not able to calculate its advantages, not sensitive to common reason, the child is eminently the human because its distress heralds and promises things possible. Its initial delay in humanity, which makes it the hostage of the adult community, is also what manifests to this community the lack of humanity it is suffering from, and which calls on it to be more human.

....That it always remains for the adult to free himself or herself from the obscure savageness of childhood by bringing about its promise–that is precisely the condition of humankind.

(pp. 3-4)


Having expressed some reservations, I can't quite fully agree with Lyotard on this, though it does resonate with me. Does my view on freeing oneself from the obscure savageness of childhood become necessarily Sisyphean? Is there any reason to think Lyotard's view of the task isn't Sisyphean? What do you make of Lyotard's description of the human condition?

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Person Who Relates

I was flipping through Eugen Fink's Existenz und Coexistenz when the following sentence sprung out at me: "The human being exists as a relation" (Der Mensch existiert als ein Verhältnis). I'd like to play with that as an ontological proposistion, but I'll make some modifications so as to end up with this sentence: The human being by nature is a person who relates.

The first problem I see that I should want to guard against is a substantialist reading of the human being or person. This is not in the letter or spirit of what Fink is talking about, and it's not an interpretation I should want to slip into or allow to be nurtured as a subtext to my own sometimes fuzzy thinking about the matter. I used the phrase "by nature" as a nod to Aristotle, but my understanding of nature is rather existential, and I certainly don't mean to import Aristotlean metaphysics wholesale. However, I do mean to personalize the problem, to embody it in a person, a who, a who who acts in this characteristic way of relating, always as a person. So I definitely do not mean that the human being is by nature a being that relates or even a person that relates. The human being is always a person, a who.

The personal relation implies a plurality. There is always the person who does this or that, and there is at least one other person who is addressed by the very fact of personhood. Speaking in the third person can we imagine a kind of other that is not another person, and we can imagine another kind of action, but the essential addressivity of being a person cannot be wiped away. The addressivity of being a person is not merely a matter of a reciprocity of viewpoints implied by speaking. It is a vital aspect of our whoness, of how we naturally relate to the world.

Is there an intentional structure to human relating? Must we always relate to something? I don't know. In personal addressivity we are always already relating to other persons, but it is not clear to me, dear reader, whether such persons may not be allowed to remain vague and undifferentiated. Evidently we can relate to the possibility of another person as if it were actual. I won't dare to call this possibility Other. It could after all be me.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Stoic Cosmopolitanism. . .

Some excerpts from Julia Kristeva's Strangers to Ourselves:

A challenge to the very principle of human association is what is involved in cosmopolitan utopia: the rules governing exchanges with the other having been abolished (no more State, no more family, no sexual difference), is it possible to live without constraints–without limits, without borders–other than individual demands? Two possibilities are then open: either absolute cyncism based on individual pleasure, or the elitism of lucid, self-controlled beings, of wise men who manage to be reconciled with the insane.

(pp. 60-61)


Stoic cosmopolitanism adumbrates a new religion in which Greek individualism, the introspection of Egyptian piety, the banquets of Syrian communities, and Jewish morality merge together. . . From that moment the question arises as to whether cosmopolitanism is anything but a religious reality, without ever being capable of becoming a political reality. The question is still valid today. The flaw lies perhaps in the very project: "cosmopolitanism" means that the ideal of the polis, of the political city-state with its rights and its isonomy, is preserved but extended on a world scale, that the entire world finds its place in it. Now, it is possible that the erasing of differences can be effected only in the order of piety. On the other hand, the political order, which governs needs, can only protect its own, entrench disparities, separate disagreements, and, at best, administer the procedures intended to preserve differences.

In contrast with classical and Homeric times, Hellenistic Greece, however, carried out a cosmopolitan policy. In what way? While always distinguishing between those who are foreigners to the polis (that is, Greeks from another political unit) from those who are foreigners to the Greek world (that is, persons differing in race or culture), Greeks of the Hellenistic era acknowledged the community of the former through the birth of international law and living together, and that of the latter through the establishment of vast international or multiracial cities like Alexandria where intellectuals mixed Judaism and Hellenism, translated the Bible into Greek, and later integrated ancient philosophy into Christianism.

(pp. 61-62)

And finally:

More a center for spreading culture than a framework for political integration, the Hellenistic polis disseminated, along with its cosmopolitanism, Greek civilization more than politics. This means that the foreigner was still the citizen's other. But his role in the polis increased; this marked a retreat, specific to Greece at that time, of legal-political features as opposed to what is distinctive of an ideology, a mentality, or a way of life, which also, in increasingly better fashion, define Greekness. Without for that matter wanting to speak of a reduction of the political, let me say that accepting foreigners in the polis led to establishing among the members of a community identifying criteria that transcended politics by putting forward cultural and symbolic factors.

(p. 63)

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Existential Phenomenology

Methodologically phenomenology sets aside the reality of what exists in order to examine how things actually appear in experience. This approach leaves ontology and metaphysics as secondary concerns at best. However, phenomenology accepts as apodictic that the subject of experience has a more or less Cartesian claim to existence. The exploration of the personal structure of experience discovered by Descartes is the beginning point for existential phenomenology. The real danger for existential phenomenology is not that it will devolve into metaphysical gobbledygook–few people truly seem to mind much when it does–but rather that it will slide into the inanity of solipsism, or its weaker cousin, monadology.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Noesis in itself

Arendt comes down against concluding on the basis of our experience of the noetic faculty, especially in dreams, that there exist things in themesleves which exist in the same way that we exist in a world of appearances (Life of the Mind, Vol. 1,p. 44). She says further:

[E]lementary logical mistakes are quite rare in the history of philosophy; what appear to be errors in logic to minds disencumbered of questions that have been uncritically dismissed as "meaningless" are usually caused by semblances, unavoidable for beings whose existence is determined by appearance. Hence, in our context the only relevant question is whether the semblances are inauthentic or authentic ones, whether they are caused by dogmatic beliefs and arbitrary assumptions, mere mirages that disappear upon closer inspection, or whether they are inherent in the paradoxical condition of a living being that, though itself part of the world of appearances, is in possession of a faculty, the ability to think, that permits the mind to withdraw from the world without ever being able to leave it or transcend it.

(p. 45)

For my part, I don't reckon that the dreaming ego under normal conditions is a good proxy for the thinking ego. I'll definitely be rereading Binswanger's "Dream and Existence" as I wrap my mind around this one.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Critical Comment on the Lived Body

Aron Gurwitsch, in a comment on Patočka's reading of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, says (translating roughly), "Only through specific acts of consciousness and their concatenations, entanglements and special syntheses can I experience myself as a human being in the world, as a noetic-psycho-somatic being in community with others, i.e., in a definite historical and social situation." Oh. I'm not certain this was ever quite in doubt. Was it?

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Do Being and Appearance Coincide?

Arendt holds that being and appearance coincide (Life of the Mind, Vol. 1, pp. 19 ff.). I'm not completely sold on the idea. Perhaps it's a question of how one approaches the problem and how one walks away from it. Nobody, Arendt says (p. 26), has managed to actually live in a world that does not manifest itself on its own accord. Is that really true? Obversely, has anybody managed to live in world that they have not helped to bring about in some way? Search me.

If my existence were worldly in the way a thing is worldly, it ought to appear to me just like a thing. It doesn't seem that way to me. Arendt notes a duality of sentient existence, that we sentients are both subjects and objects of reflection, both beings and appearances. That hardly does justice to the problem. Other people don't really appear to me as things and if I treat other people as things it occurs to me that I'm somehow in the wrong.

Yet there is a ring of trueness to what Arendt is saying. "To be alive means to be possessed by an urge toward self-display which answers the fact of one's own appearingness" (p. 21). That says a lot about humans. I doubt the same applies to bacteria or other asexual organisms, and by the same token I doubt it's an adequate summation of what it means for a human being to live. Arendt is on to something, but I can't yet say what it is.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

The Yak's Search for Meaning

In her introduction to Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt recalls Kant's distinction between Vernunft (reason) and Verstand (the intellect). In a nutshell, she says, "The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning." (p. 15, emphasis in original). She goes on to say that "[t]he basic metaphysical fallacy, taking precendence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth." Hmmm. This whole business of meaning seems a little Twentieth-Century to me. But that's quite a nutshell.

Thinking about the history of thinking the word that readily comes to mind is "imperious." Why start with Western antiquity? Why logos and so on? Must any such inquiry be imperious, or could it be otherwise? Where does Patañjali belong in the history of thinking? What has thinking become since Nāgārjuna? For my part it is convenient to place Eastern thinking after Western thinking simply because that is how the history of thinking has unfolded for me. If my perspective turned out to be founded on an imperial privilege I should want to question that. And if I came to understand my vantage point as merely an historical accident that too would be a problem. How does one genuinely reckon with the plurality of ways of thinking?

The idea that thinking is indeed a historical phenomenon makes a dilemma of the plurality of ways of thinking. We could just abandon it. After all, every human being is capable of thinking. The meaning of historical phenomena, like metaphysical ideas, never seems to be quite fixed. Why burden thinking with such a heavy load? Perhaps because it's inescapable. It may be theoretically possible to think outside any recognizable tradition of thinking, but in actual practice thinkers almost invariably take on the load of tradition. It seems to belong to the nature of thinking to develop historically.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thoughts Sitting Down

How do we discover that a chair is for sitting? To understand that we don't need to see the chair in other aspects, or to learn what its material substance is. Rather, we adopt a certain posture, concrete and practical. We know it's a chair if we can sit on it. It is primordially a pragma, a tool. Its thinginess is defined by how we practically relate to it.

Patočka holds that no pragma is isolated, that its meaning as a thing is always part of context of other things, a world of pragmata (Body, Community, Language. World,, p. 115; It's not clear to me if this is Patočka's own idea, or his explication of Heidegger, but no matter). Superficially that seems wrong. I can move a chair from the desk to the table. I can sit in the open and play guitar. I can take it out on the deck and watch the stars. In each case, my posture is different, but the chair is the same. The truth of Patočka's claim is this: the chair pertains to world where things are elevated to a certain height. The chair thus implies a plane of activity, and the activities one does while sitting at a chair, say writing or eating, imply a field of other pragmata.

I know of worlds in which such a plane does not exist, at least not at the level of a chair, worlds of pillows and mats instead of chairs. I don't really know how to move through such worlds, how to kneel or squat or sit properly without a chair. It would take some effort to learn to sit without a chair, though surely in principle it could be learned.

So what kind of primordial understanding is this understanding of a chair really? Isn't it really just a posture?

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thinking the Jazz Standard

Paul Berliner got it right about Jazz: It is primarily an aural/oral tradition, and oral formulaic theory provides a decent model for beginning to explain how the music works, at least mechanically. Oh, there are caveats. (One noteworthy critique of the whole approach is here). But essentially Berliner accurately describes how the music works.

An example in support of Berliner's approach: The jazz standard almost invariably includes only the song's 32 bar refrain. There are exceptions of course. John Coltrane's recording of Strayhorn's "Lush Life" is one. By and large however the jazz standard is a 32 bar form, and bebop compositions that become standards typically have 32 bars, sometimes just 16, or 12 if they're based on a blues. Introductions, if they are formalized, tend to be just four or eight bars, and reserved for the pianist or the principal soloist. The shared form for soloing is almost always 32 bars or fewer.

As I was flipping through an old songbook–with an introduction by none other than Richard Rodgers–it crossed my mind that the introductions to various standards just aren't very musically interesting, not very memorable. "S'wonderful," "But not for me": Great tunes but who needs 32 bars just to get to the refrain? Some tunes do have marvelous introductions. Anything by Vernon Duke for instance. Now can you remember the last time you heard anybody do the first 32 bars of "Autumn in New York?"

Three imperatives of bop mitigate against long forms: (1) no matter what instrument you play, you've got to handle the phraseology on the fly, to invent variations that will mesh with the others in the group; (2) you got to come out swinging; and (3) you've got to say something. The mode of saying something in bop is recontextualizing, signifying. Bop is always simultaneously a second order discourse and a primary yearning for one's voice, and this tension drives the music into shorter repeatable forms.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Being Groundless

At several points Patočka distances his work from existentialism, by which he means chiefly Heideggerian existentialism. He has two basic critiques: (a) Heidegger's analysis of Mitsein (being-with) is too shallow, and (b) Heidegger's conception of movement into the world as "falling" is negative. Otherwise Patočka does understand his ideas about the personal structure of experience as being ontological in the full sense, as describing the conditions of possibility for forming judgements about what is and what is not. In my view Patočka does qualify as an existentialist on the face of it, but his disagreements with Heidegger are worth exploring.

Patočka's first objection needs little amplification. Many thinkers who have followed Heidegger's path have, while still doing existential phenomenology, placed a greater emphasis on being with others than Heidegger did. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, for instance. Levinas would present an extreme case. However, Patočka doesn't go so far as Levinas, or, in a sense, he goes farther with his phenomenological analysis and isn't inclined to reject the whole of existential phenomenology on the grounds of this problem of co-existence.

Patočka's second objection seems to be exclusively a problem with Heidegger in particular rather than existentialism, though many thinkers who have been influenced by Heidegger have followed this path. Grassi's "abyss," for example, clearly derives from the theme of groundlessness in Heidegger, though Grassi sees this abyss as having both a positive and a negative aspect.

In Patočka's view, all postures, including postures of repose, relaxation, and meditation require an effort of the same kind that is required to stand upright or to physically move from point A to point B. All are equally efforts. This intuition is one basis of his rejection of the world as fallen according to Heidegger, the other being his strong sense that what is common with others is in actuality integral to what existence does. Does Patočka's view hold water? It seems to be true that, for example, some effort is required to relax, that this too is an orientation rather than a state that we might simply fall into. I'm curious though, what would Patočka make of a phenomenon like the hypnagogic jerk. Isn't this a sign that we do carry with us a fear of falling? Here I'm thinking of Ludwig Binswanger more than Heidegger. Anyway, I'm not sure existence works properly without this possibility of falling. I agree with Patočka's rejection of Heidegger's bias against what is common, but I aslo feel that Binswanger in particular had a keen insight into the negative pole of everything that is implied by the upright posture. This groundless horizon, I'll call it, does it accompany our every movement? Is it negative in itself, or is it too structured with a negative aspect, namely falling, and a positive aspect, say flying. Or what about floating? Have you ever dreamed that you walked on air? I have. What's that about?

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Just Kidding

Patočka says, "When we de-realize reality in play, what we seek to do is broaden reality so that it would present to us one possibility among others" (Body, Community, Language, World, pp. 45-46). That smells like a paradox. Is the reality of play open to scrutiny? From inside? I'm thinking it can only be played with.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Another Day, Another Plurality

Patočka's phenomenology of the lifeworld is among the richest I've encountered, though in the present volume he doesn't use that specific term. In these passages Patočka draws heavily from Merleau-Ponty, obviously. The problem itself is of course first outlined by Husserl. I'm especially taken with Patočka's approach to plurality, which recalls my previous reading of Arendt's The Human Condition, esp. vis-a-vis de Laguna's idea of an existential analysis of the natural world. His understanding of plurality somehow seems more factual than Arendt's–though that may simply be becuase his work is closer to me at the moment. Anyway, here are a couple of paragraphs on the lifeworld:

An animal lives in an unceasing immediately relevant relation to its context, in the present, related to something that interests it immediately, affecting it. Humans, by the attitudes they assume, are constantly placing themselves into situations other than the directly present ones, into the past, into the future, with all their quasi-structures–quasi-present, quasi-past, etc. (remembering going into the horizon of the past where a course of life that once had been present is repeated in tokens; we move in the past as if it were present, hence quasi-present), going into imaginary worlds, into the world of reading, of thought sequences, of tasks not met, of duties that place us into a special space which is and yet is not. At the same time we must be always actively localized where we are, integrating ourselves into the now. For us humans, what is immediately present in each moment is also a focus of other possibilities, of partial worlds and so on. What is characteristic of us is our variety of possibilities, a freedom from the present, from the immediately given. Human orientation, that is, is not an orientation in a context. Rather, given the plurality of possibilities thanks to which we are not rooted in only one context like the animal but free with respect to it in virtue of our tangential worlds and half-realities, our living with respect to what we are not is a living in a world, not simply in a context. The animal, by contrast, depends on its context. For that reason, in the case of humans the present is distinct from the immediately given; what is present, directly present, exceeds what is originarily, immediately given. For humans, the directly relevant and the immediately given grow far apart. If the objective pole of lived experience (what we are not) is excessively differntiated, exceeding the immediately given, then the subjective pole–the I–must accordingly have the character of something capable of transcending immediate givenness in its differentiation. It must be that which, in spite of its unity and simplicity, bears variety within it, a variety of possibilities, of modes of diverse relating.

(Body, Community, Language, World, pp 32-33.)

And further, on the topic of horizons:

Horizons are not mere possibilities but are already in part realized. To live in horizons means to broaden actuality immensely, to live amid possibilities as if they were realities. That is so banal that we tend in advance to consider such possibilities as realities. To live in horizons is typically human. We are wholly unconcious of the perspectivity of things; in our awareness they are as primitives paint them, without perspective, in themselves, so to speak, though still given in perspectives, in aspects from which we cull a self-identical core, transforming a horizon into a massive existent. We leap from one implication to another, flitting about amid the possibility of realizing these implications. We move about in the sphere of the virtual as if it were a sphere of realities. It is not, yet our experience petrifies possibilities as realities. That is why we can never fully explicate them. This transference of actuality is the significant, far-reaching motif of our experience. Imaginary supplements, that about things that cannot be actually presented, are real for us in a certain way, even when only be anticipated, adumbrated, precisely because they are continuous with things which are given themselves. The self-given is what presents itself in our experience as the thing itself, in contrast with mere imagination. There is a difference between imagining Vesuvius and standing before it. There are cases in which things themselves stand before us. This table is there before me in visual experience, it is not a representation of the table. We live, though, in relations which transcend such self-givenness. With the help of the transference of actuality, far more is present to me as real that what is actually given; whatever stands in some relation to the self-given is also actual. Things beyond our senses are present to us. Even what can never be given in the original, like the experience of others, becomes actual. We live by relating constantly to the experience of others in the world as to something actually given. Living in horizons, the transference of actuality, points to a powerful centrifugal stream that governs our life–out of ourselves, to the world. We lived turned away from ourselves, we have always already transcended ourselves in the direction of the world, of its ever more remote regions. Here, in this world, we put down our roots and return to ourselves.

(Ibid., pp 32-33.)

I'm not sure how hard and fast the line between humans and animals really is based upon this analysis. Patočka does, however, begin to do justice to the human reality of being in the world.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Making an Effort

Jan Patočka writes: "A biological organism becomes a real person in the moment when I can do something on my own (i.e. move)."1 In this passage Patočka has moved from Descartes discovery of personhood2 to Maine de Biran's philosophy of effort, which provides the germ of Patočka's own unique contribution to the phenomenology of the body. Do you balk at equating personhood with motility? I do. Ask yourself, are spirochetes persons? In what sense are they or are they not persons? Because there is some sense to Patočka's argument here. Whatever else it is, being a person is a matter of having an orientation, of being embodied, necessarily. Patočka concludes this lecture by looking at how the body is thematicized:

Our body is a moment of a situation in which we are; it is not a thing. Just as a situation is a moment in a sequence of events with a definite structure and field of action, so our body is always a moment in an impersonal situation. Because our body is a situational concept, it has aslo the traits of human situation as such, that is, we cannot speak of it without noting that it places us in a certain reality, which is already present while at the same time lifting us out of it, in a way distancing us from it. Maine de Biran's hyperorganic power actually means that in a certain sense we are entirely body, no more, but in a certain sense also that we elude facticity.3

Here's a game. I can imagine playing a scale on the saxophone, a blues scale in G on an Eb sax. (The same exercise can be performed with a typewriter, basketball, chef's knife, whatever.) It takes some effort. It takes effort to suppress the urge to actually move my fingers. I can become conscious of making the effort to limit the exercise to a mental rehearsal of playing a scale. I can throw in hearing the tones, or breathing exercises. Is this effort the same quality of effort that is required to actually play a scale? I don't believe so.

All animals that play exhibit a quality of acting that goes beyond motility. They can act as if. The field of human interactions has yet another dimension, because only humans have material culture. (I am not ready to concede that Chimps have anything like a genuine material culture, though the evidence for it would be worth considering some time.) For the human being, personhood is largely a function of one's toys. If I know what kind of toys you have, I already know a lot about what kind of person you are.

1 Jan Patočka, Body, Community, Language, World, trans. Erazim Kohák, Open Court, 1998, p. 25.

2"In ancient philosophy," Patočka has told us, "psychê is never understood as a subject (in our sense of "soul" or "mind"), but always in the third person, impersonally, as a vital function." Ibid., p. 8.

3Ibid., p. 27.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Is Originary Language Recoverable?

If originary language were recoverable, I'd think it would be akin to music. Yet talking about music is a far cry from music in the heat of the moment. What can we really say about such a thing as originary language?

I'm always intrigued when philosophers turn toward poetic language, but never satisified. Imagine that the equation of originary language with poetry were true. Then the place to look for originary language is clearly with the poets. Did Pablo Neruda speak originary language? Allen Ginsberg? In each case the closest we can come to originary language is the poet's voice. If it's ridiculous to concieve of language without voices, in the manner of the great many who follow in the footsteps of de Saussure, is it not then equally ridiculous to let the voice stand as metonym for the whole of language? And isn't there an egregious violation of the poet implied in not reading his language as the voice of a poet?

One could argue that the interpretive act of uncovering originary language is in itself worthwhile, even if the ultimate goal will necessarily always remain elusive. The same argument could made about the search for swiss cheese. It's not very convincing. It suggests that originary language is neither here nor there, so a natural response would be why bother. Why bother? Perhaps because it upsets certain ideas about the Logos. Other than that, I couldn't really say.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

On the Innateness of the Noetic Faculty

I'm going to leave off pretending to criticize Grassi, since my every objection to his argument is met with some sort of answer further on. One point though did strike me about his interpretation of Longinus' On the Sublime: How do we interpret the idea that the power to concieve great thoughts, i.e. noesis, is for the most part natural? Grassi prefers the term "aboriginal" to translate "authigenés," though if one chooses the term "innate," as many translators have, it should be taken in the sense that "nature (understood as phuein, as birth and development) is the capacity of becoming manifest, as it appears in plants, animals and human language, revealing something completely new" (p.67). Now this is the funny thing about humans. They're most notable natural endowment isn't so much something they're born with–though they do have awfully big brains–as it is something that develops over time. What do we say of a being whose essence continuously unfolds?

Grassi has a lot to say about the ontological difference, that is, the difference between individual beings and being qua being. I don't. My gut feeling is that if starting with an existential being is not an adequate way to understand being, then what passes for being doesn't really need to be understood. It's probably just smoke and mirrors. However I see no reason not to ground ontology on what actually exists –I'm not really exercising my noetic faculty here; it's just my gut.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:04 PM. 0 comments