Sunday, January 07, 2007


How can nothingness be described phenomenologically? For Heidegger, nothingness is revealed by anxiety. For Marion, taking a cue from Heidegger, nothingness is revealed by profound boredom. We can inquire into these existential moods, but it is unclear (to me at least) whether we can see nothingness phenomenologically by way of such an existential detour. Dylan Trigg (The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia and the Absence of Reason), on the other hand, proposes that nothingness is revealed in the phenomonon of silence which we can directly experience in a way that lends itself to phenomenological description. In his words, "The presensce of silence, when sufficiently forceful to recall its origin, is, I will seek to prove, the interceding agent between pure experience and pure nothingness" (p. 12).

How is Trigg imagining silence? "For silence to be rendered visible," he writes (p. 13), "it must rely upon a dynamic stasis between violence and the deserted space that violence leaves." Is this a more spectacular way of talking about attack and decay? I reckon Trigg is describing a second order of dynamics, but I point to attack and decay because I wonder if Trigg's description isn't consistent with the way we experience auditory phenomena–albeit silence is something we usually think of hearing rather than seeing.

Trigg's emphasis on "the ontological value of aesthetics" (p. 19) reminds me of Lyotard (I have in mind the essays collected in The Inhuman, and also the essay "Anima Minima" in Postmodern Fables). The turn towards aesthetics appeals to me because and insofar as it feels concrete, rooted in experience. If that's my yardstick, I should be able to see the value in existential approaches. In fact I do. However, on the question of nothingness, the existential approaches of Heidegger and his followers risk being lost in lifeless abstractions. It's far better I think to explore nothingness concretely as far as possible.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:48 AM.


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