Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Idea of the River

As Michael Pakaluk continues to probe what Heraclitus meant by saying that you can't step into the same river twice, and as the Zambezi has recently flooded its banks, I have been giving some thought to rivers and ideas of rivers, and I am hoping, vainly perhaps, that this thinking will give me some purchase on what Deleuze means when he talks about ideas.

To begin with, I'll announce a prejudice. I might say the existence of the river is pragmatic, even though there is some ambiguity about what the term "pragmatic" entails. What I mean here is that unlike the human being or perhaps the trout, the existence of the river has neither tragic nor comic implications. The river's finitude is not an issue for it. It does not exist for itself. Its existence is only an issue for beings to whom it appears, for whom it is real..

One of the first challenges for me that arises from Deleuze is the question of whether I can think the idea of the river without thinking an essence. Ideas, Deleuze claims, are inessential.

Ideas are by no means essences. In so far as they are the objects of Ideas, problems belong on the side of events, affections, or accidents rather than on that of theoromatic essences. Ideas are developed in the auxiliaries and the adjunct fields by which their synthetic power is measured. Consequently. the domain of ideas is that of the inessential.

(Difference and Repetition, p. 187)

For Deleuze the philosophical question "What is the river?" ought not be taken literally. ("When Socratic irony was taken seriously and the dialectic was confused with its propaedeutic, extremely troublesome consequences followed: for the dialectic ceased to be the science of problems and ultimately became confused with the simple movement of the negative, and of contradiction," p. 188). When the Zambezi floods its banks how should we then approach the question, "What is the river, after all?" We could broaden our understanding of the river, speak of the river system, and natural cycles of flooding. Does there remain the problem of the essence of the river? Is the problem of reaching an accommodation with the river in any way related to a problem of being able to say what the river essentially is? I couldn't say.

"An idea is an n-dimensional, continuous, defined multiplicity," says Deleuze; multiplicity, Deleuze says, is "substance itself" (p. 182). Hmmm.

Ideas are complexes of coexistence. In a certain sense all Ideas coexist, but they do so at points, on the edges, and under glimmerings which never have the uniformity of a natural light. On each occasion, obscurities and zones of shadow correspond to their distinction. Ideas are distinguished from one another, but not at all in the same manner as forms and the terms in which these are incarnated. They are objectively made and unmade according to the conditions which determine their fluent synthesis.

(pp. 186-187)

Here's a question then: Is there any idea of the river that doesn't imply the coexistence of some other ideas? Is an apophantics of the river, an idea of the river as such, even possible?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:12 PM.


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