Monday, March 05, 2007

Emphasis Mine

In For More than One Voice Cavarero said "uniqueness" many times but she ultimately doesn't have a whole lot to say about uniqueness. She fails to establish that the metaphysical shunning of uniqueness which she assails isn't due to the simple fact of there being very little to say about uniqueness. This failure to meet my expectations, however, doesn't mean that her project as a whole is a failure. It's not a question of whether or not my expectations were reasonable, but rather that they simply belong to me, to the interests and problems arising from my own intellectual development. When I quote a passage, highlight this or that phrase, or explore the meaning of this or that word, the last thing on my mind is providing an authority for a way of thinking. What I am after is a philosophical conversation with an author, a conversation that acknowledges the uniqueness of the author, seeking to elucidate an aspect of the author's world as it is revealed in her or his texts, while at the same time cultivating my own abilities to grapple with problems and formulate questions. I'm frequently neither as sensitive nor as insightful as I'd like to be, but I believe there is a call for both sensitivity and insight and I try to meet it.


As it happens, I am ready to push the idea of uniqueness even if it means leaving Cavarero behind. If every thinker is irreducibly unique, does it follow that every thinking is likewise unique? Is there a fundamental connection between uniqueness and thinking, or is the existential uniqueness of the thinker more or less an accident with respect to thinking? If I take the position that thinking is tied to uniqueness, that thinking is in essence existential, what then do I say about the massive fact of language? How can I then account for grammar? Or quoted speech, the fact that the words of language are not my own?


Dialogism may be the easiest hurdle to cross. In saying something again, I have the powers of recontexualization and emphasis. Emphasis in text signifies a vocal intensity. It could also be thought of as gestural. It's a meaning that the body gives to words. To use Cavarero's language, quoted speech is like any other speech in being destined toward resonance. This too is a fact of language and it means that far from being obliterated by language, the uniqueness of each speaker is affirmed dialogically. Is the uniqueness of each act of speaking thus also affirmed in the destination toward resonance? I don't see why not.


Is grammar something that exists apart from habits of speech, apart from a process of structuration or systematizing language that begins in infancy? I don't really know, but I'm willing to explore the possibility that grammar is a kind of sedimentation rather than a program, and that each speaker comes to grammar uniquely. This is of course highly speculative, and it doesn't resolve the issue of whether the process of structuration involves any universals of thought. Against an enormous body of linguistic evidence I have only the knowledge that you are unique and that any thoughts you share will be uniquely yours. How that actually plays out is unclear to me.


Is uniqueness a struggle or is it just simply given? For me it doesn't often feel like a struggle to say something uniquely so I more or less take uniqueness for granted. However, I have to wonder whether this is true of others. There are people, it seems, for whom the recognition of uniqueness is a problem, people who either fail to acknowledge the uniqueness of others, or fail to see what in their own thinking is unique, or both. Many bloggers that I read are more eloquent or more erudite than I am. I often wonder whether I shouldn't feel more of a struggle to say something unique, whether I rely too heavily on block quotations, or whether the questions I pose deserve consideration. My insecurities have never led me to pass off the words of another as my own, but I can imagine the reasons why somebody else would do such a thing. Perhaps uniqueness is a burden. Perhaps thinking doesn't want to be unique. Is thinking fundamentally at ease with itself, or is being at ease anethema to thinking? Well, I've wandered.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:17 PM.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Desire and Distance looks interesting.

"Rari nantes in gurgite vasto. This “sea,” or the separation of minds by unmindful segments of nature, or hylozoistic discontinuity found among the natural sites, is properly called the hylozoic hiatus. And we find ourselves to be rari nantes in gurgite vasto (rare swimmers shipwrecked in a vast abyss), as Virgil considered the human condition in Æneid I, 118.
(Mario Crocco, Palindrome).

The existentiality is unique - and her thoughts are uniquely 'hers' but they may not be v. original?!
'Empty speech'....(a la la lacan).

March 05, 2007 11:07 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Sure it's interesting--but it's way phenomenological, you know.

The hylozoic hiatus--I'm curious as to whether Mario has read Jonas. Do you reckon words belong to the hylozoic hiatus? Artefacts, made things? Shells?

Yes, I'm curious as to how thoughts can be uniquely hers and yet not be original. Where do thoughts come from? If a thought orginates with one person and then passes to another, is the passage also an origination? I'd like to tackle The Origin of Geometry again as I think about that one.

I don't know what to make of empty speech. Is empty speech effectively dead speech, cast into the hylozoic hiatus? This goes against the grain of my belief that all speech is meaningful, but if my belief can't make sense of the world, I should reexamine it.

March 06, 2007 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll talk to my people about this! I think i'm off track - 'thoughts' (to be defined) are not cadacualtic. I can share my 'thoughts' - by way of these words - but I cannot give you part of my-own-ownness - or replace you with me..(smile) - thank god.

March 06, 2007 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Mr. B said...

I have a 1 year old, and he calls pretty much any male da-da (dad of course). Now, considering he can't distinguish between male and female by parts (all he sees is people with high voices and long hair vs. people with low voices and short, to name a few traits) he simply considers people with certain characteristics to fit da-da according to around the house use and likewise for women. So of course, he doesn't consider da-da to be in any way a personal name for me.
Now certainly he has spatial recognition which is unique to him if only only by perspective, and the word he chooses (da-da) is testament at least to his persepctive. This word da-da (from a "tools" sense) is't his, he's using how it fits his perspective.
What's interesting to me (with respect to how he doesn't see da-da as a personal name for me is A.) he knows his name and responds to it, B.) I can say, point to "your" nose, and he does. C.) I can say, point to daddys nose, and he does. D.) The But: His name, Even, it seems he sees as personal, along with "your" given "A" and "B", but not da-da for me???
So is speach unique, it seems that way, but maybe only the way you tweek it's rules according to your perspective??????

You guys are far to smart for me though, this looks pretty heavy.

March 07, 2007 10:07 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Mr. B, Too smart for you?--Pshaw. Enough of that.

Surely we do tweek the rules. The question I'm after is where do the rules come from, or how do we come to the rules? Do they emerge from our own early attempts to systematize our (communicable) thoughts, or do they exist prior to our efforts of learning? I'm coming down against universal grammar and, I guess, for universal learning. I'm not providing any hard evidence--just kicking some ideas around, so take it with a grain of salt.

Paul, as irreplacable as we both are, I still wonder whether we aren't sharing something of ourselves, even as we traffic in the fungibles that are words--I'm speaking too quickly because I'm not sure the fungibility of words isn't deceptive. Anyway, I know you've said a few times that thoughts aren't cadacualtic. I'm challenging that view, and am willing to do so on the basis of the broadest imaginable defintion of thoughts. "2 + 2 = 4" is a unique thought because anytime you think it you're concerned with a problem, whether it's a problem of addition, or of examples of universal truths--which I don't believe are as unassailable as that example might suggest. (Mingus for instance attacks this example in Beneath the Underdog.) So again I'm exploring the argument that phronesis is the model of all thinking and thinking which appears not to be phronetic is perhaps simply misunderstood. Well, I'm not on firm footing here, though perhaps you can see my dilemma: how can a being who is unique enter into communications of thoughts that leave no trace of uniqueness?

March 07, 2007 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see the dilemma...we are dealing with the situation - stay calm.

March 08, 2007 1:15 PM  

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