Thursday, July 12, 2007

Repetition as Automimesis

Is repetition possible as an imitation of oneself? The question springs from an aside by Merleau-Ponty. Under the heading of "The Phenomenon of Imitation" Merleau-Ponty discusses the problem of the consciousness of other people, and relates this to certain facts of language acquisition (Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, pp. 31-53. Early on he says that "imitation of oneself (repetition) or of others is founded on something besides the representation of movements" (p. 33). If we assume that Merleau-Ponty is on track about the consciousness of others, as I intend to do for the nonce, though the problem may ultimately be intractable, then the problem of repetition may not be easily disentangled from the problem of other people. That is, even if it is assumed that repetition is possible as an automimesis, the question of the self's relation to self in repetition may remain rather opaque, which isn't to say that nothing at all can be said about it.

What is automimesis founded upon? At the outset we can reject the idea that the mimetic subject forms a representation of his own bodily movements and then recreates these in accordance with that representation. The critique is twofold: on the one hand the awareness of one's own corporeal abilities is nonrepresentative, if you will, precognitive; on the other hand it seems that what is aimed for in imitation is a goal or object of movement. Following Paul Guillaume's argument in Imitation in Children, Merleau-Ponty says that "imitation is founded on a community of goals, of objects" (p. 35). Yet this view of imitation is incomplete. From the analysis of affective imitiation, which is putatively just as precocious as the imitation of gestures, Merleau-Ponty concludes that imitation must also involve a "human component" besides an interest in the object alone (p. 39). In imitation the person is regarded as neither body nor mind, but as behavior (p. 35), which is interpreted as expression, as style. Style, Merleau-Ponty insists, is not an idea, but a manner that is apprehended in imitation (p. 43). We might say that what is grasped in imitation is a "melodic totality" (p. 40) of gesture and ability. Automimesis, we can say, is founded on the development of one's own style.

Is automimesis an accomplishment of the cogito, either in its inception, its process, or its conclusion? If automimesis were a capability of the cogito we would have to question at some point the originality of the cogito. It's doubtful whether the cogito can sustain such doubts. Yet if we take the view that automimesis begins with an apperceptive act that, following Husserl (Cartesian Meditations, ยง 50), is not a cognition, and that is enacted by a more primordial self, a tacit cogito perhaps, we still face the problem of the self's orginality. To phrase the problem in other terms, is there such an animal as an intersubjective self? What would its mineness mean?

It is precisely the sense of mineness that is unsettled in automimesis. I won't yet make the leap to say that repetition is possible only as difference because there is still something to be said about the unsettling of mineness. If repetition is possible on the basis of an intentional transgression, could it be that the mineness of experience is routinely, practically transgressed? Is there any sense of mineness that attaches to transgression, just to carry it through? Merleau-Ponty argues that the expression of what is most personal in experience is constantly being perfected, not just in children but in adults (p. 53). Can we separate the expression of mineness from mineness? Could it be that mineness is constantly under revision? Can we designate a basis upon which repetetion as automimesis is possible as the unsettled, or is that one step beyond transgression, a step we need to be cautious about taking? Say it exists as such. Is the unsettled situational, or is it more deeply personal? I don't really know how to answer that.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:03 AM.


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