Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sens Sauvage

László Tengelyi's The Wild Region in Life-History teems with ideas. (Daniel Dahlstrom offers good review.) Here I will be reading the prelude to the book and honing in on the idea, recovered from Merleau-Ponty and rehabilitated by Tengelyi, of a "wild sense" (sens sauvage). I will examine Tengelyi's sens sauvage in relation to the problem of cadacualtez, a problem which Tengelyi understands though he lacks the word "cadacualtez." To begin with the latter, Tengelyi points to Heidegger's discussion of Jemeinigkeit and cautions against conflating self identity with life history. In his view the two are inseparable but not interchangable. Tengelyi defines life history as a "region where a spontaneous formation of sense takes place," whereas self identity is what is at stake "in every attempt at a retroactive fixation of a spontaneously emerged sense" (p. xxvii, Tengelyi's emphasis). The spontaneously emerged sense is a dispossesed sense, beyond the control of a subject (p. xxvi.) Tengelyi says, "experience shows that the process of sense formation repeatedly escapes from our grasp, challenging over and over again even our rectified stories and breaking up, from time to time, the supposedly hard core of our identity" (pp. xxvi-xvii).

Although Tengelyi departs from Husserlian phenomenology in attending to a Sinnbildung (development of sense) instead of a Sinngebung (bestowal of sense) by a subject (p. xxiii), he values phenomenology for its first-person access to concrete experience, and he proposes a method he calls "diacritical phenomenology." The field of investigation is not the self-identity of the subject, but a no-man's land of the "wild" sense (p. xxxiii). On the one hand this means Tengelyi will pursue a kind of phronesis that may be opposed to a dialectics; on the other hand, it means he will offer an interpretation of difference, a "diacritical difference" that is like the difference that is found in langue, "the system of differences on which the cohesion of meaningful expressions is based" (p. xxviii). Tengelyi means to employ this method, in the footsteps of Merleau-Ponty, without committing to a structuralism.

Tengelyi is not talking about a system of fixed differences, or differences between fixed values, but a "proliferating multiplicity. . . of heterogenous sense formations" (p. xxxii). He talks about the emergence of new sense thwarting expections and opening up new beginnings in life history (p. xxx), and he says that "sense in the making is always a multiple and fluctuant sense, containing, in itself, some refractory shreds, which are discarded by the retroactive fixation of sense without, however, being prevented thereby from exerting an underground influence" (p. xxxi). He makes a series of claims on this basis:

First, we may claim that a spontaneously emerging sense is accompanied by a continuous formation of a surplus. Second, it may be added that this process cannot be regarded as an accumulation of any well-defined and accomplished ingredients of sense, but it must be interpreted rather as a proliferation of some inchoate, fluctuant, and indeterminate shreds of sense [here Tengelyi cites Marc Richir]. Third, it may be asserted that, at every moment, these germs of sense are integrated into a diacritical system by their differential interrelations with each other, as well as with the already fixed sense. Finally, we may reply to Merleau-Ponty's question [about "my being set up on a universal diacritical system"] by pointing out that the reason we are not in a position to consider the totality of these differential interrelations from the outside (why, in other words, we find ourselves always already included in this diacritical system) is that we adhere, from the outset, to some meaningful sequences of life events, and whenever we see ourselves constrained to abandon or modify them, we single out, once again, some of the inchoate and fluctuant shreds of sense, discarding at the same time all others, in order to construct and fix another meaningful sequence of the same life events.

(p. xxxii, Tengelyi's emphases)

Tengelyi holds that "we are struck by the repeated occurence of an inchoate shred of sense" (p. xxxii). We are astonished. We should not see the return of the same as the source of our astonishment, as an unambiguous manifestation of self-identity–Tengelyi has already mapped out a notion of ipseity that "has sufficiently been separated from the identity and permanence of substantial entities" (p. xvii)–rather, our astonishment is related to the emergence of a dispossessed sense, and, he adds, "the supposition of a hidden unity in life-history is attached to this astonishment rather as a reassuring belief" (p. xxxiv). The retroactive fixation of sense is literally a fix, a response to something that is "broken." In Tengelyi's view the emergence of sense is most evident in experience at times of crisis, in "critical situations" or "stances of crisis" (p. xxii). It would seem that Tengelyi means a "crisis of identity," yet he doesn't mean to point to self identity by its lonesome, but to the critical rift between self identity and a life history devoid of closures (p. xxiii).

Returning now to the problem of cadacualtez, Tengelyi explains his commitment to the first person singular of phenomenology not as a commitment to the cogito or to any notion of ipseity, but rather as an expression of the difference between oneself and another. This difference, he claims, does not rest on any personal characteristics, and is therefore not substantive but merely positional (p. xxxiv). This is an interesting way of formulating the problem. It overcomes an impasse we face when we recognize that self-identity is mutable and to a large extent co-authored. Yet I wonder what kind of existential reality resides in the merely positional. Tengelyi leans on a Levinasian notion of singularity. He says that self identity "is neither the main source, nor an indispensable condition of our singularity, i.e., our irreplacable unicity. It is our singularity that finds its expression in the purely positional fact that we remain ourselves even if we do not remain the same as we were" (p. xxxv, Tengelyi's emphases).

To sum up, the theory of narrative identity may be charged with a certain confusion of self-identity and singularity. However, this confusion may be the result of an illusion one often falls victim to in one's quest of narrative identity. From time to time, we find ourselves compelled to reconsider and rectify the narratives by which we have fixed the identity of ourselves. In most cases, we cannot help thinking that it is our singularity, our irreplacable unicity, which is at stake in vital situations, in crisis-stricken moments. It is important to know that this is not the case; it is important to know this, lest we lose sight of the drama of life, which besides, or even, before narration, calls for acting as well.

(p. xxxvi, Tengelyi's emphases)

I have to point out the difference in language between Tengelyi's singularity and Crocco's cadacualtez. The latter is "circumstanced," the former is "positioned" within a "diacritical system of intersubjectivity" (p. xxxvi). Nevertheless I see both ideas as covering much the same territory, and I am intrigued by Tengelyi's designation of this territory as a wild region in life history, not the least for its accessibility to thought. I do have some questions though. As I read Tengelyi's account of this region, will I be allowed to be astonished at my irreplacable unicity? What thoughts can I have about my position? And if my position as a singularity is related to a diacritical system of coexistence, what relation is there between this system and the system that includes my fluctuant, indeterminate shreds of sense? Is the reality of these shreds of sense something other than positional?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:35 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

V. interesting line of thought/flight.

Here is M. Crocco on Heidegger:

"The German technical term Jemeinigkeit in no way translates cadacualtez. “My-own-owness” has been successlessly essayed to translate this German concept of Jemeinigkeit, specially by Indian researchers writing in English as J. L. Mehta.
But Jemeinigkeit presupposes an untenable subjectivist description, which pretends to reduce all allusion, by its being such, to a reference to contents of experience and avows that contents of experience do not need extramentality for any reasonable purpose.
So it fully obliterates all possibility to describe any multiplicity of non-systematic individuations, as was the case of Martin Heidegger’s “Jemeinigkeit.”

It was unfortunately so, despite his recognition that, more originary than the person, is the finitude of her being determined.

Thus Heidegger understood Jemeinigkeit not as cadacualtez but as mere situatedness. Finitudes are previous to their Daseinen because eclosions are situational and the ontic constitution of this thin transformable actuality not.

But, absent the concepts of real – ontic – circumstantiation or of the plurality of Jemeinigkeiten in a plurality of psyches, the recognition of extramentality in Heidegger’s worldview must be instead sought in the Heideggerian notion of Earth as groundedness, which as such ought to be extra-entitative (Heidegger well realized that one cannot add turtles, elephants and seas to account for why there is something rather than nothing, so the unoriginated portion of the reality cannot be an entity; cf. the chapter’s Conclusions.) Cadacualtez as a notion not admits the subjectivistic interpretations that, rather, imbue Jemeinigkeit."

Also cadacualtez is manifested by circumstancing but does not consist in it.

Just ordered a recen bk by Stengers 'La sorcellerie capitaliste' (Capitalist sorcery/witchcraft - 0r - The Sorcery of Capitalism...

August 28, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...


To be clear, I didn't mean to confuse Tengyeli's singularity or cadacualtez with Jemeinigkeit. Tengelyi does criticize Heidegger on similar grounds as Crocco, however, he feels that Jemeinigkeit itself is not the problem, but rather there is a confusion of self identity and life history in the way Heidegger interprets Jemeinigkeit.

"So it fully obliterates all possibility to describe any multiplicity of non-systemic individuations..." I have the feeling Tengelyi's individuations are going to be systemic. This would be an important distinction between Crocco and Tengelyi.

"cadacualtez is manifested by circumstancing but does not consist in it." For Tengelyi singularity "finds expression" in positioning. If there's any thought of what singularity consists in perhaps it is my own unexamined bias. Could you elaborate on what it means to be manifested by circumstancing?

August 28, 2007 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to add to that at present. They are Crocco's terms.
I think he is indicating that cadacualtez is manifested to another person by being circumstanced - by appearing in a partic where and when (hic and nunc?)- but cannot be reduced to those circum-stances (these hyphens used to be really trendy) - or 'positionality'.
That i find myself eclosed to this brain and body (as my most immed. circumstances) does not make my cadacualticness consist in this brain or body.
In fact - it could logically (inferentially?) exist without any circumstantiation i.e postmortally 'inside' the intransformativity of the physical instant!?!.....

August 29, 2007 2:34 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks. That's helpful. I don't see any sign that Tengelyi will reduce singularity to positioning. Nor does it seem he will make the kind of inference that Crocco makes (though I can't yet be sure). So it's looking like two different ways of thinking the problem of existential uniqueness once it has been discovered. But I do see some similarities in separating this problem from the problem of "mental contents." There is a question of whether shreds of dispossessed sense are mental contents--they are "coauthored" in Tengelyi's terms, which is interesting. (Would Mario place these in the hylozoic hiatus? Can we talk about sense without talking about signs?) And there is a question of how these shreds of sense relate to singularity. Tengelyi says singularity is not at stake in these moments of crisis that bring these shreds of sense to the fore, so in a way his distinction between positional and substantive meaning is leading him away from defining singularity as consisting of shreds of sense. Yet there is in his idea of a "diacritical system of intersubjectivity" (which he put in quotes, meaning "as Merleau-Ponty would say") a suggestion of a possibility of meeting up with the coauthors of the shreds of sense one encounters in moments of crisis. (That's an inference I'm making; it may not hold up.) This diacritical system seems to me to be the crucial difference between the two approaches to existential uniqueness, and I wonder what Tengelyi would do with an idea that every empsyched existentiality presents its own logos. Tengelyi devotes two chapters to the problems of alterity, so I'll have to absorb those before I'm clear about where his thinking about singularity is heading.

August 29, 2007 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'In other words, cadacualtez is one’s determination as not-another enabling one to sustain constitutive causal exchanges with a fixed parcel of nature, rather than one’s existentiality having, instead, eclosed to any other constitutive brain or circumstance.
Its observation shows that everything is not made of the same set of truly elementary com-ponents, as a giant meccano.'

Szirko argues that contrary to the propagation of quanta of physical action, persons circumstances become constitutive...persons have no 'essence'. We are being progressively constituted by the contingencies of our circumstances.

"BUT, in these events, the quanta finish ontically their constitution.
Their essentia is their existentia, in non-existential terms.'

'Contrarily, for finite existentialities *their* contingences are also
constitutive. I stressed the word *their* because they become "their",
in each case (cada cual) by the circumstantiation.'
The central import of cadacualtez is that it is not the physical field that determines which availabilities become 'yours' but a different ontic source - the same one that makes there to be something rather than nothing...??.


August 29, 2007 1:24 PM  

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