Monday, September 10, 2007

Heteronymous Being

"Genuine ontology," says Hiroshi Kojima, "stands on the ground of praxis and the contradiction of life" (Monad and Thou, p. 168). The first part of this statement is easiest to think, though Kojima complicates his ontology by introducing an ontological difference between the being of the world and the being of things, the latter of which is included in the former. It is a resolutely anthropological ontology, applying only to a lifeform that uses tools–in Kojima's opinion only humans use tools (p. 161). He explains the difference between the two beings as the difference between a teleological life force in the case of the being of the world, and causal being in the case of the being of things. Acknowledging the contribution of Maine de Biran, while disagreeing with the characterization of life force as hyperorganic, Kojima describes the relation between the two kinds of being in terms of resistence (p. 163). He compares the being of objects in general to the il y a:

The Being (il y a) of Emmanuel Levinas, a Being that is distinguished from any concrete being, is very close to our sense of the Being in general of things. It is anonymous and impersonal. It is regarded as the object of the never-sleeping "insomniac" consciousness. It is impossible for this Being to die, perhaps because it is already dead. It signifies a Being that is intolerably and violently objectified in space by the primal transcendental subjectivity, which is originally impersonal and anonymous and is beyond any particular ego.

(p. 162)

He also draws a comparison with Sartre's "practico-inert," though Kojima sees this phenomenon clearly in terms of a struggle of life.

If the being of things is anonymous, so too is there an anonymous quality to the being of the world. Kojima says that "a Being that an epistemological consciousness never expects springs out from the depths of the world in the practical dimension, a prerational teleological force of life, so-to-speak, and consciousness can only control the outcome of this power. Consciousness does not know what this power is and where it comes from. Indeed, it is my power on the one hand, but on the other it is a Being that is completely other than mine" (p. 160, Kojima's emphais). Again, he says, "the power of life is not always mine, and the telos of life is not always I myself. In a sense, indeed, life belongs to me and is entrusted to me, but I nevertheless do know what life is and where it comes from. I also don't know when it will depart from me. In this sense, life is precisely other than mine and has a telos beyond me. The power of life must thus be regarded as something contradictory: as mine and other than mine at the same time" (p. 165, Kojima's emphasis). Kojima will seek the telos of life in the Thou (p. 166).

Without committing to Kojima's analysis of the telos of life, I'd like to take a second to think about the contradiction he sees in life. He contrasts his view with Nietzsche's idea of the will to power, because whereas Nietzsche sees a power that wills to be itself, Kojima sees a force in contradiction to its identity (pp. 165-166).. (Whether this is a fair reading of Nietzsche I leave for others to determine; Kojima's idea interests me in itself.) Kojima says that his "ring of eternal return would everywhere be cut by the inner contradiction of life" (p. 166). If I acknowledge my own life force as being in one sense other than mine, how then should I live? Does the question even pertain to me any longer once I have recognized this contradiction inherent in my life? It feels like a terrible blow to my freedom, like the best I can hope for is to enjoy life in a thousand petty acts of resistence. There is of course the option of suicide, but I hardly think that is the best response to a curtailment of freedom. Is it so painful just to be alive?

Whenever I encounter an idea of alienation I have to wonder whether it is a manifestation of modern bourgeois life. Surely modern bourgeois life accentuates feelings of personal alienation–but why should I be a part of it? Why should I lend my own style to the accentuation of personal alienation? On the one hand I have the way I live, which is not uncomfortable from day to day. I read philosophy at my leisure. On the other hand, I have questions about how I should live. Do these questions too spring from my leisure? Or is it only the style of questioning, the accentuation of this or that, that provides a testament to my social situation? If the telos of "my" life is other than mine, I can't help but think that it's proper owner might be a demonic force more horrible than Thou, a demonic force with many frightening names. And yet I address myself to you as if you weren't so horrible after all. Hmm.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:01 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please check out the remarkable book by Jeffrey Maitland titled:

Spacious Body: Explorations in Somatic Ontology

Also Jobs Body by Deane Juhan.

Both of these authors have "studied" the body from the inside out, and from a very hands on perspective as well, as it were.

They have really examined the relation of consciousness to body structures and culture

September 10, 2007 8:23 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks. Maitland's book looks especially interetsing. I was half expecting from Kojima a kind of happy marriage between Buddhism and existential phenomenology. It's not so easy. Kojima's thinking about the somatic ego is byzantine, such that its hard to decide what exactly if anything I should take away from it. It seems that Maitland is covering some interesting ideas about embodiment in a thoroughly engaging style.

September 11, 2007 8:31 AM  

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