Sunday, September 23, 2007

Listening as Disobedience

How has it come to pass that I should be able to regard listening as a kind of civil disobedience? Our intellectual culture suffers from a one-sided misapprehension of the logos, an emphasis on the saying to the exclusion of the hearing. So says Gemma Corradi Fiumara (The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening, trans. Charles Lambert, Routledge, 1990). She begins, relying on Heidegger, with a rehabilitation of legein, a gathering at the root of logos from which hearing is not excluded but implied. Hers is a "tentative pursuit which keeps us linked with the complexity of humans; an effort to retrieve subordinate, minor dimensions and to explore those areas which provoke indifference or even repugnance in the clear logic of 'normal,' established thinking" (p. 3).

"The wearisome logomachies of our culture testify to a way of reasoning that is not sufficiently interested in 'heeding', and manages to express itself most of all in the deployment of controversies and invectives, often unaware that it is even trying to stir up contrasts" (p. 8). Corradi Fiumara isn't limiting her critique to modern communications. It's an awfully big apple cart she means to upset: "The world-view that encompasses our logico-metaphysical tradition has been 'transformed' at the historical beginning of western rationalism. The characteristics of that transformation can be seen in the propensity to render concepts increasingly abstract, thus leading to the disappearance of the multiplicity of relationships which had previously tied them to particular circumstances, and to their substitution with generalized relationships" (p. 12). I hear in this statement not a repudiation of rationality but a claim to a forgotten rationality. Would such a rationality also include the irrational, that which is repugnant to the clear logic of established thinking? In any case, Corradi Fiumara's rationality is also the rationality of an announcement. She sees the multiplicity of relationships tied to particular circumstances as an integration, and says this is linked to "a general idea of coexistence which is more ecological than logical in that it requires 'belonging' to our logos; it is concerned with domestic issues because there are no more foreign affairs" (p. 16). Is this general idea of coexistence too abstract? I'll be looking to see what particular circumstances she brings to the discussion.


At this point a number of contrasts between Corradi Fiumara and Kristeva are evident. Kristeva is analytic while Corradi Fiumara is synthetic. Kristeva sees in langauge, if I'm not mistaken, reenactments of a primal division. Corradi Fiumara sees in language a coming together. Whereas Kristeva sees the foreign as within, and advises us to acknowledge and live with our strangeness, Corradi Fiumara's ecology announces the obsolescence of the foreign. There are reasons to be skeptical of Corradi Fiumara's project. Nevertheless I intend to give her a full hearing. Such a hearing may require disobedience to a divided logos, as difficult to practice as that may be. It may also require silence. "'Rigour' and, conversely, misunderstanding are deeply rooted in the exclusion of listenening, in a trend which brooks no argument, where everyone obeys without too much fuss. These interwoven kinds of 'reasoning' lead us into a vicious circle, as powerful as it is elusive, a circle that can only be evaded with a force of silence that does not arise from astonished dumbfoundedness, but from serious, unyielding attention" (p. 11).

A parting thought: "There is a whole world yet to be discovered, not of unsolved issues but of relationships among things we know, of ways in which they might fit together" (p. 17).

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:05 PM.


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