Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Paradox of the Absurd

Is it desirable to live with absurdities? Perhaps the question is similar to the question of whether paradoxes enrich thought. We might imagine that absurdity thwarts reason, or even that it thwarts our access to the sweet life. Possibly, however, it is not absurdity that thwarts.


My distress at the thought that repetition may be neither real nor possible led me to an impasse, because I am sure that there is some sense to what people mean by talking about repetition. I'm humbled to say now that the possibility of doing a tango with the impossible never entered my mind. The dance floor here is Deleuze's discussion of the paradox of the absurd, or the paradox of impossible objects (Logic of Sense, "Fifth Series of Sense"). The paradox is summed up thusly: "propositions which designate contradictory objects themselves have a sense" (p. 35). They are not nonsense, but they are absurd. Deleuze says that impossible objects (his examples do not include repetition) are "objects 'without a home,' outside of being, but they have a precise and distinct position within this outside: they are of 'extra being'–pure, ideational events, unable to be realized in a state of affairs" (ibidem).


If I recognize repetition as an absurdity, like the squared circle, I am still at odds with the many thinkers who see repetition as real, possible, fantastic or any combination of these. I may be at odds with Deleuze. However, if absurdity is not an obstacle to living the sweet life, then I see no reason to sweat it. And yet I'm unsure of what to make of absurdity. Perhaps the paradox of the absurd is itself an absurdity, and then the problem of what to make of absurdity reappears. Do we treat a problem as something that must be gone around or as something that must be gone through? How do we go through infinity?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:12 AM.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Yusef said...

"Do we treat a problem as something that must be gone around or as something that must be gone through? How do we go through infinity?"

I think that a problem, if it is something we want and need, is something we'd voluntarily go through rather than avoid.

We would want the difficulty.

There may be problems which we do not want - problems which trap us and go nowhere, which are flybottles -- maybe these we would do better to avoid.

I think that an active problem now is to find out how to know which problem is which.

The problem of going through infinity - is that a flybottle problem or not? I don't know, and I don't have much of a clue...but I like the question.

If we assume, and I don't think at this point in time and in our knowledge of infinity it is a good assumption, that infinity is something endless and therefore something with which one can never completely go through, the answer is obvious.

October 11, 2007 8:09 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Yusef.

You know I had been of the mind that only the indefinite exists--as if that solved the problem. It doesn't. Here I am beginning to think infinity as an absurdity. Maybe it's a trap to think of going through an absurdity--it does then thwart. But there may still be other options than going around it.

Nancy gives me an idea that the infinite has no beginning ("revolutions are interminable" is his example). Deleuze might say infinity as sense lacks beginning and end. It's then not like we could go into infinity even if we wanted to. We're already in infinity, or we're not. The problem of going through or thinking through infinity looks like a flybottle problem. Taking a cue from Nancy (again, it could perhaps come from Deleuze) we might be left to think infinity at the limit. And that is a paradox or an absurdity because infinity has no limits. It must be thought that has a limit, I guess. Do we pass through thought to get at the limit, or does thinking only take place at the limit?

Well, I don't know what to make of a philosophy that would rob the through of all meaning. It might be wishful thinking to imagine that we can't be suffocated in fly bottles.

October 12, 2007 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"Taking a cue from Nancy (again, it could perhaps come from Deleuze) we might be left to think infinity at the limit."

This is a fascinating comment. It might be that we can only think anything and everything at the limit. Are you familiar with definite and indefinite integrals? This is a very poor and brief explanation of them, but you can integrate some equations and get a finite area (definite integral), but others yield an infinite area (indefinite integrals.) I think this may have something to do with what you are questioning, here. The limit only is approached asymptotically, but that doesn't mean there isn't a limit. Actually, Mr. Yak, I can at best suggest a direction for you to look but you'd do best not to take any of my math thinking without a great deal of caution.

But I was really surprised when I read what followed:

"And that is a paradox or an absurdity because infinity has no limits."

I wonder whether mathematicians would agree with this statement. It is my opinion-and I again I am hopelessly rusted- that they would not.

I think the mathematicians must be consulted. They've given this matter a great deal of thought. As I see it, this is their province. If you do not think this through mathematically I fear you will merely end up playing tautological word games on yourself. For example if you say to yourself infinity is what has no limits, and therefore it is an absurdity to say infinity has no limits, you are playing a word game on yourself. I'm not suggesting you are unaware of this.

"It must be thought that has a limit, I guess. Do we pass through thought to get at the limit, or does thinking only take place at the limit?"

I don't really know, thanks again for the question. I associate the limit with form. I reprocess your question this way: is it possible to think without form? I don't think it is possible to think without form, but I think the relationship of thinking to form requires revolutionization.

October 12, 2007 1:17 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

What I actually meant to say was that infinity has no limits and therefore it cannot be thought at the limit. If mathematicians deal with infinity as having limits--of course they do--I think that's a paradox, at least for a simple lay yak.

I will take your advice though and consult some mathematicians. Since I have almost zero background in mathematics I will add the following three books to my wish list:

Infinity: The Quest to Think the Unthinkable, by Brian Clegg.

A Brief History of Infinity, by Paolo Zellini.

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife.

Don't expect me to absorb this anytime soon.

Your reprocessing deserves a lot of thought. I am currently agnostic about whether it's possible to think without form. I've been reading Hazrat Inayat Khan (a post on Husserlian idealism coming up) and I might ask whether it is possible to think without vibration. But I will follow your revolutionary thinking with great interest.

October 12, 2007 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Vhat? Ve will not see you on this immediately? Herr Yusef vill grow impatient!

I recommend "Everything and More: a compact history of infinity" by David Foster Wallace. He went through the problem without avoiding it.

October 12, 2007 7:17 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I put it on my wish list. Also requested a copy on interlibrary loan.

October 13, 2007 8:00 AM  
Anonymous matt lee said...

I just wanted to add that the way in which you've posed this problem of 'going through' infinity is curious. My own fascination with paradoxes was actually, I found, a fascination with aporias, something that Derrida enlightened me on. The aporia as a 'no passage' (no through way) applies in many cases of thinking the infinite and my current way of trying to get to grips with this is to pose a distinction between 'undergoing' and 'understanding'. This is, I would admit, a working distinction, one I'm currently testing out in my classes on 'Fear and Trembling' (where this whole issue of how to 'go beyond' the infinite is addressed, indirectly).

The undergoing is a kind of honesty or rigour, a willingness to allow thought its autonomy and not assume it's a continual progression but that it's rather a kind of germinal ground, a transformative mileu (sp?), kind of like a cooker. There's some sort of 'raw/cooked/ distinction underlying this that has yet to be fully worked out as well...

Maybe these are far too random comments and too sketchy but hey, thought I'd chime in - keep up the blog work btw, enjoy it even if I can't follow everyday I pop along once a month and have a read...

October 16, 2007 4:32 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

That's an interesting distinction, Matt. I like the thought of undergoing an aporia. I'm a great fan of the aporetic, but I often approach it backwards, not taking my time to arrive at it. Which makes me wonder if there's a horizon of meaning to the raw, or the cooking. (Is that what we have here, the cooking and the cooked?) It's tricky I think because some people look at understanding as cooking, as opposed to knowledge which is cooked. But I suspect maybe your idea that undergoing may not be a continual progression isn't really like cooking. I'd have to see you work that out.

It's milieu. And btw my dictionary says brummagem rather than brummagen. Wonderful word, that. (I had to look it up. Always love meeting new words.)

October 16, 2007 6:44 AM  

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