Sunday, October 07, 2007

Philosophical Benumbment

Corradi Fiumara tackles boredom as a problem of benumbment in a culture of superabundant messages (The Other Side of Language, Chapter 6). "If we are not sufficiently open to listen to what might be called enigmatic and deep, nothing is left us but the boredom of remaining in the same theoretical frame; and the desire for a mutation, or disruption of structures, might even induce the 'conviction' that the latest trend will surely resolve our state of cognitive boredom" (p. 85). I notice her hesitancy to say "deep" outright (elsewhere she puts "depth" in quotes), but I think we're going to have to recognize a depth if we're going to accept the solution she offers to boredom. Her argument is that the passion for benumbent, if we can call it a passion, gravitates towards the indifferent and the indistinct, circling a kind of epistemic torpor that pulls in difference, choice and distinction (p. 84), and she suggests that the "continuous, irreducible desire for novelty might represent nothing more than an inadequate surrogate for our limited capacity for cognitive renewal" (p. 85). There's something of a paradox in this formulation of the problem, for if listening is the auditorium in which difference can be heard, it is also an aspect of genuine dialogue that accepts and sustains uncertainties (p. 91). We would have to tease apart the problem of indifference from the problem of uncertainty, perhaps allowing for an enigma of uncertainty.

The rationality we've inhereted sees any manifestation of benumbent as banal and artificial, having lost the means to confront it. "Perhaps," Corradi Fiumara muses, "the rationality of our culture is unable to recognize a passion for epistemic obscurity and torpor" (p. 86). If benumbment must be heard to be believed, what is it saying? Benumbent is "closely linked to a realtion of desire for, and fear of, annihilation" (p. 89). Instead of forms of life we might be speaking of forms of living death, of a curriculum morbi instead of a curriculum vitae (p. 84). A propensity to engage in dialogue does risk a kind of "cognitive death," the loss of a favorite thought of a style of thinking, but it neither seeks nor avoids annihilation; it simply risks it (p. 89). Does that speak to an indifference towards cognitive annihilation? It's a bit of an enigma.

Perhaps we can legitimately suspect that our linguistic games do not only represent intellectual pastimes or childish playthings but that they constitute, more than anything else, a way of keeping our 'minds' occupied and, possibly, of not seeing. Linguistic games might respond to an irresistible, paradoxical, need to close one's 'mind', to avoid unsolved problems and obscure forecasts and to hide, if possible, in an innocuous cultural torpor. We devote ourselves with inexplicable tenacity to learning ever more complex games, even though we are defenceless against the most serious forms of threat and absurdity.

(p. 87)

I'm going to let that sink in.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:43 AM.


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