Thursday, October 11, 2007

Unknown Person

Elias Canetti says:

Most important of all is talking to unknown people. But it has to be done in such a way that they do the talking, and the only thing one does oneself is to get them to talk. When that is no longer possible for a man, then death has begun.

(The Human Province, p.243, in The Other Side of Language, p. 122)

I wonder if Canetti actually wrote "human being" (Mensch) instead of "man." Corradi Fiumara reads this passage and says that, conversely, "until we become capable of getting something unknown to talk to us we have not yet begun to live and interact" (ibidem). I recall that she also says there is "a whole world yet to be discovered, not of unsolved issues, but of relationships amongs things we know, of ways in which they might fit together" (p. 17). I'd like to see if these two statements can be reconciled, but I will focus on the person, and specifically, the unknown person.

Strictly speaking I doubt whether any person, over the course of a lifetime, can remain completely unknown. What we find in the unknown person is our own ignorance. On the other hand no person is completely known, at least not by us.

How should we behave towards a person who would rather remain incognito, a person who would rather not talk to us? Is disconnection also a connection we can discover? Is it important to attend to expressions of disconnection?

An obvious connection exists between disconnection and death. The connection between disconnection and life may be less obvious. There is also a relationship between forgetting and death. Remembering the forgotten person connects us to life, our own life which we find to be a coexistence. The dream of an absolute coexistence, however, may also be forgetful. The unknown person's freedom to disconnect reminds us, if we are prepared to listen, of our own freedom. Do we want to be able to speak of a freedom to be forgotten?

Freedom cannot be presented as the autonomy of a subjectivity in charge of itself and of its decisions, evolving freely and in perfect independence from every obstacle. What would such an independence mean, if not the impossibility in principle of entering into the slightest relation–and therefore of exercising the slightest freedom? The linking or interlacing of relations doubteless does not precede freedom, but is contemporaneous and coextensive with it, in the same way that being-in-common is contemporaneous with singular existence and coextensive with its own spatiality. The singular being is in relation, or according to relation, to the same extent that its singularity can consist (and in a sense always consists) in exempting itself or in cutting itself off from every relation. Singularity consists in the "just once, this time" [une seule fois, celle-ci], whose mere enunciation–similar to the infant's cry at birth, and it is necessarily each time a question of birth–establishes a relation at the same time that it infinitely hollows out the time and space that are supposed to be "common" around the point of enunciation. At this point, it is each time freedom that is singularly born. (And it is birth that frees.)

(The Experience of Freedom, p. 66, Nancy's emphases)

I feel many people, many intellects, deserve to be better known. More widely known, but also better known. I'm sure the latter is a common sentiment among those who blog about intellectuals. I might say better not forgotten. Gemma Corradi Fiumara is a case in point, and I intend to blog about her more recent books as time permits. Do we better know an intellect by seeing her relation to other intellects, or can that also be a form of forgetting? Getting to know somebody may be a process that involves relating to others and also maintaining distances. If we restrict relating one intellect to another to a function of an introductory phase of getting to know an intellect, are we then left with the proposition that the perfect or mature knowledge of an intellect is distant? More healthy, I think, would be to see discoveries of relations as recurring moments (or "each times") of a long process of getting to know somebody. (Nancy would place continuity under suspicion, I would interrogate discontinuity further.)

Does remembering cover all the bases here, or is there an opening for the new? Do we ever need to be reminded that people are new to us?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:06 AM.


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