Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Nancy thinks that freedom must be thought in its absoluteness, which means that it must be distinguished from every concept of freedom that would be opposed to, and therefore relative to, anything like fatality (The Experience of Freedom, p. 110). In the course of exploring this idea Nancy thinks the temporality of surprise in a way that put me in mind of Tengelyi's idea of a present that has never been future. However, whereas Tengelyi thinks such temporality as belonging to a destinal event, Nancy wants us to imagine a suddenness of time that would happen without happening in time. The time of the surprise seems to be a time outside of time that, if it belongs to anything, belongs to freedom. "This is the structure of surprise (and it will form the exact reverse of the structure of the present): it takes place without having happened; it will therefore not have taken place, but will have opened time, through a schematism of the surprise whose 'I' would surprise itself" (p. 114). Nancy doesn't explain what "the structure of the present" means, so I am a little fuzzy on what he means by its reversal. I note his consistent use of the future perfect tense to talk about the time of the surprise, and wonder if it's something paradoxical like a future that has never been present, but, then again, the sudden time doesn't really happen according to Nancy, which is another kind of paradox. He offers a few concrete ways of thinking about the time that happens without happening in time, the open time. "Open time could be the time of astonishment and upheaval, or that of interrogation and explanation" (ibidem).

"Freedom always surprises when there is no longer or not yet time. That is, when there is no longer or not yet time for time, and for the oppostion of a 'freedom' and a 'fatality,'" says Nancy, returning to his theme of freedom's absoluteness (p.115, Nancy's emphasis). He says, "Freedom separates itself from resignation and revolt not in order to do nothing, but in order to open up this separate place, which is that of the free act in its proper and revolutionary force" (p. 116). He argues that freedom is neither free will nor destiny, but an exposed existence. And, importantly, he says that surprise does not determine existence but exposes it "as an infinte generosity to time's finitude" (p. 117).

Does the revolutionary force of the free act pertain to anything that actually happens, or is it completely outside of happenings? Is it vulnerable? Exposure connotes vulnerability, and I can easily imagine the vulnerability of the giver. Does existence possess revolutionary force or any agency that would have within it or about it revolutionary force? Would "I" be surprised to find a revolutionary force at the heart of "my" exposure?

When I really start to imagine a free time, I imagine a floating time, time unmoored, dipping in and out of the course of events, giving birth to rhythm. The forces that touch upon the rhythm of events, do they have a quality of irreality? We need more ways of talking about reality. Alloreality and spasmoreality. Spasmoreality is a revolutionary force that touches upon the course of events, a force of reality sustained not by belief but by surprise.

If tragedy can be imagined according to a spasmoreality of the free time, the time of the question among other things, without opposing free will to destiny, what then becomes of destiny? On the side of freedom, we have not leveled a skepticism but instead pursued a radicalization of freedom. Do we likewise pursue a radicalization of destiny? Might that lead into a synthesis of freedom and destiny that wouldn't compromise freedom? Or do we abandon destiny to its fate? If freedom and destiny aren't spasmoreally opposed, does destiny surprise itself, as if it will have become unrecognizable? According to Nancy we are born to and die to freedom. They are verso and recto of the infinite generosity that is existence, in which we infinitely accede to freedom (p. 119). The generosity of existence is surprising, and for this reason "destination" and "liberation" say too little, because they mark conscious, willed action (p. 120). Should we be surprised by the generosity of the tragic hero?

What, concretely, is a politics of generosity? Just throwing it out there.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:10 AM. 2 comments

Monday, October 29, 2007


In reading Patočka's discussion of embodiment according to Husserl, the questions of disability and difference posed by Wildly Paranthetical have been at the back of mind. I'd like to examine Patočka's take on the phenomenology of the body and the associated problems of freedom and history to see whether this approach is adequate to the task of understanding the body in its full dimensions.

In the first place, Husserl understands the body in relation to a volitional consciousness, and more exactly an awareness that "I can." "I can" is a bodily awareness (an awareness of semovience, if we can use that term before committing to any metaphysics of causality). Patočka takes up this idea of the "I can" and briefly considers the issue of disability:

The body-subject is basically what it "can," is able to, and, of course, the body-subject might also be incapable. However, this inability is something different from the absence of all dynamis of poiein and pashkein [paskein], it is a privative mode based on present potency. Should all ability to act disappear from the body, the body would cease to be a body: it would cease to be.

(Introduction, p. 143)

To say that disability is culturally constructed and that much of the suffering (paskein?) caused by disability is due to its cultural construction is not to say that disability isn't an affair of the body, or that it cannot involve an "I can't." It does imply that there is neither one human body nor one set of abilities which would define ability. When we think of disability as a privative mode, therefore, we need not see privation as essentially based on present potency (what could that mean?), but rather, we can also imagine it being based on a largely tacit construction of ability. We can further ask whether this tacit construction of ability has an "as if" quality, "as if" there really were one set of abilities that defined ability; and we might wonder how this "as if" is actually experienced, whether it has the weight and force of a reality, and what that could mean for our understanding of the body.

The corporeal "I can," as Patočka interprets Husserl, is rooted in a fertile soil of habitualities, habitualities that consist in mastering objects that enter into sensory fields. "The constitution of the body, " Patočka writes, "is a constitution of these constantly available habitualities" (p. 144). Are these habitualities available only to the individual subject, or does it makes sense to see habitualites as open to communities or societies, that is, does it make sense to see them in relation to patterns of life? If it does make sense to see habitualities as the soil or structure ("structure" is Patočka's word) of social life, then there is a question of their constant availability, and whether they are equally available. Now, in one sense we could see social structure as secondary to habitualities, and the issue of unequal access pertains only in the realm of social life; the body-subject has its own habitualities fullstop. That might represent an impoverished understanding of habitualities.

Let's take an example. Blind visitors to this blog will likely notice that the comments feature provided by Blogger does not accept the <abbr> or the <acronym> tags. Regardless of how fast or how well one can process text, if one uses a screen reader one is disadvantaged in reading the comments on this and other Blogger blogs. So this represents a socially constructed reading disadvantage rather than an innate disability that one becomes inured to. It is socially constructed in part because the use of <abbr> and <acronym> tags is not a habituality of the netizenry at large, including powerful software developers. Only recently did Microsoft's Internet Explorer begin to recognize the <abbr> tag, and widespread html editing interfaces designed to make online publishing easier frequently lack buttons for <abbr> and <acronym>. Habitualities exist in relation to technologies, or technological cultures which encompass not just ways of doing things and material artefacts but ways of looking at the world, and even the sense of a world's reality. If we say that there must be an "I can" who originally has power, we can also say that technology empowers, or augments power, though it does so unequally, engendering disability and disempowerment as a side effect. (I suppose there are political theorists who would say that the creation of disempowering "side effects" is the primary intention behind developing technologies.) Perhaps we need to speak of primary, secondary and tertiary empowerments and their effects, yet if such distinctions dissolve in experience, or become mutable, variable or interchangeable, it might be preferable to let experience suggest what needs to be said about power.

Just saying that we have constant access to our own habitualities obscures the ways habitualities impinge upon each other, augment and diminish social relations, and generate assonances and dissonances that pierce the flesh. Patočka recognizes the body as a medium of sociality, but he states dogmatically and I think wrongly that intersubjective communication takes place solely through the body as object (p. 160). In fact our bodily coexistence means that we immediately communicate with others through our habitualities, and these communicative habitualities are lived experiences involving "as if" realities that condition habitualities (in the sense that the "as if" ought to be said with "habitual" insofar as such relations are suggested by experience).

On his way to arguing that life is a process rather than event (though it may still have evenemential features), Patočka says something about experience that I believe is a key to understanding the phenomenological approach to historicity and to meaning. He says, emphatically, "An experience is a reference to a further experience" (p. 165). I would like to say that the question of reference is different from the question of repetition or reactivation. Patočka, however, immediately adds that experience "is a constant return to the same in ever new ways" (ibid.). I will have to depart from Patočka's thinking here to develop the idea suggested by "a reference to a further experience." If reference means "a bringing back" it becomes paradoxical to think of referring to a further experience.

Patočka proposes that the temporal horizon makes possible the reference of experience to further experience so it is worth taking a second look at his discussion on temporality to illuminate, if possible, the concept of a reference to further experience. "The paradox of retention," Patočka tells us, "is that, though it is automatic, as if given, it is yet a subjective accomplishment" (p. 117, my emphasis). This is in fact the "paradox" or duality of the habitual. However retention is only half the story, the other half being protention, which Patočka defines as an exposure of oneself to the world or a curiosity about the world. This too, it not the whole story of protention. Though Patočka recommends taking with a grain of salt the symmetry of retention and protention, I see the same duality that Patočka notes in retention. One exposes oneself to the world and at the same time one anticipates a world, horizons of realness that are usually not thematized and rely upon the ability to take things for granted. The future is both a project and a surprise. Protention requires both agency and passivity in the face of the "as if" given. What is the power of this "as if" given to which one cedes? Is it only the power one already has, or can it be augmented and diminished, and does something like a transfer of powers routinely happen in practice?

In place of a referential theory of meaning (which doesn't sit well with phenomenology) a pragmatic theory of meaning is needed to understand why the constitution of the body as the constitution of habitualities must necessarily be a question of reference to further experience. We must not by any means think that pragmatics is primarily about instants of communication, that usage isn't a historical process or a lifelong engagement. Usage is deeper than grammar, and at the same time more prevalent. In one sense the reference to further experience acts like a metaphor or an analogy. The meaning of the metaphor is not simply in the terms but in the passage between them, which is a practical achievement whose horizons extend far beyond the instant. Reference makes visible the blurred horizon of the retentional continuum, a limit of indefiniteness without which it and the field of presence to which it belongs would slide into infinity. Patočka says that each older impression in the retentional contiuum becomes a mere "et cetera" in its indefiteness (p. 114). As much as that makes sense, I challenge that notion on the same grounds that I challenge understanding a reference to further experience as a return to the same. Histories can be reconfigured, reconstituted, and, symmetrically, anticipated worlds can depart from the given. Furthermore, if references to further experiences might contain an element of surprise, that might seem to be paradoxical, but we have to imagine that surprise is an element of the whole of temporality, including the past. There must be a past which has never been past, never been an "et cetera" but a surprise.

Here I'd like to share one of Patočka's criticisms of Husserlian phenomenology.

Husserl does see that the teleology of history is not a teleology of predetermined and predefined goals, that it is, rather, a reinterpetation of the preconstituted, but he seeks to proclaim such an absolute goal nonetheless; he transcends a short-range finite teleology, but then tries to sneak it back in under a different guise. The problem of a positive bestowal of meaning upon the stream of history, if it is not simply an elimination of what is meaningless and contradictory, if it is not a mere manifestation of what is purely given and its overcoming in the project of pure rationality, that is, of clarity and justice, is not clearly posed in Husserl's thought because it is not clearly defined. Husserl restricts the possible global conceptions of life basically to science-philosophy; is this viewpoint really critically justified? Does it rest on sufficiently prodound illumination, on a philosophy of human possibilities? What if we encounter, at the base of human potentiality, an inevitable plurality, which might entail a plurality of goals as well? What does that mean for the historical self-formation of humanity? To these questions we no longer find answers in Husserl's work.

(p. 169, Patočka's emphasis)

I will begin to answer these questions. The history of life in the form of Homo sapiens cannot be justifiably solely refered to a paradigm of science-philosophy. There is indeed an inevitable plurality at the base of human potentiality, at and in the lived body constituted by habitualities which extend into the past and into the future. Though such extentions usually involve the taken as if given, or the preconstituted, they also imply an indefinite horizon which reveals more than a reduced "and so on." They imply a difference which is not merely a way of returning to the same, but simply a passage way that opens up on surprises as well as what we usually mean by the habitual. I don't doubt that the same has meaning for human embodiment. The same may sometimes be a theme or it may be something acceded to in practice. It does not therefore in any way constitute experience or ground the constitution of experience. Experience, I mean in particular bodily experience, may be profoundly ambivalent with respect to the same and the different, and it retains this ambivalence while in reference to further experiences despite any appearance to the contrary. There is ultimately no historical self-formation of humanity. There are only myriad ongoing projects of historical self-formation, and the capacity for reversals, restarts, and surprises is given with the "I can."

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:57 AM. 15 comments

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Square Root of a Negative Number

Mathematicians get the square root of a negative number by use of an imaginary unit. I'm not a mathematician as will become painfully obvious in this post. The problem in concieving the square root of a negative number is that the multiplication of negativity is misunderstood. A negative number multiplied by a negative number does not yield a true positive number, but a double negative number (or more precisely, negativity is squared). If negativity can be multiplied then there must be degrees of negativity. The square root of negative four is thus the square root of 1 degree of negativity two (√-4 = (√-)2).


posted by Fido the Yak at 2:19 PM. 0 comments

The Shallow End

Somebody's going to have to hit me over the head with a pretty big clue stick to teach me the difference between the metaphor and the concept. I sense that for some philosophers the metaphor is what is not really meant while for most poets the metaphor is exactly what is meant. If there really is such a dispute about metaphor I would side with the poets. Anyway, I'd like to begin to evaluate what Deleuze means by calling for a "new machinery" for the production of sense (Logic of Sense, p. 72). When Deleuze speaks of machinery in relation to sense he means something like "machinery of the psyche." What Deleuze wants to say with the metaphor is that sense is produced rather than discovered, restored or remployed. He also wants to say that the person is pure bunkum, so if we think about psyche, we musn't by any means think it belongs to or is anything like a person, or at least not prior to any production of sense.

Like Deleuze, I too grow weary of ill-equiped and misguided searches for origins, though at the same time I maintain an interest in paleontology. Why would a psyche that joyed in the production of sense find displeasure in discovery? (I note in passing that discovery, like the machine, was a dominant metaphor of archaic ologies, and still finds its uses here and there). No matter how much fun there is to be had in the shallow end of the pool, I still want to be able to dive off the deep end when I feel like it. Can we really say definitively what swimming is all about? Does it need an ontology?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:11 PM. 0 comments

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Green Valleys of Silliness

Corradi Fiumara imagines that listening might be silly, and, borrowing a metaphor from Wittgenstein, affirms philosophical silliness in the fertile valleys as opposed to the barren heights of cleverness (The Other Side of Listening, p. 194). She links silliness to the idea of a secret philosophy (like a "secret article"), which she surmises must be what Kant had in mind when he said, "And since the class of philosophers is by nature incapable to forming seditious factions or clubs, they cannot incur suspicion of disseminating propaganda" (Political Writings, p. 115, in The Other Side, p. 195). That is, it's an open secret, so if we were to criticize a philosophy of secrets we would have to bear that in mind. As for silliness, I gather Corradi Fiumara takes this to be a strength of philosophers though it can only have a "secret" relation to power.

There are crocodiles in the green valleys of silliness. Corradi Fiumara is aware of the crocodiles. She holds that an honest appraisal of our phylogenetic history is necessary if we are to avoid becoming victims of our reptilian brains. Paradoxically, she says, the disavowal of the reptilian brain in rational discourses allows for its predations (p. 186). I'm not so optimistic about our ability to evolve to a deeper valley of silliness and thereby avoid being devoured by crocodiles. Cliquishness is a powerful force in human relations for reasons that may have little to do with the reptilian brain, so even if you tread carefully there is always a danger of being thrown to the crocodiles by your fellow primates. Despite my reservations, I have enjoyed reading Corradi Fiumara's critical reflections on intellectual discourse and I admire her willingness to embrace listening even if that means appearing to be silly.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:28 PM. 0 comments

Called to Chaos

At the edge of phenomenological visibility, Patočka finds, there is a "dialectical visibility," a relation between clarity and obscurity that is not one of abstract negation (Introduction, p. 133). Patočka's riff on obscurity leads him in a Heideggerian direction.

Still, this dependence [on facticity] and incompleteness of that uncovering of the world, unfolding in time in us in a historical social aggregate, need not be understood as something purely negative. That neither the world nor our I can be rendered perfectly transparent has also the positive side that both the world and humans belong to each other so inseparably that a separation of these beings or even of some of their aspects–for instance, of the subjectivity of the human subject–is unthinkable. If the subjectivity of the subject is expressed as a nunc stans, as I in a constant, stable moment, then the subject must constantly objectify itself, transforming itself into an object, if it is to exist as a subject, and that ultimately means, if we look at all the implications of internal time consciousness, that it must become incarnate, that it must be the subjectivity of a corporeal subject.

(pp. 134-135)

Barbaras, I recall, says, "It is not because one is incarnated that one has a point of view on the world; rather, it is because the essence of phenomenality implies that the subject to whom the world appears be inscribed in it that one is incarnated. One's inscription in the world, which is realized as a body, is merely the consequence of the structure of any manifestation's constitutive belonging" (Desire and Distance, pp. 70-71). The inspiration for the idea may have been Patočka, but Patočka's argument has in it an extra step, the expression of the subject's subjectivity in the standing present. It's a curious argument about embodiment in either case, but if we can separate the subject from the body analytically then perhaps we can just as easily put them back together in this way, with the subject being called to embodiment by the world, or perhaps called to the world through its embodiment. Patočka continues:

This necessity, however, is twofold. It means on the one hand that only that being can be a subject which in a precisely definite, phenomenologically describable mode functions in a corporeity which it governs and animates. On the other hand, however, this fact of functioning in a body and in a world, without which subjectivity itself is impossible, means something more–it means that subjectivity is called to the world. Subjectivity depends on the world, it itself demands the world. We know, however, that subjectivity is in its eidetic nature the clarity, the uncoveredness of the world. The calling of subjectivity to the world may imply the incompleteness of that clarity, but also the "call of the world" to subjectivity, call to clarity. The order of the world is not a mere objectival order, it is not in things and in the way they present themselves to us, as simply given, rather, this order reveals itself, appears and is extended and deepened in its uncovering. The order of the world is not just a unidirectional mirroring but rather a dependence on mutual encounter, on a deeper appropriation in the context of what was originally uncovered inauthentically, as well as an authentic encounter with what there is.

Thus human incarnation and worldliness are accompanied by a call to what is not given but must be uncovered, discovered, revealed in a deeper mode. The uncovering and the revealing of the world and of things in the world remains irreducible to the objective aspect of the world. This means that incarnate being is free with respect to the world, that it is not forced to accept it as finished, as it presents itself, but can also become aware how immensely it transcends everything given in that extreme distance which Husserl elaborated in the epoché. For the epoché is nothing other than discovery of the freedom of the subject which is manifested in all transcendence, most of all in temporal, presentational transcendence–in our living in principle in horizons which first bestow full meaning on the present and that, in the words of the thinker, we are beings of the far reaches.

(p. 135)

Would a chaosmos be capable of yielding a dialectic of clarity and obscurity, or any kind of dialectic? Chaos may be too abstract a way of thinking about the chaotic, but it may be a necessary step in the critique of the ordered world. It hasn't escaped me that Patočka approaches the obscure from the Visible, and the pursuit of clarity defines the exploration's mission and its horizons. It's horizons don't spring out of chaos. But what if they did? What if, for example, freedom freely partakes of the chaotic?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:26 PM. 0 comments

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be Free!

Nancy imagines that freedom is the sole allocutor of its own injuction: be free!

"Be free!" . . . commands the impossible: there is no freedom that is available or designable before this injunction or outside of it–and the same command commands impossibly, since there is no subject of authority here. Once again we touch the limit of comprehension. But we do so in order to find ourselves once again before the necessary anteriority of freedom, which is no longer illuminated here only in regard to thinking but also in regard to freedom itself (if we are still permitted to make this distinction). Freedom must precede itself in its auto-nomy in order to be freedom. It cannot be ordered, its advent can be prescribed only if it has already freed the space in which this prescription can take place without being an absurdity, or rather without being anterior to the slightest possibility of meaning in general (and yet, is it not also a question of this?. . .). We cannot say "be free!" except to someone who knows what this phrase means, and we cannot know what it means without having already been free, without having already been set free. In the imperative in which freedom differs in itself, it must also have preceded itself. "Be free!" must occur unexpectedly as one of freedom's orders. Freedom must have already freed itself, not only so that the imperative can be pronounced, but so that its pronouncement can be an act endowed with the force of freedom. (In this sense, if it is correct to claim that the imperative, in general, is powerless over the execution of what it orders–it is not the cause–it would not be correct to claim that it is without force. This force is what makes intonation (a form of intensity) a remarkable element in linguistic descriptions of the imperative mode. This force forces nothing and no one. In a certain way, it is a force without function, or is only the intensity of a singularity of existence, insofar as it exists.)

(The Experience of Freedom, pp. 108-109, Nancy's emphases)

If freedom speaks through us rather than to us, are we free to intone it? To caress, sweeten, roughen or bend the note of freedom? Is there a prejudice against intonation, that it would not really be part of the logos, not really be thought. If I start to veer towards the singularity of the voice, I may find I've made a mistake in regarding the singularity as the interlocutor of freedom. If freedom addresses itself, does it tolerate interlocution, that is, interruption? Uninterrupted freedom would seem to be a rarity in this world, but that may be what Nancy is asking us to imagine as the only possible way of freedom.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:05 PM. 5 comments


The Power and the Glory

Mikhail points to a lecture by Giorgio Agamben in which he speaks of a phenomenon of acclamation or glory.

Schmitt claims that in modern democracies this original phenomenon survives in the form of public opinion. That is to say that public opinion is the modern form of acclamation. . . . So if this be true, then the sphere of glory does not disappear in modern democracy, but, rather, it is simply displaced in another and wider sphere. And if the media are so important in modern democracy– technically, juridically important–this is not simply because they allow to control and govern by public opinion, but also because in this way they distribute and bestow glory. We could even say that modern society is a glorious society, the most glorious society ever in . . . history, in which the function of glory frees itself from its traditional link with liturgy and spreads over every aspect of social life. Liturgies and ceremonies in the ancien régime were limited to a certain moment, but now the media spread the glory in every moment of social life. And from this point of view what Guy Debord calls société du spectacle, spectacular society. . . is a society in which glory becomes indiscernable from economy and governance. The identification of economy and glory in the acclamatory form of media and consensus is in this sense the salient feature of contemporary democracy. . . .

Through this theological pattern of economy, I tried to cast some light on the modern figure of power, that is to say governance. But, in the end, this figure showed itself to be inseperable from glory, and even to be essentially the same as glory. The relationship between economy and glory is in this sense the very core of the Western governmental machine. The ultimate figure of power is therefore not government and action, but rather, inoperativity and inaction. And what glory has to cover with its splendor, what power can neither think nor accept, is the end of government, is divine inaction or leisure. Or, to put it differently, the aim of glory is perhaps to capture and control this inactivity and to transform it into the secret and precious nourishment of power.

The function of a blogger is to dish out glory and inglory. (How do internet acclamations differ from old media acclamations? Are they even more diffuse, more covering?) Is the function of the blogger also to dish out criticism? To begin to criticize, I believe that the phenomena of acclamation under discussion differ greatly. The similarity Agamben sees between "modern" totalitarian states and "modern" democracies can partially be explained by "modern" technologies, which have had political import, but may not have been the decisive forces Agamben thinks they are. The juridical similarities seem superficial. In any event, the "modern" technologies of mass media are going the way of the dodo bird, and perhaps along with them public opinion–but I want to tread gingerly around the idea of mass communications because in many ways to speak of the masses is to hold them in contempt. I see a country of dead televisions on the horizon, and in the far distance, the dissolution of nation states. For all that I can't deny there are historical continuities, or that Agamben hasn't identified a salient feature of contemporary democracies, even as they enter into the new millenium and the distributions of glory become more decentralized.

"I power Blogger." Is there anything secret about this nourishment of power? There may be something exaggerated about it. Blogging for me is like washing the dishes; I do it every day despite the fact it's not economically valued. Some bloggers receive economic rewards for their blogging, and dishing out glory and inglory can influence elections and what is called public opinion, though possibly there are signs of growing fragmentation. For Ambagen, however, dishing out criticism (or inglory) isn't part of the picture. My complaint against media in relation to politics would be that they have too often reveled in glory and inglory instead of providing proper criticism, so I halfway appreciate Agamben's argument. However, I struggle with the meaning of proper criticism. It means deflating glory and inglory as well, I reckon, but beyond that I struggle with its meaning.

Even though my leisure may seem different from Agamben's divine inactivity, it's good to think about it and the kinds of nourishment I should or should not want it to provide. The question of inoperativity, however, gives me pause. Is that also what Agamben means by leisure, or is inoperativity part of the cover up of leisure? What should I do about inoperativity?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:02 PM. 0 comments

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Ideal Dialogue

Corradi Fiumara writes, "As a result of an attention restricted to symbolic levels of discourse one can let listening to a 'concrete' language slide away an thus risk losing the chance for an authentic dialogic confrontation" (The Other Side of Language, p. 178). On the theme of confrontation, she is echoing Canetti and also Buber. What she means by "concrete" is a little difficult to pin down. She seems to be talking about an emotional relation to language, but she offers the following definition of concrete expression: that it's "intent upon eliminating inner events which can not be contained" (p. 169). Further:

Concrete language might be characterized as an 'acting out' intended to alleviate inner tensions which can no longer be handled in a purely symbolic form. The negation of reality and the projection into the interlocutor of aspects of one's own ratiocination predominate in this type of 'language' in which, evidently, the tendency to transform discourse into an emotional discharge tends to prevail.

(p. 170, Corradi Fiumara's emphasis)

That's a funny a way of talking about emotions, though Corradi Fiumara apparently means to describe a more specific psychological process. However I want to talk about emotions more broadly, and for that reason I would object to putting "language" in quotes. Language is emotional as well as symbolic and false, and frequently all of these things at once. Dialogue is risky, but it doesn't merely risk thought; it risks the whole person. That I think is at least implied in what Corradi Fiumara is saying here (elsewhere she is more explicit). Inasmuch as language is its medium, dialogue also puts at risk whole communities.

Dialogue considered as a means to truth, whether conceptual or emotional, would be anything but ideal. The ideal dialogue is pure phatic communion, or, rather, a phatic adventure. Such truths as are found in dialogue are aleatory, perhaps transitory. The endurance of concepts is paltry compared to the spirit of phatic adventure.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:17 AM. 0 comments

It Must Be Thought

It must be thought that thought doesn't exist. I don't mean to engage in facile skepticism or to recycle a materialist propostion that thoughts aren't really real. Rather I mean to question whether the activity of thinking is autonomous, whether it has anything to do with something called thought, and if it does, whether thought can mean what we want it to mean.

If thinking exists it exists as a metapractice. Any practice can potentially be a metapractice–reflective, abstract, critical, metaphoric, and yet no less a practice. No one field of practice is privileged in its metapractical function. Thinking is no more or less critical of cultivation than cooking is, for example. Secondary technical elaborations of practice can also take on a metapractical function, like paths between fields.

That thinking exists as an autonomous practice, however, may be iffy. What we call thinking may in fact be expression, calculation, composition, engineering, experimentation or the like, as the case may be. Perhaps no practice is completely autonomous, and we set the bar too high for thinking if we ask that it be autonomous. Does the idea of thinking as such require that we recognize an autonomy of thinking? The question of whether thinking is autonomous should not to be confused with the question of whether thinking must be about something. It's a matter of being able to recognize thinking for what it is, if that's possible.

We can generalize. Can generalization be decoupled from expression, calculation, composition, engineering, experimentation and the like? Do we believe our generalizations? This latter question should not be interpreted as assuming that thoughts aren't really real. It's a question that asks that we not make an assumption one way or the other. Perhaps our generalizations are intended to be hypothetical (or hypnothetical). If thinking is a passage, a bridge or a tunnel, it becomes a passage with an other side as a result of a decision. Stand on a bridge without deciding on a direction to take. Sooner or later the thought might arise that standing there thinking is a waste of a perfectly good bridge. Sooner or later we may decide to believe in our generalizations in order for the passage of thought to be a passage. In so doing, paradoxically, thought becomes something other than what it is, becomes a means to some other end.

Thinking may be a practice, and thought may exist. Thought engaged in a course of action may be no more or less real than thought apart from a decided upon course of action. Such indecisive thoughts, however, may not be the "products" of an activity of thinking, and not really a structure of thinking either. They fleet. We must consider whether there is a difference between thought as a metapractical field and thought such as it is. Since each may call for the other, we must also consider whether there's something like thought that bridges the two. I believe there's an aporia in there somewhere, but I will have to give it some thought.


posted by Fido the Yak at 6:14 AM. 0 comments

Monday, October 22, 2007

Untitled Post


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Labyrinth of the Straight Line

Using the example of the caucus-race in Alice in Wonderland, Deleuze lays out the principles of the ideal game (The Logic of Sense, "Tenth Series of the Ideal Game"):

  1. There are no preexisting rules, each move invents its own rules; it bears upon its own rule.

  2. Far from dividing and apportioning chance in a really distinct number of throws, all throws affirm chance and endlessly ramify it with each throw.

  3. The throws therefore are not really or numerically distinct. They are qualitatively distinct, but are the qualitative forms of a single cast which is ontologically one.

He offers some further description:

The unique cast is a chaos, each throw of which is a fragment. Each throw operates a distribution of singularities, a constellation. But instead of dividing a closed space between fixed results which correspond to hypotheses, the mobile results are distributed in the open space of the unique and undivided cast. This is a nomadic and non-sedentary distribution, wherein each system of singularities communicates and resonates with the others, being at once implicated by the others and implicating them in the most important cast. It is the game of problems and the question, no longer the game of the categorical and the hypothetical.

(pp. 59-60, Deleuze's emphasis)

The ideal game can only be thought as nonsense, and for that reason "it is the reality of thought itself and the unconscious of pure reason" (p. 60). Is freedom then nonsense? Is freedom the affirmation and ramification of chance, the reality of thought and the unconscious of reason? We'll see if that isn't beside the point.

Deleuze revisits the eternal return, noting two types; one which is cyclical, the other which occurs on a straight line. "Do we then sense the approach of an eternal return no longer having anything to do with the cycle, or indeed of the entrance to a labyrinth, all the more terrible since it is the labyrinth of the unique line, straight and without thickness" (p. 64). I'm a bit confused about the relation between the line of Aion and the living present:

The present does not contradict the Aion; on the contrary, it is the present as being of reason which is subdivided ad infinitum into something that has just happened and something that is going to happen, always flying in both directions at once. The other present, the living present, happens and brings about the event. But the event nonetheless retains an eternal truth upon the line of the Aion, which divides it eternally into a proximate past and an immanent future.

(p. 63)

I'm lost. I'm looking to the living because Deleuze asks whether the terrible labyrinth of the straight line commands an ethics of Effects (p. 62), and I can imagine at least an ethical relation to living beings. On what model, though, do I think an ethics of Effects? Not morality, for that is the model for games with other principles, and I have the impression that Deleuze has laid out the principles of the ideal game in order to get at a new model for thought and conduct. The ideal game is "without responsibility" (p. 60). The thought implies that the ideal game has no relation to ethics. We could look to an ethics inscribed in its principles (which must not be confused with rules in this case), but if there is an ethics in its playing it does not involve responsibility. Do voices carry in the labyrinth of the straight line, calls and responses, any voice whatsoever? It has no thinkness. It is not a tube, but precisely a line. Would Deleuze's ethics of Effects then be an ethics without communication, or would it be totally enveloped in communications and resonances? Does it matter to whom something communicates? Does the labyrinth of the straight line communicate with the living present?

How is that we have personal relations with ideational configurations? The question's been passing through my mind and that may explain some of the questions I am posing about the ethics of Effects. Deleuze's philosophy, it may be said, is not personalistic. However, the effect of calling for an ethical relation to Effects–and in addition Deleuze's idea of the eternal return asks to be thought of as ethical–is to call forth a person for whom projects and relations can be ethical. This may be a profoundly self-centered ethics, about the proper care of the Thinker; yet on the other hand it may be extremely broad, commanding us to accept responsibility for farflung Effects. I can only speculate. The labyrinth of the straight line has me tied in knots.

For those who might say my concern for the personal in an ethics of Effects is out of place, I am genuinely curious to learn how an ethics without persons is being thought. We might begin with the question, What is an ethical relation to nonsense?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:10 AM. 4 comments

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ontological Materiality

Nancy draws a distinction between the body and the existence of the body, which at first blush may appear to set his thinking apart from other approaches to embodiment. He equates the reality of freedom with the existence of the body, and says:

The existence of a body is a free force which does not disappear even when the body is destroyed and which does not disappear as such except when the relation of this existence to another and destructive existence is itself destroyed as a relation of existences, becoming a relation of essences in a causality: such is the difference of relation between the murderer and his victim, and the difference of nonrelation between the exterminator and his mass grave. This force is neither of the "spirit" nor of the "body"; it is existence itself, impossible to confuse with a subjectivity (since it can be deprived of consciousness and will) or with an objectivity (since it can be deprived of power).

(p. 102)

There's room here to explore the ethics of abandodment and also withdrawal, to question whether Nancy's communitarianism is up to the task of outlining a livable ethics. I'd like to stay focused, however, on his notion of the body and the kind of materialism he calls ontological. He argues that because existence as such has its being in the act of existing, i.e. as a praxis, it has the actual character of a force. Thinking the force of existence implies "the thought of a transcendental materiality, or if we prefer, an ontological materiality: the withdrawal of being as a material Setzung of singularity, and the difference of singularities as a difference of forces. Prior to every determination of matter, this materiality of existence, which sets down the fact of freedom, is no less endowed with the material properties of exteriority and resistance" (p. 103). So there is something about Nancy's existence of the body, in contrast to the body as such, which is impervious or resistant to outside forces– even the annihilation of the body can't touch the existence of the body.

I think a careful reading of the phenomenologists of embodiment (Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Patočka) would show that their conceptions of the body are praxiological in key respects, are neither subjective nor objective, and tend to be existential. But where they would recognize a distinction between the body as object and the body as it is lived, Nancy has a distinction between the existence of the body and the body. Is Nancy's formulation simple and elegant, or is it a kind of metaphysical trickery? If we want to appreciate its elegance we need to be mindful of all that Nancy has said about existence. That's a dizzying prospect. Here's a start: once existence neither precedes nor follows essence, but precisely "lies in," that is constitutes essence, then, "Freedom can no longer be either 'essential' or 'existential,' but is implicated in the chiasmus of these concepts: we have to consider what makes existence, which is in its essence abandonded to a freedom, free for this abandonment, offered to it and available in it" (p. 9). Nancy's topic is freedom, and to mind the chiasmus of existence and essence we can't ignore this; however, the idea of the persistence of the existence of the body as a free force strikes me as similar to a concept of the soul, an existential soul, but precisely a soul. And though I am unsure of exactly what Nancy thinks about the soul, I wonder whether his ontological materialism is a materialism solely of living organisms who maintain a transcendental relationship to "dead" matter, or, indeed, whether it is a materialism only of those who are born. Nancy says, cryptically, that "all existence is new, in its birth and in its death to the world" (p. 11). What does death matter to an existence that is always and forever new?

Does an ontological materialism for which "dead" matter ceases to matter warrant being called a materialism? It is a kind of dynamism, which may be implied in materialism but doesn't itself necessarily imply materialism. It is significant, I think, that Nancy chooses to come down on the side of materialism, and that he sees exteriority and resistance as material properties. I ask myself whether Maine de Biran was a materialist, and the question seems unduly limiting. For all I can tell, Nancy's ontological materialism could also be a materialism of the soul. I remind you, dear reader, that I am agnostic about animism and other doctrines of the soul, and ignorant of theology, though of course I have some curiousities. So, sticking with Nancy's terms, I am being asked to believe in freedom and to believe in its chiasmatic relation to existence and essence, concepts which might also require some belief. The question for me though is not quite one of belief, but of what kind of commitment I should have to freedom even though I don't fully understand it. What kind of commitment does an ontological materialism call for?

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Friday, October 19, 2007


Patočka argues against an ontological difference according to Husserl's thought, claiming instead that lived experience and the world are given at once.

The world as a whole is never verified but is rather always the presupposition of all verification. From that it follows that the givenness of the world as a whole is not less inubitable than the givenness of lived experience in its self-givenness.

From that it would again seem that if the reduction proves to be one to indubitable being which is indubitable because it is self-given, then the givenness of the world as a whole is as ultimate and unshakable as the givenness of lived experience as such. The being of the world as a whole is thus unshaken by the reduction as the being of lived experience. Hence it follows that transcendence as such, given in that transcendence of the world as a whole is not reducible, deducible from anything else, that it therefore not be somehow deduced, "constituted," from pure immanence.

The world as a whole is ever-present, present as a horizon; this horizonal givenness is something original. For the horizon is neither a particular perspective nor an anticipation. Perspectives and anticipations are possible only on the basis of it.

(Introduction to Husserl's Phenomenology, pp. 104-105)

Patočka considers whether a chaos would be a world and decides that it would be a world but not a world of a certain type (that of an ordered world). I wonder, though, whether the concept of world isn't already weighted down with a sense of it being ordered, whether it can so easily be cast aside. How can we consider the chaos to be one type of world, but not the world to be one type of chaos? Is the chaosmos both at once, or would that both at once constitute an order? If the reduction were simple, how would we begin to describe the lived experience that is given with chaos? Would being then appear phantasmagoric? Schizoid?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Find Me a Find

Corradi Fiumara's maieutics of listening seeks to enhance the creation of language and the growth of the whole person, freeing "humans in the making" from the constraints of using and imitating the languages that have dominant positions in the marketplace of ideas (The Other Side of Language, p. 167). She reminds us that Socrates tells Theatetus that midwives are prouder of their skill in forming unions than they are of their skill in cutting umbilical cords, and he distinguishes proper matchmaking from pandering. Corradi Fiumara skirts around the issue of whether childbirth is actually less painful than philosophical dialogue, as Socrates says. I raise it because I want to question the real consequences of bringing thinkers or concepts together.

The decision to go to war in Iraq was a bad idea with horrible consequences. From its inception to the vote to authorize the use of military force, public institutions of dialogue failed to properly evaluate the idea of going to war against Iraq. Voices of dissent were not properly heard. That is to say, I don't believe the subsitition of good ideas for bad ideas can enduringly protect a polity from making poor decisions. A culture of genuine dialogue provides a defense against making horrible decisions, but, paradoxically, it requires and even encourages the airing of horrible ideas; it requires, among other things, that we have public spaces set aside for the free play of ideas. Although I'd like to remain open to other views, I am taking a position against the proposition that the play of ideas is a waste of time.

Ideas can have horrible consequences without having the force of law behind them. However, it would be detrimental to the culture of dialogue to judge the consequences of a thought before it has been heard, or even before it has been thought. Perhaps we sometimes fear the consquences of ideas instead of directly facing our fear of horrible violence, subverting, along the way, any desire for a peaceful coexistence. If we examine our fears of violence, we may discover that fear is but one of our emotions, and desires are not without contradictions. Learning about our emotions, and assessing the entire range of consequences of thinking, requires that thoughts be heard.

I won't flatter myself that I'm anything like a good Socratic midwife, or that I'm not susceptible to making use of and imitating intellectual discourses that happen to be ready to hand. It would be desirable, though, to free myself for becoming. To that I end I am taking Corradi Fiumara's message to heart.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:40 PM. 0 comments

Malaria Forum

It looks like my criticism of Svendsen's horizons struck a chord. I received an email alerting me to the UN Distpatch's malaria forum.


posted by Fido the Yak at 12:09 PM. 0 comments

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Between the Form and the Formless

Hazrat Inayat Khan has inspired me to unlearn to repose. Proper repose is an unlearning of posture, habit, mood–and the art of repose must surely be an unlearning of repose as well. Anyway, here's a mysticism drop:

What is wonderful about music is that it helps man to concentrate or meditate independently of thought. Therefore music seems to be the bridge over the gulf between the form and the formless. If there is anything intelligent, effective, and at the same time formless, it is music. Poetry suggests form, line and colour suggest form, but music suggests no form.

(The Mysticism of Sound and Music, pp. 113-114)

Inayat Khan surely knew his talas and ragas, and he was well aware of a variety of musical practices, including those that might be called highly formal. So what does he mean by saying that music suggests no form? Maybe Inayat Khan is being inconsistent, because he also says that music is a bridge between form and formlessness. Perhaps he is expressing a truth of improvisation, a truth that is premised on unlearning. Or, perhaps he is expressing a truth of mysticism, also a truth of unlearning. No doubt his mysticism colors the way he thinks about music, about what it essentially is. If we say that music is formless, it seems we're talking about our experience of music rather than how it's put together or analyzed outside of performance. I wonder, if thought necessarily takes form, how can there be an intelligent encounter with the formless? I find this puzzling. Is philosophy up to the task of unlearning? Am I?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:36 PM. 7 comments

Davy Jones' Locker

Imagine a nothingness that is not negating but intensifying and therefore affirmative. Nancy says that the truth of the abyss and of intensification can be designated as experience (The Experience of Freedom, (p. 84). It is tempting to think that Nancy is thinking freedom completely without foundation. But he is cryptic, and he plays with foundation more than he abandons it. He says, "It is a finite freedom which is the 'foundation of foundation'" (p. 83, Nancy's emphasis). The foundation of foundation is also the abyss, I venture. Can we ask how the abyss is experienced? I have a feeling that inasmuch as Nancy approaches the experience of experience as a thinking, he would say that the abyss is experienced in thought. This isn't quite right, because he might say that thought rather than experiencing nothingness measures itself against nothingness. So presently the question as to how we experience the abyss remains unanswered. Let's see how Nancy plays with the idea of foundation and see what it tells us about experience or the experience of experience which is thinking.

"The act of founding is indeed the act par excellence of experiri, of the attempt to reach the limit, to keep to the limit," Nancy says (p. 84). He argues that where the foundation takes place there is nothing but indeterminable chora (ibidem) and goes on to say:

We have related, through concepts and languages, "experience" to "piracy." But foundation always has something of piracy in it, it pirates the im-propriety and formlessness of a chorā–and piracy always has something of foundation, unrightfully disposing rights and tracking unlocatable limits on the chorā of the sea. In order to think the experience of freedom, one would have to be able ceaselessly to contaminate each notion by the other, and let each free the other, pirating foundation and founding piracy. This game would have nothing to with amusement; its possibility, or rather its necessity, is given with thought itself and by thought's freedom.

(p. 85)

Experience, I take it, as the gesture of founding, pirates the formlessness of the chorā. Does thought take form or does it take formlessness? It will have to be thought at the limit, a sublimely mathematical twilight. "The experience of founding takes place at the limit," Nancy says. "What is founded exists (it is not only projected, but is first thrown, as founded, into existence) and it exists according to the limit's mode of existence, that is, according to the mode of the self-surpassing (overcoming and emancipation, gestures of liberation), which is the very structure of the limit" (ibidem, Nancy's emphasis). Is the thought that takes place in the chora thought as in a dream, something itself wonderous (θαυμαστός)? Nancy wants us to think of neither a founding subject nor founding object, but rather a founding gesture that "carries itself–at once anterior and posterior to the tracing of the limit traces–to the contour, path, and outward aspect of a singularity whose freedom and existence it makes arise simulataneously" (p. 86, Nancy's emphasis).

I'm intrigued that Nancy sees an outward aspect to singularity, but I'll let that pass to get to the meat of the argument here. There is, in thinking in the chora, at the limit, a resonance with Derrida's thinking about the chora, which he says alternates between a logic of participation and of exclusion ("Khōra," in On the Name, p. 89), and with Agamben's thinking about abandonment in Homo Sacer. First Nancy says that "experience does not experience anything, but it experiences the nothing as the real that it tests and as the stroke of luck it offers" (p. 86, Nancy's emphasis). Then he says that "freedom is the foundation that is discovered in the fact that being is essentially abandoned" (p. 92, Nancy's emphasis). Now I might say that the abandonment of being is its haplessness which has nothing to do with luck, having been abandoned by luck. There must be a feeling among those who insist on being of having been marooned by the philosophers. Whose Image is abandonment? I'll revisit Derrida's thinking about the chora later. In the meantime I'll be trying to wrap my head around the chora of the sea and how this might relate to abadnonment or to experience.

The metaphor of piracy is more fun and perhaps truer to thought than the metaphor of founding. As Nancy vacillates between piracy and founding, the word "shipwreck" also springs to mind–which is not say that Nancy's brigantine is foundering. I'm just having trouble finding my sea legs.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:37 PM. 0 comments

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Math or Poetry?

Deleuze discusses the problematic as the mode of the event and reaches this conclusion: "The relationship between mathematics and man may thus be conceived in a new way: the question is not that of quantifying or measuring human properties, but rather, on the one hand, that of problematizing human events, and, on the other, that of developing as various human events the conditions of a problem" (The Logic of Sense, p. 55).

A word about humanism. I might like to say that I am humanist, in full knowledge of the term's biopolitical incorrectness, simply to be honest. In the first place I am a human being: anatomically bipedal, loquacious, clothed, even in front of my cat. That's what I am. Who I am appears to be a question of affinities, of passionate relations: a cat person, a people person (not so much in practice), an af-fine. Is affinity a problem, something we can throw forward? Is it an event, a surface effect?

Let me backtrack. It's not so easy to define what a human being is. Derrida says, with some intelligence,"The list of properties unique to man always forms a configuration, from the first moment. For that reason, it can never be limited to a single trait and it is never closed; structurally speaking it can attract a nonfinite number of other concepts, beginning with the concept of a concept" ("The Animal That I Am (More to Follow)," pp. 373-374). Here a partisan might say that Derrida has problematized human properties when he should have problematized human events. Well, he has indeed problematized properties. Derrida says paranthetically that what is proper to "man" is "the peculiarity of a man whose property it is not to have anything that is exclusively his" (p. 389). Now I've gone and problematized the human because these authors talk of "man" and that strikes me as only half the story at best. It may be a translation issue, but gender is a problem for humanism whether one chooses to remain neutral or to specify a gender. Is gender a property or an event? If those are the choices, I might lean towards the latter, but I'm still not sure of the mathematical nature of the problem. Derrida says that "thinking concerning the animal, if there is such a thing, derives from poetry" (p. 377). Such thinking problematizes the human, and, I think, develops as human events the conditions of a problem.

Perhaps it is liberating to problematize affinity, for instance, as something other than a property. Perhaps it would lead to healthier relationships. Yet one may still problematize the property, and one may problematize poetically. The body, for instance, can be imagined as something other than a property. Rather than saying that one has a body, one can say that one is one's body, or that one is bodily, or one (em)bodies. I (em)body affinities, passionately. The poetry of lines is never strictly parallel, even in parallelisms. Lines curve and undulate, sounds insinuate and meanings are sinuous with them. To problematize the supple line of poetry is to weave in and out of paradox, or keep to a paradox that is a weaving in and out of belief. Derrida speaks of of a limitrophy whose task for thinking would be "to complicate, thicken, delinearize, fold, and divide the line precisely by making it increase and multiply" (p. 398). He asks, "What are the edges of a limit that grows and multiplies by feeding on an abyss?" I ask, What are the edges of a line that grows and multiplies by plying with another line? We don't need to complicate the poetic line; it's already complicated, already multiple as soon as it's poetry. This is all to suggest that developing affinities as the conditions of a problem may require scansion in addition to or as an alternative to calculus.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:01 AM. 12 comments

Monday, October 15, 2007



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Sunday, October 14, 2007

So Low You Can't Get Under It

Corradi Fiumara insists that we should want to be able to find time for listening. We should not merely listen to others, but to our own inner voice. Exploring this idea, Corradi Fiumara says some interesting things about time. To begin with, she puts forward an idea of biological time in order to criticize a concept of time defined by a rationality that does not know how to listen.

With the technology of informatics and the achievement of 'real time', which constitutes precisely the annulment of the time spent in waiting, we move ever further away biological time, undeniably contained within the limits of birth and death and scanned by such rhythms as sleeping and waking, diastole and systole. Structured by a sequence of rhythms that are in evidence as early as in pre-natal life, biological time is conspicuously different from the concept of time created by western rationality: a time, that is, which has lost all rhythmical flow and only speeds up in a planar, uniform and unhalting way. It is a notion of time that can be integrated more easily with a technology of treatment than with the prevention of pathological states; two different views of time, linked to horizons that seem to diverge ever more and that render one another both alien and alienated.

(The Other Side of Language, p. 134)

Corradi Fiumara considers Heidegger's idea that time, as the basis of the possibility of selfhood, enables the mind to be what it is (Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, pp. 196-197). She comments as follows:

An number of queries thus emerge: first and foremost whether selfhood represents an indisputable fact or a simple possibility of realization. And if it is really the function of time to make the mind what it is how can we know whether time fulfils its role and whether the mind exists as such; we must ask, therefore, if time is 'alive', if it works. Time, which can not be seen, touched or controlled by following it as we choose, is nevertheless capable of paralysing humans with boredom or disintegrating them with haste. If we actually believe that time 'enables the mind to be what it is', it is only fair to ask ourselves how we can have experience of it. And it, in our haste, our boredom, or other forms of deterioration, time fails us, the mind might cease to be what it is. And what might a mind be when it is no longer what it is?

(pp. 140-141)

It occurs to me as I write that I have an inner voice that holds me back and never urges me forward. It is the voice of an editor. Obviously I can tune it out. It can become boring, and if it sounds boring maybe that's because it's bored. Dreadfully bored. Other times it's much too hasty, to quick to edit. Well, I can't be sure. Is it me or my inner voice that's too hasty? Probably both. There's a reciprocity even in our deterioration, our getting down, which may or may not be getting down for real. Do I long to have an inner voice that wouldn't be mine? Would such an other voice be a disintegration, or a deeper integration? If I say I am mindless, it is only in the sense of not having a mind. My mindspace is shared with another voice. I mind it, and I don't mind it. I mind it, though I feel minding it doesn't completely block our getting down. But Corradi Fiumara has a point. If I'm going to get down with my inner voice, the last thing I want to be is arhythmical.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:30 AM. 0 comments


I became distracted while reading Patočka's review of Husserl's ideas on the grounding of experience in ideas. The distraction concerns an example of a material or content eidos. It is claimed that the eidetic singularity note C has as its highest region the "acoustic as such" (Introduction, p. 74). However, possibly the note C is regionless, i.e., the "region" of middle C is vibration as such, which is not a region but the universe itself. Hazrat Inayat Khan says:

If the whole creation can be well explained, it is by the phases of sound or vibration, which have manifested in different grades in all their various forms in life. Objects and names and forms are but the expression of vibrations in different aspects. Even all that we call matter or substance, and all that does not seem to speak or sound–it is all in reality vibration.

(The Mysticism of Sound and Music, p. 18)

A bygone generation of anthropologists spoke of founding myths. Another generation spoke of key symbols and dominant metaphors. An ethnography of free thinkers remains virtually unimaginable, an ethnography of philosphers much less so. A musicology of philosophic vibrations can perhaps also be imagined. However intriguing such projects might be, it is doubtful that philosophers would agree to accept any grounding from outside their discipline. So I am critical of the attempt to ground fields of knowledge in anything outside of their own universes of meaning. I guess I believe that not everything can be known. At the same time I am not committed to the philosophies of utter groundlessness. I'm merely taking notes.

Having been distracted, I now return to Patočka's critique of Husserl's attempt to ground experience in the eidetic. Patočka accepts the idea of an eidos but draws some different conclusions. I quote a passage at length because it touches on several themes I've been reading about over the past year.

The grounding of experience in its facticity is not the same as grounding it in its contingency. This grounding in facticity does not proceed within the immanent realm of thoughts and imaginations but rather represents thought transcending its immanent domain, beyond the contents that are subject to our free variation together with the emphasis on what is coextensive. In such grounding, thought aspires to the means with whose aid it can move even beyond its most immanent domain. The point here is to think the radically other, the different, and yet not make it a mere matter of thought. The object must not become a mere object of imagination and thought, and yet it must be thought. In this sense, the relation of mind to facticity is not merely the relation of the necessary to the contingent within which the necessary is contained as one of its possibilities.

Perhaps we need to think the relation to fact most of all inversely as well: it is fact as such, in its radical irreducibility to the universal of whatever content, that presents the mind with the stimulus and opportunity to unfold its factual freedom of breaking free of mere givenness as such. This factical freedom, the possibility of not being content with present givenness, of not being bound to it, then unfolds in the activity of comparison, into the access to ideas, in the "constitution" of idealities which in reality are always bound to their factical foundation.

That is, this detachment from the given always presupposes the given and can never be so complete that it could fly over it and get an overview of all its structures and concealments. We are not reaching the material from which worlds are formed, the possibilities from which a creator selects, but rather are freeing ourselves from the particular for its cohesion, its unity, its coherence; we construe and project the nongiven on the basis of the given.

(pp. 84-85, Patočka's emphasis)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:24 AM. 0 comments

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Indefinite Regress

Deleuze says that all paradoxes are derived from the paradox of indefinite regress (The Logic of Sense, p. 36). I'm not conversant enough in paradoxes to test that claim. It says a lot though about Deleuze's thinking. His love of this paradox is key to understanding what he means by "series." He says the series is both a synthesis of the homogenous and a synthesis of the heterogenous. "Every unique series, whose homogenous terms are distinguished only according to type or degree, necessarily subsumes under it two heterogenous series, each one of which is constituted by terms of the same type or degree, although these terms differ in nature from those of the other series" (pp. 36-37).

I'm not a fan of Eleatic riddles because I don't believe that mathematics is the proper measure of experience. (I won't say here that premises are absurd or conclusions improperly drawn, but merely that if one is interested in experience such riddles miss the boat.) Many scholars, however, believe that Deleuze's philosophy is a philosophy of experience nonpareil, and I have to admit that he has many interesting things to say about experience. I think that's a paradox, but like I said, I'm not very conversant in paradoxes.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:55 AM. 0 comments

The Play of the Interval

Jemeinigkeit, according to Nancy, defines mineness on the basis of an "each time," and he says there is nothing between each time, because being withdraws between each time. Each time "opens itself as relation to other times, to the extent that continuous relation is withdrawn from them" (The Experience of Freedom, p. 67). He says emphatically, "freedom withdraws being and gives relation," and more lightly, "freedom is the discrete play of the interval" (p. 68).

A note on singularity: Nancy sees singularity in the relation given by freedom according to the each time. "Singularity–for this reason distinct from individuality–takes place according to this double alterity of the 'one time,' which installs relation as the withdrawal of communion" (p. 68). And emphatically again, "the ipseity of singularity has as its essence the withdrawal of the aseity of being" ( p. 70). Nancy here begins to think the singular plural in light of a disruption of a continuity of being that might be associated with a self– another ipseity plays here that isn't grounded in itself, not originating in its own continuity.

Nancy says there is no being between existents, not a tissue belonging to all and none (p. 69). Not even freedom fills the space between existents, but rather it spaces the space. He says freedom means "to measure oneself against the nothing," and adds, "Measuring oneself against the nothing does not mean heroically affronting or ecstatically confronting an abyss which is conceived as the plenitude of the nothingness and which would seal itself around the sinking of the subject of heroism or of ecstasy" (p. 71, Nancy's emphasis).

By defining freedom as the play of the interval, and by refusing to see either an ecstatic or heroic confrontation with Nothingness, Nancy leads us towards a critique of humanism.

On the archi-originary register of sharing, which is also that of singularity's "at every moment," there are no "human beings." This means that the relation is not one between human beings, as we might speak of a relation established between two subjects constituted as subjects and as "securing," secondarily, this relation. In this relation, "human beings" are not given–but it is relation alone that can give them "humanity." It is freedom that gives relation by withdrawing being. It is then freedom that gives humanity, and not the inverse.

(p. 73)

When Nancy says, "Free space is opened, freed, by the very fact that it is constituted or instituted as space by the trajectories and outward aspects of singularities that are thrown into existence" (p. 74, Nancy's emphasis), we are not free to think of these singularities as human if we are to take Nancy's meaning. They may be delivered over to humanity, and yet even this proposition may be dubious if freedom gives relations all at once– that would make us, we who are thrown, instant cosmopolites, ecopolitical singularities. I don't think Nancy would say we can't be ecopolitical singularities, but I'm not sure that he means to argue that freedom gives relations all at once. Maybe that's what he does mean. Each time freedom gives all the relations there are, in which case "humanity" is just the tip of the iceberg. All the relations there are: does it make sense to say that there are relations when being is withdrawn? Now, this business of the all or nothing seems to go against the spirit of the play of the interval. If the space between existents doesn't represent a tissue or a plenitude of nothingness, what does measuring oneself against the nothing mean?

When I think about the space instituted by the trajectories of thrown singularities it occurs to me that randomness may be an exceedingly improbable description of the movements of things that are born. The question is, Does the aleatory have something to play with (something from which we could induce grounds for a field of probabilities), or does it just push or drag around a space of nothing? It's unclear to me whether the field I am wondering about would be given by the systematic movements of lifeforms or by Karma. In either case it would be outside the ken of Nancy's inquiry. I'm risking a grave misunderstanding of what Nancy means, especially what he means by "birth." I will be giving it some more thought.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:53 AM. 4 comments

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. 0 comments

Presentationally Immanent

Two passages from Patočka's discussion of the phenomenon according to Husserl (Introduction, Chapter 4). First passage:

[I]ntentionality proves to be at the root of appearance, of the manifestation of the object. It becomes possible to trace its "genesis," its "constitution," because the object is not merely intentionally given but constructed in the intentional activity. This is an unexpected relust, opening up an entirely new perspective. Intentionality appears to us as an active process of which we have no inkling in ordinary experience because there we rest content with bare results, always already in some sense complete and fixated. Since intentionality aims essentially at the object and does not normally pause at lived experience, there follows from this quite logically the tendency of our lived experience to overlook itself, not to see itself in how and often even that it is at all. If we are to live in things and with things, we must not live in ourselves and in our comprehension of ourselves–an aspect of the activity of lived experience from which Heidegger and Sartre will later deduce an insurmountable "existential" tendency of life to avoid its most authentic tasks, to avoid itself in its preoccupation with things which are in their entire nature different from the human mode of being, the tendency of lived experience to be rid of itself, to alienate, externalize and reify itself–an experiential approach to the phenomenon of alienation.

(p. 65, Patočka's emphases)

Can we recover something of our selves in our relations to things? How about our relations to others? Would the tendency towards alienation be comparable in both cases?

Second passage:

[T]he world is not merely an object, an objectival synthesis, but, thanks to the object, a perceptual field. This open perceptual field is contemporaneous with our actual lived experiences, immanent in the same present, yet not subjective! Thus further distinctions are needed besides those which Husserl offers. Apart from subjective immanence we need to distinguish a presentational immanence which is not coextensive with the subjective. Not all that is immanent in the present is subjectively immanent, though all that is presentationally immanent is guaranteed in the sense that its givenness at present is at the same time a guarantee of existence; for it is here, in person, so that we cannot imagine any greater accessibility or presence. Thus any attempt to declare something an illusion is applicable only to constituted meaning outside presence, not to the phenomenon of objectival givenness as such.

(p. 70, Patočka's emphases)

Would it make sense to speak of copresentational immanence? What would the difference be between copresence and coevality. Is copresence necessarily metaphysical (what would that mean?) while coevality is not? Could we fairly declare illusional a phenomenon of intersubjective givenness? Is alientation subjectively immanent, or is that an alienated view? Because it would be a paradox to say that we are alienated from our lived experience, we might hesitate to say that an immanent, open perceptual field can be shared. We shouldn't hesitate as long as we can find evidence of such a field. Instead we should question what alienation means. After all, what is the full meaning of openness?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:03 AM. 0 comments

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

A Logic of Freedom

Nancy describes the logos as the free access to its own essence, and he says that "it is only on the surface of philosophy. . .that the logic of freedom passes, for it answers to nothing other than the existing opening of thought" (The Experience of Freedom, p. 63, Nancy's emphases). Again he considers existence as thinking, and says this is "not a thinking about anything unless it is a thinking for the freedom of being-in-the-world. In short, it is the praxis of the logos (or 'practical reason'), which is not so much a 'theoretical practice' as that which brings the logos to its limit, on the very limit of existence, which the logos 'grasps' not by absorbing or subsuming, but instead by assuming the fact that the freedom of existence is what gives it–and strips it of–its own essence of logos" (p. 65, Nancy's emphases). Am I wrong to see in this a critique of intentionality? We could try to salvage something of intentionality in the form of a consciousness for. But is it worth salvaging at this juncture? Nancy has already exposed an other thought. Are we dancing here with the praxis of this other?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:11 AM. 5 comments

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Thoughtful Silence

As I've been reading The Other Side of Language I've been thinking that I should cultivate a habit of silence. I admire bloggers who maintain silences. Not the long silence of the abandoned blog, but the regular thoughtful silence between posts. I could alter my reading habits, read whole books before commenting instead of doling out commentaries chapter by chapter on several books at once. I could simply say less.

Corradi Fiumara says a number of things that cut close to the bone. She says, "When 'exploration' of inner life is undertaken without silence it is deformed into an involuntary parody of the 'life of the mind'" (p. 105). She says that the "continuous involvement with language might be considered an automatic, repetitive defense against the separation anxiety that silence can represent" (pp. 102-103). She talks about ways of avoiding genuine reciprocity, and says that among these are a saturation of the space of reciprocity with messages and "as a subsidiary avoidance measure, one can fling oneself into extremely rapid passages and ephemeral connections between the various thoughts as they emerge" (p. 103). That sounds like a description of mania, which is undesirable. And yet I must confess to a certain abiding love of the rapid passage and the ephemeral connection. It's a dilemma.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:14 AM. 0 comments

A Synthetic Theory of Meaning

Patočka classifies theories of meaning into three types: sign theories of meaning, operational theories of meaning, and Husserl's synthetic theory of meaning (Introduction, p. 49). Patočka's criticism of operational theories of meaning leads to discussion of praxis:

The operational theory of meaning contains some important themes. Language is, as Wittgenstein claims, undoubtedly a "way of life," a game whose rules must be mastered. Meanings are not independent of our practice and our will. The only question is whether this praxis is not at the same time a grasping of something that is in its way objective; whether our practice does not bear within it a certain light on things intrinsic to regulated activity.

Regulated activity, regulated behavior–behavior that is subjectively regulated in such a way that the regulation takes place within us, not merely upon us–has as its correlate precisely also a meaningful, typical world, schematized in universals.

Thus the art, the skill of using signs according to rules is at the same time an art of moving about meanings and so dealing with the content and style of our world, a content and style which are not given and at hand simply as contingent on our presence but as individual things and processes.

(p. 50)

My wont is to acknowledge the irregular, the atypical, the unplanned and the particular. Such acknowledgements shouldn't be seen as a denial of regularization, typification or schematization, but rather as a critique of the way, in some cases, conclusions are drawn from the study of such processes to make claims about experience. Do schemata allow any flexibility, not only a flexibity of application in practice, but a flexibility in the whole business of forming schemata and being regulated according to schemata? Take as an example the problem of gender in the English-speaking world. From one perspective it seems that the types are inflexible, that a person must be either a he or a she, and the schemata involved are universal, applying to everybody and structuring a broad domain of experience. However, in my view, there is no hidden force of language preventing the adoption of a third gender (or a fourth, or a fifth). Many languages have no gender, and that too could be a direction English could follow. The schemata of gender are open to revision. We can construct for instance a "new masculinity" in recognition of a heterogeneity within the type. Once differences are recognized, schemata of masculinity and femininity appear less as immutable structures and more like working plans open to change.

Page duBois studies metaphors of the female body in ancient Greece in order to historicize and criticize Lacanian psychoanalysis (Sowing the Body: Psychoanalysis and Ancient Representations of Women, University of Chicago Press, 1988). She explores metaphors of the field, the stone, the furrow, the oven, the tablet, and she examines Platos' metaphors of reproduction. I'll jump straight to her conclusion.

We need to create dialogic and historical texts, to imagine human possibilities beyond the restrictive , commodified terms in which we have come to understand sexual difference. Like Sappho, we want to subvert the logical categories of our culture. They support gender, race, class domination. I stand outside psychoanalyis, even as I acknowledge its power, in order to refuse its claims to describe both ancient culture and a future of equality. I remind myself that efforts of subversion, like Sappho's, are conceived within culture, within the languages which speak us, which we must turn to our own purposes. But if theory is a gaze, feminist theory must be more than a gaze at the same object, more than finding a new sameness, the pre-eminence of the phallus, the same castrated woman's body everywhere. We cannot will our way past gender or past individual subjectivity, but we can theorize, historicize, and imagine a future beyond domination.

(p. 188)

I can subscribe to the view that regulation takes place within us and not merely upon us (whether this means rejecting or accepting the notion that language speaks its subjects I'm not sure), and in this sense the "synthetic" theory of meaning appeals to me. I still maintain, however, an interest in the unregulated, the more fluid gesture. And I tend to view generalities as being rough and ready rather than etched in stone. For me this is not merely a question of wanting new possibilities of experience. I want to see experience for what it is–in its own internal light, perhaps–to not do violence to experience for the sake of those who are living it now, including, naturally, myself.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:09 AM. 2 comments

Sunday, October 07, 2007

An Other Thought

I want to follow up on one of Nancy's ideas in a sober voice. He says that in the experience of freedom that is thinking as freedom, we know that in every thought there is an other thought, which is the burst of freedom (The Experience of Freedom, p. 59). This reminds me of Tengelyi's discussion of the wild sense, the spontaneously emerging shard of sense that appears as other than belonging to one's life history determined according to a retroactive fixation of sense. Dylan, who has begun reading Tengelyi's The Wild Sense, notes a difficulty in the distinction Tengelyi has drawn between singularity and self-identity. Nancy, of course, has had a few words to say about singularity, but so far his thinking is a little opaque to me. It's fair to say that his thinking about singularity is existential. Ex-istence, he says, "signifies simply the freedom of being, that is, the infinite inessentiality of its being-finite, which delivers it to the singularity wherein it is 'itself'" (p. 14, Nancy's emphasis). If we put these two ideas together, the argument would seem to be that singularity is given by that which is other in thought, an other that is not thought but that thinks thought itself. (This strikes me as a thinkerly way of approaching existential singularity) Nancy speaks of a hither side of difference: "a difference of being in itself, which would not simply convert being into difference and difference into being (since precisely this type of conversion between pure substances would become impossible), but which would be the difference of its existence, and in this existence, inasmuch as it is its own essence, the difference and division of its singularity" (ibidem). Nancy's singularity is tied to essence, and even though essence is understood existentially, it appears to be a markedly different approach than Tengelyi's. And yet Nancy speaks of the division of the singularity of existence. So far in this work he has not thematized plurality, but the idea seems to be nascent, presaging a dominant theme of Being Singular Plural. This idea of a division or a difference in singularity does not seem far from what Tengelyi means by the positionality of singularity, despite the noticable differences between their two approaches.

In the last decade or so the problem of singularity has been noticed in many corners, but the thoughts around it still appear to be inchoate. The later Nancy (along with Adriana Cavarero) insightfully conjoin the problem of uniqueness with the problem of plurality, and I believe this conjuncture is an implication of Tengelyi's approach as well. Of course Luce Irigaray deserves credit for treating plurality as an ontological problem, though her works are not cited by these other authors. (I mean to take up To Be Two again before too long). The question of finitude seems to be a problem for plurality; can a world consist of as many nows as it takes to make a world? I'm sure I'll be rereading Being Singular Plural again too.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:45 AM. 0 comments