Monday, February 11, 2008

Touch and Go

Agamben writes:

While scientific experiment is indeed the construction of a sure road (of a methodos, a path) to knowledge, the quest, instead, is the recognition that the absence of a road (the aporia) is the only experience possible for man. But by the same token, the quest is also the opposite of the adventure, which in the modern age emerges as the final refuge of experience. For the adventure presupposes that there is a road to experience, and that this road goes by way of the extraordinary and the exotic (in opposition to the familiar and the commonplace). Instead, in the universe of the quest the exotic and the extraordinary are only the sum of the essential aporia of every experience. Thus Don Quixote, who lives the everyday and the familiar (the landscape of La Mancha and its inhabitants) as extraordinary, is the subject of a quest that is a perfect counterpart of the medieval ones.

(Infancy and History, p. 29)

Is there no method, elenctic or otherwise, for reaching aporia? Is there no unsure path? The question before us seems to be whether experience, if it has about it an essential aporia, must also therefore be unmethodical or completely disconnected from any method whatsoever. I'm unsure of how to answer the question directly. Before attempting to answer the question I would like to investigate the etymology of method. There is a Latin methodus (mode of proceeding, rational procedure) which is not too distant from the English method. There is also an ancient Greek word μἐθοδος which we should analyze. Its two parts are μετα- and ὁδὀσ. It is ὁδὀσ of course which means way, path or travel. The curious bit is μετα-. The OED says of this prefix, "Cf. Mycenean Greek me-ta ‘together with’, which is perh. the original sense in Greek. In ancient and Hellenistic Greek μετα- is combined chiefly with verbs and verbal derivatives principally to express notions of sharing, action in common, pursuit, quest, and, above all, change (of place, order, condition, or nature), in the last sense freq. corresponding to classical Latin words in trans- prefix." So we are brought around to the idea that the μἐθοδος might be thought of as a quest for a path (or, golly, even a path about a path). I would prefer to think of it a little differently for the sake of investigating the question at hand. Μἐθοδος is in a vital sense the quest about a path. Its relation to the path may be touch and go, and the path, for its part, may reciprocate. The touch and go is the mode of being together of the path and the quest (which may possibly be the path as such). Μἐθοδος puts the question on the path at the same time it puts the path into question. The transmigural quality of the discursive does not leave method to go on its way unscathed, but rather transmiguration infuses the method and gives it an essential meaning. To answer the question, then, experience is indeed methodical, or it presents an aspect that is identifiably methodical, though its relation to pathways is always touch and go. It remains to be decided whether aporias must be absolutely cut off from all pathways, or whether they might represent the go phases of the touch and go of experience in its methodical aspect.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:53 AM.


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