Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Imaginary Question

Who poses the imaginary question? The imaginary question cannot be posed by the imagination without thereby becoming a "real" question, a realized question, a question that in an important respect no longer qualifies as imaginary. (I'm assuming that a question posed by one's inner voice is actually posed to oneself–though this self may also be imaginary, the imaginary addressee of imaginary questions. Perhaps this assumption, if we stick with it for a second, already mistakes the imaginary for the actual; however, there would still be a problem to think about with respect to the posing of an imaginary inner question.) The imaginary question would have to be posed by a consciousness capable of setting apart its imagination from its questioning. This merely states the obvious, yet we should wonder why should it be that we seem to body forth both the imaginary and the question with our entire existence, at least for a performative moment.

Let's ponder this moment. Is there some essential relation between the present moment and the question? Is the question tied to something like an event? The arousal of a curiosity, for instance. Is there any aesthetic moment of the curiosity prior to its being a curiosity about something? Might a curiosity about something be at once an aesthetic moment? In speaking of the event of the question, if we could completely erase an active consciousness from the equation, we should then be able to easily imagine the imaginary question. We could imagine the event of the question as easily as we can imagine a birthday party. Wait a second. Do we actually imagine a birthday party or do we imagine something like scenes from a birthday party, or do we merely imagine images from scenes from a birthday party which we piece together–quicker than emergency surgery–with operations of memory or cognition? How exactly do we live an event in our imaginations?

I imagine asking questions. I make gestures. My forearm turns, my palm facing up, my fingers spread as if holding a ball. The word, the body of the question is turned around, as if it had a behind. Is there revealed in this gesture an appresentation of the question, a behind of the question that would intimate, following Kojima after a fashion, the coexistence of another intention within the intentionality of the question? (We incidentally see why it so important to make a study of composition; the composition of the questioner is to be questioned.) Kojima's analysis, however, would place the appresentation of the question, if such indeed occurs, prior to any movement of the body. That is not my claim here. In fact, if we could easily separate movements of the body from acts of consciousness we should be able to easily pose the imaginary question.

If we live questions, images or events of consciousness, insofar as such exist, in the moment, how then do we sustain an inquiry? Surely it is not completely nonsensical to say that we can sustain an inquiry. Perhaps we shouldn't take the moment for granted, as if it already existed as some measurable unit of time ready to fit to acts of consciousness–we don't yet know how to clearly demarcate acts from activities, particular questions from sustained inquiries. "Sustained inquiry" answers in part how a question arises, though of course it can only address part of the question of the manner of the question's arising, and is only the rudest beginning of an account of the cultivation of a questioning disposition. Do we need to assume that the moment is destroyed with the advent of a new question, or could moments possibly be expandable or repeatable in a way that would still allow them to be moments, to define the temporal boundedness of a conscious engagement?

Is the imaginary question spontaneous? Do we see it emerge from an engagement with the world or does it completely take us by surprise? These alternatives may not in fact be mutually exclusive but it may be helpful to begin to think of spontaneity by viewing it as a complete and instantaneous surprise, so as to appreciate spontaneity for itself, and then to wonder about its history of engagement with the world. Casey draws a distinction between controlled imagining and spontaneous imagining, and says that an image can either be exclusively controlled or spontaneous. Yet what is spontaneity? Casey says that "a truly spontaneous phenomenon initiates itself rather than being initiated by other phenomena: it is autogenous" (Imagining, p. 68). I wonder though about a possible heterogeneity of the imaginary question, perhaps involving a heterogeneity of the imaginary questioner. And still I wonder whether a spontaneous image must be imagined to be real. In what manner is "to be imagined" an engagement with the world?

Perhaps it is movement itself that imagines, to wrest an idea from Barbaras. It occurred to me (out walking the other day) that only a being who could move could imagine spontaneity, and, extending the idea with a twist back on itself, only a being who could imagine itself stepping free of causality could enact causality. On reflection, though, perhaps it is not a being nor even a hermeneutic extentiality but actually a living movement who imagines spontaneity, an existential hermeneutic living movement–a questioner? An existence capable of grasping the appresented, of turning the question around, making it a question? Who would be capable of the impossible, of asking the imaginary question–but is the impossibility of the imaginary question an established fact? We can imagine that it can be posed, and we can begin to imagine how it can be posed, by an existence who could so to speak keep itself hidden from itself for the duration of the posing of a question, who could realize and irrealize at once, as just one possible avenue. How do we imagine posing questions at all? Do we want to say that that's impossible? I can imagine posing an empty question, a question without content. The gesture is here. How close am I then to posing an imaginary question? I always seem to be at the limit of the imaginary question itself. Could I be held back by a belief in the question itself, the question as such? Is it possible that someday, in a moment when the question itself slips my mind, the imaginary question will emerge spontaneously? How can I be sure that this isn't possible? Why would I assume that the things I can learn about my imagination, my questioning or my consciousness at the present moment will always obtain, that a possible other consciousness cannot ever be real? What is the meaning of an other consciousness? Certainly not simply what I imagine it to be, what I put in there–but what about a spontaneous imagination, the other imagination? Must that be imagined? Must spontaneity be embodied, and wouldn't that then be a kind of other consciousness that would be second in importance to a singular other to whom we have an ethical responsibility and whose otherness must not be conflated with the imaginary otherness of a spontaneity?

I didn't quite intend to end up here brushing up against ethics in pursuit of the imaginary question. However, let me add a thought. Why do we ask questions? Do we ask questions merely to feed our own curiosities, or might we be practicing a style of engagement with others, a way of turning a problem around to let curiosities be generated from multiple facets of a fascination–okay, there's a danger of going in circles here; we are still thinking about feeding a curiosity, by way of a fascination, which would have some relation to movement by being other than a movement though it might be generated by a living movement, but we are adding to curiosity the idea of other facets. Does the other facet arrest movement? Does it transfix? Does it transfigure? (And with transfiguration we are back to thinking of spontaneity as an other figure, another animal form (we may have twisted ourselves around: only an ethical being could imagine spontaneity, only a being who could respond to others could see itself as ex-isting outside of causality). How do we conceptualize the transfixation on the facet of the question? Does the fascination of the question only have this facet, this turning of a face, and never touch on a question itself, which would kill all curiosity once and for all, and might a fascination's impossible existence only in facets be a reason for the difficulty in conceiving the real possibility of an imaginary question? No, but there would still be the turning of the facets in place of the "itself," and that would have to be an itself of sorts, or at the minimum it would qualify as real–or would it? Can we both irrealize and realize the turning of a facet for (another) consciousness? Can we or can we not ask an imaginary question?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:10 AM.


Blogger Andrew Louis said...

What would a question be if one grew up without language? People are a bit crippled by the fact that words cloud our thought process and the system of reason that guides our path; and it’s built into everything we do. A mechanical problem on your vehicle is a question in waiting as the car itself was derived from a form a language (scientific method); it’s all built right into our lives.

Why doesn’t my car work?

Then, when you figure out the problem, you realize the question was completely absurd. How many times have you looked at a problem, and without questions just saw the solution. By pure intuition there it was, staring you in the face; and there were no words for the solution save for the action of fixing it.

Maybe we’re trained to ask questions? My 6 year old is constantly asking me questions, so finally I just quit answering them and starting asking questions back. She’ll ask, “why are you eating that?”, and I’ll say, “why are YOU eating that?” of course she’ll respond, “Because I like it.” To which I say, “Hm.” She gets it then, but then she always did; she just didn’t get the language…. I suspect.

So perhaps I’m suggesting that questions exist in our misunderstanding of language, not in the world.

October 31, 2008 10:31 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

"What would a question be if one grew up without language?" Sacks has put this question in my mind (see previous entries under the questions tag). If I speak of cultivating a questioning attitude or disposition, this problem of the question's relation to growing up in language is in the back of my mind.

Off the bat, I don't approach language as a disability, but I am happy to hear from all corners. Language has its own suchness. I think you've exhibited that. Perhaps, however, you will feel that I have misunderstood you, or language, or the world, or any combination of the above? Do you have any curiosity about the reality of being misunderstood?

The following question may make you groan. What are the conditions of possibility of language (or culture) being built right into our lives? Could it be that the ability to pose questions is itself a condition of possibility, or expresses in some way a more general ability that would be a condition of possibility
for the situation of language being built right into our lives? A conditioned condition? Perhaps in nature some things are developmental; we don't see what they essentially are unless we nurture them. If this is true, perhaps even if it merely touches on a truth, then we can imagine that antagonism cannot define our only way of relating to either the world, to each other, or to the language that is built right into our lives.

October 31, 2008 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Louis
Children who ask "why" are not asking specific questions about the cause and effect of something, they are just asking you to keep talking. It just means "tell me more." They are using that "why" form because they have picked it up, and found out it makes adults talk. And they do not understand it when you stammer, when all they expect is for you to explore the other aspects and general mystery with them. Throwing the question back at them seems rather . . . childish.

October 31, 2008 6:02 PM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

I’m not sure how you got childish from that?

When the monk approaches the master for instruction and the master asks, "have you eaten your rice pudding?", and the monk responds, "yes." to which the master states, "Then don't you think you should wash your bowl."

Is that childish?

The point is, there isn't a mystery. She asked me a question that she didn't know she had the answer for. Rather then give it to her, I showed it to her. If that’s childish, then I’m a child I guess?

My daughter (at the age of 5) asked my wife, "Mom, what are people?" to which my wife responded, "Human beings." My daughter had a look of dissatisfaction on her face after hearing this. So I, (thinking I was being smart) asked (her name is Kylie), “What is Kylie?” She thought for perhaps three seconds before responding, “Nothing, it’s just a name.” And that was the end of that conversation as she stopped me right in my tracks; I just continued eating my breakfast having been beaten by my 5 year old.


I wouldn’t go so far as to say language is a disability, it simply has its dogmatic tendencies. We often mistake it for the things we’re talking about.

Do I have any curiosity about the reality of being misunderstood? Absolutely, and more importantly with where that misunderstanding lies; which I feel is within the way we speak. On the other side of things; if I understand correctly that you enjoy your blog and responding to random comments, and I enjoy reading and commenting, then we understand each other quite well. The content of what we’re doing (the object) is nothing more then the game we play that reveals the enjoyment. Being understood in this context is the game, but an illusion that casts a shadow over an understanding we already share before hand. And that’s hopelessly circular I know.

Yes, I’m groaning. I’m going to have to think and groan over this a bit as I’m not sure I understand where you’re going…… You’ll have to forgive me as I’m a little slow and unfamiliar with your overall philosophy.

November 01, 2008 11:50 AM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

it occures to me that that sounded a bit harsh; it wasn't intended.

my appologies

November 01, 2008 11:52 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Yes, Andrew, in one sense we understand each other quite well. I am enjoying your comments. That may reflect something like a prior understanding of conversation that we both have. But I am hesitant to accept my expectations going into conversation as truths. Isn't this prior understanding open to revision? Might it be put at risk?

When I pointed to the reality of being misunderstood I meant to question what I take to be your idea of a relation between language and reality. Obviously we are bringing different perspectives to the discussion. Can we learn anything from an attempt to address misunderstanding itself without preconceptions, not even the preconception of having no preconceptions? (Had to throw that in.) How do you feel about the possibility of being completely understood?

What relation do you see between curiosities and questions?

November 01, 2008 12:57 PM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

How do I feel about the possibility of being completely understood? I actually sort of laughed when I read that. I don’t feel that’s possible as I don’t completely understand myself and my own ideas (thus our conversation could be endless). There too, it’s been 13 years and I’m still trying to understand my wife.

(lots of stuff here, one piece at a time)
What relation is there between curiosities and questions? The first thing that comes to mind is; what is the relation between falling apples and Newtonian physics? In another discussion someone said to me that gravity was, “our scientific model of that force.” But there is a problem here, and that is, what is “that force”? That force is gravity; so the statement really says that gravity is, “our scientific model of gravity.” But this is essentially saying that gravity is a scientific model. It’s hopelessly circular and mistaking the finger for the moon.

In the same way I can say of curiosity that it is, “a question of that force”. That force being curiosity. But then I’ve just tied the two together. Questions are curiosities. Or I could say questions are verbal manifestations of curiosities; but again, what are curiosities? If my daughter asked, “What is curious?” I imagine myself saying, “What you are right now.” But in that instance curious doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a question at all, on the other hand the only reason I knew that was because she asked me a question. Without that question would she have been curious?

I often like to ask the question of people;
If something isn’t scientific (rational, logical) is it true, does it exist? I’m not asking you to answer that, I just like the question.

This is all so circular to me. And yes, we have two completely different points of view here; then I’m reminded of
“The Blind Men and the Elephant”

November 01, 2008 2:36 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

If the question belongs to language, and if the question doesn't merely express a pre-existing curiosity, but rather has the power of making one curious, or even if it is merely capable of enabling an original manifestation of curiosity, then it follows that language does something besides or in addition to indexing things in the nonlinguistic world, however we choose to define that world. It engenders psychic realities, or intersubjective realities for that matter, or philosophical realities, if we care to pursue that angle. Further, it seems unlikely that the language's alternative to indexing or reference can only be deception, or that deception or misdirection is an adequate way of grasping where language leads us when it doesn't point directly to a thing in the world outside of itself.

If you don't speak in order to be completely understood, perhaps because you think that would be impossible, then I think that says something important about the nature of your speaking, and how you want it to be understood. You may sense that I've made a leap from the idea of understanding a person globally to understanding a what a person is saying. Perhaps I invited you to make the leap and you made it. It wouldn't surprise me if our conversation went on for some time. Are we discussing the ongoing nature of conversation yet?

November 02, 2008 4:27 AM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

Do you think you can be completely understood?

November 02, 2008 8:42 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I'm glad you asked because suddenly the question feels much different. Perhaps I write as if I could be completely understood, as if I had to make an assumption about a perfect reader. But if I'm not aware of writing for this perfect reader, then who is being understood? A perfect writer and not me?

November 02, 2008 9:36 AM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

Mr. Yak, I’ve figured it out. You’re John Malkovich. Have you seen or are you aware of the movie “Being John Malkovich”?

That’s how you write, that’s you style. I’m entering your blog at IP Address ½, and into the mind of Fido the Yak. You don’t write at people or even answer questions at people; you’re writing style is a reflection of your perspective on what you see such that by reading it from the outside, you’re actually seeing it from the inside.

You don’t argue, you don’t debate, you just reflect; which is what you do when you’re looking at the trees, or when you’re reading a book or watching a movie (its just you, with no argument or strife between you and the tree). You grant a certain “suchness” to what (in this case) I’m writing and rather then respond to me you reflect your own thoughts (much like you would responding to a tree). I’m not seeing [reading] a response then, but a reflection of myself seen from Fido the Yak, aka, John Malkovich.

In plain everyday philosophical discourse and argumentation, our responses are generally a reflection of a disagreement or skepticism. We’re trying to move towards an agreement on terms perhaps, or we’re confused over some unseen obscurity. Either way, we’re not necessarily reflecting ourselves, we’re reflecting pure reason. Does that make sense? We’re trying to come to a consensus.

But you’re not trying to come to a consensus, you’re trying to hold up a mirror in front of my face in such a way that I don’t see myself, but I see you. It’s vary unique.

November 02, 2008 10:14 AM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

"you’re trying to hold up a mirror in front of my face in such a way that I don’t see myself, but I see you."

This should actually say, "...but I see you seeing me"

November 02, 2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I'm a great fan of Charlie Kaufman. You might be interested in reading Gemma Corradi Fiumara's The Other Side of Language which I blogged about some time ago. On the strength of that book I picked up her book on metaphor and her book on affect. Sad to say though I haven't found to read them. Soon.

November 02, 2008 11:18 AM  

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