Saturday, November 29, 2008

Return to Laughter

Before blogging about Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read (HB ++) I wanted to point to Shakespeare in the Bush, by Laura Bohannon, a text Bayard cites to support his (screen) thesis that readers should be completely unencumbered in their interpretations of books they haven't read. Laura Bohannon is of course something of a fiction, a trope, an author, a persona even, if not a pseudonym (one has to wonder), rather an ideal comic representation of the naive anthropologist. No doubt Bayard appreciates her sense of irony. Were I to summarize Bohannon's essay, I would say the point she argues that is that not only are interpretations of literature culturally constructed, but everything we consider knowledge or wisdom about what it means to be human is also culturally constructed. The phantom Pierre Bayard is no doubt aware of a tension between the ambition of freeing the reader from the restrictions of culture and the desire to embark upon journeys of self discovery. Selves and self discoveries may also be culturally constructed to a significant extent, and culture may be in its own ways an involvement that nourishes the growth of the self, provided, perhaps, that we have some skill in orienting ourselves in our collective libraries (another trope, surely not meant to be taken literally)–I'm getting ahead of myself, as I only intended to make a preliminary recommendation to read Bohannan's essay. I'll be on the road again this coming week, after which I hope to take up Bayard's text again.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:33 AM. 0 comments

Introduction to the Incognitive Question

If in questioning we free ourselves from belief, do we free ourselves from thought? Perhaps at every minute thought demands, in what comes to be a secret demand, that we forget what thought is, forget our very idea of thought. The question would then be the expression of that demand, an exposure, or better, an adventure, of thought's secret demand.

Are we capable of incognition? My understanding of the incognitive question is not nihilistic. Is it hallucinatory in a sense that Flusser would warn us about (via Bild, Metapher, Zeichen)? Of course the incognitive question in this sense would represent a capacity that rests upon an incapacity, a remembering embedded in a forgetting. Can we decipher the incognitive question without reading the one in terms of the other, the thought in terms of the non-thought, the memory in terms of the forgetting? Can we decipher deciphering in terms of deciphering?

What would it be about incognition that would need to be communicated? Why would I think that thought would call for adventure, the adventure of the question? Why does that question come to me? Who called on me?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:07 AM. 2 comments

September Sea Ice

I've been meaning to report that the September sea ice minimum in the Arctic this year was estimated to be 4.67 million square kilometers, up from the record low of 4.28 million square kilometers reached in 2007. This fact can obviously be interpreted to support Goldberg's position and to undermine my criticism of his position. 4.67 million square kilometers remains a remarkably low measurement. I will continue to monitor September sea ice in the Arctic and other conditions pertaining to the polar bear and its habitat.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:05 AM. 0 comments

Monday, November 24, 2008

Question of the Moment: Careful Inquiry

Although I pretend to be a skeptic of sorts, I tend not to doubt but to accept as evident experiential phenomena, including both what classical Pyrrhonian skepticism would classify as phenomena and also noetic experiences. For instance I don't initially doubt a phenomenon of the instant question. ("Is the instant question skeptical?" represents an instant question, if not a very good one–there's the rub.) Of course I have questions. They follow, and I am attitudinally open to examining how phenomena manifest themselves. However, I don't doubt that I can experience something worth calling "an instant question," if only provisionally. I feel that there is some tension between the instant question and a careful program of inquiry, but, provisionally, again, I'd like to set out something called "the experience of inquiry" and see whether there is one kind of experience, or field of experience at play, or whether, in a similar vein, we can investigate something called "the phenomenon of the question," the question phenomenon. In other words, in posing the question of the instant question the aim is to expose beliefs, even beliefs which might only be felt rather than stated explicitly at the start, that may be blocking an inquiry into the phenomenon of the question. (Is this a topic for skepticism whether or not it leads to ataraxia? It would be idiotic to think that skepticism doesn't have topics, but far be it from me to preclude the idiotic. Eh, who knows?)

The Sceptical [Pyrrhonian] persuasion, then, is also called Investigative, from its activity in investigating and inquiring; Suspensive, from the feeling that comes about in the inquirer after the investigation; Aporetic, either (as some say) from the fact that it puzzles over and investigates everything, or else from its being at a loss whether to assert or deny; and Pyrrhonian, from the fact that Pyrrho appears to us to have attached himself to Scepticism more systematically and conspicuously than anyone before him. . . . Scepticism is an ability to set out oppositions among things which appear and are thought of in any way at all, an ability by which, because of the equipollence in the opposed objects and accounts, we come first to suspension of judgment and afterwards to tranquillity.

(Sextus Empiricus, Outline of Scepticism, I, 4, 4, IN Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism , Lexington Books, 2008, p. 6)

Kuzminski expresses the opinion that Pyrrhonism should not be thought of as a skepticism, because skepticism has come to mean, principally, the impossibility of inquiry. I disagree, siding with Sextus Empiricus. (I will also be consulting Patrick's Sextus Empiricus and Greek Scepticism on this topic and David Bruzina's Master's thesis, Sextus Empiricus and the Skeptic’s Beliefs (pdf.), but the point here is a simple one of fairness in criticism.) It is the critic of skepticism who is intellectually obligated to understand what "skeptic" means, and to refrain from mischaracterizing various thinkers who identify themselves as skeptics, including those who quite logically identify themselves as being both skeptics and Pyrrhonists. A skeptic is primarily "one who seeks carefully," and secondarily one who is thoughtful or reflective about knowledge (Cf. the Liddel-Scott entry for σκέπτομαι). This is far from saying that Kuzminski has nothing to teach us in making the distinction. I will return in later posts to the theme of whether having as a goal of inquiry ataraxia or any form of living emancipation from suffering that cannot easily be characterized as knowledge might nevertheless be wise, a concept which also stems from looking around, carefully (that is, before it becomes signaling a way; I may always place making a way, or waying, before the Way, and of course I leave that judgment open to question, as I provisionally leave open the possibility of a non-dogmatic, post-Academic, aporetic enlencticism). Speaking for my own way of being skeptical, I will not refrain from investigating my investigative persuasion, though I insist that there are many steps involved, and, as an aside almost, I wonder why emancipation should require investigation, that is, careful inquiry. Is there an abiding episteme of the free? Of happiness? Is care primarily an epistemological method?

Speaking of asides, in Julio Médem's Lovers of the Artic Circle, Otto's primary school teacher claims that eight-year-old brains pose 33 questions per hour. Any clues as to the provenance of that idea, or any similar study of how many questions children pose per hour? Should the process that children go through in becoming adults be our best model for what learning means? (Do we miss grasping what it is that children do when they learn by employing a model of how children become other than themselves, a model perhaps implied by a bourgeois saying of "child"?) (What's the sphere of becoming of the question?) Is the careful question born of the same activity as the instant question? How can the careful inquiry completely turn its back on the instant question? Is it the child who turns his back on the instant question? Next floor: trick questions, returns, the phenomenality of incognitive questions, the automatic "is tranquility bothered by the automatic question?" question–how? (Does that "How?" contribute to the forming of a belief about the thought of the automatic "is tranquility bothered by the automatic question?" question? How? (Should I have rewritten and asked how first, placing a thought about a thought before the writing of a thought?) You see, evidently there is something for me to learn by making a study of Pyrrhonism.)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:19 AM. 0 comments

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Inexpressible Sadness of Echoes

Who is Emmanuel Levinas, whose centennial seems to have been marked, posthumously, only yesterday? I'm reading texts by Levinas, complicit in a work of evocation, elicitations, replication in every sense. Should I–out of respect for the person, or a superseding fidelity to meaning– suspend the tradition of talking about the author in the present tense? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy restricts itself to speaking only of Levinas the philosopher. Is such a figure of the thinker required in order to read thoughts in the best sense, in order to read by the author? It must be said that, given an alternative configuration of textual life, thoughts could be published anonymously. I suspect that when we characterize we often wind up thinking we know far more than we can adequately be responsible for. (The more you know about me, the more you may be inclined to regard my suspicions with suspicion. I exhibit symptoms. My love of close reading is born of necessity.) "Words are disfigured or 'frozen', when language is transformed into documents and vestiges. The living word struggles against this transfer of thought into vestige, it struggles with the letter that appears when there is no-one there to hear" (Levinas, "The Transcendence of Words" (trans. Seán Hand, in The Levinas Reader, pp. 143-149), pp. 148-149).

Is the figure unambiguously good, an unequivocally positive valence? The word "figure" also has ghastly harmonics. A dissonance rages between the figure, not just the figure of the author, but also figures of readers, all manners of figuration on the one hand, and, on the other, living, the living word, and the discordance plays out not just between these polarities, but amid them, each within the other, the living word within the figure, the figure within the living word.

Here are some words for Yusef, whom I surmise will be ambivalent about bifur/bifurre, but who nonetheless may appreciate Levinas' call to criticism: "The primordial status of the notion of erasure affirms the simultaneity of multiplicity, and the irreducibly ambiguous nature of consciousness" (p. 146). Who am I kidding? These words are alive for me. And hasn't Yusef in an important sense also already animated these words for me, illuminated them one might say, with his discussions of bifurcation? I don't go into reading alone, and I don't come out alone. Levinas won't dare and contradict me. (Go ahead ask me about living grammar. (I taunt taunting, fwiw.)) For Yusef, for real: "But in these bifurcations and erasures Leiris is less concerned to go down the new paths opened up or to latch onto the corrected meaning than he is to capture thought at that special moment when it turns into something other than itself. It is because of this inherent ambiguity in bifurcation that the very phenomenon of the association of ideas becomes possible" (ibid.).

For Michael–but not just for Michael, for all those who read along with Michael, including those (those figures, am I calling upon nameless figures too?) who also read along with me:

By creating beauty out of nature, art calms and quietens it. All the arts, even those based on sound, create silence.

This silence may be the result of bad conscience, or it may weigh heavy, or cause dread. This need to enter into a relation with someone, in spite of or over and above the peace and harmony derived from the successful creation of beauty is what we call the necessity of critique.

(p. 147)

I find it necessary to criticize the following quotation, and I call upon Levi, who will also be critical, to momentarily suspend his judgment, for our sake, in the event that there is in fact a sense in which this position means something more to us than a hegemony over the real, the material, or the natural: "The sounds and noises of nature are failed words. To really hear a sound, we need to hear a word. Pure sound is the word" (p. 148). We can appreciate Levinas' dialogism even as we maintain our critical distance: "because thought is symbolic, ideas can link up to form a network of associations. From then on. . . this network, further enriched by all that the signs of writing can then evoke, is important not for the way it displaces one idea onto another, but because it assures the presence of idea in another" (p. 146). How can we not hear in every dialogism the echo of other dialogisms? Or is it pure dissonance? Perhaps we need to hear what Levinas is saying more fully, what he is saying in these texts by Levinas, because he too has a sense of what "real" means.

As I review this last quotation, my thoughts are with Shahar, while at the same time they wander back over the territory of thoughts about the imagination that has become familiar to me–a certain quotation from Bachelard comes to mind:

The use of the word wrenches experience out of its aesthetic self-sufficiency, the here where it has quietly been lying. Invoking experience transforms it into a creature. It is in this sense that I have been able to say elsewhere that criticism, which is the word of a living being speaking to a living being, brings the image in which art revels back to the fully real being. The language of criticism takes us out of our dreams, in which artistic language plays an integral part. Certainly, in its written form, it in turn generates new criticism. Books call up books–but this proliferation of writings halts or culminates at the moment when the living word is installed and criticism blossoms into teaching.

(p. 148, my bold)

I butcher a chicken, I thank the chicken. Foul thanks. How can I thank Levinas? How can I? Levinas the creature? Never. Too creepy. Yet isn't there a sense in which I desire to be such a creature, a "man who speaks"? Chthonic replicant, reader of the autochthonic. Whichever way I turn it appears I am forced to abdicate learning, to subvert a loyalty, or turn my back on a critical engagement. Levinas? The inexpressible sadness of echoes? Are those my words now? Hardly. I don't keep them from you, fellow students of melancholy. Nor do I ask you to accept them uncritically. It is an irony that "the inexpressible sadness of echoes" says something about the sadness of echoes. I feel it.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:21 PM. 3 comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Test Your Survival Skills

From Brandon:

I could survive for 1 minute, 22 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk


posted by Fido the Yak at 4:22 PM. 7 comments

Not Too Gloomy Cream of Asparagus Soup

We're still finding bountiful cheap asparagus at the supermarket, so here's a simple recipe for cream of asparagus soup.

  • 2 quarts vegetable stock

  • 1 quart nonfat milk

  • 1 bunch of asparagus

  • 3 Tbsp. yogurt butter

  • 3 Tbsp. flour

  • 1 large clove of garlic

  • salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste

I had a thick vegetable stock made with a lot of (wait for it) asparagus stalks and onion, among other vegetables. You might think about adding an onion or more asparagus to the soup depending on your stock. Joy says not to use nutmeg with cream of asparagus soup. Obviously I disagree, but only by a dash. Break off all but the leafy tips of the asparagus stalks. Roughly chop the nonleafy stalks and put the pieces in a soup pot with the vegetable stock. Chop up the garlic and put that in the pot too. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile make some roux with the yogurt butter and flour in a sauce pan that will accommodate the quart of milk. Yogurt butter roux wants a lower temperature than ordinary butter roux. You make a roux by melting the butter and whisking in the flour. Let it cook on low heat for a few minutes. Warm the milk either in the microwave or in another sauce pan. Don't boil or scald the milk at any stage in the preparations. Pour the milk into the roux a bit at a time, whisking the milk into the roux. Gradually it becomes like a white sauce. Let that simmer. Stir it now and then. You can let the asparagus stalks boil for a long time, twenty minutes or so, until they are good and tender. Turn it off and let it cool just a few minutes. You're going to need another pot or a bowl you can transfer the hot liquid to while you puree it in about two or three batches. (I don't know. How big's your blender?) Puree it in a blender. Put the puree in a soup pot back on the stove. Put it on medium heat. Chop up the asparagus tips and add those. Stir in the thickened milk. Add salt and white pepper and grate some nutmeg to taste. Let it simmer on a medium low heat for a few minutes. Voila. About six servings. For dinner try coq au vin, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and a Semillon or the like.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 4:19 PM. 0 comments

Sleep Walking

"Language is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about" (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, No. 203).

"The way up and the way down is one and the same" (Heraclitus, DK 60).

When we follow a path do we follow an image of the path or do we feel the path directly without any mediation of the imagination? I mean our everyday experience of following a path. Although we are able to immediately feel something that could be called a path, provisionally, awareness of such immediate feelings tends to be extraordinary. We can cultivate divergence from the image of the path, just as we, in most cases without clear awareness, cultivate a convergence upon the image of the path. In either case perhaps we walk a path our imagination has laid out for us. (Yes, we can speak of not walking a path as irrealization of a(nother) path, as well as as an irrealization of walking a path, i.e. the path allows itself to be not-walked, or irreally walked, in multiple ways. Walking is a labyrinth of paths....) In a real and vibrant sense we walk in our imagination. Is this walking in our imagination a parallel walking, a walking that walks alongside actual walking? (Does such a parallelism–representation as such–only appear as an artefact of philosophical reflection, whereas in the raw walking and walking in our imagination are one?) Is this walking in our imagination what should be meant by saying "walking"? Or is it something else entirely? You tell me.

I'm of the opinion that mostly our abilities, the bulk of our abilities, are dormant. We don't feel the need to break paths, so we don't. Is sleep an ability? Should we be able to sleep our way into the breaking of a path? How else? What would lack of preparation have to do with breaking paths? Quick. Extemporize extemporization.

When we're following a path are we making good use of our imagination? Do we imagine in accordance with an image of the imagination? We should feel exhilarated by our imagination. Could it really be imagination itself that would keep us from feeling exhilarated by our imaginative exercises? Sometimes I realize that all my images are dull. That sucks.

"The way up and the way down is one and the same."

"Language is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about."

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:13 PM. 2 comments

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Irrefragable Dilemma

Every word I set before me violates the thinking I want to venture, thinking I ask you to take up, knowing all too well that in asking I present you with a dilemma. To talk about loneliness is to disturb loneliness. Loneliness makes itself difficult to talk about, and, concomitantly, difficult to talk to. Its withdrawal is complete. Look. Already I've offended it. Is this reticence the only recourse loneliness has against thought? Is that the problem, that loneliness not only does not want to be spoken to, but that it does not want to be thought, not even in loneliness, not even in being desolate, in being able to say, in full conviction, "I am desolate." Cruel loneliness, because it's also the case that to be lonely is to be alone with one's thoughts.

I am forsaken. Wonder flees from the things of this world. The trees refuse understanding. Has wonder taken refuge in solitude? Solitude. I should hesitate to think that loneliness would be content to die in its own arms. Loneliness does not say "contentment" on its own. Yet neither does the impulse to fly into another's arms arise from loneliness alone. Such an impulse, with respect to loneliness, can only be a response. Loneliness doesn't do responses. Perhaps a philosophy of loneliness could only be like an invitation to a dialogue that couldn't be refused because it couldn't be responded to, an invitation as if from the dead.

Appearance disappears as appearance, disappearance behind disappearance. Loneliness remains as an unknown–I ask that we resist thinking that we know what the unknown represents in order to appreciate the dilemma of loneliness, to contemplate the dilemma of loneliness a moment, just one moment, before discussing it. When I say "I know loneliness" I believe I'm speaking honestly, yet at the moment I can honestly say "I don't know loneliness." It resists being known. Does it merely resist being the object of a thought, destined for speech, perhaps, or does it resist knowledge as such? It has occurred to me that loneliness can only be known as a dilemma. That would mean, however, that loneliness would be open to being philosophically exposed as a dilemma, as an unknown that we can all remember, despite its turning its back on discourse. Could loneliness then only be approachable through philosophy? Not all discourses are equal. It needs to be said. Does loneliness preliminarily refuse every discourse, or just those directed at it? Those directed at exposing it as contradiction? Those may be the least able to speak to loneliness. At the same time, I feel that its contradiction, its stance against saying, means something.

Loneliness has a world, but it is an empty world. I risk contradicting myself. "Loneliness doesn't do responses." Yet its inwardness could be seen as a response to an emptying of the world, or to another movement of discourse away from a soul that has the auxiliary effect–loneliness doesn't do auxiliary, it would isolated from that effect–of emptying the world. I hesitate to note a difference between the manifestation of loneliness and the existence of loneliness if only because, in setting loneliness before consciousness in this way, in treating it as a thing that can be set before us, we risk talking about something else instead of loneliness, risk losing it in our very approach. Nevertheless I feel that loneliness wants to be talked about, that perhaps its suppression holds a secret to centuries of conversation. I see symptoms of a desolation, symptoms of a powerful it, though I may perhaps find that loneliness is first experienced as happening to me, or even as purely me happening to me. (Apparently now I am speaking of events in an inner world, an inner stage, and yet....) How do I feel about being separated from loneliness? Do my feelings about loneliness matter if they appear in an empty world?

Fragile, irrefragable loneliness–I've already said too much.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:18 PM. 0 comments

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Die Weltbedeutung des Spiels

A seriously incomplete list of people who may have read Eugen Fink's Spiel als Weltsymbol:

Ein Podcast: Die Weltbedeutung des Spiels

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:04 PM. 0 comments

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reading Level

blog readability test

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:56 AM. 4 comments

Youtastic Rhythm

To move in rhythm is to recall the metamorphosis of subjectivity–so we are then victims of repetition?!? No, we are just finding a place to launch a critique. (Incidentally an onompatopoetics of experience has been imagined, a becoming atmospheric. Likewise, we could simply supply an alternative, concrete hearing of sounds. The sojourns of this conversation are many.) Rhythm. Levinas' conceptualization of rhythm (in "Reality and its Shadow") can't be compared with what the poets and the musicians and those who study them teach. When I say "rhythm" I mean a slightly other concept of rhythm, not an automatic response that would make us victims of repetition (which we will momentarily disavow for the sake of meeting), but a meeting. The meaning of the interval, the space between durations, the pause, is borrowed from the meeting. In rhythm we meet, ourselves perhaps, perhaps with a flavor of the youtastic–the groove, the word groove too, jump starts the youtastic (and not merely systatic) capacitization of rhythm. Anamnesis of the youtastic, or of the borrowed meaning. Are we not in charge of our recollections? Is there a cause for anxiety? That something vital will be left out of a recollection? That a personal adventure won't be narratable, or that, conversely, we won't be able to escape a romance of totalization ("[t]he interval is no longer separable from one's personal adventure" (Levinas, "Martin Buber and the Theory of Knowledge," in Proper Names (trans. Michael Smith, Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 24)))?

Every meeting is a unique event that cannot be told, that cannot be joined together with other presents to make up a story. It is a pure spark, like Bergson's instant of intuition (BM, 69), like the "almost nothing" of his disciple Jankélévitch, in which the relation of consciousness no longer has a content, but is left like the point of a needle penetrating being. The relation is a fulguration of instants without continuity, which refuses to be a continuous, owned existence (IT, 109; BM, 65, 108).

(Ibid., p.29)

I am challenged by any liaison between the continuous and the rhythmic. Should I now apologize for metastic spasmorealizations of the groove? You are invited to pick up the conversation from here.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:52 AM. 0 comments

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bourgeois Inquiry

Thanks to Andrew for pointing this out. Here's Richard Rorty on the ends of inquiry:

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:35 AM. 12 comments


For my American friends, there's a nationwide protest for free marriage this morning.

Martin Eisenstadt has been good for more than a few laughs.

Mike Johnduff reads Derrida.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:24 AM. 5 comments

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Craze

Imagination as metaphysics. More specifically I'd like to think for a second about imaginative possibilities, about a conceptual distinction between metaphysical possibility and actual possibility one could (possibly?) make, and about whether thinking about imagination together with the possible doesn't lift the veil on a metaphysical quality of imagination, whether indeed imagination isn't the quintessential engagement in metaphysics. The case is not as easy as it may appear. We might be justified in doubting whether to imagine is already to engage in metaphysics, and asking instead how imagination comes into metaphysics, if only we could reasonably see either its physical or actual manifestations. After all, imagination might also and primarily be a physics. The possibility can't be ruled out. The athlete Michael Phelps said, on winning his eighth gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, "The biggest thing is nothing is impossible. With so many people saying it couldn't be done–all it takes is an imagination. That's something I learned that helped me." Should we doubt that his imagination helped him achieve his goals? Well, is this then a simple case of a metaphysical faculty or activity being subordinated to a physical goal? What if, on the other hand, metaphysical possibility has its origins in actual possibilities, in actual faculties and exercises of powers. The propositions need not be mutually exclusive–but we risk being led astray. Shouldn't we directly confront the question of whether imagination is a metaphysics?

Who wouldn't want to dwell in possibility? Perhaps we should be cautious of letting our thought be seduced by metaphysics, a realm that, seen for itself, may be just as enchanting as poetry. Before proceeding here allow me to state the obvious. Although I'm reading Casey's Imagining critically, I must say that in many regards he describes imagining quite well and in some instances precisely. He has undoubtedly contributed greatly to our understanding of the imagination and not incidentally of what it means to be human. That said, Casey disagrees with Collingwood's idea that "[t]he conceptions of past, future, the possible, the hypothetical are as meaningless for imagination as they are for feeling itself" (Principles of Art, p.224, in Imagining, p. 112). Well, I can't accept the reason Casey provides for his objection, namely that Collingwood overlooks the self-contained nature of imagination, a nature which is not at all obvious to me though I have read these passages six ways to Sunday. I rather suspect there may be good reason for distinguishing the making of an image, or letting an image be made, from something like metaphysical possibility, which, perhaps, could be more akin to a thought one has about thinking than a raw activity of thought, if that distinction makes any sense. If (the iffiest of ifs of course) pure possibility may characterize how the imagined object is posited by consciousness, then does it follow that "pure possibility is the distinctive thetic character of what we imagine and as such it serves to distinguish imaginative experience from other kinds of experience" (p. 116, my emphasis)? Perhaps at this point Phelps and Casey both agree that to imagine something is to posit an imaginary object and somehow make it appear. However, if Casey has succeeded in calling into question Sartre's idea of the irrealizing function of the imagination, he has not fully convinced me of either the thetic character of all imagination, or that there couldn't possibly be a deactivating gesture, or some other inactivity at the heart of imaginative activity–and here again is the problem of metaphysical possibility, which seems to appear whenever we move from action to what the action of the imagination requires in order to be an action, or, perhaps, whenever we attempt to think about action as action.

Let's look again at the former objection to Casey's conclusion, that is, the question of the thetic character of the image. It is decidedly not simply the case that everything that happens under the umbrella of the imagination can be characterized as a conscious act that posits something called an image. Think of possibility for a moment as a mood, the subjunctive. Imagination is hypotactic, hypotaxis par excellence. It whispers, always just shy of brushing up against the real–yet didn't Phelps really win his medals, and didn't Dickinson concretize the Gambrels of the Sky? The abiding image recurs, the recurrent image abides as a metaphysical problem–is it only because we have removed the act of finishing from the equation, because we are attempting to inhabit a terrain that could never be inhabited, to endure what could never be endured, these "moments of never"? I could be seduced right now by a ligature between the subjunctive and the question, lured into exploring how the road "about" the physical, necessarily beyond it and of it at once, leads to crossroads, and every crossroad is a question, or becomes an elaboration of the question of the road, aporias and metaphors–you would be right to wonder whether I hadn't gone astray. So I let Pegasus get the better of me. Isn't this also the way of imagination? Is there any imagination without enthusiasm, without craze. Crazy thought, the subjunctive–as if we could name it, rein it in, say that it, the craze, posits and we posit in one and the same sense, when it could be otherwise. As always, I leave these thoughts unfinished.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:30 AM. 3 comments

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mosquito Nets

A link to Nothing But Nets just arrived in my mailbox.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:55 PM. 1 comments

Pears, pears, pears

Did I mention pears? It's pear season here in the Northwestern United States. Tonight it's glazed anjous for desert. I'm scouring the web for ideas. Right now I'm thinking ginger, allspice, cardamom, lemon, mandarin orange. Any thoughts?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:07 PM. 2 comments

A Political Sentiment

I partially agree with Marx and Engels when they say: "Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another." Actually I very strongly agree with that statement. Partially. I don't mean to distance myself from my feelings for the sake of clear thinking but from stupidities for the sake of feeling good.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:48 PM. 3 comments

Nisi quatenus Ambulandi Conscientia Cogiatio est

Michel Henry's Philosophy and Phenomenology of the Body is difficult to find, and of course it's a whole book and many people have little time for whole books. Fortunately, then, Michael Tweed has been working on a translation of Henry's The Living Body which is a nice, provocative little bit of philosophy. I think.

Some jots.

If life belongs not the order of what appears but to appearing itself, as Henry maintains, does it quite follow that Heidegger is wrong about Dasein providing our access to life for the reason Henry provides, namely that Dasein is primarily being-in-the-world, which he takes to mean something like "being-in-the-horizon-of-what-appears" in contradistinction to something like "being-in-a-horizon-of-appearing"? Does life itself, or, perhaps better said, life in its very appearing, have horizons? Henry asserts that life is fundamentally acosmic, but I throw it out there as a question. As you mull over that question you may see why I am not as quick as Henry to see that biology has radically, completely and irrevocably bracketed out the study of life. (Can this be the most generous reading of François Jacob's comment that what is studied in the modern biological laboratory isn't life itself?) Rather I see questions, uncertainties, opacities or even confusions, but not a science of life settled on any particular definition or non-definition of life. Of course I haven't settled on any idea of what it means to be worldly, to have a world, or to have horizons, so my question of life's horizons may be a hinky question from any angle.

If we are to make a distinction between what appears and appearing itself, does relation belong originarily to appearing? (Equiprimordially?) Must we be free to relate? (I've been struggling to give "existence" an existential meaning.) Only a being who could freely relate, who could free itself to relate, could interpret the relations of another being as relations. To reiterate Jonas' dictum, only life can understand life. But wait, Henry tells us. "[T]he ego is free, only on the inherent ground of a me that necessarily precedes it, i.e. on the ground of this Self generated in the self-engendering of life, in other words given to itself in the self-givenness of life." Life is passive before it is free.

Only life can understand life. Am I reduced now to repeating platitudes? Modern biology doesn't imagine itself as an anthropomorphic science, but that doesn't mean that in actual practice it doesn't know things by way of an anthropomorphism that would contradict its self-image, were it brought to light and interrogated, or indeed, its paradigms, which we will not confuse with foundations. What does anthropos contribute to understanding? What is our existence that is not a bacterium's? Is it a privative interpretation, or indeed by way of a corruption of human existence that we come to understand life through human existence? Why don't we say that we think biomorphically, or psychomorphically? Well, sometimes we say "zoomorphic" and mean "in the shape of a particular animal." Do we also mean something like "animistically," thinking in the shape of animals. Monstruation. Kaleideation. Why not also with the shape of our whole soul? What is the shape of bios? A narrative? Does that cover all the bases? What is the shape of life in its very appearing? Well, Henry argues for a fundamental passivity of life. This would rule out projections, shapes and, I think, freedom, as means of grasping life. Life simply isn't grasped in Henry's view, or, as he says, it isn't visible.

Is this still phenomenology? Life, Henry says, "phenomenalizes itself in its phenomenality and according to this phenomenality." What can be said about a mode of understanding that isn't also a grasping? In speaking of a mode of understanding are we going around Henry illicitly? Yet could it be that he means to block understanding?

Some things about my life are just perplexing. "To be born does not mean coming into the world, to be born means coming into life," Henry says. I never know what to make of my natality. In truth I feel that I was brought into this existence, this worldly existence, borne into it, that I didn't just appear ex nihilo. On the other hand I have no memory of my conception. My earliest memories do just appear ex nihilo, it seems. In them I am walking, all by myself. Should we never depend on other people for our memories?

Henry reverses himself: "we do not come into life, it is life that comes into us." By "us" does he mean Dasein?

Is there a philosophy beyond questions? What would be the relationship between worldlessness–a non-chaosmos at that–and being beyond questions, and what, if anything, would looking into that relationship tell us about worlds or about questions? What is the way of existing of the question?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:34 PM. 0 comments

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I intend to devote more study to the practice of reading, which is pretty optimistic of me considering how slowly I read. Anyhoo, I may have to check out some books by Colin Davis.

The crucial difference between the two strands of hauntology, deriving from Abraham and Torok and from Derrida respectively, is to be found in the status of the secret. The secrets of Abraham's and Torok's lying phantoms are unspeakable in the restricted sense of being a subject of shame and prohibition. It is not at all that they cannot be spoken; on the contrary, they can and should be put into words so that the phantom and its noxious effects on the living can be exorcized. For Derrida, the ghost and its secrets are unspeakable in a quite different sense. Abraham and Torok seek to return the ghost to the order of knowledge; Derrida wants to avoid any such restoration and to encounter what is strange, unheard, other, about the ghost. For Derrida, the ghost's secret is not a puzzle to be solved; it is the structural openness or address directed towards the living by the voices of the past or the not yet formulated possibilities of the future. The secret is not unspeakable because it is taboo, but because it cannot not (yet) be articulated in the languages available to us. The ghost pushes at the boundaries of language and thought. The interest here, then, is not in secrets, understood as puzzles to be resolved, but in secrecy, now elevated to what Castricano calls ‘the structural enigma which inaugurates the scene of writing’ (Cryptomimesis, p. 30).

(Colin Davis, Hauntology, spectres and phantoms)

Is the openness that listens for the voices of the dead or the unborn also the openness that allows for addenda? The open, the unfinished. Infinitions. Perhaps we may never have enough ways of talking about the open, always risking in our forays the collapse of the one into the other, closures that accidentally become other than temporary, if not permanent, or as good as lost in transit. That's not exactly what was meant. An openness to closures, too.

I'm disquieted by events in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:52 AM. 0 comments

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Ghost of Jean Améry

Incidentally I'm undertaking an unguided reading of Being and Time, a text I've ransacked on occasion. Not that I've sworn off ransacking. I haven't. But having entered into the text with a question in my mind (the question of the question) it became unmistakably clear that a challenge had been issued to keep the question open, and, more broadly, to keep questioning open, which also means to keep interpretation open, to inhabit the text in the light of day unclouded even by questioning, to be as it were unguided by questioning. My allegiance to questioning is apparently uncertain. Could a questioning not be a part of a zeitgeist? Could it not slip away?

Levinas, I surmise, was no stranger to questioning. Was. Is there anything of his secrecy left to discover–as if that weren't the problem right there, in the very attitude of openness, the willingness to sacrifice anything to openness, everything for the sake of openness. That's not, however, how I live, not how anybody lives. Somebody pitches a tent on the nudist beach and nobody bats an eye. No point in going to extremes. Archeologies, autopsies, necromancies, cameras, every kind of cold, hard postmortem examination. A morbid image: a spiral-cut Fido. I marvel at the efficiency of my disposal. I should apologize for daring to read a text, a supermarket flier. Someday I won't be able to plan for next week's meals. I have plans for that day as well, perhaps secretly knowing that the truth is not nearly so mundane. I am out of countenance at the thought of death.

If I feel any ethical obligation towards the dead thinker it is only out of respect for our plurality, dear reader. Let's harken the dead thinker:

Memory recaptures and reverses and suspends what is already accomplished in birth–in nature. Fecundity escapes the punctual instant of death. By memory I ground myself after the event, retroactively: I assume today what in the absolute past of the origin had no subject to receive it and had therefore the weight of a fatality. By memory I assume and put back in question. Memory realizes the impossibility: memory, after the event, assumes the passivity of the past and masters it. Memory as an inversion of historical time is the essence of interiority.

(Totality and Infinity, p. 56)

I ask your forgiveness for any possible trivialization of our mortality. I haven't called Emmanuel to our seance in order to force a confession, or a cold realization, but simply to learn–dreading, perhaps, that such an ambition may be enough to break a thing so fragile as the life of the mind. "The psychic life, which makes birth and death possible is a dimension in being, a dimension of non-essence, beyond the possible and the impossible" (p. 57). Do I misremember fragility? Memory unfolding in a dimension of non-essence. Failing to grasp the non-essential questions. Not being in step with the leader of the psychic life. Out of countenance. Out of out-of-the-questions. It's not surprising then to see Jean disappearing behind a door. The book that would close the book on memory has yet to be experienced. The book asks for memory as if to resist the deadness that accompanies the fetishization of the letter, revivifying a belletristic enchantment that somehow wouldn't lapse into phoniness, not this time. I encounter our plurality as a call not to lapse into phoniness, as if panecastics required that I lay my memories on the table, open them up to the opening of questions, and, at once, an invitation to step into a non-essential dimension of interiority, perhaps we might call it ours, not measured beforehand but measured in the very stepping into it, with no assurance that memories will remain intact, that questions will remain open. I thank you for your time.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:31 PM. 5 comments

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

President-Elect Obama

Barack Obama will be the 44th president of the United States. I guess politics isn't all bad.

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

Monday, November 03, 2008


Open up your umbrellas to the giraffes and notice how they shimmer. What I call an imaginative experience is not the projection of a single image, or the production of a single image, but a moment of reverie composed of incalculable images and blurs between images, even blurs between manifestations of what appears to be the same image. To paraphrase Lyotard, I have a faith in the inexhaustibility of the imaginable. This is entwined in my being entwined in my imaginings, and when I talk about the experience of imagining this entwining is not to be excluded. But is this apodictic? Is there no doubt revealed in the shimmer? Is the shimmer of giraffes perhaps as close as we come to the image that would also be a question, or the imaginary question? Does the imaginary question have no presence? Does the shimmer? What can we say about the shimmer itself that would be descriptive of imagination, and not merely be an exercise in reflective analysis, a catching up that never quite made it, a learning that always asked for more unlearning? A rhythmic presence–not an oxymoron, but a description true to experience. And yet perhaps not true enough. A shimmer.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:04 PM. 3 comments

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cloudburst with Ossicones

The memory of a pencil box, or is it a shoe box? A box of empty brown apothecary bottles. It is a shoe box, and it's the box of memories from Amélie, a borrowed memory. It was raining that night in Providence, going to the Cable Car. A rainy night at Cinema 21. Plum blossoms on Irving. They're umbrellas. Inside the umbrellas giraffe dioramas. Brilliant puddle mirror giraffescapes inside the umbrellas. Ossicones wiggle. A filmic palpability–and what is palpability after all? A rain shower? What is this experience I now have of having come in from a rain shower? A recurrence. It feels real, I can even bring myself to shiver, as if coming in from a rain shower were one of life's certainties.

The recurring image continues to be a problem. I question the idea that sameness is a prerequisite in order for there to be a continuity of imaginative acts. How does sameness come to be? I have feelings of imaginative continuity, cinematic sweeps from one tableau to the next, drawn out adumbrations of the image, intimations of a phantasmagoric continuum, explorable, alive, and I feel at times an uncanniness of the same, an unplacability of the recurrent image. Was the image current before it was almost (and thus never) settled as recurrent? The almost settled. The having come in from the rain smell. I will let my life define what is vivid, and what has depth. The image of having come in from the rain can be explored. Well, do we explore it as image, as memory, or as experience? I don't know that analyzing consciousness this way tells us anything. I don't know what to do at this point with an analysis that leads us away from the vividness or the realness of having come in from the rain, or the realness of phantasmagoric continuities, currents (isn't that leading away?). An open model, open to recurrence, naturally, but recursively open to the problem of the model. Could a consciousness without such an open model be capable of imagining at all? (So it does matter how we define imagination, how we analyze it.) Are images genuinely unexplorable?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:22 AM. 0 comments

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Limitrophe within Metaphysics?

Is language for metaphysics in some essential way, or might we ascribe such a conceit, perhaps a bit unfairly, to a narcissism of philosophers? As I approach, slowly, Levinas' understanding of language, I can just make out the features of a dialogism, a dialogism of the face-to-face encounter and not of the utterance per se–but I am speaking too quickly; the utterance as such has yet to be unpacked, and, besides, I am sure we will find that Levinas offers a word or two to say about the utterance. Levinas promises:

We shall try to show that the relation between the same and the other–upon which we seem to impose such extraordinary conditions–is language. For language accomplishes a relation such that the terms are not limitrophe within this relation, such that the other, despite the relationship with the same, remains transcendent to the same. The relation between the same and the other, metaphysics, is primordially enacted as conversation, where the same, gathered up in its ipseity as an "I," as a particular existent unique and autochthonous, leaves itself.

(Totality and Infinity, p. 39, Levinas' emphasis)

Lingis, Levinas' translator, has given us a difficult sentence to interpret, since we don't usually say "limitrophe within." What Levinas means is that your transcendence is never completely encompassed or enclosed by your relation to another which is language. Well, Levinas is defining metaphysics and language in the same way, as a relation between same and other, or, more exactly, he sees discourse as an enactment of metaphysics. Is there such a thing as a natural language, or a natural discourse, a discourse that would be physical before or without being metaphysical? (Is there any enactment that doesn't require the physical, if only to earn the name of action?) Could languages be metaphysical in ways Levinas couldn't have imagined, or did he have in mind an incalculable multiplicity of metaphysical enactments that would indeed cover every usage? Put another way, should I allow you the possibility of transcending metaphysics itself? How would making such an allowance affect my approach to conversation? Wouldn't I have to in some significant sense let go of the business of enacting metaphysics, or an expectation of a mutual enactment of metaphysics? I'm leaning towards the idea that conversation puts metaphysics at risk, that conversation always makes openings for the possibility of a verbal gesture that would undo metaphysics. What would be a good example of such a gesture? Search me.

P.S. It temporarily slipped my mind to say something about the sojourn, about the sojourn into conversation. What did we have to learn before we learned to sojourn? There is a relation between the limitrophe and the sojourn, taking nourishment at the border, perhaps even from the border one has every intention of freely crossing. A demand for hospitality? Such a demand might precipitate a refusal, an undoing of metaphysics. How might the sojourner into metaphysics be reminded of what it means to reside? Yes, I'm intrigued by the idea of the sojourner leaving himself at the border, but if that's what happens in conversation, where did we come into our memory of how to live in a place, which I feel we draw from in order to sojourn? It can't be that knowing how to live in a place is always knowledge in the form of memory, can it?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:02 AM. 6 comments