Monday, December 29, 2008

A Nonassertion of the Breach

}∅{ should not be asserted; non}∅{ should not be asserted. }∅{ must be taken as a suspended sign, understood in the sense Kuzminski gives that term (Pyrrhonism, pp. 96 ff.). To explain this we must first note a difference between commemorative or recollective signs, which refer to things temporarily nonevident, and indicative signs, which point to things nonevident in a variety of ways other than temporarily. (I'm not sure there's a Pyrrhonian term for the type of sign that refers to things plainly evident; perhaps this isn't the most useful typology. Anyway....) Because "indicative sign" has other meanings for students of the sign, it would be clearer to call indicative signs credulitive, or with fewer negative connotations, creditive signs. The language is clumsy but you can discern the meaning in saying "creditive sign" or its pupal morph, "suspended sign." Kuzminski further explains the idea of the suspended sign:

Even if we understand the soul as evidently nonevident [like the wind perhaps, FtY] , as present to consciousness but indeterminate, our sign for it necessarily remains empty, can literally have no content, no determinative, distinguishing character. Nor can we even say it signifies nothing, since the evidently nonevident seems to be something, though nothing determinate. A sign for the evidently nonevident has no efficacy, therefore, and can only mislead by suggesting some kind of determinate content. A sign for the evidently nonevident is a sign for a suspended judgment; indeed, it is a sign which itself should be suspended. Terms for the evidently nonevident, such as "soul" or "emptiness" are inherently selfdefeating if we think they can be of any use at all. Sextus no doubt would agree with Nāgārjuna, who advises us that "'Empty' should not be asserted. 'Nonempty' should not be asserted. Neither both nor either should be asserted." At the end of his Tractatus, in an oft-cited passage, Wittgenstein makes the same point as follows: "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following [w]ay: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them–as steps–to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."

(pp. 96-97).

I like silences but I won't pretend to mandate them. Suspension I will recommend. "Psyche" should be suspended, as should therefore "the unconscious" and various other modalities of the psychic. "Imagination" should be suspended. "Repetition" should be suspended. Insofar as suspension may be regarded as an entity one might form beliefs about (and this is clearly the hazard with "}∅{", or more colloquially, "the breach"), "suspension" should be suspended. "The question" should be suspended: this could well be the same problem as the problem of repetition, however with different repercussions; I'll touch on repetition.

In suspending belief in repetition don't we risk pulling the rug out from under Pyrrhonian skepticism? (Obviously many people are more credulous about repetition than I am; though I have not been convinced of its existence I remain open to hearing evidence, to which it must be added an openness to contrary indications and negative experimental results is clearly desirable for anybody who seeks to understand repetition nondogmatically.) In acknowledging the commemorative sign, the Pyrrhonian accedes to memory, to the collection of evidence over time and therefore as well, implicitly, to cogitation as a modality of consciousness or sense, and in some sense he thereby escapes arrhythmia and inferences based on the premise of arrhythmic existence, such as those that arise from the intellectual error of occasionalism identifed by Bourdieu. If we suspend judgment about repetition, for the sake of putting it into question, to name one reason for doing so, are we are then obliged to also suspend commemoration? If so, and I'm not saying it is so, that shouldn't preclude us from talking. Crudely, to start things off, and breathlessly, we could say something like "repetition:commemoration::}∅{:improvisation:::}∅{:repetition::improvisation:commemoration;:}∅{::}∅{}∅{}∅{:}∅{}∅{:::...}∅{:::{}∅{:}{}∅{:}{...}∅{:::}{{...}∅{:::}}}∅{}∅{}∅{}∅{," and be talking about "repetition," "nonrepetition," "commemoration," "as," "just as," ("analogy," ("chiasmus," a shadow discussion)), "shadow discussion," "and so on," "could be otherwise," "substitution" or "alternation" (""shadow alternation" or "parenthetical shadow alternation"") and """""not" "really"" ""finally" "or" "primarily"""" "or" """really" ""really" ""finally" "or" "primarily"""" "}∅{,"" where """" means something like "being talked about." Everything can be balanced against }∅{, but ("but" itself being an alternative which may or may not appear according to }∅{, used here to introduce another alternative that as well may or may not appear according to }∅{) it could be otherwise. What is the structure of this "could be otherwise?" Starting from a primitive association of the "and so on" with repetition it appears that the "could be otherwise" functions as a contrary principle, a disruptive force or a technology that could have been expressly designed for the purpose of upsetting the "and so on" and, practically, problematizing repetition (as if "and so on" weren't properly disruptive–these are gross simplifications); however, we are talking here about a primitive association. Alternatively, we could begin with a more sophisticated coupling of the "could be otherwise" with repetition, a coupling that opens the door to an alternative metaphysical belief about time; this reversal doesn't demand that one must then accept a belief in repetition as "could be otherwise," or repetition as dually structured, or that one must accept any belief at all about repetition; indeed, the sophisticate's coupling of repetition with the "could be otherwise" invites us to hold in suspension the idea that repetition refers to anything that could actually be brought forth, anything that could actually be made evident. That is to say as well that the "could be otherwise" could be otherwise, that it could be sequenced in other tonalities, but in offering }∅{ as a "could be otherwise" of the first principle no assertion is made beyond the implicit assertion of the value of conversation, even in some of its weirder modes. One needn't have beliefs about the breach, which is neither rule nor nonrule, neither inclusion nor exclusion (nor inclusively "neither inclusion nor exclusion" and so on) in order to pursue an improvisatory practice of the breach, of keeping conversation going, conversation being one of several modalities of the breach. Perhaps repetition also has such a nonassertive value. It may yet be shown to exist, and it may then give itself as the key to understanding the commemorative sign. The commemorative sign might then be viewed as something other than a heuristic device, though one shouldn't infer from such a statement that heuristic practices lack worth or validity or fail to touch on reality in the same way one might criticize speculative practices for their disengagements with what really really touches thinking. So, if the Pyrrhonian commemorative sign does not hinge on an unsubstantiated belief that repetition is among the things that can be pointed to, does it then hinge on merely a hope that repetition may exist? On a related note, would this reliance hope unveil heuristics as principally a hopeful mode of engagement with the real? I'm ambivalent on that point. Does one hope for an end to repetition–isn't that one explicit meaning of the wish, hope's dear friend, a symptom of a belief that there may yet be a way out of a rut of suffering, a chance to undo? (Are we being confused by an oafish grasp of a cinematic idea of love? Heuristics relies upon conversation. Does one in engage in conversation hopelessly? I'm not sure.) On the other hand, under what conditions does heuristics depart from a concern for the reliability of experimental results, a concern which would demand a possibility of repetition? Imagine all that could be undone if we suspended "repetition." Now, what would a suspension of "}∅{" undo? (So we return to undoing, undo it and so on.)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:23 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

on this meaning of non-evident we could include anything that can only be observed or 'measured' by its effects - like gravitation...I'm not sure the wind counts as non-evident... we know what it is as change of air pressure etc. We don't know the force carriers of gravitation? Certainly pscyhes are non-evident - we can only observe. their effects. In fact, to be more complicated, even if we knew the force carriers of the putative psychic field (AGNT) we still could not locate or determine what the soul was - apart from saying it was causally efficient?????????????????

January 03, 2009 7:15 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

As near as I can tell Kuzminski's reading gives us something like an evidently nonevident consciousness but a merely nonevident psyche. One thing about these ancient philosophies is that they don't seem up to date with the latest empirical research.

January 07, 2009 7:49 AM  

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