Friday, March 20, 2009

Methectic Improvisation (on a Theme by Levinas)

If we pose methexis as an alternative to mimesis how do we account for spontaneity? Conceivably it doesn't fall on the side of methexis. Levinas tells us that representation is itself pure spontaneity, a thought which is by no means self-explanatory (Totality, p. 125). Let's see how Levinas talks about representation and, in particular, the temporal qualities of representation, because if we can make sense of what he is saying in these respects we will have some foothold on his equation of spontaneity with representation. (I've proffered a defense of spontaneity already; now, as a sort of rejoinder, we need to refine our understanding of representation.)

Levinas sees in representation, against expectations, the power to repeat the event of enjoyment, which is to be understood not as an involvement but as a break (p. 123). This implies to me that something like a whole person takes part in representation, whole enough for enjoyment, though one step away from involvement. However, for Levinas, the whole person who ages has no place in representation, or, rather, the temporality of such a person who represents is put on hold for the sake of a repetition which also means a step into eternity, a repetition that is foremost a break.

At the very moment of representation the I is not marked by the past but utilizes it as a represented and objective element. Illusion? Ignorance of its own involvements? Representation is the force of such an illusion and of such forgettings. Representation is a pure present. The positing of a pure present without even tangential ties with time is the marvel of representation. It is a void of time, interpreted as eternity.

(p. 125, Levinas' emphases)

So mimesis does not simply oppose methexis so much as it erases it, avoids the participatory, wipes away all traces of past involvements in the present while still it returns to them. And yet–this is surprising–in Levinas' account the unfolding of representation is sonorous rather than visual, a modality suggestive of both ongoing methectic entanglement and, less surely, enjoyment.

The "I think" is the pulsation of rational thought. . . . The subject that thinks by representation is a subject that hearkens to its own thought: one has to think of thought as in an element analogous to sound and not to light. Its own spontaneity is a surprise for the subject, as though despite its full mastery qua I the I surprised what was taking place. The inspiration [gĂ©nialitĂ©] is the very structure of representation: a return in the present thought to the thought's past, an assuming of this past in the present, a going beyond this past and this present–as in the Platonic reminiscence, in which the subject hoists himself up to the eternal. The particular I is one with the same, coincides with the "daemon" that speaks to it in thought, and is universal thought. . . .Universal thought is always a thought in the first person.

(p. 126, Levinas' emphasis)

Is eternity broken off from any putative pulsation of the cosmos? Where does pulsation come from once even tangential ties to time have been broken off? Does enjoyment have its own separate vibe? And inner speech? I have a doubt about whether my inner voice coincides with me, the person of universal thought, a person who would have to be appreciably acosmic yet alive in their own vibration–no, not their own vibration, this is precisely what is in question. Who among the living will answer for the pulsation of thought? Is this something we just pick up on, or do we relate to it more ingeniously? Do we ingeniously talk to our inner voice? Alternatively, if we can, from a position of analytical subjectivity, wipe out a cosmos of the inner voice, the power of an illusion, of a return, yet still recognize it as a voice, the unsaid in every saying, how will we make a space for the acknowledgment of its singularity? Would such an acknowledgment be like breaking off a time, interpreted as eternity, for the enjoyment of time? Arguably the singularity of the inner voice needed no acknowledgment but was, despite its being an inner voice, already plain as day. And time never needed to be made personal, but always existed through the sonorous as well as hyperspherically. (A tangent? No doubt. But it is Levinas who said "pulsation" and not without reason–it remains to us ask what kind of activity pulsation represents, whether it is anything like a continuation, or its opposite, and how we should measure it.) Imagine the peripherality of time's reaches, if we can finally risk a personification. Instead of making a break from time that would run contrary to methexis, mimesis repeats a movement into the periphery of time. Such movements can be described as unfolding hyperspherically–the concept time merely reminding us that the person's full range of movement extends into many dimensions. Insofar as mimesis presents itself as a locus of all points, the very pulse of the cogito, it would have to be regarded as delusional. We can't be sure, however, that mimesis will follow this rule, that it won't ever lapse into perfect clarity. Methexis and mimesis may be rhtymosophically homeomorphic, but we must concede a difference: whereas methexis participates roundly in the hyperspherical ballet of existence, mimesis jets into the peripherality of movement (an absurdity, you will notice, though an absurdity with a surplus of sense), passing itself across the stage of the delusional, briefly, wing to wing, only to spontaneously discover the question of a locus. Was the question already there waiting to be asked? Waiting wouldn't have been enough to make it a question. More to the point, we can't rule out the possibility that the mime will one day be able to spontaneously answer the question he discovered in his own voice. Nothing will have happened spontaneously in representation that wouldn't have been an absurdity had representation been spontaneity–but that doesn't preclude our finding any sense in the equation, naturally.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:39 PM.


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