Friday, April 10, 2009

Artefactuality of the Question

Scarry's tremendous thinking about the image, which recognizes the body's work (especially the work of the hand) in making and manipulating images, prompts me to revisit the imaginary question. If the image is artefactual as Scarry asks us to acknowledge (Dreaming, p. 149), if it is in some important respect a creation of the hand, then would the discovery of the hand's movements in the posing of the imaginary question tell us anything about the question, either the question itself or the question as it is posed (assuming there could possibly be a difference), or would it simply be by virtue of being imagined that the question becomes manipulatable? Is posing a question, any question, the job of the imagination?

Conceptualize a somatic methexis of the question, an existential, improvisatory engagement with the query, the en-quiry in its fullest sense as a putting oneself, not merely an understanding which could be disembodied, but a replete bodily understanding (understanding body), at serious risk. Where would we look for signs of the somaticity of this methexis? Here's Scarry reporting on the hand's closeness to the image:

[R]ecent work on mental imaging in cognitive psychology has shown that the part of the brain at work when one thinks of a handmade object (a chisel, a dollhouse, a house) is not the same as when one thinks about a nonhandmade object (a stone, a shell). It also turns out that the part of the brain engaged in thinking about handmade objects is the region engaged in thinking about motion. It may also be that our thinking about handmade objects magnifies our sense of human agency, thereby increasing our ability to make mental images move.

(p. 146)

If we think about the question as a handmade object, even more specifically as something for the hand, if not a tool, then like a tool, something to get a handle on, do we risk deluding ourselves about the essential nature of the question, confusing the shaped opening of discourse, the door of the habitation of language, with the open wonder or, alternatively, the free impulse to evocation, the celebration of the responsivity of speech that is the question. Furthermore, then, could the experts of questioning–philosophers of some ilks might qualify–be more deluded than the question's laity, misled by the thinking suggested by their own practices? (I have previously suggested a naturalism of the question; this too would have something of the handmade about it.) Consider the following observation about how dancers imagine movement, which, though I have known only a handful of trained dancers, strikes me as being on target: "one may, like a dancer, feel the stir of the imagined action across one's whole stationary body" (p. 148).

Let's think about reading for a moment, an activity that is near and dear to me, and perhaps others who regularily pose questions and think about questions. As Scarry thinks about how the gestures of the hand inform certain manipulations of the image, such as stretching, folding and tilting, she notices a parallel with the activity of reading. "Reaching, stretching, and folding are the actual motions the hand carries out–like a spell of hand motions performed over the book–as one reads"(p. 147). Like a spell of hand motions. We flirt with magical thinking, for the most part this morning contagious magic rather than sympathetic magic, but the ascertainment of any magic impinging upon the question would be remarkable. Do we free ourselves of magical thinking about the question, or do we discern the magical in our thinking on the way to discerning what is magical about the question? Is "magical thinking" a negative image of praktognosis? Is literate magic radically different from oral magic?

Can we learn anything about the lability of the question from thinking about the lability of images? Emily Brontë's "hand exercises" serve to "make the image more labile by calling attention to its malleability" (p. 127). (Lability and malleability are not in fact synonymous; lability refers to wandering, erring, or even slipping, lapsing, whereas malleability simply means one can beat it with a hammer–well, this is a question. Do we first find the image malleable or already malleated (which wouldn't rule out further malleations)? Perhaps the question, if we attend to it in its habitation, tells us something about certain malleabilities of speech at the same time it also mirrors, either in its very malleiformity or in its contagious belonging to speech, malleability, or, better, malleaticities of the imaginary.) Flexousness: a wonderful word Scarry borrows from Hardy. Lability depends upon the flexousness of the moving body, the moving person as Scarry rightly says (pp. 155-156). Now, in our imaginations, can we ever completely dematerialize the moving person? I'd like to avoid reducing the imaginary question to a question of its inflection, while still refusing to ignore its inflection insofar as it's put out there with questioning. More broadly, then, in what sense does the imaginary dematerialize the question? In the final analysis what do we know about the materiality of the moving person? Oh, to be sure, the imaginary questioner (or the formulator of the imaginary question, if we must) is a person who moves; however, it's the malleaticity of the image which bathes the imaginary in the material, or requires us to recognize something like material–not just any material, though. We are speaking of technology, stuff made by hand, or even, at the same time, made for the hand. Conceivably rather than the moving imparting its materiality to the malleable, the malleable exists as a material resistance to the movements of the body of uncertain materiality. This is a question for future inquiries, as is the echo of locomotion (lability) in the hominid hand, the very hand that formulates the imaginary question.

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 6:27 AM.


Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page