Saturday, April 11, 2009

Marginal Practices

The habit, which has become second nature, of conceiving one's relationship to oneself and to one’s surroundings as an activity of neutral cognition of objective circumstances bestows over time a reified form on human activity, without ever being able to eradicate the original "caring" character of this activity completely. This antecedent characteristic must, in the form of prereflective knowledge or marginal practices, remain present in such a way that critical analysis could make us aware of it at any time.

(Alex Honneth, Reification: A Recognition-Theoretical View (pdf), p. 19/107)

. . . [O]ur actions do not primarily have the character of an affectively neutral, cognitive stance toward the world but rather that of an affirmative, existentially colored style of caring comportment. In living we constantly concede the situational circumstances of our world a value of their own, which brings us to be concerned with our relationship to them. On this elementary level, the concept of "recognition" thus shares a fundamental notion not only with Dewey's concept of "practical involvement" but also with Heidegger's "care" and Lukács's "engaged praxis"—namely, the notion that the stance of empathetic engagement in the world, arising from the experience of the world's significance and value [Werthaftigkeit], is prior to our acts of detached cognition. A recognitional stance therefore embodies our active and constant assessment of the value that persons or things have in themselves.

(p. 23/111)

Honneth defines recognition as empathetic engagement, and goes on to define reification as "the process by which we lose the consciousness of the degree to which we owe our knowledge and cognition of other persons to an antecedent stance of empathetic engagement" (p. 40/128). He further defines forgetfulness in this instance as "reduced attentiveness" (p. 42/130). His theme is ultimately the reification of nature (by which he means a world of impersonal things?) and how this is related to the reification of persons. He says, en route to a conclusion, "our recognition of the individuality of other persons demands that we perceive objects in the particularity of all those aspects that they attach to these objects in their respective views of them" (p. 45/133).

A style of empathic engagement does not merely persist in the margins of a hegemony, like a fossil waiting to be discovered; rather, it is grown from practices of marginality. Marginality may condition cathexis–not, however, as purely a response to hegemony, in a way that could be too easily misconstrued as its overflow, but as a region of wild empathies where the existence of stances is realized. There remains a sense, though, in which the wild empathy carves out its own wildness, making a home within marginality, yes, setting up a wild house, but even more than that, engendering marginality as its habitation. This is a difficult area. Do we say of a practice of empathy that it is destined for marginality, and therefore not destined for hegemony, thereby allowing any transition between the two to be shrouded, or allowing for the escape from telos which would entail the radical transformation of practice so little understood that we should question how it is we could ever know that empathy has been completely eradicated or, conversely, transplanted anew? Why should I insist that marginality cannot be grasped as merely a response to hegemony? It is a condition of possibility of the movement between stances, felt stances–or is it a modality of such a condition, grasped intellectually as something capable of presenting itself modally–a hegemonic thought? It would be naive to think that we could easily take up residence in the marginal, even as we frequently find ourselves at the margins in our day to day lives, experiencing a marginality we have, in some part, engendered. From what corner will the question "How did we arrive here?" come?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:42 PM.


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