Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reading Resides in the Voice and in the Hands

Dermot Moran, commenting on Merleau-Ponty (blogged about at However Fallible and Perverse Egalitarianism), argues that seeing is tactile, that even when our gaze moves from one thing to another, "we do not drop into the invisible." After a thing drops from visual focus there remains a background of the visible, analogous to a tactile background that remains after something has been touched. Moran then presents what appears to be an exceptional case. "Reading is a kind of seeing that has transcended the seeing of the letters and marks on the page and resides in the pure incorporeality of the meanings," he says. I, having expressed the view here that reading is coporeal, will offer a few words to elaborate my sense of reading and then, hopefully, further a critical appreciation of reading.

Instead of the transcendence of our bodily experience of written signs–there are reasons, such as the eye strain Moran cites, to believe that such a transcendence could never be perfectly accomplished–we should think of rough transpositions from one bodily mode of experience to another. Reading represents a practically silent transposition of the visual into the vocal, or, in the case of those who read sign language, a practically motionless transposition into the manual. Naturally one can read aloud or gesturally or both, and one can respond demonstrably as one reads, affirming or denying, testifying, commenting, revising, thinking, speaking. All reading passes through the faculty of speech, which resides in the body and its assuetudes. In fact it has its genesis in assuefaction, the faculty of faculties, so to speak, and this being the case it never transcends bodily experience.

Reading never transcends bodily experience. The idea can be critiqued. Obviously. I've raised the problem of the noetic faculty before, which according to some views would be a transcendent faculty, presumably, being transcendent, transcending even assuefaction itself. Quite a conundrum, given certain definitions of noesis. A version of the conundrum appears to be presented to us by Moran's idea of the pure incorporeality of meanings. Does it make sense for me to talk about a faculty for speech separate from a faculty for language, pure language, which according to many reasonable definitions allows for, indeed demands, the disembodiment of meanings? I've sometimes taken the view that the incorporeality of meanings is such a fantastic notion that those who propose it bear an onus to explain it. I've spoken of *language. Have I blinded myself to a reality of language? Of thought? How do I know what a body is? What burden do I bear?

The case of reading does not appear to a simple matter of transcendence into pure incorporeality. As in the past, I ask that you attend to your own experiences of reading as you think about the issue. As much as the eyes, reading resides in the voice and in the hands.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:41 AM.


OpenID kvond said...

FtY: " I, having expressed the view here that reading is coporeal, will offer a few words to elaborate my sense of reading and then, hopefully, further a critical appreciation of reading."

Kvond: What I have in mind is Plato's Phaedrus myth that tells us that writing is a "pharmakon" for human memory. Derrida of course made much of this, stressing that the word means both/either remedy and/or poison, probably best translated as "potion". But keeping with your thought of the materiality of reading it is more the materiality of what pharmakon is. A text is always a material thing that our material bodies comes in contact with, something that mixes with our bodies so to speak, to produce either a good or bad (or nil) result.

Warren Montag made this same wonderful point about Spinoza's Ethics. If we are to take Spinoza's theories literally, the Ethics itself must be seen as a materiality that we interact with, forming some kind of cybernetic combination. I think this is right, and that Spinoza imagined his philosophy as something that materially combined with our bodies, just as lenses combined with our eyes to produce different capacities.

June 02, 2009 10:37 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I'll have to check out Montag sometime.

Do you have any thoughts on the materiality of memory?

June 02, 2009 11:04 AM  
OpenID kvond said...

I am working on thoughts on this. I am coming to think about the synchronic and diachronic means of organizing information, what Hoffmeyer calls "digital coding and analogical coding". It seems to me that analogical coding is that which necessarily links semiotic elements through time such that they are "continuous". In this way analogical coding, so to speak (a misnomer I believe), is always a form of recording. That is, there is a temporal unfolding of material effects upon a material surface, a kind of impress, material interaction. In this way memory can only be material, though it, like all experience, certainly is also co-structured by discontinous, syntactically linked, synchronic elements. Key is to realizing that even digital, synchronic organizations are necessarily embodies and perform their own material recordings, i.e. make their own recordings, their own memories.

I don't know if that is too rambled, or even answers the direction of your question, but there is a post on this hopefully coming, as a criticism of Hoffmeyer.

June 02, 2009 12:42 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Not too rambled at all. Thanks.

June 02, 2009 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interested to see more on the materiality of memory


"Every psyche is found to be primarily an unconnected, and unmerge-able, eclosion or “pop-out” of “existential finitude.” Although rare, the word “eclosion” will nevertheless appear often in this article. The phrase “existen-tial finitude” denotes for natural scientists every reality able to sense and move a portion of nature while altering herself by sedimenting those causal involvements away from temporality – this refers to an “instant” and not a time sequence.
The designation “away from temporality” thus means “not on a time course but inside the instant,” specifying where such reality occurs and simultaneizes the sedimented sequences (“memories”) of her reactions to her causal interactions. This is why any reality that knows itself ought to possess memory, being in turn erroneous the Aeschylus-Plato theory that envisaged brain-engraved memory traces, namely the never found "en-grams". Or, in other words: since nature vacates itself outside actuality and consequently every thing in nature, including each mind, exists only within the physical instant, the preservation of memories is an effect due to the ab-sence of time course rather than the presence of brain engrams.....

June 02, 2009 10:05 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks for recalling those passages, Paul. "Absence of time course rather than presence of brain engrams" catches my imagination. About the physicality of memory, you say both "physical instant" and "nature vacates itself outside actuality." Is the physical instant vacant of physis? (Can't quite recall if we touched on this before, but I don't mind revisiting if you don't.)

Am interested in the interface/gap between atemporal in this sense and temporal. The extemporal not a time sequence. Is there no nonsequential time? No a-causal time, no time that does something besides follow itself? I don't believe extemporization could be absolutely atemporal, or cut off from all sequentiality, or contact with other psyches, other instants. Is it in the nature of nature to be interwoven, mosaic, polymorphic....? Are there one or many physical instants?

Between reader and text, a hylozoic hiatus? Does one practically navigate the hylozoic hiatus?

June 03, 2009 8:35 AM  
OpenID kvond said...

A river-bed remembers a river, a river remembers, literally re-members, itself through its river-bed. There is no vacuity of nature, no Hegelian gulping of mouthfuls of lack.

June 03, 2009 2:32 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

On negating nothingness, I rather miss not having discussed this in a philosophy class decades ago. Although I am sympathetic to the view that nothingness is not a naturally occurring phenomenon, it seems to me one has to conjure up nothingness in order to negate nothingness. Do the things people talk about exist in any way? If you say yes, there is nothingness because people talk about nothingness. If you say no, there is nothingness because certain signs or kinds of talk point to nothingness. You have eliminated concepts, a class of concepts, or maybe even just one concept, from your naturalist cosmology. By either method this creation of a kind of exception, besides being a symptom of an ideational constitution of nature, in the broadest sense, is not logically consistent with totalizing ontology, or the position that there is only what is and nothing else. A surplus has been at least tacitly acknowledged. How do we make sense of that surplus of nature? (It might as well be vacant, for the sake of argument.) Of course the reverse proposition is absurd: that nothingness exists. Are we left with nothing but a choice of absurdities? If we accept that language, the experience of language in particular, or rather the experience of speech, exists, within the natural, perhaps, then it might make sense to accept that concepts like nothingness exist for the sake of argument, or for the sake of conversation. At some point we may allow charity into our deliberations, if for no other reason than it feels good to follow other people's thoughts. It's edifying. (I'm sure there are better reasons. Just saying.) Implicitly we have all agreed to say a few words about nothingness (or vacancy). I'm not certain such agreements carry ethical imperatives, or if there really are ethical imperatives, but it does mean something to me. I welcome thoughts from every corner, but I do not do so emptily. Or I strive to bring something of myself to my hospitality, such as it is. Really just saying.

June 04, 2009 5:47 AM  
OpenID kvond said...


I like all your words here.

I would not advocate eliminating a "class of concepts" but rather challenging what a "concept" is. For me it is simply a "way of doing things" a way of acting, and it is a traditional mistake of philosophy (one that Wittgenstein thoroughly challenged) to have a picture of language where meaning is granted by some kind of one-to-one correspondence between a state of things in the mind and a state of things in the world. In otherwords, even though we have a "concept" of (or even the word) "nothingness" (those ways of acting), that does not mean that this concept works because there is some kind of nothingness out there in the world.

There seem to be two kinds of imposition of lack or nothingness qualified as ontological. There is a kind of essentialized non-Being which is suppposed to be the opposite of Being, and then there is a Hegelian inspired kind of stacking of non-Being, capacties of incorperating "lack" in moments of increasing self-reflection. I feel that both of these lead in the wrong direction, both materially, and Ethically.

I do find that agreements carry ethical imperatives, or rather ethical imperatives (or we might say normative ballastings) are the foreground of agreements. I certainly agree that charity of interpretation is important to understanding another, but also it is charitable to disagree.

June 04, 2009 11:05 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

It's not a question of correspondence, I believe. It's a question of either cutting off concepts from the natural world, as we imagine it, or allowing that the natural world also provides habitats for the conceptual.

In Piercean terms, the word "nothingness" is the representatum (and "isn't" and "vacuity" may substitute or index the object nicely enough), the concept of nothingness is the object, which has the same status as a thing, and the interpetant is like the pragmatic effect of talking about nothingness—off to lunch.

June 04, 2009 11:45 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

To clarify. You said "that does not mean that this concept works because there is some kind of nothingness out there in the world." There is still the concept and if it works then by your account there would have to be a working conceptual nothingness, some variety of nothingness which may well be other than a variety of nothingness that would be referred to "out there in the world." Concepts are worldly or else one's made an exception of them in one's cosmology. Shades of gray, too, naturally.

June 04, 2009 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More soon. reading and thinking 'with a little help from my friends.' Not quite sure about K's 'no vacuity of nature.' all will become clear. I'm not advocating Hegel...

June 04, 2009 5:42 PM  
OpenID kvond said...

FtY: "There is still the concept and if it works then by your account there would have to be a working conceptual nothingness, some variety of nothingness which may well be other than a variety of nothingness that would be referred to "out there in the world."

Kvond: Sorry, been away from the computer for a few days (wife is training for her first Muay Thai fight!)...I like to sometimes adopt, despite my resistance to much of his philosophy, Pierce's notion of what is real:

"The only effect which real things have is to cause belief, for all the sensations which they excite emerge into consciousness in the form of beliefs."

So when we ask whether nothingness is real, we are asking whether there is a real thing "nothingness" which causes our beliefs in the world. (This ends up being the kind of question where we try to identify the "real" causes, or the best understanding of causes of our beliefs.) Now when you say that "concept" of nothingness is a working concept, and thus real, we are put in a position of asking whether this real thing is causing us to hold certain beliefs.

Now I'm not sure of just what beliefs the concept of nothingness causes in me, but I question the usefulness of this concept, and whether these beliefs are better off being without. For instance I believe I can do mathematics and use the placeholder 0 without th concept of nothingness. And I can think about my dead father without the concept of nothingness. I'm very sure that the concept of nothingness is useful, but less sure that it is the most useful. What a thinker like Spinoza wants to tell you is that when you look into the cookie jar, digging your hand in, only to find that there are no cookies left, the pang in your heart is BEST not attributed to the "nothingness" now inside the cookie jar. Rather, the pang itself tells you that the idea of nothingness, and its attributive lack, is the thing that is causing your pang in the first place (not the oookie or its absence). The proposal is that anything that can be characterized by lack or nothing, is better characterized by plentitude and affirmations of degree.

In this way the concept of nothingness is real, but less real than the concept of plentitude.

June 05, 2009 3:12 PM  
OpenID kvond said...

p.s. Perhaps there is an relationship worth considering between the ontology of "nothingness," and the ontology of "evil".

June 05, 2009 4:28 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Glad to have your response.

"In this way the concept of nothingness is real, but less real than the concept of plentitude." Isn't this now a reality that ought to be qualified? Nothingness is less real to me than plenitude, where me stands for the agent who decides from among the alternatives which be-lief to hold? From this point of view, I think, nothingness would not be real for the true skeptic, the one who merely withholds belief rather than simply denies or disbelieves, in the limited sense of refusing or being unable to accept things as true. On the other hand, from the point of view I outlined above, the true skeptic who withheld belief in nothingness would logically have to acknowledge that nothingness is something which other people believe in and is therefore no more or less real than any other object of belief.

Perhaps you have met somebody who is less inclined to believe in a plenitude more real than nothingness than a plenitude as real as nothingness. I don't know. I wonder what you make of a working disbelief.

June 06, 2009 10:41 AM  
OpenID kvond said...

FtY: "Perhaps you have met somebody who is less inclined to believe in a plenitude more real than nothingness than a plenitude as real as nothingness. I don't know. I wonder what you make of a working disbelief."

Kvond: Well, if we allow the conflation of nothingness and lack, any Lacanian would tell you that the subject proper is constituted by lack, and this is not a matter of belief. It is a constitutive effect that literally cuts the subject off from plentitude, causing it to circulate in endless economies of desire, in one form or another. This is precisely the kind of "belief" in lack that I most resist, a kind of prepositing of it as a phiolosophical pseudo-ontologial reality which then becomes inscribed in our descriptions of ourselves and the world. Lack as necessity.

Beyond this of course, the "negation" for Hegelians is not only Real (Hegel counted Spinoza's failure to affirm the reality of the negation as his greatest flaw), but it is key to grasping just what Consciousness is. Consciousness is literally composed of a kind of Nothingness, a perpetuating self-negation. The entire Hegelian/Existentialist line participates in this kind of "belief" in nothingness.

As a Spinozist what I take working disbelief to be in an inadequate idea, of which there are degrees of (in)adequacy. Yes, one can get along in the world believing that lack, or negation, or vacuity all work to constitute our consciousness in some way or other, but these theories lead one to ontologize a limit which then indeed limits what we can be, and the paths we choose for becoming more active as agents.

So, I'm not sure what a true skeptic on the reality of nothingness would be. Instead I simply treat the idea of nothingness as an inadequate, imaginary notion, one better left behind.

June 06, 2009 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was going to post something but it's too long....could you remind me of your email - I have one that doesn't seem to be working...

June 08, 2009 3:08 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

fidotheyak@yahoo.com or fidotheyak@gmail.com should both work. The other one I used is probably dead.

June 08, 2009 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you got the email. P

June 09, 2009 12:36 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Paul, I thought I sent a response. My apologies for keeping you waiting, and for not informing you of the dead email account at palouse.net Yes, I got your email and it stimulated a few thoughts. Will send another.

June 20, 2009 2:34 PM  

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