Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blues Face

At the risk of veering off into something that's not quite philosophy I must forward the argument that the ultimate dimension which makes the world intelligible is provided by the face of the Beloved, understood as a person. Concomitantly, irreplacability of the singular face rather than the reversibility of relationship to the world characterizes the drama of existence. It must be acknowledged that not everybody knows the Beloved, or any beloved of any kind. Existence on this planet is such that faces may become strange and even horrible and still possess the semblance of being faces, appearing to possess the power, even in shock and pain, of calling upon an ethical, indeed a loving relation. Are we dealing with masks or faces, persons or persons? If faces change, how do we know which face is deepest or truest? Is it a question of which face calls for love? How do we recognize the beloveds of this earth?

In one aspect the problem of the world of the face has everything to do with persons (personae). It is the face who speaks, the face who expresses, and the manifestation of the face within the visible is only this inchoate power of dramatic expression. The face is always on the verge of saying something. But why should that something be "love me" much less "I love you"? What does the inchoate have to do with love? We risk confusing what we wish the face would say with what the face means stripped of our narcissisms—is this, though, realistic, this stripping away of narcissism from reality? Quite possibly it is. Somehow we find ourselves taking responsibility for faces as if we could love them in spite of any realities to the contrary, in spite of other feelings that more or less directly contradict love. Does the world laugh at the sense of responsibility engendered by the face of the beloved? Only love would allow such a stupidity as responsibility for an other to be tolerated, and if love didn't enable such stupidities it wouldn't be love. It should be of the utmost concern to philosophy to know whether the absence of love indicates something like a hard, cold reality or, rather, something like the blues.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:46 PM. 11 comments

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Touchable Face

Perhaps Morris is being fair to Levinas when he writes, "Far from an ethics of seeing, remoteness, and the face, when we become attuned to our sense of space as a sense of living movement that crosses us with the world and other bodies, we find an ethics of being in touch, of movement, that goes back into the prior movement of development, place, and the social, a movement limited by death in the here and now, rather than the infinite of God, as in Levinas's ethics of the face" (Sense, pp. 178-179). Be that as it may, I'd like to recover from the concept of the face something of a physicality and a phenomenality that doesn't efface the infinition of the other person, a phenomenality that does recognize singularity and radical exteriority even as it's characteristically encountered by way of chthonic temporalities and indeed a certain fugaciousness of existence, for, this may be paradoxical, in order that the world be intelligible, the infinition of the other person's face necessarily functions as a hermeneutic measure of finitudes, or, more broadly, horizons. We can't properly know what finitudes mean absent the appearance of the face of the other person, and conversely and simultaneously, we need to perceive limits in order to feel transcendent ourselves, to feel our own openness to the world upon which so much of our existence depends. I suggest then that the face be thought of as radically exterior to consciousness, but not by that token remote from phenomenality, for remoteness appears in phenomenality as remoteness from, and implicitly also as remoteness from a horizon. What belongs to the from, what's embedded in the from, is not shaken free in the movement away from phenomenality; such a freedom would require yet another movement, a necessarily invisible movement decidedly not connected to the world of perception. Yet there is however a spasmodic quality to infinition, a suddenness of instantiation, implying a sudden and immediate ethics. The spasmorealization of a cadacualtic—apologies—aspect of coexistence is given in every important sense by the face of the other. Infinition so far as we know it touches upon the contingent, in so many words, which leaves us to think of not what the unknowable face would look like, or some such, but rather the meaning of the con-, which changes everything we should want to say about touch, and thus, insofar as we use touch to interpret the phenomenal world, our statements about the world or indeed even about reality, if we were given to such talk. To sum up, Morris's criticism, regardless of whether it treats Levinas' philosophy with due fairness, would be unfair to a conceptualization of the face as touchable. More strongly, the touchablity of the face informs our understanding of the infinition of the face of the other person which is not arrived at by any detour around remoteness, but through "remoteness" such as it appears exactly.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:01 AM. 6 comments

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Life Crisis

A life crisis makes it difficult for me to blog. We'll see what happens.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:26 AM. 9 comments

Quick Note on Handedness

Adrien Meguerditchian emailed me some recent articles to allay my skepticism about evidence of handedness in nonhuman primates. One is in press, Meguerditchian et al., "Captive chimpanzees use their right hand to communicate with each other: Implications for the origin of the cerebral substrate for language," Cortex (2009), doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2009.02.013. The other one is Adrien Meguerditchian and Jacques Vauclair, "Contrast of hand preferences between communicative gestures and non-communicative actions in baboons: Implications for the origins of hemispheric specialization for language," Brain & Language (2008), doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2008.10.004. Meguerditchian's case is bolstered by the recent research. Longtime readers of this blog, nevertheless, will suspect that my skepticism is not easily shaken. In fact, however, I am leaning away from the belief that handedness is uniquely tied to human vocal speech. I remain uncertain about it. My skepticism in no way presupposes any closure on the question of evolutionary substrates for the pattern of lateralization evident in sapiens.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:03 AM. 0 comments

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Asymmetries of the Question

Taking a cue from Morris, who posits a deep connection between asymmetrical postures, openness and extroversion (Sense, pp. 164 ff.), let's provisionally categorize questions as either being symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical questions are exemplified by polar questions, though they include other types of presentation of either/or alternatives. Asymmetrical questions appear open-ended. They appear to transcend the horizon of the question considered as merely a more or less polite form of a request for information. They engage.

The asymmetrical question is grounded in an open posture. It arises as from a vulnerability, even as it negotiates a scaffolding that will support and inform noesis down the road ahead. Alternatively, the asymmetrical question leaps from the leap, comes to earth late in the process of questioning.

Does the asymmetrical question reflect the primitive condition of the question? Does the question initially spring from an asymmetrical posture or acture?

I'm assuming that a question arises from either a symmetrical or asymmetrical posture, and, secondarily, that it has either a symmetrical or asymmetrical form, which has its own shakiness as an assumption.

Regarding the secondary concern: How do we describe the commensurability of the question? Tacitly I have been assessing the symmetry of the question by balancing it against the answer. This is revealing. As argued previously, the question rather implies an answer or answerability, even in the form of refusals to answer. Answerability appears embedded in the horizon of the question, even as we acknowledge the delight people take in playing with unanswerable questions. Our assumptions then are all wrong?

So what is the question commensurate to? The request? Do we know the request well enough to measure the question against it? Is the question commensurate to the utterance in general? Dialogue? Are there, after all, dialogues without questions? (I've tried this, it's very off-putting.) So we face a conundrum of using questions without knowing what a question is, measuring the question ever provisionally, ever by a method open to questioning.

Does the aporetic arrive through an asymmetrical opening of the posture? Where does this lead? Do we ever, in questioning, pass beyond all measure?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:58 AM. 4 comments

Friday, October 02, 2009

Better than Ideas, Matrices of Ideas

Barbaras quotes Merleau-Ponty taking off from Malraux' idea that we hear our own voices through our throats while we hear the voices of others through our ears: "I am a sonorous being, but I hear my own vibration from within; as Malraux said, I hear myself with my throat. In this, as he also has said, I am incomparable; my voice is bound to the mass of my own life as is the voice of no one else" (in Being, p. 281). For my part, while cognizant of the sense in which my voice is bound to my concrete existence and my uniqueness, I feel that, as previously noted,the ear comes late to hearing, late to hearing the other as well as (if differently than) the self.

Let's talk about listening to speech in particular, recognizing speech with its implicit dimension of listening as an example of coexistential ideation, an ideation characterized by quasi-interiority, an as if quality of its inner horizon. Here I'm thinking of ideation as allusive, as governed by methectic laterality rather than being directed "from above" or from the outside. Barbaras' thinking about this topic inspires. Under the heading "Sense as Articulation" Barbaras sketches out an ontology of the sign premised on the reversibility of the voice. He says:

Nowhere are we confronted with signs that are strictly vocal; they cannot be characterized as sensible, audible atoms, as individuals situated in exteriority. Most assuredly, I do not hear anything other than sounds, and yet it is not the sounds themselves that I hear. Their relationship escapes worldly exteriority; they are not situated side by side. Rather, they bear witness to a quasi-interiority corresponding to the quasi-reflectivity of the voice. Each sound already slips into the others, makes allusions there and, by this very relationship, sketches a meaningful unity. Nevertheless, this movement does not rest on the presence of a meaning possessed elsewhere; sense is nothing other than this lateral relation between the signs. It is implicated in words and phonemes, as a coherent deformation, rather than being possessed by them. Sense remains, at the heart of expression, "organic" rather than pure meaning, a "matrix of ideas" [Signs, p. 77] rather than an idea. Thus the incarnation of sense in the voice corresponds to the quasi-exteriority of signs.

(p. 288)

Just as it's obvious that there can't be deformation without form, there can't be as if without irrealization. However, irrealization in its usual forms emerges not from an isolated "interiority" (in an Idealist acceptation) but rather from matrices of delocutary vibrations, echoes which one echoes, gnoseologically, as it were. The aesthesiologicality of the vocal recovers a meaning of the as if as coexistential resonance and at the same time cadacualtic.

The vocal, it must be added, represents only one modality of embodied sign usage. Nonvocal coherent deformations are both imaginable and empirically evident. The vocal ought not be reified, as there are other routes to irrealizing coexistential vibration.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:42 AM. 0 comments

Thursday, October 01, 2009


The panthropologists need to explain Ardi. It's not that Ardi can't be explained by any possible panthropology, but the fossil evidence must be dealt with, which in this case means, among other things, dealing with an affirmation of great diversity among the hominoidea, hominidea, and to put a fine point on it, the hominini. Check out Nature's report on the unveiling of the oldest hominid fossil, Ardipithecus ramidus. Key takeaway: "humans did not evolve from ancient knuckle-walking chimpanzees, as has long been believed. The reports, in Science, illuminate how early phases of humans evolved along a separate lineage from the last common ancestor shared by early hominids and extinct apes."

The news staff at Scientific Blogging also stresses this point:

Until now, researchers have generally assumed that chimpanzees, gorillas and other modern African apes have retained many of the traits of the last ancestor they shared with humans—in other words, this presumed ancestor was thought to be much more chimpanzee-like than human-like. For example, it would have been adapted for swinging and hanging from tree branches, and perhaps walked on its knuckles while on the ground.

Ardipithecus challenges these assumptions, however. These hominids appear to have lived in a woodland environment, where they climbed on all fours along tree branches—as some of the Miocene primates did—and walked, upright, on two legs, while on the ground. They do not appear to have been knuckle-walkers, or to have spent much time swinging and hanging from tree-branches, especially as chimps do. Overall, the findings suggest that hominids and African apes have each followed different evolutionary pathways, and we can no longer consider chimps as "proxies" for our last common ancestor.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:22 AM. 7 comments