Friday, January 30, 2009

Formed through Work, Worked through Form

Perhaps there is something like a schema of the face that we humans are born with. Perhaps such schemata are imprinted in early infancy. Why won't I admit that the face is both metaphysical and physical? Or simply metaphysical? What's the story with my attitude towards the metaphysical? Am I holding on to a face, a dear face? Am I afraid of other faces? Or have I really set my feelings aside in order to maintain a critical distance? Will I allow myself to be so naive? Does the face, by its nature, evoke naivety? Shouldn't I want to be free of the magistrature of criticism, once it's recognized as such? But such a freedom isn't quite the promise of the face.

Let's flesh out the sense in which Levinas means for us to understand language as metaphysical. First, though, a word on forms. Do we need forms to work through language? Levinas speaks of naked things, things which have no need for disclosure. He says they "disappear beneath their form. The perception of individual things is the fact that they are not entirely absorbed in their form; they then stand out in themselves, breaking through, rending their forms, are not resolved into the relations that link them up to the totality" (p. 74). He acknowledges a phenomenon of adumbration (and the als etwas, for this is how things are disclosed) as he prepares to offer an alternative. He calls this alternative "revelation," which, as we have remarked, is a difficult thing to ask an English speaker to regard as truly different from disclosure. Expounding, on the theme of language, Levinas says that the work of language "consists in entering into a relationship with a nudity disengaged from every form, but having meaning by itself, καθ αύτό, signifying before we have projected light upon it, appearing not a privation on the ground of an ambivalence of values (as good or evil, as beauty or ugliness), but as an always positive value. Such a nudity is the face" (ibid., Levinas' emphasis). He goes on to add, making his critical stance abundantly clear, that the face "is by itself and not by reference to a system" (p. 75, Levinas' emphasis). (There may be an irony in positing the revelation of the face as a step in the critique of the system, but I don't mean to be sarcastic by any stretch.) Why language? Why is this the theatre of revelations? Is it simply because language was the talk of his century? To be sure, Levinas touches on a truth about language that we should pay heed to whether we are talking about language in a metaphysical sense or what the linguists call natural language. He says "language institutes a relation irreducible to the subject-object relation: the revelation of the other. In this revelation only can language as a system of signs be constituted." (p. 73). He says that "in its expressive function language precisely maintains the other–to whom it is addressed, whom it calls upon or invokes" (ibid., my emphasis). What then is the relationship between expression and form? Perhaps we should imagine the press of air in the throat, the touch of air, its sculpting. Who will then take from the skop the final word?

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

Friday, January 23, 2009

Atemporal Durations, Electric Vibes

Myth dissimulates time as it is actually lived, insofar as time itself isn't just a bag of moonshine, a concept whose time has come and gone with the tides. Perhaps we are compelled by circumstances to make of myth an instrument of doubt, to use it's transformative power over thought in order to pursue our inquiries undeterred by such stupidities as the Real or Finitude. You see, we are so wrapped up in myth it is to be doubted whether we can formulate a proper question, an emancipated question. We try to undo by the same means by which we've been done in. So who's up for a little abolition of time?

Loraux writes, "wrath in mourning, the principle of which is eternal repetition, willingly expresses itself with an aeí, and the fascination of this tireless "always" threatens to set it up as a powerful rival to the political aeí that establishes the memory of institutions" ("Of Amnesty and its Opposite," in Mothers in Mourning, p. 98). Loraux wants us to think about the cultural construction of mourning (one thinks of Danforth and Seremetakis, among others, though Loraux's work isn't an ethnography, obviously, and we might suspect the ethnographers of having their own narrative issues with time), yet I think maybe the mask has slipped and I can't help wondering about the thought behind "eternal repetition," a concept which can only be understood in mythic or dramatic terms. In a footnote Loraux adds that the aeí falls under Lyotard's category of "identical repetition" in which the mark is upon the speaker, in contrast to the "Jewish" sentence in which the mark is upon the addressee. Hmm.

If we can bring the impossible on stage, why not the brazenly contradictory? "[J]ust as mēˆnis, álaston expresses the atemporal duration, immobilized in a negative will, and immortalizing the past in the present" (p. 100). Her meaning is that forgetting is also positive, at least for the polis. We'll keep that in mind. But what a strange alignment of concepts! "Nonoblivion is all-powerful insofar as it has no limits–and especially not those of a subject's interiority" (p. 102). We are dealing here, allegorically in a certain light, with ritual mourning in ancient Greece, proscribed mourning, that is, mourning as it is written, which also means mourning as it is performed in the theatre. Loraux wants us to understand this genre of mourning as more "real" than any feeling of mourning that isn't put together just so, with just-so puttingtogethers of time and its opposite. Does one rebel? Does one criticize? Is it even in the picture? And for Sophocles' Electra, who has a freedom from time that we don't have, though we know (always knowing that we are free to see our knowledge ironically) that it's a falsehood? "Refusal and control of time, such appears to be the preferred linguistic formula to assert the oblivionless existence of Electra" (p. 105). An existence without oblivion? Omnipotence? Isn't this all the same story, the same myth, even myth itself and by extension conceptual thinking? Or is it just the concepts we've elected to deal with that constrain us? Well, in any case I'll give Loraux the final word:

And the negative formulation becomes a claim for omnipotence and a plan for eternity. Nothing of that recourse to litotes we sometimes think is detectable in the utterance of nonoblivion. Just the opposite, the reduplication that reinforces the negation, as in oú pote amnasteȋ 'No, he does not forget,' or the eternity of a future perfect (táde áluta keklḗstai 'Forever it will be called indissoluble'). It is up to us, listening to Freud, to understand in all these utterances the same denial, and the confession, made without the speaker's knowledge, that in fact one shall renounce and disown the wrath to which the future gave assurances of an unlimited becoming; it is up to us especially to understand the confession that the excessive negation will nevertheless be fought–vanquished, or at least silenced, and already forgotten–by another negation, for renunciation also expresses itself with a great many verbs meaning "to deny": apeȋpon in the case of Achilles, and apennépō in the case of the Erinyes, compelled to revoke the prohibitions they had uttered against Athens.

(p. 106)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:40 AM. 14 comments

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Palm Oil Frenzy

Associated Press reports, Palm Oil Frenzy Threatens to Wipe Out Orangutans. More here, here, here and here.

I don't know if any of the great apes aren't in some way pensive–oh, never mind.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:14 PM. 0 comments

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yesterday: A Report on Understanding

Here are a few highlights of my day yesterday:

  • made espresso,

  • read the news of the world,

  • played the blues,

  • did my calisthenics,

  • listened to Elmo Hope,

  • ate some red pepper soup,

  • read that "[w]ord and subject matter, language and reality, are inseperable, and the limits of our understanding coincide with the limits of our common language. In this sense, there is no 'world in itself' beyond its presence as the subject matter a particular language community. We do not first have an extralinguistic contact with the world and then put this world into the instrumentation of language. To begin by assuming such a schema is to reduce language to the status of a tool, which fails to grasp its all-encompassing, world-constituting significance" (David E. Linge, "Editors Introduction," Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. xxviii-xxix),

  • made a quiche.

Not only do I disagree with Linge's premise that language and reality are coextensive, I think he's improperly come to a conclusion about alternatives to his point of view. Language is world-constituting and there are worlds outside of language. Life is more than one activity. If there is a world that belongs to life itself, a lifeworld, there is every reason to assume that it is not coextensive with language.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:13 AM. 0 comments

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Autopsy of an Independent Book Seller

Business week conducts an autopsy of an indie bookseller. I have no disclosures to make at this time though I have been watching AMZN for several years.

My blogging has become especially tardigradous. It's probably just the season. I've finished Kuzminski's Pyrrhonism and Casey's Imagining and started on Loraux's Mothers in Mourning, though I don't have much of a response to the first few chapters. I'll stick with the Levinas, and soon I'll pick up Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis and Bowring's Field Guide to Melancholy.

May you discover in your readings untold joys.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:10 AM. 0 comments

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Open Domain

If the open domain is logically possible it must be possible in a paradoxical though intelligible sense in which making a home (domum), a mode of enclosure, also means making an opening. Perhaps that what's intended in the expression, an oxymoron with just a soupçon of impossibility. The truth is though I don't know what possibility means, especially as its distinguished from potentiality, as Whitehead does, for example. None of my suspicions about possibility seem to match what others say about it. I put the concept on hold. As I like to say to myself, I'm open to what it could mean. At the moment possibility appears to me as something that would have to be imagined, like the open domain, perhaps. It is a fantasy idea, one of many fantasy ideas that wanders through the open domain wherein I read Casey's Imagining. Or possibility is a gesture. Perhaps I should allow it that much, that it could be offered in the interests of dialogue.

What is the milieu of the imagination, the polyskoppic power, the "organ of metamorphosis," Marie Antoinette of the faculties, winged prophet of the iconoclasm, mother of all possibilities? I'm being playful but take the question as seriously as you will. Like Casey to some extent I recognize that the imagination variegates and divagates. There's something multilocular about the whole affair. Surely Casey is right in that respect. However, I am in no rush to equate the many places of the imagination with pure possibility or any such idea. Please, allow me to loiter. What are the milieux of the imagination's vagrancies?

I am not convinced that the autonomy of the imagination is in evidence. I cannot so easily isolate my imaginings from thought, dream, fantasy, memory, culture, myth, symbol, archetype, much less assert its dominion or its rule, its something-archy. Is this not animated by a mythos, this "finding" of mine that the divagations of the imagination are not completely contained within any autonomous region? Does mythopoesis need to be obliterative in order to function, to open a domain, to push other animations aside? Does it need to obliterate the traces of its own mythos? Whether or not in practice the mythopoets call for obliterations, implicitly or otherwise, I am not persuaded of their necessity. Obliterations could be owned. This is a possibility.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:40 AM. 0 comments