Scarry riffs on the Homeric phrase "he hurled and his spear's long shadow flew":
The iteration suggests that the line is an epic formula, and we sometimes speak dismissively of formulaic lines. But its being a formula means that it was singled out as a way the movement of the heavy spear could be vividly pictured. Such a formula, in other words, gives us a record of the conclusions that the ancient world reached about mental life, about the way a mental event inside a person's mind can be prompted by a particular instruction. Furthermore, recompositionthe direction to remake a picture that we have already successfully made in the pastis, as we shall see, an important practice not only in the Iliad but in most works of the imagination: our third of fourth production of a given image is likely to be accomplished with less mental struggle and with greater vivacity. Poems and novels exist to be reread many times, but, even within a single reading, we are often called upon rapidly to reassemble images whose initial making required great labor.
(Dreaming by the Book, p. 94, my emphasis)
The idea that repeated images are more vivacious than initial images asks to be put to the test. In my experiment I chose to reimagine Pegasus' maneperhaps knowing in the back of my mind that my imaginings of Pegasus have been more lively and mobile than Scarry would give a person credit forto keep to the theme of recomposition. I was surprised to discover that my reimagining was indeed more vivid than I remembered the previous imagining being. (Can I trust my memory here?) However, the reason for this vividness may have nothing to do with the quality of rarity Scarry discusses. There is nothing shadowy or gossamer about Pegasus' mane. In fact it is coarse. There are tangles, tangles I never noticed before. It even smells tangled and coarse. Can this really be the same mane I ran my fingers through last October? If not, or if we are unsure, then we shouldn't ascribe the vivacity of the present imagery to an effect of repetition. Perhaps the reenacted image borrows its vivacity from newness because it has none of its own. Perhaps vivacity is always a recomposition, a movement defined not merely passively by its departure from demise or memory, but orchestrated in order to definitively put memory behind it because memory won't stay put on its own. Or, perhaps, Scarry has it exactly right.
"Music is not the origin of language, as people have so often wanted to think, but what withdraws and sinks into it" (Listening, p. 75, No. 42). Although I've taken a great interest in the musicality of language I should want to hesitate to adopt the position Nancy criticizes. Does music come before sense? Does it come before a kind of sense that might be called linguistic? What exactly is Nancy's view? "One can say of music that it silences sound and that it interprets sounds: makes them sound and make sense no longer as the sounds of something, but in their own resonance" (p. 32). Music makes sense, but it is not the only sense to be made of the sonorous. There is antemusical sound, the sounds that have been silenced by music. Nancy quotes Wallace Stevens on the existence of an antemusical: "the self/detects the sound of a voice that doubles as its own" ("The Woman That Had More Babies than That," in Listening, p. 72, No. 21). Resonance is the stuff of bodies. Is embodiment a basis on which to deny music priority to language? I'm being crude, it's true. Let's listen to how Nancy speaks of resonance, and its relation to timbre.
Rather than speaking of timbre and listening in terms of "intentional aim," it is necessary to say that before any relationship to object, listening opens up in timbre, which resounds in it rather than for it. In truth, resonance is at once listening to to timbre and the timbre of listening, if one may put it that way. Resonance is at once that of a body that is sonorous for itself and resonance of sonority in a listening body that, itself, resounds as it listens. (At the same time, this resonance is not an immobile given, since timbre itself is an evolving process, and, consequently, listening evolves along with it.)
Timbre is an evolving process. If we are not to take the musical as given, and therefore simply project a received idea of timbre upon all sounds, interpreting all sounds through this musicological idea, but instead recognize its evolution, then it becomes of prime importance to investigate how one form develops from another, how listening might be said to evolve rather than merely change or manifest itself in a variety of ways. Perhaps, though, the evolutions of listening are many. The analogy with life on Earth only goes so far. Was there ever a stage in the evolution of listening when music became language? See, already this is a misleading question because listenings are indeed surely many, and we wouldn't rush to say that any one adventure of listening recapitulates *listening, or that a listening must repeat or mimic other listenings, other developmental pathways. No outcome is predetermined. And so we confront the obvious problem of separating the given from the elaborated, and, secondarily, of describing the very how of evolution, and of justifying an implied distinction between a variance and a transformation. Now, in the passage immediately above, Nancy speaks of a nonintentional (in a phenomenological sense) listening as prior to intentional listening, yet in the earlier quoted passage he says that music makes sounds nonintentional. Is nonintentional listening made or discovered by music? If we are to speak intelligibly of the evolution of listening, don't we need an answer to this question of how nonintentionality in listening is arrived at? (I'm not completely sure, though I have enough of an opinion to pose the question.)
Do we move from babble to a speaking that is already listening? How does listening develop through infancy? Can we grasp listening in the context of a transcendental murmuring, "the condition of all words and all silence" (p. 25), without confronting what could be taken for a listening that transcends babble, and therewith a speaking that is already listening, at some stage or another? (I honestly don't know enough about transcendence to say whether it is one or many, or whether it really exists at all. It could after all simply be a reality of our linguistic life that we project onto things of experience in accordance with language's power to fashion realitythe withdrawal of the musical into reality, into the plasma of the realbut I'm just tossing ideas around here.)
This profound disposition [musical listening, FtY]arranged, in fact, according to the profundity of a reverberation chamber that is nothing other than the body from end to endis a relationship to meaning [sens], a tension toward it: but toward it completely ahead of signification, meaning in its nascent state, in the state of return [renvoi] for which the end of this return is not given (the concept, the idea, the information), and hence to the sate of return without end, like an echo that continues on its own and that is nothing but this continuance going in a decrescendo, or even in moriendo. To be listening is to be inclined toward the opening of meaning, hence to a slash, a cut in un-sensed [in sensée] indifference at the same time as toward a reserve that is anterior and posterior to any signifying punctuation. [T]he beginning of sense . . . takes place nowhere but in a sonorous attack. . . a stridency where a weighty, murmurring matter breathes, opened into the division of its resonance.
(p. 27, Nancy's emphasis)
Likewise, "sense consists first of all. . . not in a signifying intention, but rather in a listening" (p. 30). First of all. Hmmm.
Let's return for a second to the doubling of a voice, a voice of the self. In listening do we communicate with ourselves? "Communication is not transmission but a sharing that becomes subject" (p. 41). Perhaps we communicate with ourselves in our nascent states, but even so we should question the possibility of the frictionless voice, and, especially, frictionless doubling. How then might we describe any friction we feel in communication with our own voice? Is timbre really the bottom of it all? The musical? Now that we have discovered the musical, and brought its style of listening back from the language it'd sunk into, we can ask, paradoxically, whether there exists a voice without timbre, or any voice that isn't yet doubled, and the question may be not simply a variation on a theme of friction, but an evolution, a movement into the musical, from which we've been estranged. In timbre we hear bodies, hear that voices are voices of bodies. Are the voices of bodies bottomless? Is music? What is the bottom to listening? Is communication a condition for all doubling and all singling out? What are the primitive conditions of listening? Having an idea, perhaps? Or something that could double as a person's own idea?
Lefebvre and Régulier ("The Rhythmanalytical Project," in Rhythmanalysis) invite us to imagine a nonmechanical repetition. The invitation presupposes that we already know what mechanical repetition is, but there is nothing transparent or self-evident about the mechanical. *machine is no less an artefact than *language, *question or *rhythm, and in each case we find that anthropos (and then reflexively *anthropos), most especially in the form of a vision of human society, is the measurenaturally even the double measureof the artefact and its other. Here's Lefebvre and Régulier:
For there to be rhythm, there must be repetition in a movement, but not just any repetition. The monotonous return of the same, self-identical, noise no more forms a rhythm than does some moving object on its trajectory, for example a falling stone; though our ears and without doubt our brains tend to introduce a rhythm into every repetition, even completely linear ones. For there to be rhythm, strong times and weak times, which return in accordance with a rule or lawlong and short times, recurring in a recognisable way, stops, silences, blanks, resumptions and intervals in accordance with regularity, must appear in a movement. Rhythm therefore brings with it a differentiated time, a qualified duration. The same can be said of repetitions, ruptures and resumptions. Therefore a measure, but an internal measure, which distinguishes itself strongly though without separating itself from an external measure, with time t (the time of a clock or a metronome) consisting in only a quantitative and homogeneous parameter. In a reciprocal action, the external measure can and must superimpose itself on the internal measure, but they cannot be conflated. They have neither the same beginning, nor the same end or final cause. This double measure enters into the definition and quality of rhythm, irreducible to a simple determination, implying on the contrary complex (dialectical) relations. As such only a non-mechanical movement can have rhythm. . . .
(p. 78, their emphases)
As always I note the resistence to the idea of repetition in its rawest form.
Intimation of the shape of another person, the dialogue begun by the fading out of the image, intervals required for addressivity, drive, relating the intervalic eidos of the imaginary to an eidos of living: all to come.
Scarry says the verbal arts are both counterfactual and counterfictional, by which term she means that they "displac[e] the ordinary attributes of imaginingits faintness, two-dimensionality, fleetingness and dependence on volitional laborwith the vivacity, solidity, persistence, and givenness of the perceptible world" (Dreaming, p. 38). To describe something as fading away is already to imply an additional dimension beyond any imagined purely atemporal, unmoving spatial dimensions. A quibble? Well, I'm concerned that the imaginary is being defined here in opposition to a perceptual that is not true to experience and consequently the imaginary is being mischaracterized. The temporality of the imaginary asks to be carefully interpreted, because on its face the mere existence of a lived time of the imaginary implies a continuity between imagination and perception, a continuity which has been called into question by the very idea of the imaginary. That images fade away is a sign that there is life in the imaginary, some ground for the experience of the tremor. Yet vivacity is neither permanently affixed to persistence nor severed from spontaneity (nor even an awareness of spontaneity)to what extent perseverance persists in perseveration is a question we shall return to in some formbut swinging. Vivacity is not the leap itself but the oscillation between the leap and the faint. If you remove the faint from vivacity it's as good as dead. It becomes a dead impulse.
What do we say of the vivacity of an impulse to recur? The recurring dream, Scarry suggests, becomes troubling because "its sheer persistence. . . itself seems to contain a claim of reality" (p. 34). Although so far we have only talked about the swings of vivacity and haven't taken the position that vivacity has absolutely no relation to persistence, we must ask now whether claims to reality must divorce themselves from vivacity. If you say of course not then do you, faced with the persistence of the faint and the fading, admit to some troubles? What troubles you about idées fixes? Are you troubled by their faintnessor do they rather testify to a trouble with faintness? If reality can be claimed any number of times then perhaps reality cannot be claimed at all. I can say such a prospect doesn't trouble me, but I allow that I may have resigned myself to a troubled existence, to a certain kind of irreal life. The real is something I imagine as pantamorphic. The pantamorphic on its face recuperates the beat of naissance, the inchoate rhythm, however, the pantamorphic imaginary may hide a way of rationalizing deformity. That may be its sole purpose. Yet which would be the reality we don't want to face? Life may be more troubling to us than death, more disfiguring, more perseveranton point, vivacity in particular designates a tenacity in living, or a tenacious spirit, and although it connotes enjoyment of life, it reveals a need to affirm life, a need which for its part betokens disturbance. The imagination trembles.
If we pose methexis as an alternative to mimesis how do we account for spontaneity? Conceivably it doesn't fall on the side of methexis. Levinas tells us that representation is itself pure spontaneity, a thought which is by no means self-explanatory (Totality, p. 125). Let's see how Levinas talks about representation and, in particular, the temporal qualities of representation, because if we can make sense of what he is saying in these respects we will have some foothold on his equation of spontaneity with representation. (I've proffered a defense of spontaneity already; now, as a sort of rejoinder, we need to refine our understanding of representation.)
Levinas sees in representation, against expectations, the power to repeat the event of enjoyment, which is to be understood not as an involvement but as a break (p. 123). This implies to me that something like a whole person takes part in representation, whole enough for enjoyment, though one step away from involvement. However, for Levinas, the whole person who ages has no place in representation, or, rather, the temporality of such a person who represents is put on hold for the sake of a repetition which also means a step into eternity, a repetition that is foremost a break.
At the very moment of representation the I is not marked by the past but utilizes it as a represented and objective element. Illusion? Ignorance of its own involvements? Representation is the force of such an illusion and of such forgettings. Representation is a pure present. The positing of a pure present without even tangential ties with time is the marvel of representation. It is a void of time, interpreted as eternity.
(p. 125, Levinas' emphases)
So mimesis does not simply oppose methexis so much as it erases it, avoids the participatory, wipes away all traces of past involvements in the present while still it returns to them. And yetthis is surprisingin Levinas' account the unfolding of representation is sonorous rather than visual, a modality suggestive of both ongoing methectic entanglement and, less surely, enjoyment.
The "I think" is the pulsation of rational thought. . . . The subject that thinks by representation is a subject that hearkens to its own thought: one has to think of thought as in an element analogous to sound and not to light. Its own spontaneity is a surprise for the subject, as though despite its full mastery qua I the I surprised what was taking place. The inspiration [génialité] is the very structure of representation: a return in the present thought to the thought's past, an assuming of this past in the present, a going beyond this past and this presentas in the Platonic reminiscence, in which the subject hoists himself up to the eternal. The particular I is one with the same, coincides with the "daemon" that speaks to it in thought, and is universal thought. . . .Universal thought is always a thought in the first person.
(p. 126, Levinas' emphasis)
Is eternity broken off from any putative pulsation of the cosmos? Where does pulsation come from once even tangential ties to time have been broken off? Does enjoyment have its own separate vibe? And inner speech? I have a doubt about whether my inner voice coincides with me, the person of universal thought, a person who would have to be appreciably acosmic yet alive in their own vibrationno, not their own vibration, this is precisely what is in question. Who among the living will answer for the pulsation of thought? Is this something we just pick up on, or do we relate to it more ingeniously? Do we ingeniously talk to our inner voice? Alternatively, if we can, from a position of analytical subjectivity, wipe out a cosmos of the inner voice, the power of an illusion, of a return, yet still recognize it as a voice, the unsaid in every saying, how will we make a space for the acknowledgment of its singularity? Would such an acknowledgment be like breaking off a time, interpreted as eternity, for the enjoyment of time? Arguably the singularity of the inner voice needed no acknowledgment but was, despite its being an inner voice, already plain as day. And time never needed to be made personal, but always existed through the sonorous as well as hyperspherically. (A tangent? No doubt. But it is Levinas who said "pulsation" and not without reasonit remains to us ask what kind of activity pulsation represents, whether it is anything like a continuation, or its opposite, and how we should measure it.) Imagine the peripherality of time's reaches, if we can finally risk a personification. Instead of making a break from time that would run contrary to methexis, mimesis repeats a movement into the periphery of time. Such movements can be described as unfolding hypersphericallythe concept time merely reminding us that the person's full range of movement extends into many dimensions. Insofar as mimesis presents itself as a locus of all points, the very pulse of the cogito, it would have to be regarded as delusional. We can't be sure, however, that mimesis will follow this rule, that it won't ever lapse into perfect clarity. Methexis and mimesis may be rhtymosophically homeomorphic, but we must concede a difference: whereas methexis participates roundly in the hyperspherical ballet of existence, mimesis jets into the peripherality of movement (an absurdity, you will notice, though an absurdity with a surplus of sense), passing itself across the stage of the delusional, briefly, wing to wing, only to spontaneously discover the question of a locus. Was the question already there waiting to be asked? Waiting wouldn't have been enough to make it a question. More to the point, we can't rule out the possibility that the mime will one day be able to spontaneously answer the question he discovered in his own voice. Nothing will have happened spontaneously in representation that wouldn't have been an absurdity had representation been spontaneitybut that doesn't preclude our finding any sense in the equation, naturally.
At the moment I'm unable to deliver a proper meditation on the rhythmic listener. I'll get back to it. For now I need to mention that if you're going to be in Seattle you need to check out the Jason Parker Quartet, all of whom are sensitive listeners.
A passage in Nancy's Listening serves to amplify an idea of Lefebvre's that rhythm requires another time besides or outside of time in order to meditate upon time. Here's Nancy:
We should linger here for a long while on rhythm: it is nothing other than the time of time, the vibration of time itself in the stroke of a present that presents it by separating it from itself, freeing it from its simple stanza to make it into scansion (rise, raising of the foot that beats) and cadence (fall, passage into the pause). Thus, rhythm separates the succession of the linearity of the sequence or length of time: it bends time to give it to time itself, and it is in this way that if folds and unfolds a "self." If temporality is the dimension of the subject (ever since Saint Augustine, Kant, Husserl, Heidegger), this is because it defines the subject as what separates itself, not only from the other or from the pure "there," but also from the self: insofar as it waits for itself and retains itself, insofar as it desires (itself) and forgets (itself), insofar as it retains, by repeating it, its own empty unity and its projected or . . . ejected [protojée, ou . . . jetée] unicity.
(p. 17, Nancy's emphases)
A quick thought. In addition to thinking about the methectic quality of listening, which Nancy invites, we should mull over the improvisatory attribute of (contribution to) methexis. Where is the methexis in a trumpet full of my emptiness?
Elaine Scarry's Dreaming by the Book promises to be a good read. She has done her research. She writes well. She thinks formidably. I'll surely enjoy critically engaging with this text.
Does poetry speak to us of a tacit dimension of language? If there is a special case of language called poetry, a genre distinct from others that we can isolate and consider separately from our investigations of language, does it yet tell us of a reality, a vivid reality, of all speech and its house, language? My prejudice is clear. I am surrounded by poetrybut perhaps I delude myself. By no stretch am I an expert on what constitutes poetry.
While Scarry holds that "imaginary vivacity comes about by reproducing the deep structure of perception" (p. 9), I suggest that poetic juice flows from the chthonic prosody of all tongues, iteratively one imagines. Assonance and consonance are the stuff of Scarry's prose. Perhaps also her thoughts. However, she claims that "verbal art. . . .has no acoustical features" (p. 5, her emphasis). Can it be said without controversy that verbal art (in the limited sense in which Scarry defines it) has no acoustical features but it echos the spoken word? The idea may be backwards and upsidedown too. Scarry defines poetry (apparently deciding for us that the model for all poetry must be written) as a "sequence of printed signs [which] contains a set of instructions for the production of actual sound; the page itself does not sing but exists forever on the verge of song" (p. 7). Poetic language does not echo the spoken word but formulates it. It presages. Obviously text is a possibility of language, as a way of irrealizing speech. Are any traces of this possibility already inscribed in the spoken word? What about possibilities for following instructions?
Dreams. What happens to the spoken word in dreams? Is the word in dreams interpreted through hearing? Does the prosody of a sequence of dream words have no acoustical features? Are these words merely submerged?
This last week I checked out Yara by the wonderful musician Rabih Abou-Khalil. Yara is the soundtrack to a film by Yilmaz Arslan. Here is Abou-Khalil in another setting
I don't know much about the oud at all but I've been a fan of Anouar Brahem since Thimar came out, which I quickly picked up because it features Dave Holland.
In this interview Abou-Khalil speaks about the relation between improvisation and composition in his music, musical complexity, his composing for personalities rather than instruments, and about working with changing rhythms instead of harmonies.
In this segment Abou-Khalil speaks of the meeting of cultures, musical influences, composing for film, poetry, and he says a few more words about musical complexity.
Finally Abou-Khalil talks about mathematical elegance, sensuality, and sadness:
Assailably: thought coheres with the eidos of bodily movements; the power of thought and the power of the body congrue like music because one is simply a mode of the other; to think is to live, to experience life in physical movements, to journey through the living physique and its habitat; thinking is one with life. I'd like to briefly challenge that idea, the last formulation in particular. Ong alleges that human knowledge (what might that human mean?) emerges from time, and he says, nicely to my ear, "[l]yric poetry implies a series of events in which the voice in the lyric is embedded or to which it is related. All of this is to say that knowledge and discourse come out of human experience and that the elemental way to process human experience verbally is to give an account of it more or less as it really comes into being and exists, embedded in the flow of time" (Orality, p. 140). Suggestive. But let's keep a watch on this concept of flow. An allowance for interruption.
Ong says, displaying his knack for the apophthegmatic, "the experience of real life is more like a string of episodes than it is like a Freytag pyramid" (p. 148). So real-life human experience is embedded in the flow of time and it is rather like a string of episodes, of additional entrances, additional ways of coming into. Now, according to Ong, it is not the episodic which heightens consciousness, or congrues with heightened consciousness, but rather it is the literary narrative adhering to the Freytag pyramid that congrues with conscious thinking, with heightened consciousness in particular (p. 151). The episodic has then only to do with the unconscious?!? (Well, sometimes we need to deploy superstitions in order to be critical; we need to engage the imagination in dialectic exercise.) This doesn't add up for me. Knowledge emerges from time, but consciousness is at a distance from the episodic, the form of narrative time most consistent with lived experience. In an important respect Ong holds that thinking is culturally constrained, that people think according to the dictates of a noetic economy, an economy we experience as structured by technologies of the word, which might imply the force of something like the unconscious, or, better in my view, the nonthematic elements of consciousness; yet in his view the effects of culture are not equal, particularly with respect to the "freeing" of consciousness. (For Ong the life of the mind in a literate noetic economy is at once constrained by technology and free in a sense that could be imagined as free and elaborated culturally (only a free, conscious intellect could imagine the conditions of its freedom, which is thereby put into question). The literate's intellectual life is both enriched and impoverished, in touch with the experience of thinking and alienated: contradictions which I reckon are brought to the analysis rather than emerging from careful study.) It may be worth noting that I don't regard the physique of the animal to be "natural" in a sense of existing apart from, or having existed before, consciousness. Further, if the episodic feels natural I wouldn't jump from the recognition of this feeling to the conclusion that episodic thought must be more primordial, elementary, lower, or any less transcendental (whatever that could mean) than thought which might appear in a certain aspect to be out of touch with the episodic.
I'll preface these next few comments by saying that I am skeptical of silent voices, though the topic interests me, and I have spoken of inner voices (not without some modicum of skepticism, I hope ("Why believe that inner speech points to silence instead of the possibility of conversations yet to be realized?")). "Outside drama, in narrative as such, the original voice of the oral narrator took on various new forms when it became the silent voice of the writer, as the distancing effected by writing invited various fictionalizations of the decontextualized reader and writer. . . . But, until print appeared and eventually had its fuller effects, the voice's allegiance to episode always remained firm" (p. 148). Is the silent voice then also a fictionalization, just a metaphor? How distant is any thought from life? No thought could be more distant from life on Earth than Walter J. Ong himself, yet here is a book open to his thoughts. Incredible. However, as I've argued in a similar vein, Ong's thoughts must be read to become thoughts once again, proper thoughts; they must be embodied by a reader. How distant is this embodiment from living? (That's not a rhetorical question.) Perhaps there's a mode of embodiment that isn't life itself, an idea we should contemplate if only to be clear about what we mean by saying "life" or "body." A convolution: to even have a concept of the body is to stand atthus to embodya distance from life.
A cryptic statement from Lefebvre: "Therecentirruption of pure rhythm is found in all memories, as it often is when listening" (Rhythmanalysis, p. 61). He's talking about music (I think). Perhaps melody, which is always rhythmical to some degree, would be associated with memories because in listening to melody we exercise our mnemonic faculty, and the mere use of this faculty is enough to stir the irruption of memories. Or, perhaps, we exercise a musical faculty when forming memories, an idea which might be close to Lefebvre's, and merely using our musical abilities makes whatever we are doing musical. However, are we sure that this isn't a single faculty at play? In our everyday understanding do we forget that our memories are also musical? Do we forget our own musical abilities in order to experience memories in something like a reverie?
With respect to memory, how would quiet listening differ from the listening that goes with a more active participation in the creation of music? Does it help us to experience memories if we are able to forget or lay aside our capacity for making music? In that case we would rely on both the ability to "make" rhythm, or to rhythm forth, and the abilty to be made by rhythm, to be touched by rhythm, shaped. Would listening then be something like an acquiescence to a shaping force, or even an acquiescence to a plasticity? A plastic faculty.
Vibration represents the perturbation of a continuum. Rhythm is a play of perturbations, or disturbances, which typically means a play of vibrations, plural. Are all dynamic conducts (guidances) of perturbation to be subsumed under the heading of "play"? If the player of rhythm can't be certain that he isn't being played by rhythm, then the benignant nature of the play of disturbances is thrown in doubt. Discontinuation, like play, must always be ambivalent. Does memory cover over this ambivalence even as it thrives on it as one thrives on a rhythm? Quietly andand being the irruption of a rhythmto the sound of music, an inner melody, we remember. How will we remember beginning to think that memory is not automatic and still, in that moment, be able to remember?
For a body that labors everything is not already accomplished, already done; thus to be a body is to have time in the midst of the facts, to be me though living in the other.
This revelation of distance is an ambiguous revelation, for time both destroys the security of instantaneous, happiness, and permits the fragility thus discovered to be overcome. And it is the relation with the other, inscribed in the body as its elevation, that makes possible the transformation of enjoyment into consciousness and labor.
(Totality, p. 117)
I'll note the primacy of enjoyment and get back to what that means. What more can be said to characterize this time that is had in the midst of the facts? Is it a time of expectancies, seeing as how expectancy seems to go along with a sense that there is something yet to be accomplished? How do these expectancies manifest themselves in relation to memory, or, less thematically, to sedimentation? "Enjoyment is made of the memory of its thirst; it is a quenching" (p. 112). Levinas characterizes pure existence as ataraxia while happiness, he says, is accomplishment. (Enjoyment, he says, is "the very pulsation of the I" (ibid.)). I'm not sure that ataraxia is easily attained, and, to the extent that is attainable, as freedom from worry, I'm not sure it does away with either joy or suffering. I'm not sure that raw existing, like pure existing perhaps, doesn't alternate between joy and suffering. Isn't this the very pulsation of the self, this alternation between joy and suffering? And isn't suffering made from the memory of joys? What happens to time as the beats of the self become memory? How does the process of becoming memory move through the body?
If we insist that the alternation between joy and suffering is the pulsation of the self, Levinas is then quite sure he disagrees with us. For him life is personal because it is enjoyment, not the other way around.
Life is affectivity and sentiment; to live is to enjoy life. To despair of life makes sense only because originally life is happiness. Suffering is a failing of happiness; it is not correct to say that happiness is the absence of suffering.
(p. 115, my bold)
I'm sorry but this argument makes it seem that unhappiness, instead of being a modality of experience, is something that one discovers philosophically, something that one, correctly or incorrectly, reasons one's way into. I don't think the Epicureans have been adequately responded to, much less refuted. My characterization of Levinas' argument is of course directly at odds with how Levinas asks ut to imagine enjoyment, which would not be inconsistent with a pluralism that acknowledged feelings as having priority over reasoning. So my criticism may well be unfair. Another word from Levinas:
Enjoyment is a withdrawal into oneself, an involution. What is termed an affective state does not have the dull monotony of a state, but is a vibrant exaltation in which dawns the self. For the I is not the support of enjoyment. The "intentional" structure here is wholly different; the I is the very contraction of sentiment, the pole of a spiral whose coiling and involution is drawn by enjoyment: the focus of the curve is a part of the curve. It is precisely as a "coiling," as a movement toward oneself, that enjoyment comes into play.
(p. 118, Levinas' emphasis, my bold)
Can we enjoy a vibrancy of ex-istence without withdrawing into the self, or, more promising, a vibrancy that involves and evolves at once? Is the body, the body for whom not everything is accomplished, already a vibrancy?
You can't read this sentence the same way twice. I take that as axiomatic, but not incontrovertible, and assuredly not the last word on the matter. My position is that the written word is a cue (quando) to performance. That's what reading is, a performance. Reading accomplishes what the written symbols merely denote. It furnishes (parfournir). It completes. The verbality of writing isn't verbality in the absence of reading.
We should envisage the possibility that our present common understanding of repetition may be molded by our cultural circumstances, in particular conditions of intellectual production, and not properly substitutable for archaic or simply different ways of thinking about repetition. Ong would have us imagine a "noetic world opened by exactly repeatable visual statement and correspondingly exact verbal description of physical reality" (p. 127). I also take it as axiomatic that a person can think beyond or outside the noetic world that's been bequeathed to them. People have some ability to form their own habits of thought, notwithstanding the hazards of idiocy (idiolecticality, idiophrenesis, idiosyncracies of various sorts). Thus it is not completely surprising that philosophers have come upon alternatives to the common understanding of repetition (religious repetition, clothed repetition) and have even gone so far as to express doubts about the very existence of repetition. You can't fool all of the people all of the time. Even Ong, who doesn't seem to credit individual persons with a surplus of intellectual creativity, has his doubts about "noetic closure" and all that implies. In the final analysis he must be seen as taking a critical stance towards the noetic worlds he describes. You can always think differently from the way you've been given to think.
"In the physical act of writing, the medieval Englishman Orderic Vitalis says, 'the whole body labors' (Clanchy 1979, p. 90)," (Ong, Orality, p. 95). We should be able to speak meaningfully of technologies of speaking, to recognize that the spoken word is not natural, that it does not well up from the unconscious but comes through learning, and indeed conscious effort, and so the interesting question of how technologies become "interior transformations of consciousness" (p. 82)Ong may be quite right, given certain understandings of "interior," "transformation" and "consciousness"can be assayed on a level field, where we can finally appreciate Ong's argument that writing is not merely a copy of speech.
"Spoken words are always modifications of a total situation which is more than verbal" (p. 101). Total situation? (We'll get back to that. Levinas may be instructive.) Aren't we really playing here with two concepts of verbality, one that contains itself, needed to begin making sense of phrases like "spoken words," and another that exceeds itself (and a third that contains its excess, and so on)? Verbality overflows. It's wordy. It's an easy enough concept. Is there then a totality in which the superfluence of verbality would be less than super? Why wouldn't verbality overflow its total situation, as, according to Levinas, language allows the other to do? Dribbling the basketball is always a modification of a total situation which is more than repeatedly bouncing the ball off the floor. Isn't it? So how do we know the situation is total? Does that simply mean it contains all the stuff we want might want to talk about in reference to dribbling (verbality, etc.)? Are we just being lazy? The whole body lazes in the physical act of blogging.
Quoting Ong again, because it's worth remembering: "Words acquire their meanings only from their always insistent actual habitat, which is not, as in a dictionary, simply other words, but includes also gestures, vocal inflections, facial expressions, and the entire human, existential settings in which the real, spoken word always occurs" (p. 47). Pragmatics, the subdiscipline of linguistics that studies how meaning is tied to situations of language use, examines aspects of language that appear to be far removed from the word yet by definition are understood to be linguistic. Such a course of study would enrich easy definitions of the verbal, but there is a danger of letting our own mental exercises interfere with a grasp of the phenomenon at hand: we start with an impoverished concept of the verbal, the lone word, in order to be able to arrive at our enriched concept, the word in its habitat, only to realize that we had already assumed the latter, which suggests to us that we not describing so much as constructing what resembles a realitythough it has a recursive dimension whose reality we are uncertain ofand perhaps our construction says more about us and our existential setting, which we can't really be sure is a total situation, than it does about the phenomenon it purports to address. What do we mean? How do we mean? Can we use science to help us live more meaningful lives? What is the role of criticism in our intellectual life? Is our intellectual life agonistic like a drama? Does it put reality on hold? Are all realities performative? If it seems that there are questions of the day, why does it also seem that some questions recur? How do questions, including forcefully answered questions, come to be asked anew? Arguably we suffer from a superabundance of ignorances, a postmodern condition; yet many thinkers surely have reasons for disregarding previous answers, established philosophical arguments and refutations. We may also suffer from a superabundance of anachronicity. My current reading of Orality and Literacy, in important respects an anachronistic text when it first appeared in 1982, is not altogether current. I admit to being uncertain about the times I live in. Does anybody care anymore about a critique of "total situations"? Is my simple critical attitude simply retrograde?
Another tack. Does one need to be able to transcend a condition in order to modify it? Technology modifies consciousness and, in the form of the word, it modifies a habitat. (This would be my difficulty, not Ong's, who doesn't theoretically regard the spoken word as a technology). So technology itself is transcendent? Perhaps we have merely found a lazy way to say that the human being modifies its consciousness as well as its relation to its wider milieu by the use of technologies which may have originally been intended to modify only one consciously thematized element or a selected few elements in the milieu. In addition to saying that technology has horizons, a lazy thought, we are also saying that transformations of consciousness take place on the horizons or at the margins of consciousnessbut there is a problem of recursion here, as we are uncertain of whether horizons of consciousness precede thematizations without themselves being thematized beforehand. More, do forms have horizons, or do we posit forms in order to eliminate horizons? If the latter, do we posit horizons of form only after forgetting that we had meant to eliminate them in the first place? If consciousness is nothing like a formsomething approaching pure plasticity, which would have to far more plastic than Ong allows human consciousness, though it would perhaps be "fit for molding," hugging the figure of the whole body that labors, working itself into the wordthen we must not mistake moments in the plasticity of consciousness (rhythms, it might be said) for transformations. It is not merely the degree of human plasticity that's at issue here, or the degree of hardening imposed by the acceptance of cultural formswe have some basis of agreement. Rather, the circumstances of the loss of plasticity are in question. For instance I have argued that Ong fails to appreciate the ramifications of the learning of language in early infancy; his sense of cultural horizons is limited to two principal types, which I reject. If "form" possibly eliminates horizons in order to be itself, "plasticity" requires horizons, requires that form exceeds itselfhowever, form already had in itself its own excess. It was already transformation, or rather, we needed to understand transformation in order to be able to talk about form. So what relation is there between transformation and the effort of the whole bodythe total body?
One could reach, by a twisty road and paradoxically beginning with bodies, the (concrete) universal that the political and philosophical mainstream targeted but did not reach, let alone realise: if rhythm consolidates its theoretical status, if it reveals itself as a valid concept for thought and as a support in practice, is it not this concrete universal that philosophical systems have lacked, that political organisations have forgotten, but which is lived, tested, touched in the sensible and the corporeal?
(Rhythmanalyis, pp. 44-45)
We should be critical of our concrete universal, put it through its paces. In his discussion of dressage, which he says bases itself on repetition, Lefebvre notes that repetition, while apparently being simply mechanical in animals, is ritualized in humans (p. 39). Perhaps ritualization would explain why so many thinkers attribute transformative powers to repetition. Our transformations are, however, not beyond scrutiny. "Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world," yada yada yada. Undo repetition and the world comes undone. The person is lost, barely a person at all. Should we then be surprised to find that belief in repetition is strongest among the highly educated? Surprise. Lefebvre says, "Dressage fills the place of the unforeseen, of the initiative of living beings" (p. 40). Improbably one day surprise will not consort with spontaneity, nor spontaneity with initiative. Recognizing such an improbability is a first step in reclaiming initiative. There may be no end to surprise, foreseeable or otherwise. What is the transformative power of reclamation? What power do we have, really, to transform surprise or spontaneity? Yet initiations are surely within our powerunless we have given it over in advance somehow to repetition. A paradox: even our reclamations from repetition would base themselves upon a method, a dressage, certain ritual movements, numerated or numerative movementsyes, sooner or later we are going to have to get down and dirty with ordinality, and that may hold a surprise for us if we are holding fast to a certain figure of mind-body unity. Can initiation even be said to begin without ordinality? A cop out: initiation is undertaken in rhythm with ordinalityand why not? We don't know whether ordinality is a purely noetic function that could possibly exist at a remove from kinesis. Lefebrvre argues that each segment of the body and each organ has its own rhythm which is in accord or discord with the others (p. 38). Let's keep that in mind as we ponder whether ordinality yields rhythm, or whether rhythm yields ordinalitysurely these are concepts of different orders, they could be explained if only properly ordered. But in fact I'm not so sure. In the same way repetition may be said to be an abstraction from concrete rhythm, rhythm may be an abstraction from a more concrete polyrhythm. By a twisty road we learn rhythm from polyrhythm. Or so we believe. My heart beats without my thinking about it, yet I put it through its paces, and can exercise some smidgeon of control over it, set one rhythm in accord with another. Is this smidgeon enough to sustain an illusion that I have mastered rhythm instead of merely succumbing to it? Is ordinality itself a succumbent gesture? (And so we begin to peel away initiative from spontaneity.)