Saturday, April 25, 2009
I question correlations between desire and the addressee of the question, I question desire, and, as much as I'd agree that the question's addressee is a necessary condition for there being a question, I question the addressee's presence, his mode of spatiotemporal persistence, or givenness. Here's Levinas:
[T]he question that asks about the quiddity is put to someone. He who is to respond has long already presented himself, responding thus to a question prior to every question in search of quiddities. In fact the "who is it?" is not a question and is not satisfied by a knowing [hmm, FtY]. He to whom the question is put has already presented himself, without being a content. He has presented himself as a face. The face is not a modality of quiddity, an answer to a question, but the correlative of what is prior to every question. What is prior to every question is not in its turn a question nor a knowledge possessed a priori, but is Desire. The who correlative of Desire, the who to whom the question is put, is, in metaphysics, a "notion" as fundamental and as universal as quiddity and being and the existent and the categories.
(Totality, p. 177, Levinas' emphasis)
Because of the relationship with the Other, the ethical relation, man can know the difference between being and phenomenon and recognize his own phenomenality (pp. 179-180). Could this ethical relation form in response to a question, even a question that would not be satisfied by a knowing? Does any kind of ethical relation logically follow from the question who? On the other hand, by asking who? we presuppose an ethical relation. Was it really there waiting for us already? Did it not need to be welcomed, following on the welcoming of a who?
The face I welcome makes me pass from phenomenon to being in another sense: in discourse I expose myself to the questioning of the Other, and this urgency of the responseacuteness of the presentengenders for me responsibility; as responsible I am brought to my final reality. This extreme attention does not actualize what was in potency, for it is not conceivable without the other. Being attentive signifies a surplus of consciousness, and presupposes the call of the other.
Let's return, with no overriding sense of urgency, to the question of the question prior to the question. Of course it can't really be a question just yet, as an a priori. It's first questionality is imaginary. It begins to resemble/by resembling an imaginary question. Thus we've been made aware of the phenomenality of the question, perhaps especially the first question. How then can we begin to separate what the imagination brings from what the Other brings to the question? Imagination as other, Other as imaginary: "The phenomenon is the being that appears, but remains absent" (p. 181). Imaginary phenomenality. Do we recognize the phenomenality of the ethical selfby which I only mean the other of the other, or, to move towards a definition, one who listens to the call of the otherin the same manner that we recognize the phenomenality of the quiddity? Are all phenomenalities put together the same way? The key to Levinas' thinking here seems to be the remaining absent of the being that appears, and this would seem to have something to do with desire. Should I desire to transcend phenomenality? Now, if I say that in my experience there are temporary absences, or intermittent absences, that I become inured to temporary absences, does this say nothing about phenomenality, which presumably has to do with permanent absence? I don't actually know that I will always be able to reformulate the first question at will, or at the suggestion of the other. Questioning could fall apart. Why would we want to imagine a questioning that could never fall apart? (A question that would resemble being impervious to time, a questionee who was always and never there?) Would that be logical?
Labels: dialogism, imagination, Levinas, phenomenology, questions
Montiglio writes of the Eumenides:
In keeping with their nature that entails verbal negation and dissonance, the Erinyes prove to be the enemies of exchange. First, these forces of destructive speech oppose clear and articulate language. Their strident voice imitates animal sounds, bellows and barks. Their song, insofar as it is incompatible with the lyre, denies all harmony between music and human locution, because the lyre is the instrument that meets the clarity of speech. This "lyreless" song raises its voice against Apollo's soothing muthoi: "Here is the song, a frenzy that ruins the mind, the hymn of the Erinyes, mind-binding, without lyre."
(Silence, pp. 42-43)
Do we hear the vulnerability of the listener in this passage? Will the enemies of exchange had laid waste to silence, or does silence endure like it always does, like the empathy one feels for the person who hears the alyric of the Eumenides? Silence is not the splintered lyre but the lyre on the cusp of speech? The broken lyre? Are we not on the verge of weeping for the man who cradles the broken lyre in his arms, always there, on the verge?
Are the Eumenides, however, really the enemies of reciprocity? We are all tragic figures insofar as our ignorance cries out to be interpreted. It's such a small thing to be ignorant of, our involvement in listening, the gives and takes. Furious whispers escape the lyricist's fingers, as they are eternally on the verge of doing. A string that buzzes, a frenzied hymn. This what has become of music, is it completely alien to the lyrical, the lyricist's hands? They hold things of the lyre, memorize them, and forget. By whose hand were the lyre have been broken? If it's not possible to act then none of us is a tragic figure. This is obvious. And if we never know what it means to know by listening?
Labels: eumenidies, listening, lyre, Montiglio, silence
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Write your names in the sand. Listen to the tide roll in. Scarry says "the imagination, with its latticework of incompletely pictured elements, has within it both the actually imagined and the only-almost-imagined, the not-quite-imagined, and the not-yet-imagined" (Dreaming, p. 179). She goes on to say that imagination "magnifies its own work through negation and abstention. This is the way the imagination reflects on itself and becomes self-knowing" (ibid.). Imagine knowing yourself through your irrealizations, an image of yourself at the beach. Sketch a meontic portrait of yourself lost in imagination, as one might be lost in thought. Is it like being lost? Does this self that you imagine have any real consistency, such that it could ever be lost? Could we fully imagine being lost without the possibility of there ever having been a found? Why fully? Aren't we committing to irreality by asking that the imagination be fully itself when it so clearly resists fullness? The found of the lost may have yet to be imaginedone could wait an eternity, were eternity available for waiting. Only almost eternity, like the ocean. The image of the irrealizing self is the negative of the realizing self? No, the real problem is to imagine knowing. What would knowing be that didn't know the lost, that had no room for the lost, nothing to say about the lost?
Labels: imagination, irreality, Scarry, self-awareness
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
In the Introduction to A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge Berkeley critiques a doctrine of abstract general ideas. He argues we don't need such ideas in order to know stuff or to communicate. Berkeley pointedly blames language, specifically its power of naming, for misleading the learned into an acceptance of the notion that we need abstract general ideas to intervene between our direct experience of the world and our knowledge of the worldif I'm not misreading him terribly on this point. We can say triangle and mean all triangles at once but it is difficult to think an abstract general idea of a triangle that is in fact all triangles at once.
Berkeley argues that names and ideas have no one-to-one correspondence. He seems to present a now familiar argument that words are polysemous while meanings are determined by contexts of use. What he says in fact is that words, in their relation to ideas, function like variables in algebra, "in which though a particular quantity be marked by each Letter, yet to proceed right it is not requisite that in every step each Letter suggest to your Thoughts, that particular quantity it was appointed to stand for" (XIX). Notice that by this analogy he hasn't erased representation completely from his thinking about words; if variables could not represent quantities at any step at all there would be no algebra. (And likewise, if variables had to represent quantities at every moments they wouldn't be variables; a dimension of time is introduced into our thinking, an other time, or a partial time: the sometimes.) He continues with his critique:
Besides, the communicating of Ideas marked by Words is not the chief and only end of Language, as is commonly supposed. There are other Ends, as the raising of some Passion, the exciting to, or deterring from an Action, the putting the Mind in some particular Disposition; to which the former is in many Cases barely subservient, and sometimes intirely omitted, when these can be obtained without it, as I think doth not unfrequently happen in the familiar use of Language. I intreat the Reader to reflect with himself, and see if it doth not often happen either in Hearing or Reading a Discourse, that the Passions of Fear, Love, Hatred, Admiration, Disdain, and the like, arise immediately in his Mind upon the Perception of certain Words, without any Ideas coming between. At first, indeed, the Words might have occasioned Ideas that were fit to produce those Emotions; but, if I mistake not, it will be found that when Language is once grown familiar, the hearing of the Sounds or Sight of the Characters is oft immediately attended with those Passions, which at first were wont to be produced by the intervention of Ideas, that are now quite omitted. May we not, for Example, be affected with the promise of a good Thing, though we have not an Idea of what it is? Or is not the being threatned with Danger sufficient to excite a Dread, though we think not of any particular Evil likely to befal us, nor yet frame to our selves an Idea of Danger in Abstract? If any one shall join ever so little Reflexion of his own to what has been said, I believe it will evidently appear to him, that general Names are often used in the propriety of Language without the Speaker's designing them for Marks of Ideas in his own, which he would have them raise in the Mind of the Hearer. Even proper Names themselves do not seem always spoken, with a Design to bring into our view the Ideas of those Individuals that are supposed to be marked by them. For Example, when a Schoolman tells me Aristotle hath said it, all I conceive he means by it, is to dispose me to embrace his Opinion with the Deference and Submission which Custom has annexed to that Name. And this effect may be so instantly produced in the Minds of those who are accustomed to resign their Judgment to the Authority of that Philosopher, as it is impossible any Idea either of his Person, Writings, or Reputation should go before. Innumerable Examples of this kind may be given, but why should I insist on those things, which every one's Experience will, I doubt not, plentifully suggest unto him?
(XX, Berkeley's emphasis)
Berkeley goes on to request that we read him charitably and creatively, as the occasion of our own thinking: "Whoever therefore designs to read the following Sheets, I intreat him to make my Words the Occasion of his own Thinking, and endeavour to attain the same Train of Thoughts in Reading, that I had in writing them" (XXV). We should attain a train of thought, mimetically, through our reading of Berkeley's words. However, Berkeley also tells us that we can reach knowledge through our hands but not through our words, which only serve to obscure knowledgebut I don't know if he thought this, and I don't think this thought's consistent with his earnest attempt to communicate his thoughts through words. Is it an erroneous reading? He says, plainly, "we need only draw the Curtain of Words, to behold the fairest Tree of Knowledge, whose Fruit is excellent, and within the reach of our Hand" (XXIV). How would it be possible then to read Berkeley at all? Can Berkeley's words here be anything but a curtain? When we want them to be a curtain, because we know what is really meant, that is, once we have reiterated his procession of thought, followed the same path through his words he followed without being misled in the slightest by his words, then his words are merely a curtain; yet to arrive at this knowledge we need along the way some indication of what he's thinking, in which case his words are for us rather like the hand that enables us to reach the fruits of knowledge. In essence then Berkeley asks to be read whimsically.
If Berkeley never pondered a philosophical practice of defamiliarization, a process by which "the reach of our Hand" becomes strangely enough, nakedly, the reach of our hand, then his words tell us of a desire to pursue such a path nonetheless. The entirety of empiricism cries out to be so led. Empiricism in its undisguised meaning calls upon us to investigate experience to full extent, including the experience of language, which always comes under our sway, within our ambit, along our own paths of rumination. We engage language concretely, yet the concreteness of language is not something that it would possess on its own, in the way in which language possesses things, but rather it emerges with our engagements, which are exactly sometimes defamiliarizing. This is an algebra.
What's presupposed here in the algebra of the estranging engagementthe engagement that comes with concretization (artefactual concretion), with all the weirdness, weird growth of real stuffin addition to the sometimes, is a power of whimsy. The two go together. However, not so much an addition to the sometimes, the whimsical rather thrives as the affective life of the sometimes. Whereas the sometimes merely points, the whimsical communicates. For that purpose it relies upon the sometimes, or perhaps an abstract general idea of the sometimes, but naturally it does so whimsically.
Labels: abstraction, Berkeley, concreteness, experience, language
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
How do we call into question what the hand grasps? It could be a tool, it could be apeironcould the indefinite be a possession? Possession is called into question by the encounter with the Other, Levinas says (Totality, p. 163). We can think of this encounter as transcendence. Not only am I happy to see transcendence defined, I'm happy that Levinas discusses this transcendence with respect to language.
The relationship with the Other is not produced outside of the world, but puts in question the world possessed. The relationship with the Other, transcendence, consists in speaking the world to the Other. But language accomplishes the primordial putting in commonwhich refers to possession and presupposes economy. The universality a thing receives from the word that extracts it from the hic et nunc loses its mystery in the ethical perspective in which language is situated. The hic et nunc itself issues from possession, in which the thing is grasped, and language, which designates it to the other, is a primordial dispossession, a first donation. The generality of the word institutes a common world. The ethical event at the basis of generalization is the underlying intention of language. The relation with the Other does not only stimulate, provoke generalization, does not only supply it with the pretext and the occasion (this no one has ever contested), but is this generalization itself. Generalization is a universalizationbut universalization is not the entry of the sensible thing into a no man's land of the ideal, is not purely negative like a sterile renunciation, but is the offering of the world to the Other. Transcendence is not a vision of the Other, but a primordial donation.
(pp. 173-174, my bold)
The first donation is a question of the hands, in presenting the gift and receiving. Is this business of the hands merely a presupposition, a condition? Would we then say that the hands have been transcended in speech, in the encounter with the Other? If we accept a restricted sense of the hic et nunc as equivalent to the grasped, it does not indubitably follow that the hand well represents the hic et nunc, for hands also open. They relax. Well, what do we think about hands? How do we call them into question? We do things with hands. Levinas says that the hands are "the condition for all technique" (p. 167). He even provides us with a master technique, which is, surprisingly perhaps, not grasping but groping. He says groping is "the work of the hand par excellence, and the work adequate to the apeiron of the element [which] makes possible the whole originality of the final cause" (ibid.). Why isn't giving the work of the hand par excellence? Let's play with an idea of Merleau-Ponty's. We simultaneously grasp and communicate with other people who have hands that grasp and communicate, communicative hands. (Not everybody has hands, of course, but most people have hands that communicate various meanings, enough to give meaning to the phrase "communicative hands.") If communication is the work of the hands, and it occurs simultaneously with grasping, should we, following Levinas for a moment, regard communication as being transcended by giving? Are the two incommensurate in any given hic et nunc? Perhaps we need to grapple with multipurposivity of hands. Levinas' argument, however, is that we can't allow giving to be regarded as one activity among many. Apparently the idea would be that multifunctionality doesn't explain anything. Here we pick up again on the discussion of language.
Language does not exteriorize a representation preexisting in me: it puts in common a world hitherto mine. Language effectuates the entry of things into a new ether in which they receive a name and become concepts. It is a first action over and above labor, an action without action, even though speech involves the effort of labor, even though, as incarnate thought, it inserts us into the world with the risks and hazards of all action. At each instant it exceeds this labor by the generosity of the offer it forthwith makes of this very labor. The analyses of language that tend to present it as one meaningful action among others fail to recognize this offering of the world, this offering of contents which answers to the face of the Other or which questions him, and first opens the perpective of the meaningful.
The "vision" of the face is inseparable from this offering language is. To see the face is to speak of the world. Transcendence is not an optics, but the first ethical gesture.
(p. 174, Levinas' emphases, my bold)
The first ethical gesture is most probably performed with the hands. A gesture without gesture is improbable, and it would smack of mystification were I to impose upon you to seriously think such a thing. (Is that a wink?) The face is emphatically inseparable from the world of the hands, a twilight world as well as a world of days and nights. Has Levinas adequately anticipated these criticisms, for instance by saying that speech "as incarnate thought [. . .] inserts us into the world with the risks and hazards of all action"? Well, on the one hand action means labor, on the other it means any action whatsoever, including action that surpasses action. Furthermore, the latter kind of action, which is the ethical event of the encounter with the Other, is the basis for general meanings, and hence for the meaning of any action. I don't think I'm completely uncharitable, or ungrateful. I'd like to imagine the priority of an ethical event which puts the world into question, so I should be willing to allow my understanding of hands to be put into question, and, of course, my understanding of understanding. I'm groping here. How do I live in this world offered by my encounter with Levinas?
Labels: generosity, gesture, hands, language, Levinas, transcendence
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The habit, which has become second nature, of conceiving one's relationship to oneself and to one’s surroundings as an activity of neutral cognition of objective circumstances bestows over time a reified form on human activity, without ever being able to eradicate the original "caring" character of this activity completely. This antecedent characteristic must, in the form of prereflective knowledge or marginal practices, remain present in such a way that critical analysis could make us aware of it at any time.
(Alex Honneth, Reification: A Recognition-Theoretical View (pdf), p. 19/107)
. . . [O]ur actions do not primarily have the character of an affectively neutral, cognitive stance toward the world but rather that of an affirmative, existentially colored style of caring comportment. In living we constantly concede the situational circumstances of our world a value of their own, which brings us to be concerned with our relationship to them. On this elementary level, the concept of "recognition" thus shares a fundamental notion not only with Dewey's concept of "practical involvement" but also with Heidegger's "care" and Lukács's "engaged praxis"—namely, the notion that the stance of empathetic engagement in the world, arising from the experience of the world's significance and value [Werthaftigkeit], is prior to our acts of detached cognition. A recognitional stance therefore embodies our active and constant assessment of the value that persons or things have in themselves.
Honneth defines recognition as empathetic engagement, and goes on to define reification as "the process by which we lose the consciousness of the degree to which we owe our knowledge and cognition of other persons to an antecedent stance of empathetic engagement" (p. 40/128). He further defines forgetfulness in this instance as "reduced attentiveness" (p. 42/130). His theme is ultimately the reification of nature (by which he means a world of impersonal things?) and how this is related to the reification of persons. He says, en route to a conclusion, "our recognition of the individuality of other persons demands that we perceive objects in the particularity of all those aspects that they attach to these objects in their respective views of them" (p. 45/133).
A style of empathic engagement does not merely persist in the margins of a hegemony, like a fossil waiting to be discovered; rather, it is grown from practices of marginality. Marginality may condition cathexisnot, however, as purely a response to hegemony, in a way that could be too easily misconstrued as its overflow, but as a region of wild empathies where the existence of stances is realized. There remains a sense, though, in which the wild empathy carves out its own wildness, making a home within marginality, yes, setting up a wild house, but even more than that, engendering marginality as its habitation. This is a difficult area. Do we say of a practice of empathy that it is destined for marginality, and therefore not destined for hegemony, thereby allowing any transition between the two to be shrouded, or allowing for the escape from telos which would entail the radical transformation of practice so little understood that we should question how it is we could ever know that empathy has been completely eradicated or, conversely, transplanted anew? Why should I insist that marginality cannot be grasped as merely a response to hegemony? It is a condition of possibility of the movement between stances, felt stancesor is it a modality of such a condition, grasped intellectually as something capable of presenting itself modallya hegemonic thought? It would be naive to think that we could easily take up residence in the marginal, even as we frequently find ourselves at the margins in our day to day lives, experiencing a marginality we have, in some part, engendered. From what corner will the question "How did we arrive here?" come?
Labels: development, existence, Honneth, reification
Barbaras offers a critique of Merleau-Ponty's concept of existence, first as it appears in The Structure of Behavior, then in Phenomenology of Perception. I need to quote at length before commenting on Barbaras' criticisms.
. . .Merleau-Ponty must show in a descending movement that if the notion of form grounds a critique of naturalism, it allows us just as much, and for the same reasons, to call intellectualism into question. The meaningful relation of the organism to its environment is still a relation to a reality, to a transcendence, and is not therefore based on a consciousness transparent to itself; it is not based on an act of knowledge. The study of behavior reveals what Merleau-Ponty calls an existence, a being-in-the-world, a tacit relation to a presence rather than a possession of something in a representation. The Structure of Behavior therefore concludes: "The natural 'thing,' the organism, the behaviors of others and my own behavior exist not only by their sense; but this sense which springs forth in them is not yet a Kantian object; the intentional life which constitutes them is not yet a representation; and the 'understanding' which gives access to them is not yet an intellection" (SC 241/225).
(The Being of the Phenomenon (hereafter Being), pp. 4-5, my bold)
Let's push aside the question of whether my philodendron relates to a transcendence (whatever that means) in the same way as organism that are typically thought to behave, which happens to coincide with the class of organisms that typically display motility, such the amoeba, the anole lizard or the elephant who sees itself in mirrors, and also the question of whether organisms ever meaningfully relate to irrealities, or relate without meaning (or form)we are after all not really doing biology at this juncture, though we are on the verge of Barbaras' cosmobiologyso we can focus on the idea of consciousness which Barbaras seems to believe ought to have been jettisoned early on in the development of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology. Consciousnesses transparent to themselves are not the only kind of consciousnesses, and transparency is not the only imaginable mode of a reflexive relation of consciousness. (I realize an idea of the cogito is being implicitly criticized, fairly or unfairly; the criticism is itself an idea offered in a specific form and it will be tested.) Furthermore, a preintellectual or prerepresentational intentional life is not completely at odds with knowledge or acts of knowledge. Merleau-Ponty doesn't say as much. Why should he? He proposes another kind of "understanding," but he still conceives of it as understanding, a praktognosis he will go on to say in Phenomenology. In fact we might think that understanding is the inflected form of "understanding," once the latter concept has been established in our thinking, without then really doing away with either or being stuck with some antiquated (and derivative, ever problematic) notion of existence which witholds more than it emancipates.
Before carrying on let's look at another passage dealing with Merleau-Ponty's concept of existence as presented in Phenomenology. Barbaras notes that the concept of existence is omnipresent in Phenomenology but disappears in later works.
Existence designates the movement by which the body, which is irreducible, as we have seen, to a pure object, gives sense. In fact, "the human body is defined in terms of its property of appropriating, in an indefinite series of discontinuous acts, meaningful kernels which overcome and transfigure its natural abilities" (PHP 226/193). Existence is thus "this open and indefinite power of meaningthat is, simultaneously of grasping and communicating a senseby which man transcends himself toward a new behavior or toward others, or toward his own thought, across his body and his speech" (PHP 226/194). The central intention of Phenomenology of Perception is this power of escape, this sense always already at work, which is not distinguished from its own accomplishment, and which, in this way, cannot be opposed to the factical foundation from which it would emerge. But by grasping this power by means of the notion of existence, Merleau-Ponty does not allow himself in Phenomenology of Perception to understand what he has discovered, for existence is conceived as human existence, that is, as the subject of the movement of transcendence rather than as the very advent of sense. It is finally "man" who "transcends himself toward a new behavior." Existence is grasped as man's facticity, even though the experience to which it refers leads us to overcome the frontal relation of man to being, to overcome the duality of subject and object. Prisoner of a dualist framework, Merleau-Ponty can therefore describe it only in a negative way: it coincides neither with the passivity of the anthropological subject situated in the objective world nor with the pure activity of the constituting subject. But existence is still really that of a subject, or rather is the subject itself, so that the fullness of the experience to which it refers cannot be attained. The notion of pre-personal consciousness, which is a term synonymous with existence, crystallizes the ambiguity. Even though Merleau-Ponty discovers an experience that is no longer personal, an experience in which the category of the person finds itself contested, he grasps it still on the basis of the personal subject, as a negation that is already its affirmation.
(pp. 8-9, Barbaras' emphasis, my bold)
I don't believe Barbaras has adequately established that for Merleau-Ponty human existence, much less existence, equates to the subject, though it is of course attestable. (One should give Merleau-Ponty a chance to explain what he means by "subject," and how he is intending us to understand the concept, for it is not after all transparent.) Additionally, it would be helpful to have an exact citation to Merleau-Ponty's discovery of prepersonal consciousness, because, off the top of my head, that could mean a few things other than what Barbaras' interpretation would have us believe. Prepersonal consciousness could be imminently personal, for instance, pregnant with the who, or with the existence through-sound, or with the sense-giving subject.
If I had to choose between existence and the very advent of sense I would choose existence. However, I'm not sure I have to choose. In what essential way is the very advent of sense not existential? We need to hear more from the anti-existential ontologist before we decide this point. For the moment, let's take a peek at Merleau-Ponty's thoughts on communication (which has perhaps been glossed over), on the existential meaning of words beneath the conceptual meanings of words, a "primordial" silence and the act that breaks the silence, simultaneously an expression and a grasping of a sense. He says:
What I communicate with primarily is not 'representations' or thought, but a speaking subject, with a certain style of being and with the 'world' at which he directs his aim. Just as the sense-giving intention which has set in motion the other person's speech is not an explicit thought, but a certain lack which is asking to be made good, so my taking up this intention is not a process of thinking on my part, but a synchronizing change of my own existence, a transformation of my being.
(Phenomenology, p. 183-184)
"I communicate with . . . a speaking subject." This is not an equation, but neither is it properly prepersonal (though logically one might think a preperson is implied). As I interpret it, nonetheless, it is precisely a with. Even if it is intended to simply state that the speaking subject is the instrument of an ego's communication, the with holds the meaning of a togetherness. Communicationsynkairoticized, perhaps, with the advent of sense, a transfiguration and a trajectoryis existential through and through. What reason have we been given for thinking otherwise? Primordial silence, by which the body is refered to, its taking up of meaning prior to representation? But the body is enigmatic, which is far from saying that the body can never be understood. It secretes in itself a "significance" (p. 197, the quotes are Merleau-Ponty's). Our idea of "sense-giving" should have been transformed by Merleau-Ponty's analysis of the body as expression; the idea of significance has been challenged. The "disclosure of an immanent or incipient significance in the living body extends, as we shall see, to the whole sensible world, and our gaze, prompted by the experience of our own body, will discover in all other 'objects' the miracle of expression" (ibid., Merleau-Ponty's quotes, my bold.) It is Merleau-Ponty who has problematized the object and by implication its other pole, the subject. Barbaras would hardly disagree. Incipience, however, rather than contestation, is the key to Merleau-Ponty's thinking here. To the extent that Merleau-Ponty did abandon existence, there might be other explanations for that besides the concept being superseded by the development of a superior ontology. That said, Barbaras' reading is certainly meritorious and thought-provoking.
Labels: Barbaras, cosmobiology, existence, Merleau-Ponty, signification, subject
Friday, April 10, 2009
The very existence in Greece of a "code of silence" that involves the body and pervades cultural manifestations as diverse as religious rituals, Homeric epic, drama, and medical texts, points to a shared tendency to associate an absence of words with specific gestures and postures; an association, in turn, which suggests that for the Greeks silence was a highly formalized behavior, much more so than it is for us.
(Silvia Montiglio, Silence in the Land of Logos, p. 8)
Labels: body, culture, Greece, language, Montiglio, silence
Scarry's tremendous thinking about the image, which recognizes the body's work (especially the work of the hand) in making and manipulating images, prompts me to revisit the imaginary question. If the image is artefactual as Scarry asks us to acknowledge (Dreaming, p. 149), if it is in some important respect a creation of the hand, then would the discovery of the hand's movements in the posing of the imaginary question tell us anything about the question, either the question itself or the question as it is posed (assuming there could possibly be a difference), or would it simply be by virtue of being imagined that the question becomes manipulatable? Is posing a question, any question, the job of the imagination?
Conceptualize a somatic methexis of the question, an existential, improvisatory engagement with the query, the en-quiry in its fullest sense as a putting oneself, not merely an understanding which could be disembodied, but a replete bodily understanding (understanding body), at serious risk. Where would we look for signs of the somaticity of this methexis? Here's Scarry reporting on the hand's closeness to the image:
[R]ecent work on mental imaging in cognitive psychology has shown that the part of the brain at work when one thinks of a handmade object (a chisel, a dollhouse, a house) is not the same as when one thinks about a nonhandmade object (a stone, a shell). It also turns out that the part of the brain engaged in thinking about handmade objects is the region engaged in thinking about motion. It may also be that our thinking about handmade objects magnifies our sense of human agency, thereby increasing our ability to make mental images move.
If we think about the question as a handmade object, even more specifically as something for the hand, if not a tool, then like a tool, something to get a handle on, do we risk deluding ourselves about the essential nature of the question, confusing the shaped opening of discourse, the door of the habitation of language, with the open wonder or, alternatively, the free impulse to evocation, the celebration of the responsivity of speech that is the question. Furthermore, then, could the experts of questioningphilosophers of some ilks might qualifybe more deluded than the question's laity, misled by the thinking suggested by their own practices? (I have previously suggested a naturalism of the question; this too would have something of the handmade about it.) Consider the following observation about how dancers imagine movement, which, though I have known only a handful of trained dancers, strikes me as being on target: "one may, like a dancer, feel the stir of the imagined action across one's whole stationary body" (p. 148).
Let's think about reading for a moment, an activity that is near and dear to me, and perhaps others who regularily pose questions and think about questions. As Scarry thinks about how the gestures of the hand inform certain manipulations of the image, such as stretching, folding and tilting, she notices a parallel with the activity of reading. "Reaching, stretching, and folding are the actual motions the hand carries outlike a spell of hand motions performed over the bookas one reads"(p. 147). Like a spell of hand motions. We flirt with magical thinking, for the most part this morning contagious magic rather than sympathetic magic, but the ascertainment of any magic impinging upon the question would be remarkable. Do we free ourselves of magical thinking about the question, or do we discern the magical in our thinking on the way to discerning what is magical about the question? Is "magical thinking" a negative image of praktognosis? Is literate magic radically different from oral magic?
Can we learn anything about the lability of the question from thinking about the lability of images? Emily Brontë's "hand exercises" serve to "make the image more labile by calling attention to its malleability" (p. 127). (Lability and malleability are not in fact synonymous; lability refers to wandering, erring, or even slipping, lapsing, whereas malleability simply means one can beat it with a hammerwell, this is a question. Do we first find the image malleable or already malleated (which wouldn't rule out further malleations)? Perhaps the question, if we attend to it in its habitation, tells us something about certain malleabilities of speech at the same time it also mirrors, either in its very malleiformity or in its contagious belonging to speech, malleability, or, better, malleaticities of the imaginary.) Flexousness: a wonderful word Scarry borrows from Hardy. Lability depends upon the flexousness of the moving body, the moving person as Scarry rightly says (pp. 155-156). Now, in our imaginations, can we ever completely dematerialize the moving person? I'd like to avoid reducing the imaginary question to a question of its inflection, while still refusing to ignore its inflection insofar as it's put out there with questioning. More broadly, then, in what sense does the imaginary dematerialize the question? In the final analysis what do we know about the materiality of the moving person? Oh, to be sure, the imaginary questioner (or the formulator of the imaginary question, if we must) is a person who moves; however, it's the malleaticity of the image which bathes the imaginary in the material, or requires us to recognize something like materialnot just any material, though. We are speaking of technology, stuff made by hand, or even, at the same time, made for the hand. Conceivably rather than the moving imparting its materiality to the malleable, the malleable exists as a material resistance to the movements of the body of uncertain materiality. This is a question for future inquiries, as is the echo of locomotion (lability) in the hominid hand, the very hand that formulates the imaginary question.
Labels: body, imagination, motility, questions, reading, Scarry
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
"The veritable position of the I in time consists in interrupting time by punctuating it with beginnings" (Levinas, Totality, p. 143). What does the beginning begin from? Is there a time outside of beginnings that would allow for something coming before and after, or a beginning against which other beginnings could be measured? What would be the qualities of such a time outside of beginnings, a time from which beginnings could begin?
The primordial positivity of enjoyment, perfectly innocent, is opposed to nothing and in this sense suffices to itself from the first. An instant or standstill, it is the success of the carpe diem, the sovereignty of the "after us the deluge." These pretensions would be pure nonsense and not eternal temptation could not enjoyment tear itself absolutely from the disintegration characteristic of duration.
Would joyless time be recognizable as time itself, or would we have to arrive at a recognition of joyless time by a process of subtraction?
We have sought to elaborate the notion of enjoyment in which the I arises and pulsates: we have not determined the I be freedom. Freedom as the possibility of commencement, referring to happiness, to the marvel of the good time standing out from the continuity of the hours, is the production of the I and not one experience among others that "happens" to the I. Separation and atheism, these negative notions, are produced by positive events. To be I, atheist, at home with oneself, separated, happy, createdthese are synonyms.
How does one freely commence enjoying a time apart from the dreary blur of hours? Does one simply say "Let's enjoy ourselves?" Before we produce our freedom, as the possibility of commencement, mustn't we recognize our unfreedom (I'm not going there just yet), our being in the thrall of miseries or at the whim of passions? In what time does this recognition take place? The break from time, or the interruption of duration, appears then to have occurred prior to the onset of beginnings. This being prior bespeaks a felt time, or a response to temporal passions that may itself be passionately feltindeed if it does give rise to the production of enjoyment it would be passionately felt, though it may appear as passionately felt only after the fact of an enjoyment, or, rather more precisely, a commencement which signifies enjoyment. Commencement would then be prior in its appearance to the ego, the nexus of feeling, prior even to time, which, if it is constituted by the feeling subject, is constituted only after the fact of its being felt, and perhaps also then after its quality of feeling had being signified, even meontically. Hmm.
Labels: jouissance, Levinas, temporality
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
When we speak of classicism, we also mean that we want to read Merleau-Ponty just as one reads a classic author. Commentators insist on the fact that Merleau-Ponty teaches us the way in which he must be read. Because the truth of an author is not an object that can be circumscribed, because it resides in an unthought which inhabits it through and through without being formulated anywhere, the reading must be an interpretive appropriation, an active intersubjectivity, an echo. If this means simply that no interpretation is a mere repetition, that the reader reconceives the work on the basis of its own difference without anyone being able to say that this is an arbitrary projection, this is obvious. But the risk is that by means of the authority of this obvious fact, we dispense with a scrupulous reading and go straight to an 'intuition' of Merleau-Ponty that would only need to be reactivated differentially, instead of paying careful attention to the movement and concepts across which this intuition is elaborated. In our eyes, Merleau-Ponty's always luminous thought is still arduous, sinuous, and dense. By remaining as attentive as possible to the text, we propose simply to try to explicate it, just as one explicates a classic author; no one would think of exercising this dimension of active appropriation first in relation to a classic author. It seems to us not only that the richness of the texts at our disposal justifies a work of reconstitution but also, because of their density and their incompleteness, that they require such a work of reconstitution.
(Renaud Barbaras, The Being of the Phenomenon, pp. xxxii-xxxiii), my emphasis
That there is an unscruple at the heart of the scrupulous reading, reading which demands giving the best of yourself, that is, reading which requires, among other things, creativity and a genuine practice of freedom, is obvious. Scrupulous reading, however, is not defined by any one scruple or its otherah, but there's the rub. Is the unscruple also a scruple? Now it appears to be neither scruple nor unscruple. It's as if the scruple always had to be decided phronetically, as would then the unscruple. Can this pass as definition? Can we ever precisely know what a scruple is with respect to reading or any other pursuit? A scrupulous reading of Barbaras' text also requires that the reader be free to interrogate Barbaras' reading of Merleau-Ponty, which means of course putting into question Barbaras' readerly scruples. Scruples? What kind of reader am I after all? A man whose intelligence and creativity I admire puts years of study into a reading of an oeuvre and yet I would dare to question his scruples? But he gave me the idea? It's completely juvenile, I know. Asinine. Please forgive me.
Labels: Barbaras, echo, intersubjectivity, reading
Monday, April 06, 2009
"A phrase like 'wave on shrieking wave,'" Scarry says, "requires that we picture a wave, let it for a split second disappear, then bring the picture back: in effect, we make the wave image pulse" (Dreaming by the Book, p. 102). If the process we use to imagine moving images differs from the process we use to put still images into motion then we should question how it is in both cases we're talking about the same imaginative faculty rather than, at most, a constellation of various imaginative activities and skills, activities touching on or drawing from the imagination without themselves being the imagination. I'd like to explore this question from another angle.
Close your eyes. Remember being at the coast. Remember the sound of the waves. Picture the night. Your eyes are closed. In your memory your eyes are closed. You hear the pulse of the ocean. It's the sound of intimacy. It draws you in, the sound. Wave upon wave, the sound of the ocean.
Now think about what you are doing. Are you imagining a memory or an episode of imagination? Perhaps you're experiencing a moment akin to a dream. Are there several moments wrapped into one? More than one memory? More than one sound in your mind? Is the sound of the ocean one sound or many? Does the word "pulse" make it easier to imagine the sound of the ocean? Does it distract by introducing other images? Does it entail any process beyond imagination, or is it best understood as a refinement of imagination? Is flirting with metaphor one of things imagination does, or does such flirtation belong to languageas if the imaginative exercise of language could be rigorously separated from the imaginative play of fantasy; well, it's a theory that can't be totally ignored in the critique of imagination. We shape our images, give them to be shaped, we give our plasticity over to words, which theoretically means other people's words and to large measure other people's meanings and other people's images. We surrender our imaginations, even our imaginative faculties, for a time at least. We lapse into language, its powers to stir images, or steer them. This lapse, this surrender, is entirely distinct from the giving of the imagination over to fantasy, so much so that one should question whether the same faculty is involved in both instances. This doesn't seem altogether likely to me, but perhaps it helps us appreciate what Scarry is doing in demonstrating how literary techniques help us imagine more vividly than we might were we left to our own devices. Language can juice the imagination or something awfully similar to the imagination because it is itself an activity of the imagination.
I surrender to dark images, unsure of whether they belong in the same category as light images. I am enthralled by the sound of the word "pulse," its explosion of liquid sibilance, its pulse.
Language in the dark, like the imagination, becomes oceanic. From one perspective imagination begins in the moment when memory is cast adriftthe transition between waves abruptcrashes woven into a single moment, an oceanic moment, a pulse.
Labels: imagination, Scarry, sound
Saturday, April 04, 2009
"In resonance the inexhaustible return of eternity is playedand listened to" (Jean-Luc Nancy, "How Music Listens to Itself," in Listening, p. 67). Routinely I would question "inexhaustible," "return" and "eternity," but what thoughts would turn up if I began by putting only one term into question? Can we admit that returns of eternity both exist and are exhaustible? Or can we acknowledge an inexhaustible return of the ephemeral? Aporias. The eternal's manner of coming into existence would require, to be a coming into existence, an incompatibility with the eternal, and likewise mutatis mutandis for the eternal's other.
Attack is followed by decay, to describe sound, yet in accounts of sonorous experience decay is frequently disregarded. "Sound has no hidden face," Nancy tells us (Listening, p. 13), though I'm still not so sure. He emphasizes the attack, the arrival of sound, while ignoring sound's departure. To me the departure of sound does suggest another facet of sound, a silence looming behind every sound. Of course behind the departure of sound is the arrival of soundam I confusing conceptual faces with phenomenal faces here? I don't quite think so. I'd like to be talking about an eidos of sonorous experience, or an eidos of resonance, all the while pointing to an eidos of phenomenality in general. Sound is inside-out in relation to phenomenality, Nancy says (ibid.) This of course implies that sound does have faces. However, if what Nancy objects to is the idea of the hiddenness of any of sound's faces, then how should we interpret the disappearance of sound's departure behind phrases such as "the inexhaustible return of eternity"? Is this disappearance the sense of body that Nancy calls "soul" (p. 43)? (It is true, I'm excerpting from different essays ("Listening," "How Music Listens to Itself"); they are linked by common themes, such as resonance.) Could it be that the behind of sound is precisely animated? Perhaps only in order to be imagined. Just perhaps. So what makes it so difficult to imagine, for instance, the exhaustible return of eternity? Is it simply contradiction, or could it be de-animation, the flight of the soul which is at root an attack on the power of the imagination? To imagine the exhaustible would be far more painstaking than to live it. It would mean allowing exhaustion to resonate. Now that the idea's been put forward, can we think otherwise than that exhaustion itself is after all such a resonance of exhaustion? This is but one side of an equation. It should lead us to question whether or how the inexhaustible resonates. It is patently not clear that inexhaustion itself is the resonance of inexhaustionbut one wonders. If resonance is exhaustingin the manner it allows the eternal to come into existence, as return, or else more simply exhausting in the way it takes the air out of sound, slowly, one vibration after anotherthen listening to the inexhaustible can only go so far, and certainly not as far as the inexhaustible itself, whether or not it's its own resonance. But I'm puzzled. If resonance requires a distance from inexhaustion does it not also by the same token require a distance from exhaustion? Resonance is a phenomenon of distancesand passions. The sympathetic vibration clues us in to the essence of all resonance, which is not merely the antrum at the heart of the material, the chora, but the intensity of a feeling with (which points meontically to distances)or do the antral and the distal measure the same space, a space that would exist in the absence of sympathies? Resonance would admonish us to be cautious about drawing too sharp a distinction between auditory and visual modes of phenomenality. Our responses to phenomena are imbricated with their arrivalsthis defines their modality of arrivalwhich we perhaps never allow to occur all at once, despite what some have claimed to be true of listening, but always feel along with a feeling for or about their departures, which may be as good as having an intuitionnot a pure intuition but an existential one, if you'll afford some meaning to the distinctionabout the behind of sounds.
Labels: exhaustion, listening, Nancy, passions, phenomenology, resonance, sound
Friday, April 03, 2009
"Don't the steps in Venice rhythm the walk through the city, while serving simultaneously as a transition between different rhythms" (Lefebvre and Régulier, "Attempt at the Rhythmanalysis of Mediterranean Cities," in Rhythmanalysis, p. 97)? Staircases transport us into a sublime Mediterranean. Two at a time, three at a time, wild speeds almost, almost into the blue. A meditation on domes, the sphericality of the physique redoubled, lifted and melodized, synecdoches of knees like accordions, a breathing, rhythmed. The metaterrestial dimension of staircases consists in being able to taste a worldless time unencumbered by the logic of reality while being suspended above, though never completely free of, the Earth, being about the Earth. (Worldlessness may be just such a suspension in place of a full emancipation, wrought with a feeling of impermanence.) Such a time is given rhythmically, which implies, according to Lefebvre and Régulier, a taking place, a placement amidst the concrete. Yet it's the sky that guides the taking of staircases, even gray skies, ceilingsthere is always the implied arch which is thrown up above the breach, which arises from the breach, the spherical's step into motion. Do age and weariness eventually bring us to succumb to the rhythm that's been laid for us, the rhthym set in the stones of the staircase? Not perfectly, no. Yet we both bend ourselves to and we are bent by staircases. One step at a time they transport us into a slower world, a world that much closer to lying down.
Labels: Lefebvre, Régulier, rhythm, senescence, stairs, world
Thursday, April 02, 2009
"The distinction between form and matter does not characterize all experience," Levinas assures us. "The face has no form added to it, but does not present itself as the formless, as matter that lacks and calls for form" (Totality, p. 140). Your body has neither a shape superimposed upon it nor does it appear as the absence of shape. Are we about to grasp an immateriality of the body? Your shapeliness intervenes, I insist, between imposition and absence of shape. It's your body that impresses, in the manner of an emanation. Flowing hand. Mutatis mutandis your bodiliness intervenes between stuff and emptiness. Thus your body is no more immaterial than it is unshapely. If we assign your shapeliness to singularityto recognize your body is you, youtastically, that shapeliness is your gift to experience (experience thanks you)then what of materiality, a singular materiality? Will materiality allow itself to be manifested uniquely-plurally? Levinas says that enjoyment is "an ultimate relation with the substantial plenitude of being, with its materiality" (p. 133). But hasn't your body, your body-with-a-face, compelled me to rethink materiality? Neither substance nor apeiron, but singularly you, your body. In pure expenditure, like dolphins, in pure loss, flowing hands.
Labels: body, form, formlessness, jouissance, Levinas, uniqueness, you
Andrew Revkin reports.
Dolphin and porpoise species that have adapted to rivers and deltas around the world have long been considered some of the most vulnerable of marine mammals because of their restricted habitats. In 2007, the baiji, a river dolphin that thrived in the Yangtze River for 20 million years in today’s China, was said by experts to have been driven to extinction by a mix of impacts from the nearly half billion people now living in that watershed. The vaquita, a porpoise living in brackish waters where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf of California, is critically endangered, biologists say, depleted by fishing nets and the disruptions in the great river's flow in the 20th century from dam construction.
But in the great weaving of mangrove-fringed islets and channels that make up the sprawling coast of Bangladesh, biologists have found a thriving population of another species that marine mammal experts had also thought depleted—the Irrawaddy dolphin. After methodical surveys, biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Chittagong University in Bangladesh estimate that the region is home to 6,000 of the dolphins, by far the largest known population.
Labels: Andrew Revkin, dolphins, extinction, habitat