Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rupture of the Question

Kangas' thoughts about the traumatic raise questions for our project of thinking about the question.

The trauma is less an experience than a quasi-experience, for what defines trauma is a tear in the fabric of presence itself. Consciousness is exposed to more than it can integrate and, unlike the experience of the sublime, does not recuperate itself in a secondary moment. The effect of the traumatic event is a dephasing of consciousness from its own temporality: the temporal "now" is no longer lived as an integral moment, relating to past-present and future-present, but placed out of time and out of being.

(Kierkegaard's Instant, p. 53)

Should we move then to thinking the quasi-experientiality of the question, the "as if" nature of the way the question unfolds in what we provisionally identify as experience? Let's note a rupture. Something about the question escapes the moment. Something escapes recuperability. Do these "somethings" have the status of things in our apprehension, or do we call them "things" only in the vaguest way possible, not to grasp them, but to feel our way around them. If it would be more exact to speak of the escaped or the irrecuperable, it would still leave something unsaid, something "out of being."

The question (the lovely question of rhythmosophy) appears to have an "as if" dimension, as if it were extramomentarily sprung from being. This sharing of space with the epoché, the bracketing of onticalities, occurs by virtue of its quasiexperiential irruption, which is nonetheless for being out of the present still yet spasmoreal. Is the quasi-experience in general spasmorealized? Question appears as if by surprise and interiority is dragged into question, as-if-dragged; is that the same way the questioning person is dragged into question?

More than anything the question interrupts. What kind of beginning is this?

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Empathic Dimension of the Question

The question emerges from both intersubjective and coexistential depths. Which is deeper, the intersubjective or the coexistential? Perhaps this question is destined, by virtue of these depths, to remain in a state of transfusion. It absorbs a liquidity. It swims.

The interrogative clause (the opening clausula of *-subjectivity) functions as a politeness marker in various discursive universes. The interrogative phrasing, involving syntactical transformation as well as prosodic inflection, makes requests nice. It shows care for the face of the other, which emerges from both intersubjective and coexistential depths.

A typology of speech acts will not stand as an adequate guide to the description of all that can be adventured with the question. Yet, let's ask in passing how the paradox of inquiry, one starting point for philosophical questioning, might be connected with the everyday request or the functions of the interrogative.

Is the request a passionate form of inquiry? Can there possibly be any true love of inquiry without passion? Well, the votaries of dispassionate inquiry have much to say in their favor. Indeed, as a provisional critic of dispassionate inquiry I rely upon the indirectness called "dispassion" in order to communicate a critique of and ultimately to think about—very about—the question. Nonetheless, exploring the empathic dimension—function, modality, horizons—this is yet exploratory—of the question inevitably touches on the matter of the passions.

In questioning we catch a glimpse of the for-itself at the same time we work with the for-others. On another plane it appears that the question entwines with feeling, or with vulnerability. We feel for the others whom we question.

To inquire is to empathize? Contrary examples abound. However, the quotidian polite question by its nature of caring about the face of the other demonstrates a consciousness of vulnerability. Are we already empathically understanding the other even before we inquire of them? If that's true in any sense, then how do we make up for the horrible impoliteness of asking? Are our true feelings for others irrevocably wrapped up in polite fictions? Asked to sacrifice something resembling authenticity—must we be asked, or do we already feel this thing like authenticity being set aside as we begin to formulate the polite question, the empathic question? Do we set this thing aside for a true understanding of the other, or a true transfusion of horizons, a fiction true to our feelings for others? Would there then be something ultimately untrue about selfishness revealed by the question?

When asking about the question, which are the truths we must attend to?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:58 AM. 3 comments

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Repertory of Questions?

In what sense does the question—in contradistinction to the assertion, perhaps—open up the possibility for a contradiction of experience, a subjunctivity at the nexus of conceptual and communicative praxis? A more basic question concerns the irrealizing function of the question, its operation without a single apparent referent. What is the real question? The fact that we say such things reveals an attitude about questioning, shows a facet of what its consequences are for mental life and what the question as question is. Questions are multilayered, but the layers are moving, more undulant than level, more given to transformative paraphrase than to pure synonymy, such as it exists. (As usual, I side with Sapir against the hypostatization of *language, a theoretical stance that may be implied by though not fully explored in Hagège's work.)

In The Dialogic Species Hagège presents a twofold conception of language: on the one hand language is the work of conceptual intelligence, language is signification, the traffic in signs and their meanings in place of things; on the other hand language is a dialogic exchange between speakers. He places the question, along with injunction, in the hand with dialogic communication. The argument seems to be that in human speech there is something like completely intersubjective dialogue whereby the listener assumes the full functions of the speaker. Does this division between signification and communication help make sense of the question? Here's Hagège:

[M]an, alone in the living world, is able to signify and to communicate in the full sense of each of these notions. Man uses a continually evolving repertory of signs, organized into coherent structures, to transmit and interpret messages presupposing a highly complex social relation of interaction and dialogue. These are messages that assert, interrogate, command and express states. And it is because human languages are the only systems invested simultaneously with this dual property that they must be recognized as unique.

(p. 79)

How does a question belong to a repertory of signs? Do we have repertories of questions that we necessarily work from when we ask any and all questions? Is it the case that creative, performative inquiry (repertory) begets the sign in its sense of its attachment to a system of differential meanings? Is inquiry of itself systematizing?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Raising an Eyebrow

Interpreting the raising of the eyebrows to mark a question in American Sign Language:

In the sign languages of the deaf, facial movements and expressions often serve syntactic functions. For example, in American Sign Language, a declarative sentence is converted into a question if accompanied by a forward movement of the head and shoulders, and a raising of the eyebrows. Relative clauses are signaled by a raising of the eyebrows and upper lip, with the head tilted back. An affirmative sentence becomes a negative one if accompanied by a shaking of the head. (Examples are from Neidle et al. 2000.) Of course, sign language does not necessarily resemble any gestural language that our ancestors, such as Homo erectus, may have used. It is nevertheless interesting that facial gestures should generally convey syntax, whereas manual gestures supply content. As suggested earlier, syntax may have been grafted onto gestural communication from around two million years ago with the emergence of the genus Homo. If syntax was predominantly facial, this suggests a progression from manual to facial gesture in the emergence of language.

Michael C. Corballis, "From mouth to hand: Gesture, speech, and the evolution of right-handedness," Behavioural and Brain Sciences (2003) 26, 199–260, p. 203.

The prelinguistic raised-eyebrow gesture may not itself be particularly meaning specific, but pragmatic considerations surrounding the communicative interchange would contribute to its being inferred as a gesture indicating interest or intentness, or that some information is being solicited, akin to a question being asked. This prelinguistic gesture—available to both deaf and nondeaf communities in North America—is also used as a grammatical yes-no question marker in ASL, however. In this grammatical context it is specific in meaning, marking any string as a yes-no question. Thus a prelinguistic gesture has been recruited as a grammatical marker, and it would be difficult to claim that either is a lexical item in the sense of a content word. In this case, it appears that a grammatical marker, albeit a rather iconic one, takes as its source a more general communicative gesture, with no lexical word developing or intervening at this stage of grammatical development or later. . . .

Terry Janzen and Barbara Shaffer, "Gesture as the substrate in the process of ASL grammaticization," in Modality and Structure in Signed and Spoken Languages, pp. 199-223p. 214.

Raising the eyebrows primordially expresses inter-est, an opening of the person to coexistence, or, to be specific, the person-to-person world. The question along with its precursors is prominently interpersonal, as if we related to being-together first through concrete personhood.

Lets play for a moment with the nonlexicality of the question, or the nonlexical inflection of the question itself. What is, after all, the content of a question in general? Is the question something we graft on to other meaningful utterances, something that thrives only by being grafted on to other expressions, a style that must be added, a doubling of expression, a twist? Is it itself a hybrid, or does it represent a process of hybridization? Or does it represent, in particular, which can be inferred from its nonlexical mode of expressing interest, an originary interpersonalization of meanings? Or likewise a giving of meaning to the interpersonal? What is Sinngebung in its nonlexical mode? (Assuming it has one. I would tend to assume that there is a prelexical mode of the Logos, whether it be accessed in the complete absence of words, or, on the contrary, only through words, perhaps through an abandonment of words. I'm open to criticizing this assumption.)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:58 AM. 0 comments

Baboons Communicate with their Right Hands

Despite retaining a healthy level of skepticism, I post these findings because I am sure they merit some serious attention:

Humans are mainly right-handed for many actions including gestures. This bias is strongly linked to a left cerebral hemispheric dominance for language functions. Whether similar lateralized systems for communicative behaviors are present in other animals is unclear. Here we report the first evidence of strong population-level right-handedness in 60 captive baboons for a species-specific communicative manual gesture. Our findings support the view that lateralization for language may have evolved from a gestural system of communication controlled by the left hemisphere.

Adrien Meguerditchian and Jacques Vauclair, "Baboons communicate with their right hand," Behavioural Brain Research 171 (2006) 170–174.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ambiguous Illocutionary Force

Martin Bell, guided by the thesis that acts of questioning "are illocutionary acts belonging to the command genus," notes a difference between the question that is put and the question that is raised ("Questioning," Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 100, 1975, pp. 193-212; p. 206, p.209). In his view the raised question has no illocutionary force. "Here the question is, as it were, in quotation, and no illucutionary force attaches to it" (ibid.).

The question of the raised question, having been raised rather than put, is not powerless any more that is not simple. It is complex, containing within it myriad questions. What is the raised question? How does it operate? It is a question by whom? For whom? For what kind of existentiality is the question raised? The raising of the question gives us to think about the question itself and its powers, its dynamics. Can it transform a person? Is the question raised for transmogrifiables alone? For, paradoxically, autotranscendent entities? (At this point, in quotation as it were ("."), it is tempting to affix "questionable" to every noun, "questionably," to every verb and modifier, or to say that this or that is a question of this or that.) Does the raised question throw everything into question? Presumably it would leave some space for itself to exist as a raised question in contradistinction to a put question, but throwing the world into question may be the special province of the raised question. The world of whom? Just anybody's world, or the world in the inflection of the just anybody? The world suspended for the sake of the question?

The raised question, then, should not be quickly determined to be powerless. It gives us to stop and think. Communicatively any question signals "your turn to speak" but insofar as the raised question also gives us to stop and think it doesn't oblige us to immediately respond. The turn is held in abeyance. The turn and the communicative response may represent situationally contradictory or counteroperative demands. Thus inasmuch as the raised question presents us with a dilemma it gives us more than to stop and think; it issues a challenge. This challenge signifies its power, a dilemmatical power. A doubling of the raised question as the dilemma of either to go on speaking or to stop and think takes hold and gives itself to be questioned; a challenge is put without the raised question ceasing to be a raised question, a question of ambiguous illocutionary force.

The dilemmatical is an existential concrete at the same time it is an elaboration of the dilemmic; perhaps we routinely approach the dilemmic by way of the dilemmatical. The dilemmic of the raised question seems to be that it is to be distinguished from the put question only by being put in quotation, as it were. It is precisely its authority that signals its dilemmic. If the authority of the raised question can be read as inscribed in being put, its authority appears to be erased in being put into quotation. If in fact the authority of the question put into quotation doubles the authority of the putting into question, the raising of the question leaves that authority without a world. Do we stop and think in worldlessness? No doubt the raised question has horizons, but they more than any other are given to be put into question.

The raised question has ambiguous illocutionary power, but its power is to upset the world.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Motionless Question

The hand may be too rough an instrument to measure the space between the abstractness of a posing of the question and the concreteness of a posing of the question.

Our results show that nearly identical patterns of left hemisphere activity are present while deaf signers generate verbs (compared to repetition of nouns) independently with their right (dominant) and left (nondominant) hands. The pattern of activation observed under these conditions is consistent with patterns reported for spoken languages. Importantly, the present data concur with delineation of functions within the left frontal region related to lexical–semantic, phonological, and search and retrieval processes. The results also provide important evidence for a nonmotoric role of the right lateral cerebellum activation during a language task, as well as additional support for a cerebellar contribution to cognitive behaviors. The data indicate activation of the left ventral fusiform, a region typically associated with form properties of written words. These data suggest this region may be responsive to visual properties of word forms that are not strictly tied to written languages. Finally, the patterns of activity observed in this study are more consistent with studies of linguistic processing rather than movement execution and perception.

In summary, these data indicate that linguistic–semantic processing relies upon left-hemisphere regions regardless of the modality in which a language is realized and that linguistic programming of non-dominant-hand use in signing arises from the same left-hemisphere regions responsible for dominant-hand use. These data provide new insights into the characterization of the neural systems underlying human languages and the articulatory motor system characteristic of signed languages of the deaf.

—Corina et al., "Language Lateralization in a Bimanual Language," Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Vol. 15, Issue 5 (2003), pp. 718-730.

Does making a gesture towards speech in the throat feel like gesturing with the hand? I'm grasping. I must slowly come to grips with the possibility that the question has precious little to do with movement, or that it resides so deeply in the phenomena of surfaces that it must be understood as a superficial.

Imagine the motionless question, if you will. It is a question without style, destined to a perdurance—anything as existential as a per-durance of the motionless question would open an aporia, one that we will pass over for the moment, for the even the motionless question exists here in the nowish, be it irreal and provisional, existing so nonetheless—outside of speech, or, better, indifferent to speech, indifferent to expression. There is no enthusiasm for the motionless question. One simply doesn't approach it that way, the way of for. It is cold, yet curiously it corresponds to a resonance, a flow of blood. It itself doesn't inhabit space, but occupies space (or its simulacrum, a parallel spatiality).

Does one properly ask the motionless question? Does the motionless question transcend asking? Does it follow asking like a shadow?

The motionless question, unlike other objects of linguistic study, cannot directly coincide with its saying, better, its implementation. Indirectly, and most paradoxically, it exposes a hereness of the question. Does the moving question, the question in the hand, have this very same hereness? Is there any hereness besides existential hereness, hereness that is?

Could the hereness of the motionless question approach the absolute? To be a question it must have space for answers, must have answers wrapped inside it, and at the same time open itself to other heres, unforeseen heres of answerability, a cunicular substratum of response—how could the motionless question possibly be involved in a movement from one here to another here? If there is only one here given with the motionless question there is no space for answers, and "additionally," no space for motionlessness. Everything is crowded out except its own motionlessness. If the motionless question is without place there is no gap between it and the concrete question in the hand. It becomes any question and every question. It loses its sense of being the motionless question.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Presence of Another Person: Silent Logos

Must we acknowledge the transcendence of the other person? The postulation of alterity and its attending shadow, an implicit ipseity, already prejudices the inquiry into coexistence. Is alterity perhaps then a necessary detour on the path to understanding coexistence? Is transcendence? Patočka usefully distinguishes between an abstract personal conception of the world and a concrete personal conception of the world. In the same way that we can approach the concrete personal after having discovered the abstract personal, we can approach the infrapersonal through the personal. The question arises, though, as to how the infrapersonal world connects with the world of things. Are they coextensive? Is there any continuity between them? How can we distinguish our unthinking projections of our own cherished images from our reachings towards knowledge?

"The other is not a transcendent existence, a being resting in itself," Barbaras argues from the vantage of a mature Merleau-Pontian phenomenology, "but another openness to the world" (Being, p. 243). Clearly he states that the other is not a transcendent existence; however, at other points in his exposition we are asked to acknowledge, understand and value the transcendence of the other. Are we to think of a transcendent openness in place of a transcendence existence? Or is there a troubling inconsistency in this approach to the presence of other people? Let's follow the argument through a longer passage:

The problem of the other should not be posed as the problem of the alter ego, because starting in this way from the identity of consciousnesses, one finds oneself immediately constrained to reject such consciousnesses in favor of a radical alterity. The relation to the other must be sought just short of this level, at the point where neither the other nor I are yet pure consciousnesses; that is, it must be sought on the plane of corporeity. But, on the other hand, it is nevertheless not a question of identifying the experience of the other with the revelation of this corporeity; instead of the other proceeding from the ordeal of my objectification, it is because the other first appears that I can discover for myself an objective body. Precisely insofar as it is truly the vector of the openness to the other, that is, to a determinate experience, corporeity cannot be understood as pure passivity, thrown back onto the side of the object. In short, in order that the other may remain transcendent, it is necessary that its givenness not proceed from an ego that is closed in on itself. But in order that this transcendence might be preserved, as appearing transcendence, it is necessary that the passivity to which it responds be simultaneously activity, that the movement of disappropriation, by which alone the other can advent, equally be appropriation. Incarnation is not the passage from a transparent consciousness to its other but the very modality according to which it can be in relationship with itself.

(p. 241)

Succinctly, Barbaras says that "in its carnal depth, transcendental subjectivity is truly transcendental intersubjectivity" (p. 247). My worry is that the intersubjective or the interpersonal, along with the infrapersonal, may be hastily conflated with the objective, for lack of a vocabulary for passage through various worlds. What exactly must the call to participate in the world of another person involve? What about tacit involvements, or the call to listen to a silent logos? What is our tacit relation to the other person? The obligation to question this relation is not only ethical but also internal to quest to understand the phenomenal (which may or may not constitute an ethical enterprise). We risk a deprived understanding of phenomenality if we conflate the objectivity we discover through our embodiment with any world that could possibly be discovered as coarising with coexistence, tacitly or otherwise. Infrapersonal horizons align with the depth of experience. Their extents are not measured by any euclidian geometry that would pertain to objects encountered in the natural attitude. "The other and its world are born together around a certain accent, around a certain dissonance at the heart of the spectacle. The other separates itself [s'écarter] from the world in a distance that is nevertheless not objectifiable" (p. 261).

Apparently I'm in danger of reading Barbaras, for the sake of argument, at too great a distance. True, he does say that "there is a full continuity between the thing and other, and that . . . the pertinence of a distinction between them must be called into question" (p. 264). This must be weighed against an argument for an "inner frame of intersubjectivity"(p. 253). I'll give Barbaras the last word here:

If the relation to the other has a meaning, the relation cannot be reconstituted on the basis of poles closed in on themselves, nor can it be reconceived on the basis of a neutral element within which every distinction would be abolished. The relation is this point of contact between subjectivities which is also a point of disjunction, this "surface" of separation where, finding themselves again, they are pushed back toward their difference, where the difference and the identity of consciousnesses and, consequently, the depth and the phenomenality of the world are constituted at the same time. It is necessary therefore to understand this Ineinander, this "inter" of intersubjectivity, as an ultimate, irreducible reality and finally as the fundamental Dimension of the world. There are not consciousnesses, because if the consciousnesses were truly consciousnesses, they would make one sole consciousness, and the solidity of the world would disappear in the inconsistency of a pure thought. There is no world or Being, because cut off from its phenomenalization it would not even be a world, it would disappear into nothingness. There is intersubjectivity, a hinge around which the world gains its unity, achieves a sense by dispersing itself in a plurality of experiences, thus preserving its depth and therefore also the depth of this sense. Intersubjectivity is the "field of fields" (VI 281/227) that is none other than those it articulates, the element in which the unity of carnal poles is at once both announced and differentiated.

(pp. 252-253, Barbaras' emphasis)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:40 AM. 1 comments

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Auscultative Exigency

Johannes Fabian writes, "oralization, that is, recourse to audible speech, actual or imagined, is an essential part of our ability to read texts. Yet our 'ideology' of literacy seems to put a taboo on revealing what we actually do when we read, for fear that oralization might subvert the authority of the written text" ("Keep Listening: Ethnography and Reading," in The Ethnography of Reading, Jonathan Boyarin ed.,1993, p. 89). The issue is not simply that, to lift an idea, "the ear comes late to listening"; we come to listening, ears and all, by listening. Listening is the elaboration of an idea, its perplication and all that. What is prior about audibility is daring to listen, allowing the power to augment, authority, to be placed within transition—a phase in the metastabilization of the abyssmorphing of reciprocity, i.e., speaking— allowing the pause to resonate.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:13 PM. 0 comments

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Absolute Irony of the Question

The so-named rhetorical question, an ironic trope at first blush, is in truth an example of the speculative question. The ignorance of the speaker doesn't really amount to much in this case. The totally ironic question is something altogether different, for total irony points to an irrevocable split between phenomenon and essence "beyond their recuperable identity" (Kierkegaard's Instant, p. 29). The opening up of the possibility for total ironic questioning readies thinking for philosophy, philosophy in its post-Socratic phase, which has become synonymous with philosophy itself. The ironic question, ironically both phenomenon and condition for a phenomenon of questioning, exists as a prepatory gesture, and hence its eidos remains in withdrawal. Its eidos forever becomes recallable as the unrecallable: "The infinite absolute negativity of the Socratic standpoint. . . is to have the Idea merely as limit, to recollect it only as the non-recollectable" (p. 33, Kangas' emphasis).

The critique of the eroticization of the question, which eroticism almost amounts to a paraphilia among the clerisy (as does, ironically, critique), paradoxically calls for a poetics of inquiry, and implies not the temperament—poetic temperament could only be determined in its cold state—but the life of a poet. Philosophy gives us to think, poetically as must needs be, the enigmatic existence of an original preparatory thinker, of a *Socrates, in the spasm of the question. Is it possible to emulate Socrates and still be critical of the philosophical question? How do we emulate enigma, or simply admire the enigmatic existence, without succumbing to obscurantism?

In the Socratic movement, philosophy, the question "receives a radical priority over any expository discourse aiming at knowledge" (p. 24, my emphasis). Is the search for knowledge via the question supervened in favor of an apeironic priority of questioning, a priority indifferent to being and nothingness? Kangas here at this juncture equates the radical priority of Socrates' question concerning the good with the radical priority of "the original possibility of questioning—Socrates maintains a relation to the excess implied in any new beginning. Remaining faithful to this excess is the condition for remaining faithful to Socrates' 'historical-actual, phenomenological existence'" (ibid.). Fidelity to Socrates' enigmatic existence paradoxically means allowing the figure of Socrates to recede behind the absolute priority of inquiry.

Having drawn a distinction between the ironic and the speculative, between the preparation and the journey, do we then, in inquiry, seek knowledge? Not in an expository way, one might answer. Yet we might still investigate how we imagine these things are put against one another, journey and preparation, if that's how our imagination approaches the problematic. Does the absolute irony of the question ever cross paths with the expository? Or is this crossing of paths what is meant by the "enigmatic existence" of the philosopher?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:37 AM. 0 comments

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Topology of Up and Down

Morris conceptually demarcates two classes of movement: grasping, whose topology is based in habitual activity, and residing, a movement by posturing and seeing. "Up," he says, "is specified by postures of residing that point back to an underlying topology of residing, and to an emotional register of our postural relation to earth" (Sense, p. 150). Presumably both kinds of movements are chiasmic. "The referent of 'up' is neither in the world nor in the body, but in movement that crosses the two" (p. 139), and, further, he says the referent of up is "postures of residing, postural movements" (p. 140).

Additionally Morris relates "up" to "open," inviting us to explore an ambivalence in the chiasm between movement from the body out into the world and movement from the world into the body. "[T]he closed posture is like the open posture in implying a relation to earth. But the open posture expresses unconcern for the earth, implies earth as a power at one with the body's power of residing. In contrast, the closed posture implies earth as a region of concern, antagonistic to the body's power of residing" (p. 146). Morris takes walking with the head hanging down as an example of the closed posture and associates this posture with shame.

Tilting one's head toward one's body closes one's body in on itself. This closed posture is protective and concernful, it turns one away from moving involvement with the surrounding world, and brings one into a moving relation with one's body and roots in the world/ One looks down at one's feet and there one notices what Neruda calls "the isolated and solitary part of [one's] being." Just as the unconcern of the open posture hides one's concerned relation to the world, the self-involvement of the closed posture hides the fact that one is concerned not just with oneself, but with one's residence on earth. The closed posture, like fainting in Sartre's analysis, is a postural, emotional attitude that affirms contact with the world precisely in turning away from it.

(p. 145)

Having broached the topic of the world of others, Morris then leads the discussion into the phenomenology of the face, using again the example of shame. He says:

[I]n shame, something curious happens. One turns one's face to oneself. But in doing so, one is facing others in face of whom one is ashamed. How? By taking on their point of view in turning in shame toward oneself, as if one were taking on the face of the other and looking at oneself with another's face (the face of genuine contrition, of shame, and so on); but in the very same moment one is facing away from the others, not looking them in the face, and showing that one cannot face oneself as others do (perhaps the face of contrition is a mask). In the hang-dog gesture of shame, one acknowledges the other's position only by showing that one cannot coincide with it, that one faces shame only by not facing it. There is something tremendously complex going on here, and I suspect it indicates something deep about the phenomenology of facing: that facing can never entirely encompass what it faces, that we can never take on the face of the others we face. Facing is thus an index of responsibility and care in the deep grammar of our facing bodies.

(p. 154)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:35 PM. 10 comments

Polygenesis of Languages

Claude Hagège hypothesizes a monogenetic origin of a faculty for speech but a polygenetic origin of human languages (The Dialogic Species: A Linguistic Contribution to the Social Sciences, trans. Sharon L. Shelley, Columbia University Press, Second Edition, 1990). I'm not certain the radical critique of universal grammar requires an evolutionary argument (in fact I reckon Hagège's radical critique is born of patient, close study of diverse living languages), but here is one:

We have seen that all evidence indicates virtual simultaneity of the birth of the species and the ancient migrations. Moreover, we can better sketch this vast adventure if we keep in mind the difference between the notions of speech faculty (langage) and language (langue). Through a continuing series of improvements, the first more or less coded stammerings became regular formations; their repertories extended as the aptitude to symbolize became enriched with the more specific faculty of articulating thought in ordered signs expressed by combinations of sounds. But such an evolution itself assumes a considerable period of time and thus cannot have produced human languages in the contemporary sense of the term, until after the great migrations. Thus, in all likelihood, this process took place in several different geographical areas. The ecological milieu, nature and its sounds, vegetable and animal species as well as the sound phenomena they produced, were therefore quite diverse. Diverse also, in each living biocenosis (or community of interdependent beings), were the nuclei of social organization which were constituted, and, consequently, the first languages themselves. For, from the beginning, they were closely affiliated with these social organizations, although it is true that this relationship was gradually obscured by the progressive and arbitrary conventions that separate words and phrase structures from their original sources.

(pp. 7-8)

For Hagège the origination of languages is closely tied to a capacity for thought; articulating abstract thought through vocal signs is a vital function of language above and beyond any residue of its sensory-motor aspects. He presents the view that the neocortical elaboration of Homo and of sapiens in particular precedes the development of languages. (Reportedly the neocortex ratio for humans "is about 50% larger than the maximum value for any other primate species" (Robin Dunbar, Coevolution of Neocortical Size, Group Size and Language in Humans.); of course the encephalization quotient of sapiens is also remarkably high; see the lecture notes of Bill Sellers, Primate Brains).

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Varieties of Ideation

Barbaras reads Merleau-Ponty as wanting "to reestablish the experience itself of ideality" (Being, p. 235). He says further, "The fidelity to experience, to which the dialectic of the visible and invisible bears witness, imposes the recognition of the intelligible as a specific experience; that is, the fidelity of experience imposes that we distinguish ideality in the strict sense from the 'ideas' that are inscribed within the heart of the sensible" (p. 236).

The irrealization of experience absent any magistral discursive function (though not deposed of all possibilities for learning), which is to say experience on an equal footing with the experience of itself, exposes variation as an element inscribed within the experiential. I want to interpret experience as it is experienced, yet I read variation into experience by the very ideation that brings it to consciousness. It appears equally true that variation was already "there" within experience as a condition for reading anything at all into experience, into indicating a movement between an experience and its other. Fidelity to whyless variation—chaosmic, spasmoreal whyless variation—is a requirement of fidelity to experience. Plurality emerges more or less suddenly in tandem with experience, which is the source of the difficulty in saying definitively "experience means p," or "experience means q."

Perhaps on a note of tension, then, I share with you Barbaras' statement that "the sensible already carries within it the entire destiny of meanings, but in it meaning remains opaque and allusive" (p. 237). Meaning doesn't stand still except by allusion. At best it sometimes plays alongside remaining in place. In its original form meaning precisely and almost at once not entirely departs. Remaining is a departure of meaning.

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Friday, September 11, 2009


What do we make the positing of the instant that cannot be posited? Does one always come late to the instant, the instant that refuses to be even partially anticipated because it emerges as a surprise? What are we to make of this metaphysics of birth? In Kierkegaard's Instant: On Beginnings David Kangas rereads Kierkegaard's philosophy in light of such an instant, a coming into existence, he says:

that falls essentially prior to any beginning that could be represented, posited, or recollected by a subject: a beginning prior to all beginning, prior to the total horizon of presence—hence, an "anarchic" beginning that will always already have begun. This is what is meant by "Kierkegaard's Instant." The problem is one of thinking a beginning that cannot be translated as a first principle or ground, a beginning that neither serves as foundation nor can be posited. Self-consciousness, we learn from these texts [of Kierkegaard's], arrives always too soon or too late to the instant in which existence is given; it cannot be made to coincide with itself. Vis-à-vis this infinite beginning, existence shows itself as absolute departure, without foundation or goal.

(p. x)

If we take Kangas' reading as impetus to institute a logic of letting go of first principles, might we then also desire to let go of the coupling of the instant with a givenness of existence? Another passage may edify:

What transcends self-consciousness is not what stands over against it, but falls prior to it. Through paradox after paradox Kierkegaard's early texts exhibit a movement toward the radically anterior, the irrecuperable, the unrecollectable. They return thinking to an "infinite beginning," which he names "the instant" (Øieblikket), in which temporality itself begins. The instant is the name for a beginning that cannot be interiorized, appropriated, recollected, represented, or possessed. It is not a work of self-consciousness, not mediation, but rather the event through which self-consciousness is first enabled. The instant is the gift or birth of presence. An instant cannot claim to be. Of itself it is nothing, it is nowhere; it neither is nor is not. And yet everything changes in the instant. An instant enters into experience, or becomes present, either essentially too soon or too late. Anytime one says "and before I knew it," or "and then suddenly," one will have felt the residual effects ("traces") of the instant.

(p. 4, Kangas' emphases, my bold)

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The Recursion behind the Recursion

The concept of experience implied in saying "experience as complex" presupposes something like originary experience prior to the construction of experience (and concomitantly it implies a spacetime prior to the constitution of spacetime, along with a self prior to self); experience in a paradoxical sense would have to consist of a congealment of itself, the freezing of itself in a moment together with. . . ? An interest in this together with prevents me from rejecting the paradox of recursive experience outright. Behind that question of experience's together with lies a horizon of metaphoricity (together with intentionality), behind which a horizon of comprehension, behind which a horizon of chiasmic reach, behind which a forest of heterogeneity. . . .

Touching on the topic of seeing together with the whole person, here is a quote from Nelson Goodman's Language of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols which takes its inspiration from Ernst Gombrich's Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation: "The eyes comes always ancient to its work, obsessed by its own past and by and old and new insinuations of the ear, nose and tongue, fingers, heart and brain. It functions not as an instrument self-powered and alone but as a dutiful member of a complex and capricious organism" (quoted in Corradi Fiumara, Metaphoric, p. 95).

At the risk of foreopening a question, I deliberately speak of the person and not the animal without therewith denying the animal. We are particularly human, Corradi Fiumara suggests, "to the extent that we manage a roundabout access instinctual depths" (p. 107). If metaphoric processes are conditions for attaining personhood, however, they also carry a destructurative potential. Person designates an ambiguous creature of (its "own") metaphoric processes. Metaphoricity "develops in conjunction with the creation of an intermediate space of ambiguities, extending between the individual self and the communal epistemology" (ibid., my emphasis on being in conjunction).

The crazy straw of experience can be imagined as synergistic. Cognitive synergy refers to, according to Corradi Fiumara, "the occurrence of incompatible properties being experienced simultaneously in relation to the development of one's identity" (p. 109). Simultaneity and origination, together with and incompatibility, synergy and play, recursion and recursion.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Crazy Straw

"Each experience is a modality of the expression of the world," says Barbaras (Being, p. 233). The world, he says, "is constituted around points of passage, axes of equivalence, through which every thing communicates, gaining access simultaneously to their identity and to their difference. The 'mutual expression,' the allusion that everything makes to every other, therefore precedes their distinction; rather, from this 'mutually expressive' tissue things surge forth, as things of the world, that is, as things still enveloped in what they envelop" (p. 234)

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A Peristaltic Flow

Two items:

Neural signals take time to travel from periphery to brain, but they all have different distances to travel, and therefore take different amounts of time reach the brain. The brain receives signals coming in from different parts of the body, but these signals are from events at different points in the past, as light reaching the star-gazer is from stars at different moments in the past. IF touch my toe, the signal from my hand will arrive in my brain before the signal from my toe, since it has less distance to travel, yet I experience both events as happening at the same time.

(David Morris, Sense of Space, p. 116)

"The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through an eight-foot-long soda straw."

A third item, which has arrived here before:

An event cannot be neatly isolated from previous and later events without losing its essential character as an event, a character of "emerging from" and "leading into" which accounts for the continuity of the process. An event is thus not the result of an abstraction out of the flow of time, but a constitutive dynamic element of the flow itself"

Something like a thought of "experience as complex" arrives. "Experience as constellation." Like a thought, but "it" didn't all happen just now. "Now" I want to look at experience through an eight-foot-long soda straw. "." Does experience ever arrive uninflected?

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Monday, September 07, 2009

An Extended Definition of Culture

From the Summary of Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins:

Cultural diversity within a single population has rarely been documented. In non-human primates, the only comparable case of a subculture within a population appears to be the grooming hand-clasp of chimpanzees in Mahale, Tanzania. In contrast with non-human primates, where culture has been demonstrated by using regional comparisons between populations, the observed vertical transmission of culture with a matriline of a single population creates a different spatial pattern. Thus, the operational definition of culture used in primatology does not capture cases as described in our study. We propose, therefore, to extend this definition to "include traditions that are habitual in some but not other individuals with overlapping home ranges, within the same population, where genetic and behavioral data are inconsistent with those individuals having acquired the behavior genetically."

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Panthropomorphic Thinking

Consuetudinal tool use, evidenced in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii), and humans, is probably a synapomorphy of the family Hominidae (see van Sheik et al. (1999), "The Conditions for Tool Use in Primates: Implications for the Evolution of Material Culture," Journal of Human Evolution, 36: 719–741; the article's hypothesis is that social tolerance is a condition for the development of material culture (i.e., consuetudinal tool use)). How strong is the evidence, then, that "an unprecedented level of behavioral developmental plasticity" is a hominini (Pan/Homo) synapomorphy (van Sheik (2004), "Book Review of Behavioural Diversity in Chimpanzees and Bonobos, Journal of Human Evolution, 46: 517–518)?

The possibility that consuetude represents a phyletic elaboration of plasticity doesn't preclude the tracing of our understanding of plasticity back to a primitive consuetutindal tribalism ("phylism"). We face a dilemma. The natural history of plasticity, like the natural history of reflexive consciousness, appears to leap out from the physis that precedes it. We can no more reasonably deny that an understanding of plasticity arises from human experience than we can deny phyletic origins of plasticity. A revolution has occurred at some point, to choose a metaphor, or, to choose another, the birth ("nature") of something new on earth, something rather paradoxical. However, vestiges of a parthenogenic fantasy may constrict our thinking here. Reciprocally, fantasial thoughts about plasticity appear to be constrained by the tribe, operating through a sphere of shared affects which steer the thinker back from frontiers of knowledge. We need to know how flexible plasticity is—and generally how plasticity works, what it does—before we can profitably determine that x or y degree of plasticity (supposing developmental plasticity admits of degrees, which there is some basis for if one looks at, for example, weaning times, or the period it takes to learn rudimentary locomotive skills, not to mention consuetudinal tool use) represents an unprecedented level of plasticity among Hominidae, Primates or, indeed, Animalia.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Popping in and out of Eternity

Nachmanovitch advises that the creative person distinguish between constructive judgment and obstructive judgment.

This means telling the difference between two kinds of time. The feedback between constructive judgment and ongoing creative work goes back and forth at more than lightning speed: it goes on in no-time (eternity). The partners, muse and editor, are always in synchrony, like a pair of dancers who have known each other for a long time.

(Free Play, p. 134)

Does one simply pop in on eternity? Pop! Has it always been "there," or does it need to be generated through something like practice? Can we judge eternity into and out of existence? Must eternity at any moment have been inspired? Does eternity even have moments?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:13 AM. 0 comments

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Inquiry and Error

Inquiry would be pointless without the possibility of error. However, the quest for accuracy, a modality of care which Corradi Fiumara justifiably identifies as a saliency of human thought (if it isn't perhaps the punctum saliens of inquiry in the main), seemingly contravenes a bona fide acceptance of error at any point during the course of inquiry. Once we admit the possibility of error the quashing of express errors during the course of inquiry becomes problematical. By disallowing for the appearance of error itself we betray error and so therefore implicitly compromise any commitment to inquiry, or else we follow a path away from noncontradictory reason—we error in refusing to accept error.

Perhaps the possibility of error resides in answers and not in questions? Yet the question envelops the answer. Dialogue, response, is as keenly an element of the question as oxygen is an element of water. To close the question against error by dismissal of wrong answers is to stray from inquiry in its dialogic essence, which isn't to say one can't reasonably dismiss any given answer as wrong, but simply to posit that such dismissals can't close the question as such against error.

Roughly I'm concerned with the flightpaths of inquiry here, at the expense, perhaps, of fixing boundaries. Are our expectations about inquiry altered as an investigation makes its way to its destination—we haven't yet settled questions of destinations, the manner in which questions are folded into an investigatory itinerary, causes of the question, consuetudinal structurations—or over the span of a career of philosophical inquiry, inquiry that calls itself into question? Do we start a philosophical inquiry with a question and then allow some latitude for error on the way to an answer? Does an initial question guide all subsequent questioning, set a trajectory that constrains all possible deviations? Do questions metamorphose under scrutiny? Are questions in the process of an inquiry like hinges, small joints that allow the doors of inquiry to swing shut and open? If inquiry is a revisionary process is the model of inquiry then also open to revision? Revisability as a facet of inquiry may imply the correction of errors but by the same token it would have to also imply the possibility of error.

While I can't wholeheartedly recommend an erratic pursuit of inquiries, neither can I recommend against it, and I can't quite see the reason why an erratic style of questioning need be regarded as inimical to philosophy. Avowedly I favor the peregrination, despite a few reservations and embarrassments. The adventure of philosophy must at some point pass through the ambiguity of the errant, acknowledge its existence rather than attempt to wish it out of being. As Corradi Fiumara argues, we must inquire into the unbearability of ambiguity, for surely "a measure of ambiguity allows for a constant search for ever greater accuracy" (Metaphoric, p. 80). The acknowledgment of ambiguity folds back on itself, methectically folds back into knowledge. The philosophical question offers not one single immiscible meaning but a multitude of perplications, the opening of a thousand paths of inquiry, a thousand exploits. There is no philosophical journey without exposure to error—and yet, yet, this conclusion is too comfortable. It feels wrong. If the inquiry comes full circle has it genuinely exposed itself to error?

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

An Enigma of Coevality

How do we share a here? Nowly? Momentaneously?

Barbaras distinguishes depth, the embeddedness of my body it the world, from the distance between things in a homogenous metrical space.

Depth, the remoteness that cannot be carried forward in the form of an outline within things, is the first dimension. Whereas height and width seem to belong to the things themselves and to owe nothing to the subject, depth corresponds to the originary unfolding of spatiality. The priority of depth does not therefore mean a privilege would be granted to it, within objective space, vis-à-vis height and width; in this space, all of the dimensions are equivalent. Depth is of another order than actual distance; it is situated just short of metrical space and reveals thereby a new sense of dimension.

(Being, pp. 209-210)

Does the space between things exist as space? If so, what kind of space? How is it presented? "The enigma of depth, Merleau-Ponty notes, is that there is a between of things" (p. 213). Is the between of between us of the same order? I feel a depth to our relationship. Do I compare this depth to the depths of my relations to other people? Do I instead operate out of a uniformal between, or, alternatively again, out of a depth belonging to a region or a modality of interrelations between people? Does the between exist polymorphously? Is it made polymorphic? Does the between have its unifocality, in its unfolding if not in its etiology? Does it at any time belong here?

Does the idea of bewteenness drive us to envisage the coexistence of things and the coexistence of people as belonging to a shared dimension? Indeed Barbaras asks us to rethink coexistence. To begin with, a question of phenomenality, he notes that "the phenomenon ascends to itself only by making itself co-present to the world and consequently to all the others" (p. 215). Does this formulation grant too much agency and ultimately too much personhood to the phenomenon in general? Again, from a different angle, do the co-presence of phenomena and the coexistence of people equally arise from depth? (Is there an implication here that depth is worldless, that things hover in a betweenness, a polymorphic being around in which if a horizon could only be discernible in an embryo?

Coexistence, Barbaras instructs, should not be bemuddled with strict contemporaneity, "which supposes precisely a space entirely unfolded. As soon as the being-together of phenomena is determined as depth, their articulation cannot go up as far as the order of the contemporaneous; their articulation cannot coincide with the axis of the "now" (p. 216). What would a loose contemporaneity resemble? Would one want not want to characterize it as coexistential? What if we initially divide the contemporaneous from the now?

Here's a thought: "The relation of the present to the past must be characterized as chiasm" (p. 224). If nothing in reality exists momentaneously in that the past is always chiasmically implicit and the "presence of depth opens the dimension of a future" (p. 216), then strict contemporaneity almost appears to be a strawman. Well, perhaps our interrelations are haunted by a ghost of contemporaneity. Perhaps we live with a spectral contemporaneity. Or else, if we are to interrogate strict contemporaneity, we could posit an irreducible plurality in the depths of coexistence. I don't know about this. We speak of having a shared history, or sharing a life together. What do these phrases mean? Is what we share enigmatically never quite here, or never quite in a here implicit in there being an us? How do we interpret our irreversibility?

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