Sunday, December 16, 2007

Critical Becoming

I have some vague and unsatisfactory idea of the meaning of the word “becoming” which mainly consists of certain sets of images which are images of flowing. I think of becoming as a kind of river carrying everything along – its headwaters are at the origin of the universe, and its mouth is at the ocean of infinity, which might be heaven or death and extinguishment. Time is a river. At this moment of the play of images in my mind I lose track of any purpose in playing through these images, and I go kind of gaga. I’m willing to conclude the matter of becoming is inscrutable. I get a pleasant sort of relaxing wonderment out of this little mind game, which I think has some relationship to what I feel when I experience the erotic, and so I hang on to it – I come back to it now and again. I definitely feel closer to the erotic in this play of images associated with whatever “becoming” might name than I do when I try to imagine being – a landlocked idea of dry Greek geometrical shapes carved immutably into marble or granite – colors and warmth worn away by the ages, but the form itself virtually untouched and untouchable.

We side with the erotic, against the fascistic and the inflexible, and therefore we align ourselves (and this alignment is kind of an unconscious political alignment,) with some vague and unsatisfactory idea of becoming and against being conceived as the unchanging (which, if being opposes becoming, it must be seen to be.) I don’t think this works the way we seem to continue to believe it does. The idea of becoming which is backing this alignment, giving it what we seem to believe is some critical edge, isn’t capable of giving any critical edge at all…We have an illusion of an idea, of an edge, which we then attempt, with all well-meaning and good intentions, to apply in political situations – to negotiating the real—and it won’t cut. We can’t think becomingly.

I frequently confront the panta rhei quotation of Heraclitus, (it is actually as if the panta rhei fragments are the only fragments of Heraclitus which survive – the other fragments are popularly ignored,):

“Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.

You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go ever flowing on.”

This encapsulates in a very wonderful way every image of becoming I possess. The problem is that it does not help me to think becoming, to think becomingly. I am not sure it does anything for me at all except act as a touchstone for the allegiance to becoming I’ve mentioned above.

What can be done with the panta rhei doctrine in this immutable form by which it has been handed down through the ages? I think there are only a few responses possible: 1) I can believe or disbelieve it- I can treat it as a matter of belief; 2) I can passively wonder at it, in the manner of a mystic; 3) I can be prompted to indifference by it…If everything flows and nothing abides, I also will flow and not abide…So what? I’m already becoming; I must be thinking becoming by the mere existence of my thinking at all…My thinking flows and does not abide because everything flows and does not abide.

I don’t think there is a productive response to this image of change; I don’t think it will yield up creative or critical thinking. The making of becoming into a matter of belief is the worst part…The attitude of belief is an extremely peculiar one, anyway. Maybe at one time not so very long ago, no one, and especially religious or mystical persons, had attitudes of belief. But now, we speak of having belief, of “beliefs”, as if belief, to believe, is synonymous with religion, with behaving religiously. (Believe in being or becoming—it is the attitude of belief which is the important thing…More important than whatever it is one believes in.) This also has the effect of setting the religious into opposition to the critical attitude.

We have to actually think becoming before we can have a critical becoming; we need to create concepts of becoming in order to make philosophical thinking productive.


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