Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part XI

As an example of a production of the combi-permu modality, I offer Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined cup, Le Déjeuner en fourrure, 1936.

Nothing original, unconventional, or surprising about a tea cup or some fur—nothing unusual about lining something with fur—but something entirely startling, unsettling, hilarious and delightful about lining a tea cup with fur…a choice of combination which does not suggest itself from within the framework in which we usually operate.

This framework from within which we usually operate is, I believe, a framework of functionality. If we were to attempt to deduce (via recti-method) a new tea cup, I think we would attempt to design a tea cup which would give “better,” or perhaps “more,” functionality. It’s easy to judge why the fur-lined tea cup is not a part of our practical reality but comes to us via the surrealists. “It isn’t very functional.”

“I wouldn’t like that,” I think, imagining myself drinking tea from a fur-lined cup, putting a fur-lined spoon into my mouth, licking the food from off of the hair. “And then I wouldn’t like cleaning up the mess afterwards, as that would be difficult to do and would cause a lot of the hair to come out, ruining the implements quickly,” I reckon. “How unhygienic,” I judge, as I think of bacteria growing in the food particles I would be unable to completely clean from between the hairs.

Beyond the functionality of a porcelain tea cup, there is something reassuring about its cold hardness. I think I prefer, as a matter of actual aesthetic experience and taste, the cold hardness to the soft warmth of the fur-lined alternative. But that’s probably not true. It probably is not a matter of "actual aesthetic experience and taste," but rather of convention. Never in my life have I used a furry utensil. I'm not accustomed to them. If I try to think, purely in terms of sensation, what it would be like to use furry utensils, I could imagine that as pleasant. I seem to derive an inordinate pleasure from licking hair in the one case where I do so. I also like warmth. The tea itself is warm to hot; it would be warmer from an insulated cup. One could come to prefer, as a matter of actual aesthetic experience, a fur-lined tea cup.

What then of the practical difficulties of a fur-lined tea cup (cleaning up afterwards, etc.?) We could, if we decided we preferred the actual aesthetic experience of a fur-lined tea cup, devise techniques, instruments, and technologies for making these practical difficulties much less so, for alleviating or even removing them, if we so choose. Even if these newly devised techniques, instruments, and technologies involved some greater expense, (not necessarily the case,) we could choose to bear those costs as the cost of our pleasure. We do that all the time. In an age of technological prowess, we have the power to make way for all manner of impractical and dysfunctional combination and permutation, using our technology to remove the impractical and dysfunctional barriers of these different combinations and permutations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Yusef.

The image of the fur-lined tea cup and our difficulty of mentally and practically incorporating it into our lives is, I think, a good example of the pain (and joy) of concept-creation in the Deleuzian sense.

It also includes (as you do) the issues of functionality and aesthetics.

A concept has to work, as well as please.

And as Deleuze writes to a young friend (I don't have the book with me, so I can't give you a reference) to philosophize you should always start on the most concrete plane possible. And as he says somewhere else about literature, "Does it work for you? If not, throw it away."

I think this also ties in with your eloquent musings in "Rationality and Totality, Part X" about the aristocracy of thought (I want to comment further on this later - probably when I get home) namely: Does it work? Either as a stimulus or a "thing of beauty" (Hellooo, John Keats!)

Obviously there is convention - the whole rigmarole of the historical kings of philosophy - but there is also the Deleuzian "Image of Thought", meaning what IS it to think and shouldn't we examine this bastard to begin with?

As you write,

Why would one thought, or one type of thought, come to be considered to have more value or validity or correctness or oomph or quality or whatever you want to call it, than others? This is, I think, a remarkable phenomenon.

Yes. Precisely. What "Image of Thought" comes into play here?

And why is this remarkable?

Just as why "mental sludge" seems to be necessary? Is it really?

Now THAT is slave-master mythology at its worst.

"Thought-productive modalities" are just that: conventional hierarchies of "Images of Thought" - from which we have to escape. Can we?

Thanks again, Yusef, for stimulating input.


12:47 AM  

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