Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Totalization of Shadows, Part III

I am a garden of forking paths and so are you. I approach your garden and you approach mine. I enter your garden, and you enter mine. I can’t find a sensation to match your entry into my garden; you can’t find one to match my entry into yours. We know there’s been entry—or do we?

I want to chart your progression through my garden of forking paths. I can’t directly feel this progression, though—you aren’t equipped with a GPS device issuing a signal my receiver can detect…I can’t map your locations at specific times. Nor can you, mine. And, as I’ve said, I am not even really sure you are in my garden, nor that I am in yours.

Words can come from your lips, reassuring me in various ways. Or are these not paths of your garden I take to wandering, salubrious and refreshing? You speak with forked tongue-- you exist as forks.

These words are reassuring until you start to tell me about things in my own garden of forking paths which I know aren’t true…At least I don’t think they’re true. There isn’t a rose bush where you say there is, and though you are flattering me by telling me how well I tend my roses, knowing I have no roses where you say I have beautiful roses, I become distressed. I think you may be giving me evidence you aren’t really in my garden and I was right to be skeptical.

I haven’t been in every part of my garden—I haven’t taken all of its paths—maybe you are in a part of the garden I’ve never seen. Maybe I’m in a part of your garden you’ve never seen. There are parts of your garden which are so far from the parts of your garden which you frequent that we cannot determine a sense to the words "your garden" in this instance. The same is true for me and mine. It comes down to a judgment of mine to declare this is yet a part of your garden...Same for you. Or we might be willing, heatedly, to declare a frontier.

You give me a report of my garden. I give you a report of yours. We say, “Interesting.”

In my garden, you take a combination of forking paths I would never consider, in a part of my garden where I’ve never been. I take a combination of forking paths in your garden you would find surprising, in a region you describe as uncharted. I am more I in your garden than you; you are more you in my garden than I am I; I might fall apart or call for a parade. Is there any reason for anxiety? Only if there is such a thing as rationality...I guess there is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Accusatory Thought - and Other Ailments

Yusef raises important issues in his last post, not only about communication and “rules” of discussion, but also about personal ethics. I don’t presume to be able to answer his questions. What I would like to do is look at why philosophical discussions sometimes turn “toxic and deadening”.

I guess the whole concept of “discussion” in the form of exchanging arguments that will then eventually create insight and wisdom dates back to Socrates (although his own method was that of an examiner and interrogator). It was certainly a stable of the whole Enlightenment project that through the dialectics of rational arguments the truth, or at least some form of it would emerge. The whole notion of thesis – antithesis – synthesis (mechanistic as it was) formed the basis of academic learning and institutions and has done so ever since, in the process spilling out into the political sphere. This triad also seems to be behind Yusef’s lament,

The prescription contained in “be free, then freely criticize, then freely evaluate the criticism, then be free,” doesn't work. It doesn't facilitate conversation or exploration. It doesn't facilitate mutuality.

It not only freezes theorizing in a dialogue or discussion into accusatory thoughts and counter-thoughts in a battle of ideas with one party vanquished and the other victorious. Indeed, the overarching metaphor is that of war, easily detected even in everyday language, as Georg Lakoff has pointed out.

In philosophical circles (at least since Nietzsche) the metaphorical universe was just as bellicose and turned into a fight between “active” forces and “reactive” forces, between affirmation and ressentiment.

Philosophical discussion figuratively moved into the courtroom with the philosopher as litigator. And outside on the streets the ideologues and politicians became aggressive attack-machines, bent on smashing enemies, or simply people with opposite viewpoints. When that wasn’t effective enough, armies were sent out, not in search of new wisdom, but in search-and-destroy missions.

It’s true that philosophical and/or political discussions in the blogosphere can be so full of venom, aggression and anger that it baffles the mind. Of course, we could psychologize the whole thing and explain away, but this would not be very helpful, I think.

Even if ”we find we cannot uninhabit what we inhabit” I think we might benefit from a change of metaphor. Instead of viewing the philosopher (or the intellectually curious) as a litigator, we should look at him and act as the physiologist. From lawyer to doctor. From finality to fluidity.

This image of the philosopher is also the oldest, the most ancient one,writes Deleuze in his “Pure Immanence. Essays on A Life” (2001) p. 66. It is that of the pre-Socratic thinker, “physiologist” and artist, interpreter and evaluator of the world. How are we to understand this closeness between the future and the past? The philosopher of the future is the explorer of ancient worlds, of peaks and caves, who creates only inasmuch as he recalls something that has been essentially forgotten. That something, according to Nietzsche, is the unity of life and thought. It is a complex unity: one step for life, one step for thought. Modes of life inspire ways of thinking; modes of thinking create ways of living. Life activates thought, and thought in turn affirms life.

Now, this might seem too airy as rules of etiquette on a blog, but I would suggest that the doctor analogy could be useful, in the sense that you (1) listen carefully (2) follow the pattern (3) trace symptoms (4) put yourself in the position of the other, and (5) take one step at a time in your response. Or act the dentist: “Don’t look for the roots, follow the canals”.

Changing metaphors, however, requires so much UNlearning that setbacks will occur. So be it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part VIII

In a recent comment, Orla said,

“We like to engage in philosophical explorations because we enjoy it. It's healthy and inspiring.

It's not about competition or one-up-manship. It is about intellectual exploration - where ever this might lead us.”

I agree with Orla. Philosophical explorations can be healthy, enjoyable and inspiring. They can lead us to new places. Often, however, they do not. Philosophical discussions are often toxic, frustrating, and deadening. They can lead us to frightening intensifications of silliness and stupidity—almost as if “philosophical discussion” were a specific means of inducing and cultivating the most harmful foolishness. Even in the best cases—by which I mean with all of the participants intelligent enough, well-enough informed, and well-enough intentioned—they can flounder, derail, and descend into boring mudslinging or equally boring, stagnant, and foolish displays of “erudition.”

Somehow this dynamic is very much at the heart of what I am discussing here at The Enlightenment Underground. The dynamic has to do with Totalization and its shadows. It has to do with an offered prospect (the historical Enlightenment?) of exploration, inquiry, inspiration, and liberation, which, without the involvement or intention of “bad actors” becomes something entirely different—an entrapment in the same old thing, in vicious circles, in one’s own solipsistic stupidities, in one’s own “undaring reliance on one’s own tried-and-untrue psychopathological symptoms parading as one’s own reason (or experience),” going nowhere.

We each allow ourselves to "do our own thing" and that's fine. But after each has "done our own thing," we need to be able to criticize. We need to respond and react to each other's ideas. On top of “do your own thing” we need to apply an attitude of "do your own criticism" to everyone else's ideas and our own...recursively being able to freely criticize the criticisms we've received. Or move on, if we so choose. And so on. The question is: how?

The prescription contained in “be free, then freely criticize,then freely evaluate the criticism, then be free, ” doesn't work. It doesn't facilitate conversation or exploration. It doesn't facilitate mutuality. (Since 2001, I've sunk a lot of time into internet discussions which have terminated unhappily, and it is on this basis I say so.) How does one know when to criticize and when to not? How does one even know one is criticizing and not “acting out”? How would one track one’s own redundancy when one’s own redundancy is precisely outside of one’s own consciousness—the very result of the unconscious? How does one know when to accept criticism and when to not? How does one know when an objection is warranted? How does one know one’s objection to an objection is not objectionable?

Without recourse to some authoritative stance, (either from experience or reason, validated or unvalidated), how does one know whether one’s own objection will be harmful (stifling inquiry, preempting questions which could be asked), or helpful (preventing old questions from being asked again as if they were new, preventing failed solutions from being offered and treated as if they were new, etc.)? I don’t accept “good will” as the answer to this.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part VII

Let’s say there is a garden of forking paths and I am wandering it, lonely as a cloud, as a gold-tinged fog. I presume there is no other way to wander such a garden—it is bound to be lonely—it is not a thoroughfare—if it were a thoroughfare, it wouldn’t be forking—it wouldn’t even be a garden.

Okay, I’m not entirely correct to believe I must be lonely in this garden—I really can imagine a small number of people wandering along with me, either at my side or one or two steps back or forward—a small number of friends to accompany me from one fork to the next—the paths will accommodate this kind of traffic--but I don’t think, unless there were some meta-commonality guiding us, we’d stay together very long…Soon enough, members of a group would choose different paths at the forks, and would be separated, perhaps forever.

If there were some meta-commonality guiding us, I once again must question whether we are wandering a garden of forking paths. We may be in a garden, and there may be forking paths in this garden, but if there is some meta-commonality guiding us, the existence of the forks in the paths becomes almost incidental. We could, without any loss of purpose or meaning, forget (or deny, or negate—troubles choosing a verb I once again do have,) that they were there. We are being guided—what is important to us is that we be attuned to the guidance, not to the multitude of choices which present themselves to us.

Can we be honest? (I shall make it a matter of honesty--If Kant were so hypocritical as to make it a matter of boldness, I shall consider myself so entitled!) There is some degree of exclusion (no matter what Kant said,) between meta-commonality and spontaneity, choice.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Totalization of Shadows, Part II

My lovely gold-tinged fogs, though introverted, introspective, and private, I do not take to be sublimating—I am taking a relaxing stroll through gently downward-sloping corridors of bowed willow stems, tulips, and orange blossoms, occasionally plucking fruit I don’t have to reach for, gazing and not focusing, stopping and shifting at the slightest resistance, riding the breezes, and trusting they’ll not pick up into gales…Trusting, trusting, trusting…Not afraid…On a pleasure cruise.

There can’t be hazards in here,in the fogs,and even if there are, I am plastic…I’ll warp and morph, oscillate and become giddy…I’ll either sail around the reefs, or I will appeal to the almighty Zeus in my head who is Me and who controls everything…He-we will blast holes through the reef with thunderbolts, and on I will ride.

Now the stoop-- crudely conceived and constructed though it be, unremarkable in every way, I had sublimated in order to build it. Effort went into it. I had to plan, measure, calculate, design; then I had to purchase, carry, lift, cut, nail—feel aggravation, resistance—had to work up a sweat. To some degree, I had to go against another desire, the desire for more immediate gratification. I had to exercise some instinctual renunciation.

My stoop and stairs—others will use them. They won’t use them as often as I will, but I will care that the few times these others use them, they’ll work just fine—no harm will come—the stairs will do what they are designed to do, safely, comfortably.

My gold-tinged fog…Most likely yields nothing anyone else will ever use. I don’t intend it to, either. If I do exteriorize the fogs, or the oranges I’ve plucked there, I don’t make a truth, knowledge, power or wisdom claim to cover it…I wouldn’t pretend any utility or value, and I don’t see there could be harm or help in any of it, (unless, unintentionally I conveyed the pleasure of the fogs and thus induced someone else to spend more time conjuring their own—a seduction to evil, a harm.)Care or concern for another isn't a significant part of these experiences.

I DO associate the gold-tinged fogs with the erotic,(because of the pleasure, because I do "like" them?) and I DO associate the erotic with intimacy with another, but clearly this association doesn’t work very well in actuality, contains a contradiction—intimacy with another has very little and perhaps nothing to do with my gold-tinged fogs. I DO associate the gold-tinged fogs with a wild freedom which relieves me of the demands for stability, order, and control I encounter nearly everywhere else in my life, and yet upon examination, this sense of wild freedom is complexly linked to the omnipotence of my interior plasticity which gives me all the stability, order and control I would ever require in my interior universe. Somehow, I think of my gold-tinged fogs as having some vague capacity to cultural creativity, in spite of the fact that it is only in my drudgery I create anything anyone else could admire (consider cultural.) I must somehow believe cultural creation is independent of a thought of others (I'm disturbed to admit.) And still—I’m not convinced I should give up my gold-tinged fogs or consider them worthless, pathological.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Totalization of Shadows, Part I

I love my gold-tinged fogs, swirling and floating and transporting me haphazardly, yet I don’t want swirling, floating and fogging to extend into the nice, solid, durable wooden (specially pressure-treated in chromium solution to prevent decay) stoop upon which I sit during these pleasant transports. I love my gold-tinged fogs, BUT-- I want them in their time, in their place--somewhat under control, that is. Does this make me a coward?

I built this stoop—I attached it to my house. As I did so, stability was definitely of concern. So was the regularity of the rise and run—I hate steps which, through variation in measurement make it more likely people going up and down will trip and fall. ( There is something like an unconscious “standard”—an unconscious expectation of interval-- established by the pattern of a stair’s rise and run…It’s a dirty trick to mess people up by messing with their unconscious expectation.) I used a power miter saw when I did the job—any gold-tinged fog intruding as I lowered the blade on to the cutting wood could have caused the terrible red-tinged clarity of pain. Wishing to avoid the red-tinged clarity of pain doesn’t strike me as cowardly at all.

Would I really be delighted if some mornings I awoke to find the stoop present but other mornings missing? If some mornings the stoop had seven steps, and on others, steps counting twenty-two? If the steps sometimes reached the ground, but not always? If the steps varied in dimension even as I walked them? While it is true such a situation would prevent me from falling into a rut, I might end up taking even more harmful falls. Such a situation would present me with so many other kinds of difficulty I imagine I would find “falling into a rut” no problem at all—more of a sanctuary, really—a comfort, like an easy chair (which is nice to sink into when life becomes difficult.) The sheer beauty of routine, habit, reliability...would be lost.

I wouldn’t want my built, man-made environment to become unnecessarily complicated by irregularity or uncertainty, but is there any degree of complication, irregularity, or uncertainty which IS necessary? Is irregularity necessary? Why? Do I retreat into my gold-tinged fogs because it is within these gold-tinged fogs where I can get my necessary dose? How regular or irregular are these gold-tinged fogs, anyway? Is it possible to know? Is there a gold-bar standard for determining the regularity or randomness of gold-tinged fogs? Does freedom oppose necessity? Why does acceptance of necessity often feel like slavery? Is it the arbitrary way “necessity” is so often attributed? Or is it an expression of ressentiment against what life necessarily is?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part VI

She walks in beauty,like the Night

-John Heartfield,"Forced to Deliver Human Material"

"SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent."--Lord Byron

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part V

The World is too much with us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

--William Wordsworth, circa 1802