Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXVII

This will be a very short comment, but without which I could not proceed further. This is a bridging post.

I have used the furball,

Descartes founds his philosophy on a self which is self-evident

Mainly to say something about the concept of objectivity, having assumed so far that there is something tying the idea of self-evidence to objectivity (and maybe there is.)

But what I want to say now is something more simple-- what I feel when I speak of the “self-evident.” In other words, what it is I would “get” out of a self which is self-evident.

I mean: that I can trust myself, that I don’t lie to myself (or if I do lie to myself, I know I am lying to myself,) I don’t fool myself, I don’t trick myself, I don’t harm myself, I am not intentionally or unintentionally malicious to myself, I know what I want, I don’t want what I don’t want, I can intend something and then straightforwardly move toward what I intend... I can say what I mean.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Real Enlightenment Underground

(Neda, Iranian student, killed in Tehran street, Iran, June 20, 2009)

But should not a society of clergymen, for example an ecclesiastical synod or a venerable presbytery (as the Dutch call it), be entitled to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines, in order to secure for all time a constant guardianship over each of its members, and through them over the people ?

I reply that this is quite impossible.

A contract of this kind,concluded with a view to preventing all further enlightenment of mankind for ever, is absolutely null and void, even if it is ratified by the supreme power, by Imperial Diets and the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge, particularly on such important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment.

This would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in such progress.

Later generations are thus perfectly entitled to dismiss these
agreements as unauthorized and criminal. To test whether any particular measure can be agreed upon as a law for a people, we need only ask whether a people could well impose such a law upon itself. This might well be possible for a specified short period as a means of introducing a certain order, pending, as it were, a better solution. This would also mean that each citizen, particularly the clergyman, would be given a free hand as a scholar to comment publicly, i.e. in his writings, on the inadequacies of current institutions.

Meanwhile, the newly established order would continue to exist, until public insight into the nature of such matters had progressed and proved itself to the point where, by general consent (if not unanimously), a proposal could be submitted to the crown. This would seek to protect the congregations who had, for instance, agreed to alter their religious establishment in accordance with their own notions of what higher insight is, but it would not try to obstruct those who wanted to let things remain as before.

But it is absolutely impermissible to agree, even for a single lifetime, to a permanent religious constitution which no-one might publicly question. For this would virtually nullify a phase in man's upward progress, thus making it fruitless and even detrimental to subsequent generations. A man may for his own person, and even then only for a limited period, postpone enlightening himself in matters he ought to know about.

But to renounce such enlightenment completely, whether for his own person or even more so for later generations, means violating and trampling underfoot the sacred rights of mankind.

From: IMMANUEL KANT, An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?" Konigsberg in Prussia, 30th September, 1784.

Update 21 June 2009 11:49 am: Above post being picked up as "Quote Of The Day" - via email from me - by Andrew Sullivan's blog "The Daily Dish" at The Atlantic Magazine.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Statement of the Problem, Part I

“Concept creation” isn’t the problem, even though the problems we have with the concept of concept and the concept of creation are nearly innumerable.

The problem is embodying chaos. Embodying chaos as a problem isn’t a matter of imposing an order on chaos.

“Imposing order on…” both ideas--"imposing" and "order"-- are problematic. To impose in the sense we used it, implying to dominate or to use a hylomorphic model (the same?), I think we generally agree is something to be avoided. We might then be said to be looking for some other manner for achieving order, except that order as what is to be achieved is also something we have felt is questionable.

Questioning order seems worthwhile, and yet what emerges from this questioning of order seems to be the necessity of it. Externally (in nature) it is a requirement for life; internally (in the psyche) it is indispensable to thought insofar as language is indispensable to thought.

This isn’t to say we think order is a fixedness or uniformity in space or time.

Sidestepping the problem of order as imposed while recognizing the necessity of order, we might scout about for some other way order would come. We have some cases of self-ordering, autopoiesis, or similar phenomena we could examine, for clues… so that we might get an idea of how we could impose self-ordering or engender autopoiesis upon ourselves in some controlled manner? That this would do nothing for us and our problem I think is obvious.

How would one cultivate or develop a way of answering our problem when the very notions of cultivation and development embody notions of order excluding chaos? If one takes order in whatever sense as necessary, has one already abandoned the problem of embodying chaos?

Do these last questions really only boil down to seeing I am dealing within the binarism of order/chaos, which binarism can be deconstructed with almost elementary ease? If such an operation is so apparent and obtainable, why am I so unsatisfied with the resultant? Or is my problem a personal one, an emotional one—I want too much, I have an unreasonable expection, am over-reaching, am overly-ambitious…I want to eat chaos whole, not in bites? My dietetics of chaos is wrong?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Instances of Reactivation, Part VIII

My schizoanalysis of the texts discussed at Enlightenment Underground over the last three and a half years, (Dr.Sax’s ten to fifteen posts from 2006, Kant’s epistle answering the question of the essence of the enlightenment, Foucault’s preliminary response to that epistle, Nietzshe’s parable of the eagle and the sheep, Paul Celan’s poem describing the light of the enlightenment as nuclear radiation, Dick Armey’s “fib” about a janitor named Charlie, Dickey’s poem about the sheep-child, fragments from Sartre’s play No Exit, bits of Thoreau, bits of Descartes, and others), is also my own schizoanalysis, and these texts are my territory.

The schizoanalysis must be my schizoanalysis and if it’s not, then it isn’t schizoanalysis. If the schizoanalysis reduces to terms which don’t include me, no matter how chaotic and jumbled, variable, and supposedly playful as those terms might be, the schizoanalysis has been rendered into analysis, and a poor one. I feel a need to mention this to counter Orla’s final word on this matter: that the personal is to be eradicated through the eradication of the personal pronoun in philosophy. (While meanwhile wishing to make an argument for Deleuze’s espousal of the “private” thinker…A highly problematic argument to make.)

So, I am retaining the personal. (Though I do feel the embarrassment of this.) I have to have it to make my machine work. But there are a couple of things I want to say about this.

1. Mine isn’t mine. The me here isn’t me. The I isn’t fixed, either in space or time. It circulates and changes both in space and time. What remains to be done is to find out whether I can make my I which isn’t mine and which isn’t fixed, circulate as a positive element and not a gap or hole. Paradoxically, I would then author or create this I without it being any more me or mine. This also would not be a process of going through a jumble of texts or terms to find out what I had put into them, or why I had selected them over other terms, why I had assembled them in the particular way I had. If it did, this would be a sign of still being a circulating hole. (The quarrel between Lacan and Deleuze and Guatarri: it’s not between a structuralist and two post-structuralists. Neither party believes in a fixed subjectivity with self transparency. The dispute is about the nature of what circulates with variable opacity.)

2. The way I see it, Orla doesn’t want to waste time on any territory at all—in delineation or assembly. He might be wondering—if the idea, the goal, is to deterritorialize, why bother? But while I also think the goal is to deterritorialize, I can’t find the sense of deterritorialization if there is no territory to deterritorialize. We may have common ground (common territory) in both believing the assembly of a territory in order to define the personal is misguided. We may also have in common the belief that the academic goal of polishing, refining, and clarifying of territory is to polish and strengthen the bars of one’s own mental cage.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Totalization of Shadows, Part XXVI

“Farm boys wild to couple
With anything….with soft-wooded trees
With mounds of earth…mounds
Of pinestraw…will keep themselves off
Animals by legends of their own:
In the hay-tunnel dark
And dung of barns, they will
Say… I have heard tell

That in a museum in Atlanta
Way back in a corner somewhere
There’s this thing that’s only half
Sheep… like a woolly baby
Pickled in alcohol…”

The Sheep Child, James Dickey, from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992.

Back in March of 2007 when I first quoted this poem, what intrigued me was the farm boys’ use of a myth to curb and control their sexual compulsion. The farm boys keep themselves off animals by legends of their own—they spin a myth about a half human, half sheep thing to scare and thus limit their madness to couple. As may be remembered, we “once upon a time” wanted to discuss Dr. Sax’s thesis, “Myth is totality.”

The farm boys are able to master their desire to couple by opposing to it a terrible consequence: that they’ll father a monster. This appears to work—we’ve had an image of them coupling with soft-wooded trees, mounds of earth, mounds of pinestraw, but we do not have an image of them mounting and copulating with sheep. So, it must be Dickey thinks the myth has some effectiveness as a control, blocks off some of the most extremely unacceptable behavior.

But I've wondered: why don’t the farm boys,who are wild to couple, but not truly with mounds of earth, pinestraw, soft-wooded trees,(obviously substitutes) tell themselves legends of their own about earth-children, pinestraw-children, and soft-wooded tree-children to help themselves prevent these other unfortunate couplings? It’d be at least as horrifying to see oneself fathering a hybrid human-dirtclod as a sheep-child…Would that be any less improbable?

If I was endangered by the strength of a temptation to couple with sheep, I don’t think I would experience sufficient fear from the consequence of the sheep-child….Nature’s rebuke (suspending disbelief enough to believe this could happen.) I would only fear being found out, somehow. I would fear the embarrassment of being caught in the act, and the way I would keep myself off animals would be to picture someone I liked or respected coming along at just the wrong moment…Society’s rebuke. Nothing unlikely about that—and beyond the embarrassment, bad enough, there would be other societal punishments forthcoming.

Society forces the farm boys into the woods (society doesn’t answer their “natural needs”) though society would punish them one way or the other if it found them out. That’s mildly interesting, I suppose. But against the background of the farm boys’ frustrations and fantastical solutions to it, and forming an eerie background to the whole wild mise-en-scene, staring sightlessly from a dust-collecting jar of alcohol, forgotten in a museum, is the recollecting sheep-child, which I think is a symbol of the cogito—that’s what I want to know about.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Instances of Reactivation, Part VII

Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!” –Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”

“I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance, the first paragraph.

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance, the third paragraph.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Instances of Reactivation, Part VI

In the next couple of posts, I want to compare passages from Thoreau and Emerson to passages from Kant’s essay, “What is Enlightenment?”

Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!” –Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”

“I tried to help him [John Field, an impoverished Irish immigrant] with my experience, telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, and that I too, who came a-fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee and butter, and milk and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system,--and so it was as broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America; that here you could get tea and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things. For I purposely talked to him as if he were a philosopher, or desired to be one. I should be glad if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state, if that were the consequence of men’s beginning to redeem themselves. A man will not need to study history to find out what is best for his own culture. But alas! The culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken with a sort of moral bog hoe.” - Thoreau, Walden, chapter 10: Baker Farm

“Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction, nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age.” –Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”

“Before I had reached the pond some fresh impulse had brought out John Field, with altered mind, letting go “bogging” ere this sunset. But he, poor man, disturbed only a couple of fins while I was catching a fair string, and he said it was his luck; but when we changed seats in the boat luck changed seats, too. Poor John Field!—I trust he does not read this, unless he will improve by it,--thinking to live by some derivative old-country mode in this primitive new country,--to catch perch with shiners. It is good bait sometimes, I allow. With his horizon all his own, yet he a poor man, born to be poor, with his inherited Irish poverty or poor life, his Adam’s grandmother and boggy ways, not to rise in this world, he nor his posterity, till their wading webbed bog-trotting feet get talaria to their heels.” –Thoreau, Walden, chapter 10: Baker Farm