Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hegel and Things.

For Hegel the immediate nature of experience, which was still to be categorized if we follow the Kantian system, was something already mediated. “He criticizes immediacy in principle and not merely as being atomistic and mechanical; immediacy itself always already contains something other than itself – subjectivity – without which it would not be 'given' at all, and by that token it is already not objectivity”1 It is this appropriation of the object, even at the level of the particular, which Agamben is then able to point to as the real death of experience within the history of philosophy. “For here experience ceases to be merely a means or a tool or a limit of consciousness, and becomes the very essence of the new absolute subject: its latering structure in the dialectical process.”2 Therefore, experience has become reduced from a notion essential to subject object relations, to something which is seen as the negative process of the movement of consciousness within the Hegelian system. As such a definitive concept of experience “... is always being what it has not yet become.”3 Put this way, the telelogical movement towards knowledge diminishes the active role of experience within epistemic relations.

Following on from this we need to understand what role we can give to experience in the conceptual scheme offered by Hegel. It has already been shown that Hegel's critique of Kant is addressed to the issue of immediate experience as constitutive of epistemic truth. And that experience is represented as the act of negation through which our concepts pass in order to reach a truer concept. As negative acts then, how they are represented is the next issue. “The Now as it is shown to us is one that has been, and that is its truth; it does not have the truth of being, of something that is”4 Particularity is then seen as something which is not 'real', in that particularity's relation to truth is not a direct relation, but rather a process through which the concept passes in its stages towards scientific truth.

In finishing this argument Hegel answers those who would disagree with his thesis by saying “that they had better be sent back to the most elementary school of wisdom, the ancient Eleusian mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus; they have not yet learned the inner secret of eating bread and drinking wine.”5 What is being refered to here is the silence of the Eleusian mystic. Rather than being an invitation to silence Hegel is refering, at this point, to the guarding of a secret, something which was seen as the key role of the novitiate. Agamben asks what secret, or unsayable thing, is it that is in question here.
“That which is thus unspeakable, for language, is none other than the very meaning, the Meinung, which, as such, remains necessarily unsaid in every saying: but this un-said, in-itself, is simply a negative and a universal, and it is precisely in recognizing this truth that language speaks it for what it is and 'takes it up in truth...'”6
We will take up Agamben's theories on language later, but for now we must look further at this truth hidden by language. This negative universal is then the negativity of the experience in relationship to conceptualization, i.e. it is the negativity of the content of experience which is hidden by language. Something which Adorno points out threatens the unity of the Hegelian system; “There is no guarantee, of course, that reduction to experiences will confirm the identity of opposites within the whole that is both a presupposition and a result of the Hegelian method. Perhaps the reduction will prove fatal to the claim of identity.”7 As such, the silence encountered by the Eleusian novitiate is not an optional silence rather it is a silence of necessity, it is the only possible relationship which the subject can have to the full understanding of truth. “For they (animals) do not stand stock still before things of sense as if they were things per se... they despair of this reality altogether, and in complete assurance of the nothingness of things they fall-to ... and eat them up.”8 The truth of language is therefore the inexpressible nature of the negativity of the particular. Language then must be understood as something operative on a different sphere from truth, it is a manner of being which is divorced from the pure truth of things, something mediated by the individuality of the subject.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Imaginary Bodies

Sartre's position would hold that meaning-giving is dependant on the subject, that the freedom of the relevant human is what deems a boulder or cliff too hard to climb. Merleau-Ponty's position is that there are spontaneous evaluations created by our relationship to the world around us; that we are pyschological/physical entities means that our relationship to the world is one of comparison, identification and separation.

“Without the latter (spontaneous evaluations) we would not have a world, that is a collection of things which emerge from a background of formlessness by presenting themselves to our body as 'to be touched', 'to be taken', to be climbed over'.”

Merleau-Ponty's theory of an embodied epistemology is similar to Lacan's 'mirror-stage' at this point, a concept which was directly referenced in Merleau-Ponty's essay “The Child's Relationship with Others”. Both thinkers realise the importance of the subject seeing itself as both object and subject in order to be able to relate itself to the world around it, both thinkers also offer the analogy of looking in the mirror in explaining this point.

“Indeed this act ... in eventually acquired control over the uselessness of the image, immediately gives rise to a series of gestures in which he playfully experiences the relationship between the movements made in the image and the reflected environment, and between this virtual complex and the reality it duplicates – namely the child's own body, and the persons and event things around him.”

Meaning then for Merleau-Ponty and Lacan is inherent to our existence as physical beings, this physicality automatically expresses a relationship, which is initially mimetic for the child, but then takes into account separation and identification in Lacan's terminology and the intentionality at play in the phenomenal field according to Merleau-Ponty. “All the more conscious and elucidated structures of meaning, including philosophy and the shape of history and politics, therefore arise, in the final analysis, from this preconscious level ...”

Sartre is then still trapped within his violent relation to other where his/her own facticity is penetrates the subject is such a way as to enable the dread and anxiety of 'Nausea' to become the norm of human life. But for Merleau-Ponty we see ourselves as “ ... unified persons who form intentions and act in the world, but can do so only because our bodies function mechanically in certain ways.” But deliberations which result in the knowledge of free acts must take into account our social position in order to overcome the problems encountered by positioning human freedom at a level more fundamental than the human condition, i.e. it must take unto account societal relations.

The point then here is to work out a way of looking at the imagined body which deals with the situation from a standpoint which ignores the so-called dissolution of traditional metaphysics, through the encounter with the 'imaginary whole' or lacan, 'imagination' for sartre and the reason why this account of traditional metaphysics needs to be seen within embodied epistemologies.

- paul, does this clarify things?
(next time; Habermas vs. Adorno, the ethical imperative within epistemology.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Watchmen (completely unrelated no. 1)

Currently sick and blown away by trailer for watchmen film, so instead of posting what I want I'm using this blog to share link to some files which may be of interest.




more to follow in comments.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


So what is this blog about?

Well it is mainly a way to guilt myself into continuing work on some of the ideas which I have had over the past 4 years while I venture, financially not geographically, outside the university.

The main thing I want to expose are 'imagined bodies'. The idea being worked towards then is a concept which understand the body within the dialectical shift of absence and presence, potentiality and actuality, the imaginary and the real.

What this might mean will hopefully be cleared up shortly.

The next post will be on Merleau-Ponty and Lacan's concept of ego formation and what this means to the two posts already finished.

But it ended in violence ...

Sartre's discussion of Desire is situated within his attempt to explicate the modes of being of a subject. “It is as body-in-situation that I apprehend the Other's transcendence transcended, and it is as body-in-situation that I experience myself in my alienation for the Other's benefit” The argument is based on the previous conclusions reached about freedom and consciousness and it can be seen as an attempt to marry the work of Hegel with Sartre's own conceptions of Desire and freedom. For Sartre concrete relations end up being an antagonistic affair wherein we seek to fulfill our own desire to realize our freedom through our interaction with Others.

“For the Other I am irremediably what I am, and my very freedom is a given characteristic of my being. Thus the in-itself recaptures me at the threshold of the future and fixes me wholly in my very flight, which becomes a flight foreseen and contemplated, a given flight. But this fixed flight is never the flight which I am for myself; it is fixed outside”

Thus the ensuing antagonism is derived from the tension created by the impediment to my freedom offered by my relationship to the Other. On the one hand the Other founds my being in so far as he is the object of desire, and on the other hand the Other prevents my escape from my own facticity. The Other, for Sartre, perceives me in my facticity. The Other recognizes me as I am, whereas, for me, I am always a being aiming at my own possibilities. “The Other looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I am. Thus the profound meaning of my being is outside of me, imprisoned in an absence.”12 Therefore, within a hypothetical dialogue with Hegel's conceptualization, Desire is most adamantly not an act toward self-consciousness but rather an act towards ambiguity and absence, in that it aims at capturing what is most vital about myself, namely my freedom.

Sartre does make an attempt to investigate 'we' relations at this part of Being of Nothingness, but even these acts of identification with the Other fall within the categories laid out here. Namely there are two possible repercussions of concrete relations the first where the individual attempts to recognize the Other qua Other, and the attitude which relies on seeing the Other as an object. But to acknowledge the Other qua Other in Sartrean terms leads to a position wherein we must become object for the other. These two attitudes, therefore, provide two points on a conceptual circle of desire for Sartre. “(S)exual exchange is a 'circle' in which the inversion of sadism into masochism, and masochism into sadism, follows accordingly to the ontological necessity that every determinate individual is what he is not, and is not what he is”

On the theme of Desire and self-consciousness the central contention between Hegel and Sartre is that Sartre believes that consciousness is the desire to be; it is a form of negation on the positive external world. Hegel sees desire as a process which pushes our consciousness into the truer realm of self-consciousness. Sartre is then closer to Kojeve's contention when Kojeve claims “Generally speaking, the I of desire is an emptiness that receives a real positive content only by negating action that satisfies desire in destroying, transforming and “assimilating” the desired non- I” The challenge of the Other is then derived merely from its facticity. Accordingly then for a synthetic relation to hold between the self and other it would have to be imaginary; a relation which goes beyond the other's own facticity. Such an act will always be self defeating as the other is always presented in its facticity and so we are plunged back into the pessimistic circle envisaged by Sartre earlier. “The incantation of presence is an imaginary venture that can only claim plausibility in an imaginary world and hence is still no absolute satisfaction for desire... Desire thus reveals our ineluctable freedom in that face of ontological exile.” So when we talk of absence in terms of desire we talk of potentialities, Sartre has formed his ontology on this notion. The prospect of the individual realizing himself in his relationship to the other through the potential moment of recognition and mediation as in Hegel's conceptualization has been removed. For Sartre consciousness is a rupture in the world around us, it is violence.

“In contrast to the knowledge that keeps man in a passive quietude, Desire dis-quiets him and moves him to action. Born of Desire, action tends to satisfy it, and can do so only by the “negation,” the destruction, or at least the transformation, of the desired object ... Thus, all action is “negating.””

The necessity of this pessimistic view of Desire is based, then, on two dominant themes within Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness'; Idealism and Freedom. The subject displaying desire is incapable of fulfilling his/her desire because he/she is radically separated from the level of being which he perceives the Other as involved in, which is facticity. At the same time the subject acts towards his/her own freedom, therefore the mitigation of such potentials produces an antagonistic relationship on the basis that the facticity of the Other impedes the Desire of the subject. Such a conclusion takes a position on the absence/presence dialectic, elaborated on in the first section, which negates the other position, in this case the presence of the Other within concrete relations.

The possibility then for reconciliation or a synthetical ‘I’ statement within concrete relations ends in violence for Sartre. This violence though is in the impediment of the intellect on the physical. As such this a) paves the way for an Adorno reading and b) hints at the aim of this blog; imagined bodies.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Kiss

The Song of Songs opens with the lines “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” A line which instantly brings into question the idea of 'absence' and 'presence'. Whose mouth could Solomon kiss with if not his own? On one interpretation we can claim that the phrasing draws us immediately to an invocation of the divine, the kiss that is more than a kiss, the song that is more than a song, the fire that is more than a fire ... “The kiss we speak of is therefore the product of divine humility. Far from a mere touching of lips, it is a spiritual union with God. The human and the divine are mingled. Two become one. This is the kiss desired by the holy ones from long ago.” The kiss therefore expresses the desire not of communication but of presence. Bernard of Clairvaux begins his sermons on the Song by focusing on this line, the sermons serve the function of detailing the presence of God in his life but at the same time the meaning pulled from this opening line is obscured by the opacity of that line. The phrase 'holy ones from long ago' refers to the prophets who foresaw Christ's coming. Bernard is then insinuating this sense of divine longing in the Shulamite's desire toward her loved one.

Solomon and the Shulamite are only described as together in the first of the six songs. The other five detail searching, arriving and social separation “Nevertheless, and through the very flight that is assumed by both protagonists – lovers who do not merge but are in love with the others' absence – no certainty affects the existence of the one who is loved and loves ...” The absence is also more explicitly invoked by the fluid concept of identity between the protagonists. In the opening line and Song 3 the male protagonist is clearly identified as Solomon yet at other parts the male protagonist is mentioned as being a shepherd as well as any number of more sensual images, the only role consistently designated to him is as lover. Solomon then borrows upon imagery used by the Shulamite to describe his lover in return, again transforming any notion of a stationary identity by referring to a barrage of imagery and different designatory positions. This focus on identity, presence and absence is intended not to show an identity crisis within love, but rather a sense of movement, something which becomes vital for the Hegelian and Sartrian traditions.

“In truth, the lover and the beloved are not identifiable
characters; by this I mean the bearers of a narrative identity. In this
respect, it is not out of bounds to suggest that the question “who,”
ordinarily linked to narrative identity, comes into the poem only to
accentuate ... the appearance of origin ...”5

But there is no definitive response to this appearance of origin, rather the poem is situated within a flux of imagery and places. This extends to the point where even a necessary application of narrative is seen as irrelevant. Rather the Song progresses through an intensification and increased reliance on metaphor until the climax near the middle of the song. Yet the inclination towards this notion of origin as described by Origen, focuses the poem on the ambiguity of identity.

“The sensitive and the significant, the body and the name, are thus not only placed on the same level but fused in the same logic of undecidable infinitization, semantic polyvalence brewed by the static of love ...” The above conclusion reached by Julia Kristeva has already been argued for. Yet the this essay has not yet done due justice to certain aspects of the Song. What is precisely in question here is the role played by nature within the textual framework of the song. What is needed for a thorough analysis of the song is an explanation as to why there is a transference of desire onto natural imagery. This has on occasion been alluded to as a way of placing the text within the scope of issues of national identity – insofar as the imagery is apparently located to a specific geographical point aiding the reading of the song as demonstrating a relationship between god and Israel, or Israel and Egypt. The invocation of natural imagery acts as way of making the narrative more physical. The absence of the loved one is countermanded by the presence of nature. So that on the narrative level an element of tension is added to the text invoking
the desired object through it's very absence. The chiasmatic relationship then is added through lines such as “I am my beloved's, and his desire is towards me”7 Here we have, at its most explicit, a dialectic between the physical and non-physical transference of identity.