Saturday, April 26, 2008
The first thing we hear on the show is that animal ethics is closely related to moral philosophy, at least where methodology is concerned. The questions posed in the two disciplines are similar: to what extent can we afford – and is it morally defensible – to behave in a certain way towards others (here, animals)? Some commandments come to my mind. In terms of their relevance, especially the following two are worth mentioning: “thou shall not kill”, “do onto others what you want others to do onto you”.
Peter Sandøe talks engagingly about utilitarianism, the question of how we determine what’s good for animals, and lunatics who, because they are concerned, ring the police when they see cows in winter lying on some field. They presume that the poor animals must be freezing. Good point.
It occurs to me that Hendricks’s questions on this particular show are all cultural: utilitarianism, he posits, presents us with the danger of exclusion: what’s good for the majority is not always good for the marginals; sex with animals is a taboo; cloning is more interesting from a cultural rather than technological point of view. Sandøe takes the cue and offers, quite entertainingly, some positions: in theory cloning is good, in praxis, too much trouble. Women having sex with their dogs is not a problem if it gives both parties pleasure – and here one is left to imagine the stereotype of farmers fucking sheep up their asses, which is not so good. Enhancing a turkey’s body parts is not so good, while allowing women to get bigger breasts is good. And at this point I laugh my wits out, as Sandøe suggests, while addressing Hendricks directly, that the latter is particularly good for someone like him [“for sådan én som dig”; ja gad vide hvad han havde i tankerne].
This is the wonderful thing about culture: unlike hard core traditional philosophy, it offers instant gratification: you get infinitely smarter without having to think too much about things. Perhaps this is what Sebastian Roch Nicolas Chamfort had in mind when he formulated the phrase used as the regular introductory quote to the show: “Philosophy, like medicine, has plenty of drugs, few good remedies, and hardly any specific cures.”
This is also what theorists such as Freud understood, when he wrote such seminal works as Totem and Taboo (1913) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930). As everyone knows, particularly totems have been used in all cultures instrumentally as vehicles of identification between man and animal. This implies that if we are concerned with the well being of animals, it is ultimately our own well being - not to mention the preservation and perpetuation of strong characteristics, if the animal is an eagle or a lion - that we are concerned with. And so it goes.
Sandøe advances the argument that what makes us happy is precisely the act of allowing – not to mention creating – taboos to infiltrate culture. But insofar as such acts are fraught with violence, it’s interesting to consider the idea that the dynamics of happiness is constituted through and against the background of aggressive and instinctual feelings. Freud has already covered that ground when he said “Civilization therefore, obtains mastery over the individual’s dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.” So we need some moral philosophy to free us from ourselves.
As an alternative to that, I suggest that we read Bataille’s Erotism: Death and Sensuality (1957) where he claims that taboos are illogical. Taboos are eventually and always transgressed by agents. Taboos themselves naturally incline agents to transgress them. Here, Bataille goes on to argue that taboos are thus agents that clearly coerce people into transgressing them. We find a simplified version of this in Homer Simpson’s line: “always submit to peer pressure”.
On the philosophy of animal ethics, I’m willing to give up my ignorance. I thus submit to moral philosophy – and its discontents. Breasts and all.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I’m having dinner with a friend, who is just about the most erudite person I’ve known. I praise my luck. Every time I see him. Our discussion spans from bizarre academic practices at universities across Denmark to spelling Geismar the wrong way. We talk about knowledge, ignorance, subjects presuming to know, and Sophocles’s Oedipus. I’m surprised to hear that he even knows, as a matter of course, as he insists by pointing out, that Tiresias, and not Cantor, is considered the father of set theory. Indeed.
I’m reminded of one of Lacan’s sentences in one of his unpublished seminars, also quoted by Shoshana Felman in an article about teaching “terminable and interminable” analytical tasks (here in relation to Socrates and Freuds’s convictions that teaching itself is ultimately impossible). Taking her cue from Lacan who said that the unconscious is “knowledge that can’t tolerate one’s knowing that one knows” (Seminar, Feb. 19, 1974), Felman makes the interesting inference that the unconscious must be some kind of “unmeant knowledge” (28). As Tiresias had just served me for inspiration in connection with some writing, Lacan’s idea that where signs are concerned we always mobilize many more of them than we know, I think of numbers – also metaphorically here – that we play on others, or that others play on us.
Says Felman: “For knowledge to be spoken, linguistically articulated, it would constitutively have to be supported by the ignorance carried by language, the ignorance of the excess of signs that of necessity its language, its articulation – “mobilizes”. Thus human knowledge is by definition that which is untotalizable, that which rules out any possibility of totalizing what it knows, or of eradicating its own ignorance”. (29)
Says Cantor: “the set of all sets in a universe does not constitute a set.”
Says Teiresias in an exchange with Oedipus:
Teiresias: …You are the land’s pollution.
Oedipus: How shamelessly you started up this taunt! How do you think you will escape?
Teiresias: … I have escaped. The truth is what I cherish and that’s my strength.
Oedipus: And who has taught you truth? Not your profession surely!
Teiresias: You have taught me, for you have made me speak against my will.
Oedipus: Speak what? Tell me again that I may learn it better!
Teiresias: Did you not understand before or would you provoke me into speaking?
Oedipus: I did not grasp it, not so to call it known. Say it again.
Teiresias: I say you are the murderer of the king whose murderer you seek.
I tell my friend: “If psychoanalysts will come up with solutions to some of the most famous mathematical unsolved puzzles and conjectures formulated this and the past century, I won’t be surprised”. He concurs. And tells me that it will take the Other – the woman speaking, with whom the knowledge that is already there is always there – to articulate a proof.
And so says Felman: “From a philosophical perspective knowledge is mastery – that which is mastery of its own meaning. Unlike Hegelian philosophy, which believes it knows all that there is to know; unlike Socratic (or contemporary post-Nietzschean) philosophy, which believes it knows it does not know – literature, for its part, knows it knows but does not know the meaning of its knowledge – does not know what it knows.” (41)
What we learn better, I’d like to tell Oedipus, is that any proof must first be a style, and any knowledge must first be poetic.
Shoshana Felman: "Psychoanalysis and Education: Teaching Terminable and Interminable". Yale French Studies, No. 63, The Pedagogical Imperative: Teaching as a Literary Genre (1982), pp. 21-44
Friday, April 18, 2008
The usual quote is delivered. A propagandist line from J.F. Kennedy who was obviously first and foremost in the business of seducing the masses, yet quite unsophisticatedly – since the masses are known not to be able to handle more – by appealing to loads of emotion and little reason. It works every time, however. This being the case, one must conclude that such strategies, in and of themselves, must be deemed as sophisticated as they get, however. Here comes the quote: “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” I hear myself saying: "Oy, ve!"
The gist of the show revolves around the notion that since the 20th century, when the history of ideas got to be institutionalized and then consolidated as a field through the pioneering work of Arthur O. Lovejoy around 1930s, philosophers working in the field have been interested in charting how ideas develop through history and not outside it, as it were. The argument is that we cannot understand major metaphysical questions – philosophical questions, such as, 'what’s the meaning of life' – (and at this point, I swear to God, an entire review of Monty Python films starts going through my head) – unless we contextualize them in their historical context. That sounds sound enough to me. Then some distinction between the continental and English (esp. Skinner) philosophers and their American counterparts is made by Kjærgaard who points out that the first group grew tired of Lovejoy who had become an institution himself – nice work if you can get it – and had since and hence started a new branch within the history of ideas, namely, intellectual history. My personality gets split at this point: Wittgenstein is mentioned, and that always scores very, very high with me. But then I start thinking about cosmopolitanism, and this latter notion, as it ties in with intellectuality, rings a fascist bell for me. I’ll spare you, readers, for my comments – especially since I want to keep it short. Alas, a third time around, Wittgenstein was only very, very briefly mentioned. But I try to stay focused.
While Hendricks poses all the relevant questions – in a way, it dawns on me that the reason why I bother to watch the program, not to mention write about it, is because I appreciate the effort – it is not always that his clever questions elicit equally clever answers. Says he: “so, we can basically retire this whole idea of an archeology of ideas”. Right. I would have liked to hear more about just that - perhaps more about the archeology of frivolous ideas - as we find them in a Derridean, deconstructive context.
Since this doesn’t happen, I go back to the shadows. While admiring the black contours on the background of red wallpaper crossed by gray lines, a very interesting book comes to my mind. Victor I. Stoichita’s A Short History of the Shadow (1997). Stoichita is an art historian but very versatile in terms of understanding the history of ideas. In his introduction he has this little exchange between Piaget and a 5-year old (Piaget was a structuralist theorist of cognitive development):
‘Why is there a shadow there?’
(making a shadow with the hand)
GALL (5-years old): ‘Because there’s a hand.’
‘And why is this shadow black?’
‘Because …, because we have bones.’
As the show ended with a tone of demand, a call for the valorization of ideas as they get to be formulated in whatever field, whether science or humanities, I rather think that if the historians of ideas would like to make a really bold move, they should start looking at children’s ideas. Not only can their discourse suggest typologies, but they can also join in the choir of artist metaphysicians:
“There are many more enigmas in the shadow of a man who walks in the sun than in all religions of the past, present and future” (De Chirico, just before he went on to write his We, The Metaphysicians in 1919).
On the philosophy of the history of ideas, can we have some more ideas?
(A note of thanks to my faithful assistants: Bent: you are the fastest in providing all the English quotes that I don't have the patience to look for myself; Søren, it's delicious to think of how you eagerly anticipate 'alle de skæve vinkler'. Den med Wittgenstein vender jeg tilbage til. I promise.)
Sunday, April 13, 2008
But I play nice. Those that really care to know about what I do, get served, however, an interesting dish. But it doesn’t happen very often that I find it worth the while to spill the beans. So I keep flirting with other disciplines to myself, yet following religiously a master who knew a thing or two about bringing out the dead by forging forth the margin, by dealing with the pallor of death, namely Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav who once said: “it’s forbidden to be old.” I keep myself young by consciously diving into the ‘frivolous’ and the ‘non-serious’ in connection with work that I nevertheless get paid for. At the end of the day, it is precisely this very act of deviating by diving that attracts others to my ideas in the field of American studies. What Nahman means to say is that deviating is the very condition for the possibility of being.
So, Vincent, this one is for you.
The first thing that we have in common is obviously a love for quotes. You quote and I quote. My whole Fragment book in fact deals with nothing else other than performing the quote. That was an ambitious work whose aim was to stretch to the limit Benjamin’s vision of creating an entire body of criticism based on quotation. Easier said than done. What remains is precisely a continuation of the pursuit of untangling this enigma: what has one quote to do with another?, or what has this long preamble got to do with the philosophy of religion?
But here comes something. The above narrative, while seemingly pointless in connection with my notes on The Power of Thought series, has a point. If the philosophy of religion is interesting to consider it is because it opens a space for negotiating between nostalgia and imagination through acts of reading. Let's see how this can unfold.
The 7th installment begins with a statement from Bacon: “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” (Francis Bacon, Of Atheism).
Lars Sandbeck addresses this citation sideways by bringing in the question of age. There seems to be a relation of direct proportionality between men growing old and their interest in religion, yet not necessarily as an institution but more as a philosophy, when it tends to become a form of atheism. This induces a crisis: if you are old, you get religious, but if your religion is philosophical in kind then it cannot, by definition, settle in the epiphany: I found God. Hence the old homo religiosus par excellence is an atheist. In contexts other than the academic this interest is taken to express a truth of life: with age, one grows nostalgic, not imaginative. In an academic setting, this very fact of life becomes uninteresting, yet the question of nostalgia vs. imagination is tackled nonetheless, albeit differently in philosophy and religion departments respectively. Sandbeck points out, however, that there are 4 aspects that open for a cross-interdisciplinary approach to erkenntnis and erfahrung.
What follows here is a loose paraphrase of Sandbeck’s introductory notions. Firstly, pragmatically we can tackle the question of whatever bothers us – here, whether God exists or not – by testing the veracity or falsity of statements formulated to this effect. In other words we go with the strongest argument – so form is more important than content. Secondly, there is the emotional aspect to consider when posing metaphysical questions. Thus, insofar as the question, ‘does God exist?, tends to produce anxiety in us, we experience a crisis that needs psychological fixing. Thirdly, socially we have fantasies about others which we then project onto higher beings. The question, ‘does God exist?’ is superseded by another hypothesis: if God exists, and if he embodies all things good, why does he allow for wickedness in the world? So content takes over form, as we rely – without always thinking – on being influenced by others. Fourthly, insofar as we are able to create something that others can see as beautiful, sublime, disturbingly grotesque, intelligent, and so on, the hypothesis is that if we experience a sense of the divine in ourselves that transcends the mundane it is because we ourselves have become gods. In this capacity, the wisdom that we pass on is usually the result of having become aware of two omniscient powers that we shift between quite optionally: (1) we do what we do because we don’t know any better; (2) we do what we do because we know better. This brings to mind the wonderfully symmetrical line from Piet Hein: “Knowing what thou knowest not, is in a sense omniscience.”
On my part, I like what Franz Rosenzweig has to say: “The Good Lord did not create religion; he created the world”. In Rosenzweig's scheme religion is a human endevor, and it has little to do with God. Thus religion is not a separate reality from the world in which we find ourselves as is; as we perceive ourselves, not in front of God but more in front of, and vis-a-vis others. There was a rather moving moment in the show, which threw me off my track for a moment, but which enforces brilliantly Rosenzweig’s idea that religion, in its essence, whether philosophically articulated or otherwise, is to be found in our way of being, in our omniscient limitation. Says Hendricks: “I’m a mulatto,” inviting Sandbeck to consider the problem with whether that alone means something, and hence ponder the problem with people's naïve belief in the one-to-one relation between a concept and its reality. That was rather priceless. Sandbeck had a chance to go the colorful way, but he missed. Ah! (Maybe that had to do with his rather off-beat sense of style: he wore a pretty austere Bordeaux color, velvet, I think, jacket reminiscent of Thomas More’s clerical attire, which he paired with white sneakers, and I bet white socks). It would have been brilliant if Sandbeck had picked up on Hendricks’s gesture of invitation to read him beyond the conceptual - what is a mulatto? - and in a deconstructive way. Ah, where is Bacon when one needs him? Says Bacon on reading acts: “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; and, therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not.” Thus it is by reading that one constructs oneself as a person, hence becoming a homo textus.
As I write this I’m listening to Bach cantatas, and particularly the one called: “Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten” (Nr. 78 BWV 78), makes me think of the value of making steps, as fast as we can, towards reading more, especially others – when and if they let us.
On the philosophy of religion, yes, the end note must be one of gratitude. Thank you Vincent, for bringing out the idea that no space is protected from reading. A quote for you: “The philosopher speaks of phenomena and noumena. Why would he not lend his attention to the being of the book or bibliomenon?" (G. Bachelard, L’activité rationaliste)
Monday, April 7, 2008
Usually I’m pretty quick in answering people’s emails, but I’ve been aesthetically procrastinating answering Rainer – and it wasn’t because I had a problem finding an anomalous and alterior perspective. As Rainer rightly asserts, I’m cracked in my own head just about the right places where philosophers such as Nietzsche are concerned – I’m thinking here, of course, of Leonard Cohen’s words of wisdom: “there’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light comes in.” Now that the exact level of arrogance has been established, I can say that the reason why I’ve been resisting addressing Rainer’s essay has to do with my having stumbled over the word ‘morality’ quite a few times in the last month. If I were superstitious I would refer the reader to one of Murphy’s laws: “We could do worse, we always have.” On all occasions, as morality was presented as a holy cow, I rather felt the urge to put things right: morality is only interesting to the extent that it articulates something beyond self-evidence; that is to say, morality is not something we have, but something that is imposed on us by whomever has the power to do so. Just think of yet another of Murphy’s brilliant calculus: “No matter who gets elected, Government always gets in”. Twice so far, in this public forum, I’ve been posting fragments saying things about choice and self interest; once in connection with some remarks about Valerie Solanas – whom, by the way, I’ve referred to via Avital Ronell’s excellent phrase as a “mutant Nietzschean” – and another time in connection with a review of a series of philosophy programs hosted by a colleague of mine at Roskilde University, Vincent F. Hendricks.
So Rainer, as you invite me to consider morality in writing (third time, lucky time), here are a couple of considerations that can be seen as entanglements of what I’ve said before. First of all, I like your title The Birth of Genealogy Out of the Spirit of Mutation and the immediate link that you create between the resonance in your title and what it suggests: permanent change yet entangled with the remains of an individual trait, and the two epigraphs from Nietzsche that bring in the Heraclitean notion of becoming: Says Nietzsche: “Philosophy, the way I alone regard it, is the most general form of history”. In light of this statement alone, I think one can safely infer that what Nietzsche is talking about is a form of transgressive parody in which philosophy formulates a fool’s lament over the decay of history. Is this anomalous enough? I hope so, as what I mean to say is that Nietzsche can only be considered a genealogist of morals to the extent that he can be considered a woman with a mustache, one that alters critical thinking not behind, but besides the insignificant and irreligious double of ‘method’.
You thus ask: “Is Nietzsche actually a genealogist? Does he employ genealogical methods? Is he as Deleuze declared the inventor of the method?” If one thinks of Nietzsche as a philosopher who is in the business of playfully appropriating the critique of reason, hijacking the gene in logos, then one can advance the idea that he can’t (read that as Kant) circumvent his methods without blowing himself away, wasting his writing, becoming a cantor instead of a reasonable glyph’er inscribing his methodical mark within the space of morality.
To answer your other question: “what does Nietzsche’s writing itself state? Does he avow that he is a genealogist as many allege? Or no? Or is the matter ambiguous?” Here I would have to say this: I rather think that if Nietzsche was a genealogist, he was one in the business of cutting his “perspectival attitudes” (Twilight of the Idols) short. Deleuze did the same. He also decided resolutely that if one wants to, or aspires to be a writer, one definitely has to become a woman first. So cutting one’s balls becomes the philosopher, who, then, thus re-fashioned, is enabled to read the signs well and start prophesying like your Cassandra. You have the last word here, as you put it in your last line: “To practice theory or philosophy today and not to read Nietzsche is akin to being a scientist and not reading Einstein. It’s still possible though that this assessment will ring through the academy like the piercing cry of Cassandra. Some are blind, others, deaf. For those who have ears to hear, listen!”
Thus I like what you say on how you want to proceed with reading Nietzsche: “With caution then, using snake tongs and hooks, and with a Hazmat suit, I will attempt to unravel this tangled web, or rather, I will strive to cut it into pieces because, as Foucault said, “knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting” (Foucault, 154) . . . And now, let’s replace the kaleidoscope with a telescope.”
On my part, a lot more could be said, and I’m in danger of appropriating your clever essay, incorporating it into my own theater of illusion, but stick with telescoping Nietzsche: as a genealogist of morals, who was yet banging Eros any chance he got, Nietzsche’s method was definitely into the politics of infinity. He became…
On the 12th of April, Rainer sends me this text below to post here in reponse to my response above to his essay. I don't want to relegate his beautiful text to the 'comment' box, as it writes itself in the entanglement of that poetic space in which we are all inspired, or rather should I say anticipate the influence of others.
Rainer, my man, my musketeer dressed in androgynous dress, I love your text - banging Eros through the cracks of New York. Before I give you the word, here's more entanglement, through quoting myself, using myself as the woman of the sword executing more writers. Here's a passage from another review I wrote of another poet's language, Robert Gibbons, who is also into banging, philosophizing with big hammers at the edge of "elliptical cryptical fragments": "Those familiar with physics will have made a correlation to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. This paradox draws on a phenomenon anticipated by quantum mechanics, namely entanglement, to show that measurements performed on spatially separated parts of a quantum system can apparently have an instantaneous influence on one another. The fact that this effect is also known as “quantum weirdness” may not go unnoticed by those who see a strong relationship between the poetics of poetry and the poetics of physics. What makes this paradox a paradox is the possibility of taking quantum mechanics and adding to it the conditions of “locality,” “realism,” and “completeness.”
I hear you Rainer, as you hear me. I bow.
Touché, my friend, and en garde, for now it’s time to dance! In the pen with the bulls and the clowns, I am not yet a woman for I have still not become all the names in history, but as a clown I wish to sing in an Aristophanic key as an expression of gratitude.
Is not the pen a mighty sword, its ink proof, when rich with blood, of the real danger of words? Your sword is sharp. The avatars of thought are perilous, and the perilous curve their thoughts into active forces. Why else execute writers? If we have not engendered a revolution, we, too, have not cultivated grain but gunpowder ... I Sing the Body Electric. I look at science in the perspective of the artist and at art in that of life. I loathe all trades. Masters and servants, all peasants ignoble. The hand with the pen is worth the hand on the plow.—What an age of hands! The Bible counsels us to turn our swords into ploughshares but I say unto thee, let swords be swords: draw blood with them and write! And if you have a ploughshare, let it break the day into pieces ... Rip. Rig. Panic. Rip. Rig Veda ~
Am I not a fly caught in the web of the mustache, that is—the horse’s tail? It whips. The mustache whips. Snap! Snap! Snap! Every strand is a horse’s tail, a horse running into Nietzsche’s nose. The sound of the cracking whip is galvanizing. The sound of the latitudinal cavalcade—do ye ‘ear it? What energy! Do you ‘ear the crack of the hairs? The furious rhythmic canter of the horses’ many feet? Do you see the cavalcade? The danger of enthusiasm, a necessity we must succumb to, a hermeneutic encounter that transforms us, the enthusiasm for venturing into the cracks of other’s consciousness and splitting our s e l v e s into the many that we are, proliferating, abundant, exploding into fragments though striving to continually unify our frag-men-t-al selves. When are we but mincing nuts instead of cutting our own diamonds? Cutting our teeth on the hide of our own horses, the sheer horse power of clowns smashing atoms before the weeping ghost of Democritus ... What is this but the detritus of thought, the whip, the crack, the fragment ... The dance of [Lou] Salome, who said: “Bring me the head of Alfredo Guerro Nietzscho! I’d rather he be headless than holy; I’d rather be Rilke’s Femdom than God.” The water of his lachrymal ducts—Nietzsche, not God—like a saint you will not collect; we will not find the relics of Nietzsche in the golden arm of a dead pope’s carcass, and we will not find a dead pope’s carcass in the midst of the relics of El Nietzscho Buffoono ... “The tastiest grapes in Torino? The women save them for me.”
Despite their admiration and affection
for the Horse of Horses,
the officials of Switzerland
will not permit the resurrection
of Lord Friedrich von Dynamite
in the Gotthard tunnel...
Cracks. After having wrestled with fragments, is it not time to wrestle with cracks? To write a book on cracks and the cracking of the mind, the rupture that shatters and gives birth to new shoots. The light that floods in ... “I do not want to be a holy man; sooner even a buffoon” (EH Destiny §1). But the cracks in your head are evident from the copious beams of light that stream into your skull. The acolytes are mistaken though; it is not a halo, it is not light sacrosanct beams of transcendental light streaming out but poetico-philosophico light streaming in. She’s a maenad not a nun. I received the throw of the lucky dice, the third throw, of an essais on morality considered, its considerations entangled in your past considerations like the past and the future entangled at the gateway Moment in Also Sprach Zarathustra. Since Plato, the role and significance of art has been rigorously questioned, and it is he who inaugurates the agon between philosophy and poetry. While to this day the contest between philosophy and poetry remains with us, it has not continued without ruptures. For certain free spirits—like the Romanian hierophants of the fragment—philosophy and poetry, like the coming together of the past and the future at the gateway Augenblick in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, are entangled. When describing the will to power as pathos and the oppositional forces dancing together within it (KSA 7: 7 ), Nietzsche used the word entanglement to express its complex character. Here we are, entangled, in mutation, in parody, in the explosive protean body of text.
Nietzsche’s strident critique of the Romantics has often led scholars and readers to discount any relation between them, but there are clear affinities between Nietzsche and the Jena Romantics. Prior to Nietzsche, the entanglement of philosophy and poetry and the urgent necessity for their entanglement is explicitly stated by Schlegel in one of his Critical Fragments:
"The whole history of modern poetry is a running commentary on the following brief philosophical text: all art should become science and all science art; poetry and philosophy should be made one." (KA 2:161; LF 157)
In this declaration, a central aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophico-poetic project is prefigured, with the Jena Romantics standing as some of the Freier Geister who wrestled to unite philosophy and poetry in opposition to Platonic law. But his riddling and his questionable questions and dangerous maybes have broken the ground beneath our feet. In our seismic encounter with the horses, for he, as we, is many, we must keep overcoming ourselves and the certainty that tricks us into believing that we’ve understood, whatever precisely it might mean to understand. Are you understood? Or, as Herr Bloom would have it, have I deliberately misunderstood you, pregnant with anxiety as I am despite my not yet becoming a woman despite my desire to do so? The other day, his—Bloom’s, not the woman I’ve yet to become—horse was drinking water in front of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater as he observed Deep Trance Behavior ... I do not lie. Ask Pythia. ‘Tis true. But I digress and must now be hijacked back to the gene, back to logos, back to your dancing text.
The Mustache, the Horse, Hanswurst the Satyr, and Herr Dynamite kan’t, you say, with particular crackiness, “circumvent his methods without blowing himself away, wasting his writing, becoming a cantor instead of a reasonable glyph’er inscribing his methodical mark within the space of morality”? Is there a self to blow away? Who is Nietzsche anyway? While he certainly isn’t a hazzan it’s definitely verifiable that he’s a cantor, that is, a lunar impact crater on the far side of the moon... I may not have persuaded you and may no longer be persuaded myself; in fact, I’d probably proceed from an altogether different crack though still sing in a parodic key. When discussing this with one of Nietzsche’s finest cows, he thought that On the Genealogy of Morals didn’t belong in the hands of academics but in a museum of modern art—that is a true story, really. Ask Pythia.—and that it was the most misunderstood text, read, not naturalistic at all, in “Nietzsche scholarship.” Have we ruminated enough? Reading is dangerous business.
“I should actually risk an order of rank among philosophers depending on the rank of their laughter—all the way up to those capable of golden laughter. And supposing that gods, too, philosophize, which has been suggested to me by an inference—I should not doubt that they also know how to laugh while in a superhuman and new way—and at the expense of all serious things. Gods enjoy mockery: it seems they cannot suppress laughter even during holy rites” (BGE §294).
Since I may have been appropriated, I decided, or succumbed to the forces exerting their charms to further appropriate myself and plunge deeper into the theater of illusion. If we can keep banging Eros every chance we get as you proclaimed Herr Dynamite did, if we can venture into the Politics of Infinity—there’s a title for us to capitalize on! What of a volume of essais with that theme?—it might be possible to circumvent the Platonic Plague, to recuperate strife and return to the true birthplace of philosophy. Ameinias led Parmenides to stillness, hesychia, which doesn’t mean the quiet life as Plato would have us believe. It is to enter into a meditative state—what Nietzsche recasts as rumination—and out of that state to receive knowledge, wisdom, laws, etc; as an esoteric if even ‘mystic’ practice it has largely been discounted in the history of philosophy. As one philosophical rogue observes, stillness for the Greeks was in part “intensely disquieting—and not just disquieting but also sinister, alien, profoundly inhuman.” For the tragically oriented, it is a certain volcano in Sicily that is the true incandescent birthplace of philosophy. To many, Plato and Socrates are our progenitors; to others, it is Empedocles and his future doppelganger, Herr Dynamite... So, to the inhuman, to the Übermensch that is, and to fornicating wildly with that woman. Bang, bang, bang, here we be-come, Eros. Again and again and again. I hear the maenads shrieking...
With Dionysian Regard,
Friday, April 4, 2008
The 6th installment in the series Tankens Magt (The Power of Thought) is about the philosophy of science. Vincent F. Hendricks, this time looking like a modern-day eco-critic, save for the long and checkered sleeves covering most of his bejeweled hands, is in conversation with Hans Siggaard Jensen, also wearing something that resembles gardening clothes, save for the glasses, which makes me think, by a stretch, of a cross between a flamboyant art critic and an interrailer. The introductory quotation is delivered. Says Quine: “Philosophy of science is philosophy enough.” I think of another quote by Quine, as soon as Hendricks articulates his: “Language is conceived in sin and science is its redemption.” If one knows some things about Quine, one also knows that, in addition to his being a mathematician, a philosopher, and a pretty good writer of aphorisms, he was also into theology. Especially sin, original or otherwise, interested him. So one tends to get irreverent to(wards) Quine. There is, of course, also the matter of the dictionary: “to quine - v. “(1) To deny resolutely the existence or importance of something real or significant. “Some philosophers have quined classes, and some have even quined physical objects.” Occasionally used intransitively, e.g., “You think I quine, sir. I assure you I do not!” (2) n. The total aggregate sensory surface of the world; hence quinitis, irritation of the quine.”
All this can easily get quite quaint, but since this is a post that should address the show and its emphasis on new trends in the philosophy of science and technology, we should not go the old-fashioned way. So we start again, this time with Quine, again – some people believe in repetition and I’m one of them – but within more context. From his The Ways of Paradox: “Such solutions are good just to the extent that (a) philosophy of science is philosophy enough and (b) the refashioned underpinnings of science do not engender new philosophical problems of their own” (1953). Hans Siggaard Jensen starts pointing out how since the 60s some philosophers, including Quine, have started questioning the condition for the legitimization of scientific discourse. Instrumentalism, constructivism, and relativism replace imperialism. Basically that’s all we need to know. And the task of the philosophers is to stimulate discourse rather than provide final answers to stupid questions, or stupid solutions to a priori-ly set answers. Who decides what discourse is dominant is the group that has the power. (I refer my Danish readers to a little article, in which I’ve said pretty intelligent things – not to mention the humor – in the Roskilde University’s newsletter, RUCnyt – about culture wars, C.P. Snow and the Sokal affair, computer technology, nerds and nissemænd.)
The rather whacked in his head philosopher, Paul K. Feyerabend, pops up during the show and I like that. Here’s a quote from him: “Knowledge is not a series of self consistent theories that converges towards an ideal view; it is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible (and perhaps even incommensurable) alternatives, each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth.” Something occurs to me while I watch Jensen. I discover that I start counting – I often do that. I count how many times the word ‘interaction’ occurs. At least five times. I want to count exactly, but damn, I discover that the producers behind the show are way too slow for me. In spite of the available technology, they don’t upload the program on the university's website until later, so I can’t go back and count more precisely – and patience is the least of my virtues. So this number is an estimate. It goes to show, however, that, indeed, what makes the existing scientific discourse interesting is not its claim to precision, but the fact that – as Jensen also rightly observes – it relies on interaction, interrelation, manipulation, and we could add, myth, symbolization, imagination, fantasy, craziness, and sensual interpretation of logical formulations that one swallows in a haste because they taste good.
So, the point of writing about this – for those in need of a point – is to prove that materiality – I’m banging my computer – is the value of thinking about philosophy. By the same token, the science of philosophy is science enough – and enough to think about.
Hendricks’s leading quote from Paul Gauguin: ‘art requires philosophy just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?’ invites the expert to consider the thought of a lesser known philosopher, but a much more interesting one than the ones mentioned (Kant, Baumgarten, Burke), Vladimir Jankélévitch. Jankélévitch, who held the chair of moral philosophy at the Sorbonne between 1951 and 1978, was a most sophisticated thinker whose books such as Le Je-ne-sais quoi et le presque-rien (1957) and Quelques part de l’inachevé (1978) had a major influence on Levinas and Derrida. If Jankélévitch, or his ghost, had been on the show he would have known what to make of Gauguin’s imprecise statement. He would have pointed to the idea that what art and philosophy have in common is the proposition that it is the pleasure of reduction - that both philosophy and art (especially visual art and poetry) share - which ultimately defines beauty by relegating it to the space of the ‘somewhere in the unfinished.’ (Thau was speculating about the context in which Gauguin made his statement, thus missing what is already there in the text itself).
If one considers the principal levels of meaning developed by Jewish thinkers, and conveniently borrowed by German Teutonic masters and the like, one has to realize that the move from pshat (the simple or literal meaning) to remez (the allusive meaning) through drash (the solicited or exegetical meaning) and finally to sod (the hidden or secret meaning) is always situated, not in transcendence but in a graspable context. What does that mean? I’ll let Jankélévitch light up our fire, and seduce us till our bones collapse under the weight of pleasure. Jankélévitch knows how to break up words and art images, make us note the notarikon, the beginning of art and its relation to philosophy as it enunciates itself. (But first, allow me to frame Jankélévitch, here, before I give him the floor, by referring to Mark Alain Ouaknin’s beautiful work: The Burnt Book, in which he gives an example of a notarikon: ‘the word Anoki, which starts the Decalogue (Exod. 20:2), becomes Ana Nafshi Ketivat Yahavit. We go from the word “Me” to the sentence “I state my soul in writing”). In the following passage, we have a remarkable example of how Jankélévitch understands what it means to perceive beauty in the unfinished, in the breaking of words and bodies, thought and experience. Thus from Quelques part de l’inachevé:
Study consists of thinking everything that is thinkable in a question, thoroughly, at all costs. You must untangle the inextricable and only ever stop when it becomes impossible to go any further; with this rigorous research in mind, words that are used as a medium for thought must be used in all possible positions, in the most varied locutions, you must turn them over, turn them around again, showing up all their facets in the hope that a gleam will burst forth, feel them and sound their tone in order to perceive the secret of their meaning: do not the assonances and resonances of words have inspirational virtues? The rigor must sometimes be attained at the cost of an illegible discourse: you sometimes come very close to contradicting yourself; you just have to follow along the same line, slide down the same slope, and you leave your starting point further and further behind, and the starting point ends up by refuting the finishing point.
I try to compel myself to keep to this faultless reasoning, to this strenge Wissenschaft, a rigorous science, which is more like asceticism. I feel temporarily less anxious, when after having gone round in circles for a long time, sounded and kneaded words, explored their semantic resonances, analyze their allusive powers, their powers of evocation, I verify that I indeed can no longer go any further.
Of course, to claim that one can one day arrive at the truth is a dogmatic utopia; what matters is to go through to the end of what one is able to do, to attain a faultless coherency, to bring to the surface the most hidden, the most inexpressible questions, to make of them a smooth world. (18-19)
On the philosophy of aesthetics, I want to say, 'give me a break,' if it weren’t for Hendricks’s Antarctica Station shirt (by Napapijri) – the exponent of stark formalism is ready to learn something about reading events. And I can teach.