Archive for May, 2013

Intentionality and Metaphysical Otherness

May 30, 2013

I want to foward a theory about a particluar kind of otherness I want to call “metaphysical otherness”, for the time being.

It is opposed to fantasy and to exoticism. There, because our dialectics is unconstrained, our imagination has free room to wander and so to say something is not has the effect of creating all these fantastic things. But when we think of metaphysical otherness I think of an imagination that is somehow constrained, we want to think of a tighter sort of impasse or posturing. And I feel that this mode of otherness is related to the mark.

Let’s consider a passage from A Rose for Emily. Now, the gossipy townspeople are interested in Emily because she is a part of the old world — she is other. But as we said this fantastic form of otherness is unconstrained. We can consider even the Homer Baron character. Homer Baron is someone who is very non-mysterious… he is sort of this big, handsome fellow. He is simply someone who acts as his position allows him to. If I was a big handsome fellow — which I am not — I would probably act in much the same way. Thus for him gossip seems to suffice. The entire short story is of course told in the form of gossip. Gossip is a kind of social alchemy, of putting together the various peices (such as “big”, and “handsome”) in order to draw various conclusions. The same sort of gossip attempts to take hold of Emily too, which is something that she tries to defeat. Well, that is not her primary purpose, of course, otherwise the story would be very uninteresting as it would be about rebellion.

So we equate gossip with fantasy. There is a scene that we always go back to, in this blog I mean — simply because it is a kind of obvious one. I mean the scene where the tax collectors visit her house. They enter this old house and find a kind of configuration. Everything seems meaningful… Emily has this pocketwatch suspended from her neck. When they sat down on the furniture the layer of dust arose and danced about the sunlight. So there are peices here, and indeed they asked to be put together, but they cannot be. So we go into the house of Emily expecting to find something that would solve or confirm our suspicions but we instead find that the past is not dead and gone, but rather still there, “looking at us”, in the sense of, intervening with our detective work. So this is what I call a “metaphysical otherness”. It is the moment when the elements of the house are no longer so “passive”. They still ask to be reconfigured. But the reconfiguration here involves, not the putting together of contextual peices, but rather the attempt to decipher intentionality.

I mean, let me just remark that, in a very general sense, all thinking is posturing, is positioning. We shouldn’t view the brain as a giant computer, that is a deceptive metaphor. But instead of asking about the mechanics of thinking, we should be asking about the peices that thinking works with. So that thinking is simply, in most cases, reality as such. If we, for example, see a dog run away, hear a crash, and see a broken vase, then we have to reconstruct this scene causally. Most animals — well, I imagine — could probably do the same thing. We might call this reality but it is really our thinking of reality. All thinking, no matter how complex or pragmatic, ends up with the production of this “world”. With metaphysical otherness, as opposed to gossip or fantasy, regardless of how a solution is produced, the peices are a bit different.

The peices of furniture, I suppose, are still there, but they also carry now some intentionality with them, which is a puzzling sort of injection into the situation. I have, as a mental picture, a sort of existential rearranging, a rearranging of oneself in relation to the mark. Well, the world rearranges itself too, I mean, at a broader scale. But at the heart of all this seems to be something I’ve been calling allegoricism, which is the way in which a representation ceases to be a representation.

(1) Isn’t this rearranging recurring? Is it true that a metaphysical rearranging can never account for the the unpredictable ways in which intentionality can arise?

Theory of Relativity

May 24, 2013

I’ve made a few errors recently but I now feel like I’m solidly on the right track. I’ve established a kind of aspired-for framework, at least I hope, where the task remains now only to fill in the details. And there are like two general principles I’ve been working on:

(1) theory v analysis – Our concepts are not descriptive / analytic but theoretic, and yet they are not ideological, ie, in the sense of, that ideas determine how we view the world. The difference between ‘theoretical’ and ‘idealogical’ or ‘perspectival’ is that, while both function similarly in giving our concepts some way of moving about or wriggling about, a kind of limberness to adapt as situations arise, the theoretical is the more ‘pessimistic’, it depends on some framework of man’s state of finitude.

(2) origin v nature – this is the more recent one: there are two separate but seemlingly closely related quesions: how something arises, its origin, and the nature of something, what something is. Of course, I believe in a materialistic universe, so that what something *is* is certainly, you know, determined by how it arose. But concentrating on the origin question I do believe to have been a major recent error of mine. I mean, for events, perhaps, by our finitude, we can only understand them in the aftermath. The it’s not a matter of understanding how something arose, which is beyond us, but what it is. Or, similarly, we can imagine a kind of fate or law operating, I mean in a kind of mythical sense, one that does not precisely determine the outcome but nonehteless gives its general form.

I think it’s noteworthy that when the term history is being used in philosophy, eg, by someone like Nietzsche, the point isn’t in fact, as might appear at first, the attempt to shift *away* from the ontological question of isness or being, towards a mutable, unstable world. But rather, history is simply the ontology to the extent that it is possible by we who are limited by human finitude! (In other words, we are not talking, here, about history v ontology, when speaking about origin v nature, since the former are the same.)

Anyways, let’s talk, once again, about the theory of relativity. As I said the earlier entries all make the error of dealing with the origin of something — eg, the origin of the concept of 0. But that will get us nowhere, I should have realized this long ago, but we should consider simply that the 0 arose in order to ask why it arose, without, of course, giving teleologic responses. And hopefully, I do not yet know, this approach will lead us to some fruitful conclusions.

So physics would have to be understood — I mean, physics in the intuitive sense, the sense of, the consideration of how objects move physically through space, in the macroscopic sense, where we don’t distinguish between wooden balls and stone balls — as basically consisting of a kind of way of measuring — or rather, of marking off, like, ticking off marks on a ruler or like the way in which a clock marks off time in the literal sense.

(1) Honestly, I do not yet know what to make of the tantalizing occurence of the word ‘mark’, here…

(2) This shift from considering ‘marking’ v ‘measuring’ is important, since measuring is the *more* intentional activity, it is, for one thing, continuous, it suggests a kind of ‘reading out’, it assumes some *correspondence* to an underlying reality.

These observations feel good to us because one of the ‘theoretical’ (in the above sense) concepts that we’ve been thinking about is derepresentation.

What’s interesting here, in moving towards the mark, is that it seems, on the one hand, a material, readily obvious move, but yet, on the other hand, it seems a negative moment, ie, one that could only arise after the established understanding of measuring.

That is, this shift towards the relativistic ‘marking’ seems a conceptual shift rather than an ‘analytic’ one — though we are always tempted to draw that conclusion — ie, one that is based merely on the close examination of what we do when we measure. It seems material or obvious — and yet it would seem to take a special leap of insight (one whose origins we won’t comment on here) to understand measuring as marking rather than as a kind of ‘drawing forth’ of some a priori characteristic.

And by ‘conceptual shift’, I mean, that the idea of ‘marking’ most definitely transforms how we view the world. For example, the one who marks seems to define a kind of shape or an outline, there is a kind of geometricizing of space-time. A domain is drawn off in space time, as opposed to, the ‘internal’ aspects of a thing (does a wooden ball ‘have’ speed?) is drawn forth. Honestly, I cannot yet make sense of some of the more tantalizing metaphysical terms here (‘have’, ‘draw’, ‘domain’, etc.) … but the simple observation here is that, however ‘material’ the act of marking is the transformed view of the world that we end up with is not at all obvious.

Hope in Philosophy

May 18, 2013

I want to preface this entry by saying that we are not nearly explicit enough about the role that *hope* plays in philosophy. I wrote on facebook yesterday that ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ is one of the most underused phrases in philosophy.

Everything we write, everything that’s good I mean, has this air of ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ about it — thinking is a hope for a logical closure rather than some methodical activity. And we are not even talking about ‘subjectivism’, I mean, we are not saying that this hope arises from some deep rooted fear, prejudices, desires, and so on — or even from a perspective or school. We each hope in our own way regardless of declared allegiances… but rather, it is simply the hope for closure, an attempt to make a connection — ‘wouldn’t it be nice if these things were connected?’ — a hope for a good grade, if you want to think about it like that.

So I want to foward a few claims that would be nice — to me — if they were true, ie, it will mean that I would have verily accomplished something. I want to claim that we’ve been viewing the event in far too grandiose a way. Earlier on we formulated the ‘impossibility postulate’, which states that it is impossible to work descriptively, from the aftermath of an event, back to the source, since the eye that judges the event remains constant via this method.

This led to the assertion of the superiority of theory over analysis, which, as always, leads to the question of whether our effort, as theorists is *political* or *explanational*: whether we are drawing forth events from history, or whether we are explaining history

And let’s leave this question unanswered since the above was just a summary: that’s where we are in the conception of the historical event. I now want to propose that the *only moment of disruption* is this brief moment when the zero makes its appearance.

I hope this is true, I have several reasons:

(1) Naturalism and Reference — now we are correct in sensing the need for philosophy to attack nature, but we have not realized that nature is simply the stability of reference. Nature, is, if we think about the term, is associated with labor, with being able to work with the world, however abstract.

Now, reference is merely a kind of secondary activity, it is merely a kind of memory aid. Whatever turmoil we may be in — well, that’s sort of the point — that *memory*, tracking, is the very basic act of being in touch with the world. It is, once again, entirely secondary to the actual labor that would take place — it is merely a kind of pointing, a kind of indexicality.

I *hope* we can claim that we are always forgetting indexicality somehow. Well — I have an image in mind, a narrative in mind: that we are always confusing indexing with … reference. Indexing means to point at something, reference — or however we want to phrase this, the large set of concepts related to the idea of some more essential relationship between the mark and the world, eg, representation. For example, our basic argument regarding math the other day was that we always confuse working with the marks of things with working with the things themselves in some way, some labor of numbers.

We are fully aware, of course, of the secondary nature of the mark, that the mark is different from the thing. But our basic drive is towards the error — if we can even call it that — of conceiving of some more essential relationship than merely marking.

(Perhaps, this is basically the inevitable conclusion of our increasing bitterness towards the world, our increasing withdrawl and rejection, etc. — ie, when all our hopes have been let down, when we can no longer declare any allegiance to anything, not for a positive (ie, individualism) but rather a negative reason (bitterness)… the rejection of all proclaimed forms of disruption, freedom.)

Now, this seems to lead towards a transcendental moment but I want to suggest that this is not true — I mean, in the sense of, some transcendental moment when we suddenly have this vision of mark as mark. But rather I want to suggest a momentary vision, or maybe some path for action, some …hope, I guess, not meaning to be cute — but at the same time, sensing that this repetition of this word is not merely haphazard — which I hope is the zero.

The zero, as Rotman says, has a dual role: at once a reference to something, a number, and at the same time a reference to the mark: specifically, to the absence of the mark.

When speaking of the zero we were mostly thinking about algorithms; the zero was enormously practical for human arithmetic. But algorithms themselves are like riding on the back of a tiger (an interesting Nietzsche metaphor for danger) — the way that they work for this particular situation, painstakingly assured — does not at all guarantee a universal validity outside the tiny little region of stability — an algorithm can really be treated as a *claim* or even a *promise* of having understood something.

But nontheless, the algorithm is a brief moment, a flash, when the markness of the mark becomes visible — albeit, it immediately suggests another system. Not, once again, in some transcendental sense, but rather in the sense in which the zero refers to the mere act of marking and in doing so sets forth a kind of *hope*.

An algorithm, again, is not really a paradigm shift but a formalization of a hope, a transformation of a hope into a claim or a guarantee. The zero is the momentary disruption of some more intimate relationship between mark and world or event.

I’ve been thinking about the Gauss insight to, the gauss algorithm. I hope that the Gauss algorithm would give some reason to believe that a kind of ‘dereferencing’ is in fact an ongoing process and not merely a one-off thing, as it appears right now. There, I pointed out how the impasse was due to a kind of linear, causational, observational mental picture as opposed to a ‘detectivistic’ one, ie, one that would disjoin the linear flow of the marking or counting activity. Perhaps the zero would work here too, as the mark of some event, the mark of the origin as opposed to the mark in the midst of some procedure.

TBC, further questions:
1. Does this occur for animals?
2. Does this relate to the ‘epistemic weight’ of allegory, or the tightrope we have to walk when thinking of labor?

Literality in Epistemology

May 15, 2013

Literalism is a kind of an impossible demand — it is, I hypothesize, at the heart of our cultural understanding of knowledge. Well, literality and figurality are, it seems to me, almost the same thing, they refer to a kind of impossible angle we have to take, sort of like the tantalizing zen koan. It speaks of something at once of an obvious and unreachable, stupid (thus, something that we should have avoided) and yet and impossible to prevent — inescapable guilt. What I mean is, consider, for example, reading something that sticks with you — like a philosophical sort of book, or something, say, Heart of Darkness in this blog. I’m always recalling passages in that book, for example, whenever I realize something new I seem to talk to that book. However I arrived at my own insight, the discussion with the book always seems to focus on some passage that was taken, at some point, too figuratively: we approach a passage once again with a renewed, “literal” understanding and with the impression that we could have simply gone this route all along!

So it’s strange how much weight we give to literalism as this kind of “shortcut”, as if all we had to do was be more literal, more careful — as a kind of ruby slipper, a la “The Wizard of Oz”. What’s interesting to me is the enormous importance in which we hold literality, which is nonetheless something incredibly elusive.

I want to talk about a few things — math / coding. I do not have the role in which “literalism” (properly applied, to each case) firmly worked out in my mid but I do have a vague outline. And I really want to consider what may considered more unconventional subjects for the topic of “literality” in order to avoid running into some pitfalls that I sense will be there if we deal with literature.

What is mathematical literalism? In the last essay I spoke about the Gauss insight, and I spoke of a recent personal experience involving the Gauss insight (let’s just call it that), and the logic of that story was, indeed, that my poor roommates were caught in a kind of error or an impasse — as if there were a shortcut there. It seems to me now that the Gauss story seems to contain the elements for all mathematical insight in general, which is a kind of dematerialization and rematerializing … well, I mean, these terms used metaphorically. My roommates / Gauss’s classmates had, it seemed, a too representational understanding of the referent of the problem, they understood the problem too well in a sense. Again — here, even as I talk about this, I speak of a kind of obvious error or shortcut. Maybe Dorothy’s ruby slippers should simply be taken as a figure for epistemlogy as such — the study of shortcuts or (less misguided) the study of cultural understandings of shortcuts. I spoke of the distinction between “observational analysis” versus “detective work” there too (valorizing the latter), which seems to relate, indeed, to what basically amounts to the distinction between analysis and theory broached in the beginning — distinctions which may perhaps be misguided: “We have” — so I said (something to the effect of) — “for the longest time been attempting analysis, we have been asking how an ‘obviously eventful’ event takes place, but what we need instead is theory, which asks how, theoretically, given a set of circumstances, an event could unfold — and then seeking such an unfolding in history”.

But what is the “rematerialization” — the forming of a new model? Because for Gauss the case was not the abandoning of linear causation but the reestablishing of one. This seems to relate to the zero, which — and I find this refreshing — we hypothesized (following Rotman, I mean) to arise from pragmatic exigencies — the zero made arithmetic a lot easier, it was a translation of states on an abacus, which may have blank rows. But we also stated that an algorithm is always painstakingly constructed, so that those who use it afterwards believe it to be natural or entirely motivated, unaware of the danger of the path on which they travel.

Let me digress here momentarily — actually, I’m honestly not sure how relevant the following will be. I was reading, for some reason, a wikipedia article about man-eating lions when I was redirected to a British an attempt to build a railroad in Africa using Indian labor, the site of one of the worst cases of man eating lions in history… something like 100 lives or something … this is probably very insensitive me, or maybe not, for ignoring the horrifying plight of the exploited masses or something, but Churchill said something about the railroad, about how he admired the courage of those who “mucked through it” — he’s speaking of the white British colonists of course — of espousing a kind of stiff-upper lip British spirit. This is of course a good metaphor for what we’ve been discussing so far, but what I really like is this idea of mucking… the construction of the railroad required mucking.

The issue here, it seems to me, is the establishing of a new literalism — not merely a new route, but a new way of conceiving of that route. The establishing of the zero was the rejection of an older form of materialism in order to (re)establish an era of epistemic literalism, but one that has been painstakingly developed, pragmatically, by exploring every case, and by mucking through, and finally forgotten (and maybe the above metaphor is really applicable here, too) — in this notion of “merely literal”.

… TBC

 

Temporal Disjunctions and the Creation of Experience

May 12, 2013

I had the thought yesterday that I had been going about it all backwards: instead of attempting to characterize the experience of disjunction — even if we do declare that “we are talking in very definite ways about experiences that never happen” — we should simply be asking, in an abstract way, what is it that disjoins our experience?

There is an great scene in Faulkner’s Was about a poker game — well, the highlight of that short story is indeed a poker game, and poker itself is — even if this sounds cliche — an excellent metaphor for life. Because in poker games, you never know what is happening until the cards are finally turned — you never know whether someone is honest, bluffing, or faking the bluff, etc. In poker we experience everything all at once, in a sudden rush of holism at the end — which resembles, not the linear, reactive way in which normal life experienced but rather the way in which liminal states are experienced — such, as, for example, these moments of intensity, when man is pushed to his limits, that Conrad is fascinated in. So the task, I realized last night, was not the attempt to describe everyday life, or even its liminal states — there are some serious problems with asking about “liminal states”, since the word itself is almost an oxymoronic — problems that we are probably familiar with, ie, we with our bitterness towards society — the way in which all of society is about a crisis that is not really a crisi but an accepted “state” — but rather to start from scratch and ask how liminal states are even possible.

2 further comments or corrollaries — first, we wish here, I mean, we hope we can, finally take a very definite break from all the declared crises of society — we’ve been trapped here too long — it feels like an enormous impasse. We cannot even start with what society considers “events”, “disruptions” — that is already too late — but we need to make a fresh start as only theorizing and speculation can — perhaps — bring us. Second, and this is personal, I feel I have been stuck for too long on this notion of “darkness and labor” — it feeels like an enormous impasse to me. We cannot not (unwittingly) presuppose that labor will bring us any sort of insight or knowledge, we cannot look for disruptions with the very ‘eyes” that is meant to be disrupted — eyes in quotes here because we are talking about the linear eye… If my hunch is correct, then we are on the verge of overcoming an great problem, often stated but never clearly understood — the problem of dealing with genuine crisis and the way in which it is lost as soon as it is known.

– The Zero –

The time is shattered, experience is shatterd, because of representationbecause of the trace. In other words, the world is shattered because we have before us the puzzle peices to represent the puzzle of experience, and not because experience has, via some kind of intensity, been shattered beforehand. Poker shatters experience and disrupts the flow of time, it is not merely the representation of an experience that was shatterd a priori.

I’ve been reading — well, I mean, I tend to skim things nowadays — I’ve figured out long ago that you can understand what you read only if you already understand it — I’ve been reading a lot of Brian Rotman lately, I’ve been reading his book on the history of the zero, the mathematical zero. His major argument, I believe, is that plays a special role in the holisticizing of experience, at the moment when the cards are laid out, the traces brought together.

His account of numbers, arithmetic,etc. is highly pragmatic — related closely to accounting, trade, bookkeeping, and so forth, and not to anything like pure mathematics. In retrospect, I seem in myself a vicious religious streak (cf, “labor”, “darkness”, etc) that I really need to address. Mathematics is basically a set of techniques used for the manipulation of numbers, specifically, for adding and counting numbers. The zero greatly simplifies arithmetic but there is definitely a kind of blindness to it as well. I mean, working without the zero is conceptually easier but pragmatically difficult — think about, for example, adding Roman numerals — it can be done. The shfit, I believe, towards the zero can be considered a trace from a linear sort of experience to a holisticized one, I mean, a reassembled one.

Algorithms itself are a kind of gathering together of traces — an algorithm is put together from shattered peices.

Let me digress momentarily and tell you about an experience I had recently, and the lessons I drew from that, upon reflection. I don’t mean to self-aggrandize or anything, even if it may sound like that.

Anyways, the basic story is that I was able to rather quickly solve a problem that some of my roommates had been working on for hours. This is not because I’m a genius or anything, but mostly because of all those years of high school math competitions. Yet I want to also make some cliams about a sort of “insight” or perspectival shift that “cracks” such a problem. It is a very interesting problem in elementary combinatorics: how does one enumerate the set of n-element combinations selected from a set of m elements? So, for example, if you had the set of lowercase letters, {a,b,…z}, and you considered all the 4 element combinations (ie, unordered, so that  {e,j,z,a} would be the same as {a,e,j,z}) then what would be a technique for enumerating the set of all 4-element subsets, that is, assign a unique natural number to a given subset?

So this problem is hard if you try to do this… “directly” in some way. One must not have faith in work, in a sense. You have to sort of step away from the imagination of a person “counting” and incrementing each set. Since we are considering unordered sets then we might as well consider them in alphabetical order — so the problem becomes enumerating all the alphabetical 4-tuples, or whatever the technical term is. It’s a problem of counting — we obviously know how to count to 100, it’s very easy, but how does one count if one can only count increasing, non-repeating 2-digit numbers? Like:

12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 34, 35, … etc. — and how would one (easily) map this to the series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6? How would we know, quickly, what the 27th element of this series would be?

So this is the obvious but also the wrong way to approach the problem. It is very computationally intensive, especially as one considers, say, 3-digits, or 4 digits. Yet there is also the mistaken belief — and this is why they were at an impasse — that there is some underlying reference to this problem. One gets caught in a kind of mathematical impasse of translation — that is, doesn’t this number necessarily refer to that moment of counting? Isn’t this problem asking about that procedure, that linear procedure, and nothing else? Isn’t our only mode of progress the mental observation of that procedure?

This reminds me of a famous story about Gauss — which is in fact, now that I think about it, pretty much the very same story. The story goes, that Gauss was told, along with some classmates, by a bored teacher — who wanted a break apparently — to add all the numbers from 1 to 100 and produce an answer. Of course Gauss, via a leap of insight, was able to produce the number within seconds: (1+100)*100/2 = 5050. So the other students are similarly faced with a kind of referential, linear imapsse.

But here we consider that working with the trace has a way of shattering or exploding this scene. We do not observe, like a scientist, but arrive afterwards, like a detective to the scene of the crime, and make deductions about what must have happened. (Maybe this is why proof by contradiction, too, can leave one with an uneasy feeling — since there is never the moment of direct observation.) With the construction of addition around the zero — well, there is nothing natural about this.

You know, I’ve had for a long time this incorrect imagination of the zero as a sort of “foolhardy leap” over the problem. Like, although the zero is this strange, almost unthinkable number, let’s just treat it as any number and carry on, and if it works, then we are home free. … this actually reminds me of that story about Schuvalkin if you are familiar with it. But anyways any algorithm involving the zero must have been painstakingly constructed — an algorithm makes operations faster but does not itself come fast or easily. Once we have an algorithm, then we have the tendency to float along blissfully unaware of the enormous dangers we may be facing — since we usually end up in the right place anyways, which we find comforting.

Numbers themselves are traces, they are representations of an earlier act of counting — so they say. So that the natural numbers are an abbreviation of what Rotman called, I think, “ur-marks”, which are the actual marks of counting: 1, 11, 111, 1111, 11111 … corresponding to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. But they are also, on the other hand, traces, marks, themselves. Even when abstracted and abbreviated from the ur-marks, it seems as though our imagination persists in seeing numbers as the trace of some given, prior experience of counting. And so this is what addition, without the zero, becomes, merely a kind of abbreviation — and thus, still representations — of the process of counting.

But numbers, in the very act of marking, as mark, becomes also divorced from representation. It becomes possible, does it not, to ask about traces directly, like a detective: for example, to ask about what sort of process produced this trace:

1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1

The zero is the absence of the mark, it seems like a reprentation but it can be represented only when the mark gains an independent status, ie, becomes freed from representation. There is no prior experience assocated with the zero — well, it is precisely the absence of an experience — the experience of not counting, or of the origin, of just starting to count — which itself comes, afterwards, to be considered an experience.

TBC

The Politics of Style

May 7, 2013

There is a kind of contradiction in the last essay. It claims that there is a retrospective moment, an originating moment, that is able to look back on an earlier moment and reconceptualize that moment as an encounter with the darkness. The key idea there is ‘overlap’, where this reconceptualizing occurs not merely as a 3rd person perceiving of the past, a transcending of one’s previous condition towards a broader perspective, but rather ‘overlaps’ with the past, so that what one sees is a kind of reexperiencing of that moment, albeit with a sense of loss. But the advantage that this loss carries is that it is able to isolate this moment out of the progressive flow of history, and to see this as a moment of insight.

It is indeed true that we are speaking in very definite terms about experiences that never actually happen. But this is something that characterizes our entire project. We have always been talking about the construction of experience, whereas actual living and decisionmaking is mostly automatic. The error here, however, I believe, is that we focused too much on ‘the darkness’. We acted on the assumption that the darkness would not be visible to ourselves in the past, and only to a retrospective vision, but the retrospective vision itself seems then to have an encounter with the darkness anyways, thus begging the question. I think had a suspicion of this when I pondered on the ‘amazing *experience*’ of this retrospective vision.

The problem here is that the darkness has always been kind of a placeholder. We can sense the darkness there but there is no way, even via the method above, to actually *see* the darkness. Perhaps we should have known this since we’re have long known that experience itself is … ‘out there’, constructed, yet to come, no matter how definitely we seem to speak of things — our past always open to reinterpretation — and thus, we can never really have the definite experience that we seek. Darkness is merely a placeholder for that towards which our ‘experience’ turns, it is kind of a tautological element.

In response to this difficulty I want to propose ‘The Politics of Style’. The idea is that we are *always* caught up in politics, we can never refer to the darkness directly, no matter how aware we are of it. In short, we are talking about a kind of existential condition. But we do have recourse to a kind of interpretive historiography where we suddenly realize that the stakes are not as moral as we once thought they were, and that the concern, in fact, a particular mode of accessing the darkness.

Let me talk a bit more about ‘Rhetoric of Temporality’ — I actually took the time to skim through maybe a third of it last night. That essay is incredibly *scholarly* — in the bad sense — and all but incomprehensible, at least in the introductory passages, to anyone not familiar with the discourse of romanticism at the time — which includes me. But we can nonetheless understand the effort there: the romantic time was a heavily *moral* time, it was a time of hope, disillusion, etc., and all these grand things — but this characterizes all eras of history. De Man’s effort was to recast these politics which dealt with all these grand affairs of the human condition as a politics of style.

This is actually not that far off from my own experience. There was a time when we were, you know, moral, liberal, concerned with the grand things. I positively believe the old cliche that liberalism subsists solely on the deceiving the naive. Eventually I decided that people to exaggerate and whine too much, and that the world is a sum of personality (and not systemic) problems. I became more intolerant and spiteful — attitudes weren’t simply ‘harmless’ — people shouldn’t be allowed to have their own vacuous little ‘opinions’. Although I still extrapolated from personality problems outwards, towards the more general problems of the world, the problems that I dealt with could definitely be said to be ‘stylistic’.

For De Man, rhetoric wasn’t at all a ‘method’ for expressing things, but rather, an almost invisible element around which a self-assertive politics condensed. It was not a guarantee but a possibility or chance. In a sense, yes, we still progress too fast. There is indeed the chance that all we want is for the world to slow down and be a bit more critical, to simply ask more questions. But the very possibility of asking questions, which we extrapolate to all good things, to confront the darkness, hinges on these elements — rhetoric, in this case — around which experiences can condense.

Light and Darkness of the Retrospective Vision

May 2, 2013

I don’t know at this moment if this will remain a draft, or I will post it to the blog, since it involves an amazing kind of feeling, well, that is founded upon a logic of course.

I have a kind of pipeline established when it comes to what we are thinking about. I think this latest development may, after some reflection, be a further kink in the pipeline rather than an overturning, which is definitely a good thing.

I have been feeling around, and accustomizing myself to this development for the past few days, but today I’ve found maybe something to write about. Basically, the idea here is that events are originated retrospectively.

So that, as we look back, even upon ‘a moment of negation’, a voice, there is also a kind of subtle absence, a subtle melancholy to this experience. We look back to the voice that speaks to us or looks at us, about the lowly, about a work or substantiality without substance, but we also look back in the mode of loss, since we are separated from this moment. This serves to reinforce, for me, the idea of a retrospective origin — specifically, involving the very gaze of mnemonic mediums.

For rhetoric of temporality, this means that rhetoric originates and seems to fill in that moment of darkness, beforehand. We called it a categorization but it is one that seems more fundamental than actual experience.

Conrad has this line in Heart of Darkness that really sticks out: he said, ‘perhaps all truth is condensed into that single moment when we cross the threshold of the invisible’. This is quite interesting: it speaks of a threshold that, because it is invisible, we are unaware of at the very moment of crossing. (This is what I believe he is saying, rather than that it is invisible in the sense of ‘intuitional’.) And this is because this threshold is something that we ‘see’ retrospectively. This vision of the threshold is very interesting — it is not purely logical or structural, but it is itself a vision that (we said above, ‘touched by melancholy’) seems to *reexperience* that vision, but now in full view of the *darkness* that was not visible at the moment.

Something else from HoD may be relevant here: near the end of the book, Marlow says something like – ‘and I saw them both [Kurtz and the Intended] together, I mean, I saw them at the same time…’ – along with this notion of the simultaneous presence of both darkness and light. This is the retrospective vision that I have in mind – touched by melancholy, but not entirely gone, able to see the darkness and the light at once.

There’s a big uncertain claim (B.U.C) I want to make, which may be wrong. But it concerns an amazing moment of experience, the experience of the origin, which makes the claim tantalizing but also vulnerable (which is a good thing — being able to make vulnerable claims). To look at a painting, or a poem — well, I have in my mind’s eye, for various random reasons, a scene of fireworks from a Hitchcock movie. But to look at a moment, and to see there both ‘light and darkness’ in the above metaphorical sense, that is, to a moment when that image, wild, alone, and independent, looking upon me, whose accusing gaze once fell upon me, and also to see the darkness there, to see the leap into darkness, the utter darkness (as Kurtz did, obliged, leapt) — that is, of a voice in the dark, a substantialism without substance — isn’t that retrospective moment the origin of all things?

Well, the other BUC I want to make is that I want to relate some *logic* of how the medium of memory seems to abscond or displace with the logic of the event. This is much like the ‘Rhetoric of Temporality’ claim, we will want to think over that claim too.