Ktismatics

18 April 2007

Derrida on the Metaphysics of Presence

Filed under: Ktismata, Language — ktismatics @ 9:51 pm

Of Grammatology, one of Derrida’s earliest works, is in part an apologetics of writing in response to a long historical preference for the spoken word.

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. – Aristotle

A persistent attribute of Western thinking is the “metaphysics of presence.” Truths are eternal, but in temporal human existence the eternal manifests itself as presence. Humans live in the present; therefore any eternally true idea has to make itself known in the present. The true idea appears before our conscious minds in the immediacy of our thinking of it. Truth is eternal logos; speech is verbal representation of logos. Once truth comes to mind it can immediately be spoken. Speech and thought are nearly inseparable in time; there is no delay between thinking an idea and speaking it. Speech is characterized by presence: it is produced in the ongoing stream of moments that characterize human existence. Consequently speech has been regarded as the most authentic way of representing truth. Writing is deferred speech: there is a delay between the thought and the hand’s inscription of the words representing the thought. Writing, being not present, is not as “true” as speech.

Derrida observes other aspects of speech that lend it authority and priority. Historically, spoken language emerged before writing. Children learn to speak before they learn to write. Writing is tangibly external: it requires inscribing marks on a material surface in the world, a world that is not eternal or ideal. Speech is internal, produced inside the mouth and throat; it comes out with the breath that is intrinsic to living. I hear myself at the same time that I speak. Speech takes place in the presence of a listener, whereas text might not be read until long after it was written, if ever. Speech is present, immaterial, transparent, alive.

Derrida doesn’t try to argue that writing is as close to the moment, as present, as speech is. Rather, he directs his critique against presence itself. He doesn’t try to step out of the moment into eternity; instead, he embeds presence in a broader temporal and spatial context, undermining it from within.

The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not expect it.

– Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1967

In deconstructing the metaphysics of presence Derrida leans heavily on Heidegger, who contended that human existence isn’t a continuous presence, a perpetual living in the moment, but is rather a duration. Being in time means being embedded in an interval whose temporal horizons stretch into the past and the future. It means having been born in a particular place and time and inevitably dying in some unpredictable place and time. These horizons inevitably influence the way we live in the moment. Ideas aren’t always present either; they take shape from prior ideas and memories, work themselves out, come to fruition, become transformed into different ideas. Ideas have history and trajectory — just like human lives. The present moment is only a trace of temporal duration as it moves from the past into future.

Again from Heidegger, Derrida rejects interiority as a criterion for truth. For humans, to be is to be in the world. In earthly existence there can be no transcendence of materiality, of incarnation, of place. The Western metaphysics of presence isn’t just temporal; it’s also spacial: it presumes the direct presence of eternal truths before the mind. But if being means being-in, then human truths, like human beings, are in the world. To uncover truths in the world requires investigation, movement, interaction with the world in its extension.

Truths, rather than being always already present in the mind, move through space and time. Truths are dynamic, taking shape not only in the unchangeable and the atemporal, but also in the play of differences across space and time. There are irreducible differences between idea and word, word and speech, speaking and hearing. Human thought depends on memory, which is the trace of past moments inscribed on the mind — so in a way even memory is exterior to thought. Likewise the signifiers of language are inscribed in memory — so speech depends on the temporal delay between learning the language and using it.

In a Heideggerian framework presence no longer has priority over deferral and spacing. Material that is immediately available to consciousness doesn’t take precedence over material retrieved from memory or self-reflection or investigation. Speaking/listening isn’t a more authentic means of communication than writing/reading. Derrida doesn’t propose that writing take precedence over speech, that reflection dominate spontaneity. Rather, he calls for an end to the represssion of pluri-dimensional symbolic thought. All conceivable ways of thinking and communicating should be explored and encouraged to the fullest.

Implications? In psychotherapy, it might be less important to close the gap between client and therapist. Therapy need not concentrate solely on the present moment of client-therapist conversation; memories, dreams, reflections, even writings, can find a place in the therapeutic relationship. In Biblical study, the spatio-temporal gap between writer and reader can become a source of meaning rather than just an obstacle. And an event in which God’s presence was experienced in real time doesn’t necessarily take priority over the event’s subsequent commemoration in text.

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62 Comments »

  1. For the therapist, assuming that a current state is connected with something in the past, one could try to fiddle with that memory or trigger, to deconstruct and reconstruct, reterritorialise (or whatever) but the fact remains that you are ‘dealing’ with a trace, so the tracing is just some sort of template, an orienter in an unkown field, while ther therapist is actually ‘doing’ something new and fresh that is not particularly organically related to the original trace.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 19 April 2007 @ 11:03 am

  2. Sam –

    That’s an implication too, isn’t it? There is no going back to the events that left the trace, the flows and intersections of desires and fulfillments and blockages that occurred in some unrecoverable past. But I think the trace isn’t always just a light etching; it can become a marking off of the territory. And the trace gets deeper with repetition, like synaptic activation patterns that get stronger and more automated every time they get reactivated. The traditional analytic model calls for returning to the original scene, the event that first left the trace, and trying to reorient it. I’m not sure how likely it is even to find the original event in memory. It seems like a better possibility is to bring into conscious scrutiny the territorialization resulting from the irretrievable original trace, to recognize its presence and its consequences, to explore whether or not other possible pathways are even conceivable to the client, to understand resistances to trying them out, perhaps to play and experiment a little…

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 April 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  3. In Biblical study, the spatio-temporal gap between writer and reader can become a source of meaning rather than just an obstacle. And an event in which God’s presence was experienced in real time doesn’t necessarily take priority over the event’s subsequent commemoration in text.

    Please don’t tell this to any of my conservative brethren. It might begin a process whereby they come to realize that Derrida was not the devil incarnate and that deconstruction does not signal the end of any rational thought or discourse….yes, we must keep this post a secret……

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 19 April 2007 @ 2:57 pm

  4. Jonathan –

    I think there has been a resurgence of the metaphysics of presence in some of the postmodern Biblical discussions. It’s been proposed that the Biblical text is a record describing a prior personal revelation rather than the text itself being revelatory. I’m not sure how the recent upsurge in narrative readings relates to Derrida, but I think it too is an attempt to come closer to the experiential presence of God, the parousia, as recorded in these stories. Jesus was a talker and not a writer — kind of like Socrates. As we’ve discussed relative to your paper on inspiration, there’s also the idea that God inspires the present reading of the texts rather than the texts themselves — that’s a metaphysics of presence for sure.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 April 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  5. John, haven’t you only succeeded in going from ‘the memory of X’ to ‘the trace of X’. I’m not sure how this helps the therapist in any way. In any case, what I heear is that you are proposing not to modify the X but instead to do something in the present with what the client is doing with X, or am I just going round in circles here?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 19 April 2007 @ 7:26 pm

  6. There is no doubt that biblical interpretation has been significantly affected by the hermeneutics of the 20th century and particularly the metaphysics of presence….but it is just so interesting to me how many bib. interpreters still want to distance themselves from Derrida. And, honestly, most of the reasons I hear are rather weak…..I’ll have to revisit Thiselton again, however, b/c I’ve always respected his work in the field and I know that he has a bit of problem with Derrida and the hermeneutic of suspicion…..there’s just something about “Derrida” that makes us conservatives edgy…but I wonder if it is an authentic rendering of Derrida or if it is the received tradition of “Derrida”…..or perhaps making such a distinction is perhaps something that a true Derridean would never do….is anything authentic? or just trace?

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 19 April 2007 @ 8:53 pm

  7. Sam –

    I don’t know if it helps or not; I’m just trying to clarify the ideas. Derrida is critiquing the metaphysics of presence, where what’s what’s happening and what’s in consciousness at the moment is the most important thing. But some events occurring in the present can leave traces behind: memories are one kind of trace, behavior patterns that tend to repeat themselves under circumstances similar to the original event are another kind of trace. So in any given moment our experience of the present is affected by traces laid down from prior present experiences.

    “Trace” was Freud’s terminology for this persistent influence of the fleeting present. The repetitive behavior patterns may persist even if the memory of the precipitating event is lost to consciousness. Analysis tries to retrieve the memory, in hopes both of shedding light on the cause of the behavior and of eliminating its automatic tendency to repeat itself. I’d say Derrida is here reminding us that the present moment is affected by the past and is leaving traces that will affect the future. So a therapy that tries to stay entirely in the moment of the therapist-client conversational moment is kidding itself. That’s all.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 April 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  8. I think there’s reason to be edgy about Derrida, but his position isn’t always predictable. He’s always a defender of written texts, even if he does reinterpret their meaning. In The Ear of the Other, Derrida says this: I love very much everything I deconstruct in my own manner; the texts I want to read from the deconstrtuctive point of view are texts I love, with that impulse of identification which is indispensable for reading. They are texts whose future, I think, will not be exhausted for a long time. Then he names three writers whose futures are assured: Plato, Nietzsche, Saint Augustine. He says my relation to these texts is characterized by loving jealousy and not at all by nihilistic fury.

    The big danger presented by Derrida, which is made manifest in deconstruction, is his insistence on disconnecting the meaning of texts from some underlying truth to which the words point. So you can read a text and presume that it means something in particular, but then you can read the same text again under different assumptions and it means something different altogether. In deconstruction the words stay the same but the meaning changes: that suggests that words themselves don’t point to or represent or signify any stable meaning or logos that lies behind or beneath the text. Which of course is problematic if you believe that the words of the Biblical text represent or signify the eternal Word of God that infuses the words with a stable and unchangeable meaning.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 April 2007 @ 9:52 pm

  9. In deconstruction the words stay the same but the meaning changes: that suggests that words themselves don’t point to or represent or signify any stable meaning or logos that lies behind or beneath the text. Which of course is problematic if you believe that the words of the Biblical text represent or signify the eternal Word of God that infuses the words with a stable and unchangeable meaning.

    But this struggle is nothing new with Derrida. There has always been a question of how the text of the OT can be recontextualized if the text was originally given as a “stable and unchageable meaning.”

    I suggest (as you are aware of) that the inspired text is just that: an inspired text. The fact that it was inspired does not mean that it cannot function in varying contexts with varying meanings. In fact, this is part of the charm of the text.

    Also, just because the text is inspired does not preclude it from the normal, hermeneutical discussions. The text did not descend upon white clouds announced with fanfare and light shows. It was written by bald guys with crooked noses (Apostle Paul) and by passionate poets (David), amongst a host of other human writers.

    That the text is inspired means that God has presented humanity with a text that ought to function in a meaningful way to bring us to faithfulness and restore us to God.

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 20 April 2007 @ 4:16 pm

  10. There has always been a question of how the text of the OT can be recontextualized if the text was originally given as a “stable and unchageable meaning.” I’m not sure what you mean by that. Are you referring to the NT reinterpretation of the OT in light of Christ? My sense was that the NT writers and Christian exegetes asserted that the “Christianized” meaning was in the texts all along, stable and unchanging, but this true meaning wasn’t revealed until after Christ. The conservative hermeneutic presumed that grammatical and syntactical and contextual parsing would reveal the true meaning as intended by the author. Liberals contextualized Scripture historically, but they imposed a stable structure that spanned history: a gradual progression toward a more enlightened and universal message. They also imposed structural interpretations on the texts: JEPD and so on. This Derrida text is not really about the unstable meaning of texts; it’s an argument against the theory that truth is characterized by it’s always being present before the mind. Still, I’m curious what you mean by your statement, if it differs from what I’ve just ssid here.

    Your interpretation of “inspired text” is also dangerous to the conservative position, don’t you think? The idea had always been that the words point to stable truths present in the writer’s mind, presumably placed there by God. The assembly of words in a text point to an assembly of true ideas underlying the text, and that assembly of truths is the meaning. For the same words to mean different things at different times to different people suggests that the words are more stable than the truths to which they point. When words no longer serve as one-to-one signifiers of the truths they signify: now you’ve moved into PoMo territory.

    That the text is inspired means that God has presented humanity with a text that ought to function in a meaningful way to bring us to faithfulness and restore us to God. I understand this as a variant of the infallibility argument: the text might not always be true, but it always achieves God’s objectives. That’s pretty much a pragmatic argument, that the author uses words in order to get the reader to do something. Austin and Searle, right?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 April 2007 @ 7:00 pm

  11. Part of the problem with traditional hermeneutics is that there is this assumption that the author’s intent is a monolithic and static thing. Practically speaking, every reader of a text knows that it is not so. Each time we read a text there are differences. The richer the text, the more fascinating the variations.

    One would think that God, being the best possible author, would have invested His text with even more richness of meaning than an ‘ordinary author’ would be capable of…

    It is our own limitations that are being projected in the more traditional type of thinking (the text has a ‘fixed’ meaning whether we can find it or not) rather than an honest struggling to find that moment’s significance in faith.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 21 April 2007 @ 8:35 am

  12. Sam –

    This is a very stimulating point. The relationship between text and meaning remains puzzling. Say you’re doing a scientific experiment: the quantitative data point to phenomena in the world from which the data were extracted. So in a sense the data “mean” something about the phenomena; you can read a string of data about something or someone and gain some understanding. But the scientific “meaning” is in the hypothesis that explains the data. A hypothesis is different in kind from the data: a mental abstraction rather than a pointer to the world. The scientific hypothesis doesn’t dig meaning out of the data; it embeds the data in a larger meaningful context. Kuhn’s idea of the scientific paradigm makes this clear: more than one theory can make sense of the same data set; a robust theory makes sense of a large range of data sets.

    Is there an analogy with texts? Words point to the phenomena in the world from which they are abstracted, so words “mean” something about the world. But a philosophy or literary interpretation or theology is a hypothesis that explains the text. It doesn’t dig the “meaning” out of the text, as if the words themselves really mean more than just the things they point to. Rather, a literary hypothesis embeds this one text, along with other texts, in a larger framework of meaning. A literary hypothesis is different in kind from the words: a mental abstraction rather than a pointer to the world. Because this is so, more than one interpretation can explain the same text — just like Kuhn’s paradigm argument.

    In this sense both empiricism and hermeneutics stand to gain from the disconnection of data/words from the underlying truths to which they point. Meanings are in the texts, but texts are also embedded in meaningful frameworks. There may be an unlimited number of frameworks that can make sense of the same text.

    I have to stop here, but I find this line of thinking potentially very fruitful. I’d thought of science this way before, but not hermeneutics. Maybe after lunch I can think about this more. But what are the implications of “text paradims” to God’s richness and multiplicity of meaning?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 21 April 2007 @ 11:55 am

  13. The link between text and meaning starts in an author’s mind and then becomes tenuous as readers try to impose their understanding. It’s difficult to think of text as data even analogously and I think we still haven’t started factoring in the later Wittgenstein’s contributions.

    Whatever be the process of finding meanings in texts, the link between signifier and signified is both shaky and crucial.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 21 April 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  14. Sam –

    Okay, how about this. Here’s the next sentence in a book I’m reading: One of the outstanding characteristics of transference reactions is their repetitiousness, their resistance to change, their tenacity. Leave the word “transference” aside for the time being. You and I might not agree on precise definitions of every other word in this sentence or of the grammatical and syntactical rules by which the sentence is parsed, but I don’t doubt that we would arrive at pretty similar understandings of this sentence. I also don’t doubt that our understanding would be close to the author’s. We don’t have to assert that the words represent the concepts they point to; we only have to say that they orient us toward the same phenomena that the author wants to tell us about. That’s what language is for: to orient people toward the same things for some joint purpose — in this case, to learn something that the writer wants to explain about transference. So you could call it a functional or pragmatic understanding of language that we share. And this linguistic understanding works for the sentence as a whole and also one word at a time.

    The word “transference” is a tougher case. It’s a technical term, so unless you’re a psychoanalyst you might not know what it means. But also, the author of this book is presenting his interpretation of what transference means. One way he does this is to identify characteristics of transference: that’s what he’s doing in this particular sentence. It’s an inference of authorial intent on the part of the reader, but even if it isn’t the intent, this sentence would help the reader distinguish transference from other phenomena. If a phenomenon is fleeting, one time only, easily changed, then according to the author this phenomenon probably is not transference.

    But the meaning of “transference” — its cause, how it is identified, the role it plays in pathology, whether it’ a help or a hindrance to analysis, etc. — is uncertain and controversial within psychoanalytic circles. And in other therapeutic traditions the whole concept of transference is irrelevant; i.e., meaningless to the praxis. It might be possible for a non-analyst to understand the meaning of the word “transference,” but transference itself might not have a meaningful role within that therapist’s praxis.

    So I’m saying that, at the level parsing a grammatically correct sentence and making sense of it, words act like data, pointing to a specifically selected set of things in the world that are relevant to the topic and purpose at hand. We can understand the sentence because we understand how the words point to the world. E.g., we understand that something is “repetitious” if it recurs with some frequency. Aggregate it one level up: the author contends that any instance of this phenomenon called “transference” would be high in repetitiveness.

    Presumably there are other sentences that further characterize transference as the writer wishes to explain it. But the writer might not give a complete accounting of transference in the book, such that the reader is left with gaps in understanding. More crucially, the reader might understand the writer but might not agree with the writer’s contentions. E.g., the reader might still believe after reading the book that transference is relatively easy to change. Further, the reader might not believe that transference is even a meaningful concept in the context of his own praxis of psychotherapy. So the sentence is meaningful, it conveys the author’s intent to the reader, but the sentence doesn’t fit within the reader’s larger interpretive framework as a therapist. There’s no way to judge whether the author or the reader is thinking about transference the “right” way. They’re embedded in different paradigms that divide up the phenomena differently, that assign meanings differently, that may use different constructs or “language games” to make sense of the world and to act purposefully in it.

    So the words of the sentence remain the same, even the meaning of the sentence as a set of signifiers pointing to signifieds remains the same. What’s different are the alternative paradigms, the larger frameworks of meaning that transcend all the sentences of the text but in which each sentence is embedded.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 21 April 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  15. It’s tough getting a novice like myself to understand.

    There are a number of ‘givens’ in communication. We are human beings and wish to communicate with other human beings. We speak a common language and assume that our readers will have enough language skill to be able to follow what we are trying to say.

    Beyongd that, whether the expressed ideas are getting across depends on a lot of uncertainty. Is there enough of a common knowledge base? Then, is the subject of enough interest? Only after this will come matters of agreement. But, agreement, as you point out, isn’t all that impotrtant as far as communication itself goes. Agreement may have a big impact on what sort of conversation takes place.

    If the author communicates clearly and if there is a commitment on the part of the reader to understand the author then this will make the process easier. Whether the reader is successful and to what extent certainly will make a difference to the level of understanding that results.

    Within the process of understanding, the reader must make an effort to rise out of her own horizon and enter the horizon that the text creates. Herein do the real problems begin! Objectivity is rarely achieved, so the meaning that the reader recreates is always suspect and has to be tentative.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 22 April 2007 @ 12:22 am

  16. Sam, I agree with everything you say here. It’s framed more or less in Gadamerian terms, and is consistent with explorations here about what a postmodern therapeutic praxis might be like. Derrida tends to push the exploration in other directions.

    Certainly my effort to frame verbal meaning in Kuhnian scientific terms takes it in yet another direction. This is an experimental undertaking, since I don’t currently have a practice to conform the ideas to. I understand that the scientific discourse is suspect both to the emerging church and the postmodern philosophers. In fact, this common mistrust of science might be the main theme bringing these two rather divergent trajectories together: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Maybe I’m just reluctant to overthrow my own training in science. On the other hand, from inside science the discourse isn’t quite as totalizing as it seems from the outside. It’s like looking at evangelical Christianity from the outside and seeing only Bible-thumping, gay-bashing evangelists.

    I’m definitely on shaky ground here myself because my philosophy background is sketchy. I suspect I’m more conservative about texts than a lot of the postmodernists — though PoMo reterritorializes the scene on an axis different from theological liberal/conservative. So we have Derrida wanting to give the text its own autonomy apart from the spoken word without regard for authorial, which is consistent with how conservative Protestants historically have read the Bible. Of course there are other ways in which Derrida differs radically. That’s why the emerging church tends to choose what they like about Derrida while ignoring the rest.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 April 2007 @ 11:06 am

  17. One reason for science being considered ‘suspect’ is that science is applied mathematics. Mathematics is based on axiomatic definitions and logic. Conclusions are therefore only as good as the axioms on which they are based and on how rigorously logic has been applied.

    This then makes any scientific construct basically a mental exercise. But science wishes to apply mathematics to physical phenomena and calls the results objective.

    A different aspect that is paid scant attention to, but that Kuhn picked up on, is the idea of ‘data’. Who decides what constitutes data, and what doesn’t? Kuhn’s appraoch was a sort of deconstruction and perhaps that’s a part of the reason for his work not being more generally known. I think Humes’ own questions were never satisfactorily answered, so the chances of Kuhn being taken seriously are next to nil.

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    Comment by ponnvandu — 22 April 2007 @ 6:34 pm

  18. Empiricism is partly about collecting data, but it’s also about what the data mean. That’s where Kuhn is helpful: he makes it clear that the data don’t interpret themselves, that a theory is a mental construct rather than a direct induction from the data. I don’t think empiricism needs to hold specific doctrine about whether data are properties of the phenomena, objective descriptions of the phenomena, or the pragmatic result of purposeful human manipulation of the phenomena. The name of the game is to propose a hypothesis that accounts for the data more precisely than does the generally accepted alternative.

    It seems to me that scientific method is just a more rigorous and mathematical manifestation of how people spontaneously try to make sense of the world: observe, then try to make sense of the observation. Reading a text is another variant: read the words, then try to make sense of them. The same question applies to words as to data: are the words representations of phenomena, descriptions, or pragmatically useful abstractions? In a way it doesn’t matter. The important thing is the way in which the speaker/writer makes sense of the words by linking them together in meaningful sentences.

    “The cat is on the mat” is nearly a mathematical formula linking data points “cat” and “mat.” “The cat likes to lie on the mat” is more like an informally statd hypothesis, explaining the cat-on-mat finding in terms of the cat’s enjoyment. We can critique this hypothesis, but we understand its meaning.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 April 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  19. John, you are making a number of statements including that gestalt is right! I don’t disagree with you as far as how language functions but the fact remains that as one uses language and especially in deconstruction but really in any higher sense, the connection between signifier and signified becomes the construct of the reader, and thus becomes disconnected to a greater or larger extent from its roots in the mind of the author. In this sense Derrida is right but not entirely!

    But in actual fact extrapolation only shows that there are basic problems in our definitions and method that are not so easily swept under the carpet as most scientists do.

    Data is also ‘by definition’ and that is a basic rub. Representing that data then in support of a hypothesis only extends the uncertainty.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 23 April 2007 @ 6:24 am

  20. Science is an enterprise fraught with uncertainty, despite protestations to the constrary. Features of phenomena have to be defined so as to be amenable to quantitative manipulation; features of theories have to be operationalized so that they can be evaluated quantitatively. So data and theory are always meeting somewhere in the middle, at one remove from pure phenomena and pure thought. But this half-assed enterprise does “work”: hypotheses are tested and refined, data are interpreted and predicted.

    There may be an unbridgeable gap between scientific knowledge and Truth. Still, scientific knowledge is a way of understanding the world that’s available to us humans. And it’s possible to make progress within that distinctly human domain. It’s a procedure not that different from naive exploration of the world: use your senses to abstract features of phenomena, use your mind to make sense of the sensory input. Always there’s a meeting somewhere between self and the world.

    Signified is a feature of the world; signifier is an abstraction about that feature. The link between the two isn’t direct; it’s mediated by the observer, the speaker, the listener. Another half-assed enterprise.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 23 April 2007 @ 10:12 am

  21. There is certainly a parallel when the concepts and manipulations are high in correspondence and respond to logical manipulation. But, when thinking of stuff like horizons and ‘merging’ horizons we seem to be in a different ballgame. Figuring out where one pattern works and where it doesn’t will be a problem.

    the disconnection of data/words from the underlying truths to which they point. Meanings are in the texts, but texts are also embedded in meaningful frameworks” with data, we are supposedly seeking the laws that bind the different points together and hopefully our hypotheses will be testable and disprovable. In a similar way, what would be seeking in the text?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 23 April 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  22. This is a placeholder for further commentary — I’ve got errands to run and running to do. Reminder to self: statistics!

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    Comment by ktismatics — 23 April 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  23. Part of the horizon-merging process is to agree on what we mean by the words we say, which on an informal basis is what scientists do in defining variables in precise terms.

    What’s analogous to scientific hypotheses and laws in ordinary discourse or texts? I’ve got the Bible open to Ephesians 2 — it begins like this: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… That’s a fairly straightforward proposition — call it a hypothesis. We need to agree on terms — the signifiers and what they signify: dead, trespasses, sins. Do we agree or disagree with the hypothesis? What criteria do we use for making this evaluation? What would cause us to reconsider?

    The other thing I was going to say had to do with uncertainty. In fields like psychology you never approach deterministic laws. What you get are statistical correlations and inferences about causal direction. If your hypothesis can account for 30% of the variability in the data you’ve got a pretty robust finding. That means you’ve got another 70% left unaccounted for. The name of the game is reducing uncertainly, not eliminating it.

    In other “hard” sciences uncertainty is now part of theory, as you know — quantum mechanics and genetics being the most salient examples. So I think the deterministic and totalizing certainty of science is a holdover from the mid-19th century.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 23 April 2007 @ 7:03 pm

  24. Somehow, the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. That’s where all the fun is at in exegesis!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 23 April 2007 @ 10:54 pm

  25. Yes, but doesn’t the whole have to make sense of the parts also? That’s what systematic theology is about. It’s also the distinct challenge of trying to make all the parts of the Bible fit not just with each other but with some signified reality that exists outside the Bible. So Eph. 2:1 — you were dead in trespasses and sins: is this “dead” the same as the same as “in the day you eat of it you shall die” in Genesis 3? That’s the larger context of meaning into which the reader attempts to incorporate the individual passages.

    These texts span a thousand years of writing. Even making a systematic Pauline theology is hard, let alone trying to integrate it with Genesis. If you believe that there’s a consistent context of meaning that spans the whole thing, then your position gets closer to a scientist trying to incorporate widely divergent data sources into a comprehensive theory. There may be data that don’t fit the theory — uncertainty persists, theory-building remains open.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 April 2007 @ 3:53 am

  26. jason hesiak said (but the blog wouldn’t let him post)…

    ” so speech depends on the temporal delay between learning the language and using it” is too close to Hume for those dreaded Nemesis Hume-haters to be comfortable with, I think. This makes me curious. Although Heidegger doesn’t strike me as one who founds his thought on the notion that we can’t know external reality for what it is, or even that it is really there.

    I think what he’s saying is a bit different…like, maybe that we simply DON’T know what came before and what will come after. The past and future don’t exist (to us), but yet they converge upon us. Or…likewise…we ARE not ideas, but they become words and we speak them. I said something along such lines to my realist friend, and he, without understanding Heidegger, played the power card, and said: “You obviously don’t understand discursive reasoning.”

    Additionally, even after going through the entirety of the post…and reading: “Derrida doesn’t propose that writing take precedence over speech, that reflection dominate spontaneity. Rather, he calls for an end to the represssion of pluri-dimensional symbolic thought. All conceivable ways of thinking and communicating should be explored and encouraged to the fullest.”…I am still left wondering if Derrida’s challenge was to the primacy of the kind of “presence” found in speech, or if his real challenge was to the presence of transcendent reality itself.

    Along those lines, “being-in” doesn’t necessarily exclude the presence of eternally transcendent metaphysical truths, so far as I can figure. I think Heidegger noted this, and was therefore “unimpressed” with Arend and Gadamer…from what I’ve heard indirectly.

    :)

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 May 2007 @ 9:43 pm

  27. Jason –

    Heidegger is very interested in truth, and in procedures for identifying truth, which he characterizes as an “uncovering” operation. For Heidegger truths aren’t transcendent; they’re embedded in the world and in time. So are people, but if we work at it we can peel away the veils that block our access to the embedded, immanent truth. Heidegger isn’t a language guy; he’ll acknowledge the possibility of direct access to truth. At least that’s my understanding of him.

    I am still left wondering if Derrida’s challenge was to the primacy of the kind of “presence” found in speech, or if his real challenge was to the presence of transcendent reality itself. Yes, I think Derrida is arguing that historically presence before the mind is the way in which transcendence makes itself known. Derrida doesn’t believe this sort of presence is attainable, so if there is transcendence it can’t be accessed by immediate awareness. I think he would, as you suggest, also take the next step and deny the possibility of transcendent knowledge.

    Whether there is a transcendent reality that’s outside of our ability to know it is probably a question that Derrida wouldn’t ask. Same with Heidegger. I don’t have the quote in hand, but I remember him writing something to that effect. If there’s eternal human life we can’t know anything about it, so we should act as if being-in-the-world is all there is. Gadamer followed Heidegger’s trajectory in developing a hermeneutic embedded in time and place; I wasn’t aware that he accepted transcendent truths.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 May 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  28. From the indirect source I read…that person made it sound as if Heidegger was simply aware that his philosophy did not EXCLUDE the transcendent…that just because we are contextualized, in terms of how and what we know…that does not mean that the transcendent is NOT present in that. But when I read where that person said that, my very next thought (without knowing Heidegger or Derrida so well) was exactly as you said: “Whether there is a transcendent reality that’s outside of our ability to know it is probably a question that Derrida wouldn’t ask. Same with Heidegger.” Rather, my I asked myself if Heidegger and Derrida WOULD ask or not; since I didnt’ know for myself.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 15 May 2007 @ 11:06 pm

  29. I was thinking about this a bit more, and…

    I remembered that I had heard a number of times that for Derrida, a referrent, as well as a system of referrents, is “closed.” I think…or maybe just the system, I don’t remember.

    Anyway, the point is, I can see how that essentially says the same thing as the assertion of a structured unconscious, particularly one structured by a system into which one is immersed from birth.

    I can also see, then, how such a “closing” is related to Derrida’s assertion/assumption (?) of a lack of trascendent meaning in (or beyond) the system (so far as he is concerned). I am still wondering, though, where the line is between his asserting and assuming (or whatever) the absence of transcendent meaning for language.

    I mean, as soon as the system is opened, it is opened to at least the possibility for transcendence. Once it is opened, too, it is aknowldeded to be incomplete. Once incomplete, relying on something outside itself. Derrida seemed to have something to say about that: “There’s nothing outside the text.”

    I used to think, “Maybe he was saying: there’s nothing so far outside the text that you can get outside the text to read from such a position.” In other words, I used to think: “Maybe he was saying that you can’t know what’s beyond the system, and its in that sense that its closed.”

    Talking to you, however, he didn’t really give a hoot about all this wondering of mine, it seems. I guess for him, my system is my system, plain and simple. Which I guess is what lead folks like Badiou to seek something beyond what gets attacked as “subjective,” whether rightly understood as on its own terms or not.

    So anyway, all tha tis supposed to lead to a question. Did Heidegger take a referential system to be closed, or was that more of a particularly Derrida thing? I’m guessing its more particular to Derrida, but I really don’t know…??

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 May 2007 @ 5:29 am

  30. Very interesting thoughts, Jason. I’ll do what I can…
    For Derrida and other poststructuralists, systems are closed in that they don’t point outside of themselves to some transcendent reality — “signifiers without signifieds” is the jargon. So language is a structure that’s self-contained, without referent outside of itself. So you’ve got an interesting point: the unconscious could be structured, but if it’s a closed system, then it would have no pointers into the completely separate language system. Lacan thought otherwise, that the unconscious is structured like a language. And Derrida famously says that there is nothing outside the text, which implies that he regards all human experiencs as linguistically structured. But I don’t know why structure can’t be physical, or neural, or some other way.
    “Nothing outside the text” means there’s no transcendent truth, but it also means there’s no direct contact with material reality either. We’re always in this mid-level “being-in” realm of Heidegger’s. So yes, I think Heidegger asserted a closed system too, though I think he believed it was possible within this closed system to uncover immanent truths within the world that weren’t just components of language. He couldn’t discover the true essence of a thing or its transcendent meaning, but he could discover its truth in the human sociohistoric context.
    A system with openings either “above” or “below” could still be a complete system; e.g., if every word in a language had a corresponding pure Idea or material prototype associated with that word. This kind of open but complete system is seen in the correspondence theory of truth and the representational theory of language.
    If language is closed, it nearly implies that it had to have come out of nowhere, kind of suspended above material reality, as if it’s an eternally immanent medium we just happen to be immersed in. Badiou and Deleuze are going to look for a way in which these structures “bubble up” out of more primitive sources of differentiation like the Void (Badiou) or the “body without organs” (Deleuze). The source of differentiation then differentiates itself in structured things like ideas and egos and social systems. So these structures emerge from “underneath,” from unstructured virtual difference. Or at least that’s my understanding so far.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 16 May 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  31. “But I don’t know why structure can’t be physical, or neural, or some other way.” — McLuhan! :)

    The following reminds me of Aristotle/Aquinas, as per all the stuff I’ve been talking to T.G. about lately: “though I think he believed it was possible within this closed system to uncover immanent truths within the world that weren’t just components of language…”

    I’ll probably come back to this. Those were first reactions. Thanks. That was very helpful on Heidegger, I think. And Deleuze and Badiou, too. If the medium is eternally immanent in which we are immersed…maybe Derrida was your Greek/Babylonian interpreter of Jewish “reality” :)

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 May 2007 @ 4:35 pm

  32. There’s a kink in my chain. I think everything you said, as well as my reactions, point to my kink. It is Hume. Was Hume influential on or foundational to Derrida’s thought. What you said, above, seems to indicate “foundational to.” If so, then where did Derrida depart from Hume, or sacrafice him, or whatever?

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 May 2007 @ 5:06 pm

  33. I’m not sure about the Hume-Derrida connection. You mean in the sense that for both of them language is more a social convention than a way of representing things or ideas and skepticism about having direct knowledge of anything? I suppose the same could be said for a lot of the structuralists, and maybe they trace their ideas back to Hume, or whether they got there by another route, I don’t really know.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 16 May 2007 @ 7:48 pm

  34. “You mean in the sense that for both of them language is more a social convention than a way of representing things or ideas and skepticism about having direct knowledge of anything?” Yeah, that’s what I mean.

    I mean, even for Aquinas, the human intellect didn’t have DIRECT and unmediated knowledge of external “singulars,” but only of conceptual, abstracted, and intellectual “universals.” Thomisticguy shared the following neato stuff with me from Aquinas:

    “ST I, Q. 86, Article 1. Whether our intellect knows singulars?…I answer that, Our intellect cannot know the singular in material things directly and primarily. The reason of this is that the principle of singularity in material things is individual matter, whereas our intellect, as have said above (85, 1), understands by abstracting the intelligible species from such matter. Now what is abstracted from individual matter is the universal. Hence our intellect knows directly the universal only. But indirectly, and as it were by a kind of reflection, it can know the singular, because, as we have said above (85, 7), even after abstracting the intelligible species, the intellect, in order to understand, needs to turn to the phantasms (sense data) in which it understands the species, as is said De Anima iii, 7. Therefore it understands the universal directly through the intelligible species, and indirectly the singular represented by the phantasm. And thus it forms the proposition ‘Socrates is a man.'”

    Interesting how the “reflection” thing here from Aquinas (“But indirectly, and as it were by a kind of reflection, it can know the singular”) is a middle point between VERY old mystical “axe” analogies and contemporary child psychology as discussed in your “The Specular Image and the Social Self” post. Anyway…

    Then after Descartes upended everything, Hume, taking Descartes’ basic assumptions about uncertainty about the existence of external…and even internal…realities…then took a bit of a differnet direction from Descartes. Hume, as you seemed to note, didn’t take there to be any necessary or foundational connection between the external object of sense data and the internal object of intellectual apprehension. I think that later – with Hume or not I don’t know – lead to “innate experience” as the founding basis for identification with self and world.

    So anyway…I’ve heard that Derrid was influenced by Hume. That makes sense, based on what you said. “‘[S]ignifiers without signifieds’ is the jargon. So language is a structure that’s self-contained, without referent outside of itself.” This sounds to me like the Hume who I have not directly read, but who I’ve heard influenced Derrida.

    BTW I’m assuming I didn’t just say anythning you don’t already know. I’m just trying to get on the same page.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 16 May 2007 @ 8:47 pm

  35. “I think that later – with Hume or not I don’t know – lead to ‘innate experience’ as the founding basis for identification with self and world.”…whereas Descartes became the father of the modern rationalists with his “I think, therefore I am”…I suppose is how all that stuff interrelates…

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 16 May 2007 @ 8:49 pm

  36. Jason –

    Really, I don’t know about Hume and innate experience. I thought he was more agnostic about what can be known outside of sense experience and associations. Whether this level of knowledge reflects anything true about the world remains a mystery. For Kant there’s an innate knowledge of categories and such that supplements and makes sense of the sensory input, but I don’t think Hume takes that step. Descartes’ cogito doesn’t rely on sensory experience at all, which would put him at odds with Hume I would suppose. For Hume, since there’s neither direct sensory experience of structure nor metaphysical knowledge of structure through thought or innate ideas, then the sensory input must acquire structured meaning through social convention. I suppose, then, that of these three — Descartes, Hume, Kant — Hume is the closest to the structuralists and Derrida.

    Aquinas is more of a Greek. Experience opens a window onto ideal truths, that make themselves felt through external singulars, or transitory specific stuff in the world. Only the transcendent is known, and it’s known via participation or metaphor with what can be experienced, but experience in and of itself conveys no knowledge. So there’s direct revelation of absolutes, but only indirect inferential knowledge of sensorially apprehended material stuff.

    Does all that fit with your thoughts and understanding?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 16 May 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  37. Yeah, that fits. Question…I’ve heard you talk about this before, I think…where did the whole “innate experince” thing come from, specifically? Whoever it was, they were influenced by Hume, right?

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 17 May 2007 @ 6:33 am

  38. Here’s a few excerpts from this thumbnail categorization of various theories of knowledge:

    Rationalism — innate ideas and a priori knowledge (Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza). We are born with ideas that are innate (inborn), like maths. (as shown by the dialogue with Meno) Ideas can appear regardless of experience. Criticism of this includes: how can you distinguish learning from remembering. Most ideas rely on the real world to bring them out, eg. how can a child know the angles inside a triangle add up to 180, without knowing the name of the shape. Also, if mathematical ideas were innate, we would already know the answer to complex sums. If “God exists” is innate, why doesn’t everyone believe that.

    Empiricism — experiential and a posteriori knowledge. (Locke, Berkeley) Hume: He was a sceptical empiricist, who disagreed with innate ideas. He said there are two forks of knowledge: (1) Relations of ideas: a priori (2) Matters of fact: eg. The sun will rise tmw- it might not. Ideas are weaker versions of sense impression- The idea of the sun isn’t as vivid as looking. Nothing in the mind can first exist without being experienced, or formed through combinations of other experience. Causation: Hume said that all knowledge of cause and effect comes from habit. The more experienced, the more certain.

    “Innate experience” is somewhere in between rationalism and empiricism. Somebody like Kant comes to mind: people have innate structures in the mind that enable them to acquire knowledge via experience.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 17 May 2007 @ 9:56 am

  39. I’d say I’m more with Kant, except Kant’s “I” was quite different from that of Aquinas. And Kant got his “I” from Descartes, basically. At least, Kant’s “I” wouldn’t be around if not for Descartes. And I believe in a foundation, but I’m not necessarily tied to its being about metaphysical ideals. There are Psalms that praise the honor and justice of the king, probably written at the time of a “bad king.” Reminds me of St. Chapelle in Paris (across the St. from Notre Dame), built for a prince and filled to the brim with reminders of ultimate judgement. This reminds me of Heidegger’s alethia and your “virtual realtiy” idea in a later post, which I read during lunch. Such Psalms do not remind me of modern Idealism. Justice becomes “foundational,” but not belonging to the “foundationalism” that we now know…

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 18 May 2007 @ 12:23 am

  40. I ought to read at least some of Kant some day. I agree that people like Kant followed Descartes in moving further along anthropocentric lines. Descartes ends up being named the father of a man-centered rationality even though he thought of himself as a Christian apologist. This same thing happened to Origen in the middle ages: his ideas opened a trajectory for subsequent generations eventually to deny the divinity of Christ. One of the Church Councils excommunicated Origen about 3 centuries after his death because they held him responsible for how people later distorted his position.

    There are some hardcore evolutionists who are kind of Kantian, perhaps most notably Noam Chomsky. Before he became a radical political activist, Chomsky became famous as the father of modern psycholinguistics. He believes that through a “punctuated equilibrium” — an abrupt jump — in the evolutionary tree, man all of a sudden got equipped with a brain that was specifically suited to handle complex linguistic structure.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 18 May 2007 @ 8:11 am

  41. “I agree that people like Kant followed Descartes in moving further along anthropocentric lines. Descartes ends up being named the father of a man-centered rationality even though he thought of himself as a Christian apologist.” Well, I won’t deny the truth of what you’ve said here, but that my “I” is man centered isn’t so much my problem. I am a man, but at the same time, “Not my will Father, but yours be done.” To me that’s a bit of a separate issue.

    To me the issue is that Kant’s “I” was a “transcendental ego.” That whole “unified, free standing autonomous self” issue. THAT, to me, is the issue. In fact, then, to me the issue is that man becomes less man-like. And Katn’s un-manned man would not be if not for Descartes.

    Regarding Chompsky…interestingly I was reading “Powers and Prospects” some time back, and the says that he can’t nor could ever figure out what on earth those pesky postmodernists were saying. I didn’t really understand what he meant. But now I do (I think); Chomsky wasn’t jiving with the idea of an “unconscious” that is pre-structured like language. I just put those puzzle pieces together yesterday afternoon, through our conversation.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 18 May 2007 @ 6:28 pm

  42. BTW…way back when…you wrote: “If there’s eternal human life we can’t know anything about it, so we should act as if being-in-the-world is all there is. Gadamer followed Heidegger’s trajectory in developing a hermeneutic embedded in time and place; I wasn’t aware that he accepted transcendent truths.”

    This was in response to my own: “Along those lines, ‘being-in’ doesn’t necessarily exclude the presence of eternally transcendent metaphysical truths, so far as I can figure. I think Heidegger noted this, and was therefore ‘unimpressed’ with Arend and Gadamer…from what I’ve heard indirectly.”

    I was actually referencing Heidegger’s annoyance that Gadamer and Arendt totally ignored transcendent metaphyscial truth. I wasn’t saying that Gadamer asserted the presence of transcendent truths. For clarification. Again, though, that was just something I heard indirectly that Heidegger had said and/or expressed.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 18 May 2007 @ 9:50 pm

  43. Jason –

    I agree that when Kant invents the transcendent ego he dehumanizes man. I suspect you’re right also about Chomsky. Chomsky wants well-formed sentences that make propositional sense. A lot of the pomos violate these linguistic directives, and I think it’s because they’re following the dadaist-surrealist-lacanian precedent of giving voice to the unconscious without overstructuring or overanalyzing it. Sometimes you really do produce nonsense that way, but it’s a risk you take with creativity. Even Jackson Pollock used post-painterly selection to get rid of his crappy paintings.

    The Heidegger-Gadamer-Arendt dispute I don’t know anything about, but it sounds right. Heidegger got very poetic after his first big book, seeing poetry as the closest expression of uncovered truth, the closest Da-sein gets to transcendence.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 18 May 2007 @ 10:42 pm

  44. Speaking of facists, Arendt’s problem with Heidegger, ironically was his lack of thought. Hah! Heidegger’s lack of thought! The funny thing is, she had a point! I’m thinking of her “the banality of evil.” Through “thinking” Heidegger “uncovers” some truth, and Arendt lambasts him for being mean to her back when they were “doin’ it,” presumably on the basis of the “facist” male supremecy that he’d “uncovered.”

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 19 May 2007 @ 12:00 am

  45. Maybe she was just paranoid? Maybe Heidegger was one of those fascists who compulsively uncover conspiracies while leading secret lives of their own. There’s something fascistic about superhero comics in this regard.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 19 May 2007 @ 4:20 pm

  46. So was Neitche a facist, or was Neitche offering a freedom for expression of that mystical inner will-to-power that lives in the depths prior to being territorialized?

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 20 May 2007 @ 5:22 am

  47. Jason –

    That’s a great question. Nietzsche was both I think. For Nietzsche will to power is the primal motivator that bubbles up in each one of us. It’s the source of creativity yes, but it’s also the source of the tyrannical power of the strong. Power that cannot express itself in the world turns inward, creating an ego that keeps you under cultural dominance while also feeding itself through narcissism and the seeking after pleasure. This valorization of power as prime mover, even the idea of loosing the power of the people, has a definite fascistic resonance.

    So what is the source of freedom of expression? There has to be a will to force yourself and your creation into the world. But there presumably also has to be an attunement to the creative virtualities afforded by things around you and by your own competencies. That ultimately you cannot exert power over yourself to create. You can exert power to construct, to produce, to manage, to sell, but not to create. There’s something more receptive that’s required, something that requires attention that’s both diffuse and focused. Something also that requires experimentation and play rather than goals and action plans and timetables, all of which are power tools in service of creation. Or so I think.

    And I think Nietzsche agrees with all that too. He’s going to point out that things like government, law, morality, cultural norms aren’t intrinsic to human condition. They’ve been imposed on people through the disciplined exercise of power. If this sort of power can be recognized and cast aside, maybe people can be free to experiment. But I think he’s hung up sometimes on this manly will as the wellspring of creation. And he’s also aware that will seems to generate the same shitty death-dealing results over and over — the eternal return.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 20 May 2007 @ 8:11 am

  48. To reference my comment just now on “Specular Image and the Social Self,” then…is the centrality of the human will the castration of the possibility for fulfillment? I supose that’s a repition of the question, “So what is the source of freedom of expression?”

    Like

    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 21 May 2007 @ 7:45 pm

  49. Nietzsche says that will acts in accord with desires. You will something because the desire for that thing outweighs your other desires against that thing. Jonathan Edwards said more or less the same thing as an early American theologian. When God renews the inner man he redirects the desires, such that man desires to will the right things instead of the wrong things.

    In Hegel what gets castrated so that there is no fulfillment? Autonomy of self, I guess — the sense that you don’t need anyone to recognize your fullness of being. So ego gets in the way: what does it castrate? Probably it castrates whatever it is that unifies consciousness with self-consciousness. And what is that? If I knew that I wouldn’t be castrated any more. It might be freedom of expression, as you suggest: the ability to let your self speak and create without getting in your own way by trying to make yourself look good.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2007 @ 9:12 pm

  50. “In Hegel what gets castrated so that there is no fulfillment? Autonomy of self, I guess — the sense that you don’t need anyone to recognize your fullness of being. So ego gets in the way: what does it castrate? Probably it castrates whatever it is that unifies consciousness with self-consciousness. And what is that? If I knew that I wouldn’t be castrated any more.”

    I think you know my answer to this…?? In Aquinas’ epistemology, it is God who “can” (and “does”) apprehend an infinite number of “singulars” (of substance) simultaneously. I say that particularly in response to your prhase, “…whatever it is that unifies consciousness with self-consciousness…”

    I should look up Johnathan Edwards.

    :)

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 21 May 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  51. I think I like what you said, but I looked up Edwards on wikipedia during lunch, and my judgement, generally (with exceptions) was “booh.” This probably reflects a theological contradiction in my own soul. Maybe not, though. Maybe Original Justice contradicts what you said about Edwards; maybe Aquanias’ “free will” contradicts what you said that Edwards said.

    He said she said I said It said. Said It said I said she said He. The transparency of coins.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 21 May 2007 @ 11:08 pm

  52. Jason –
    Here’s nother source on Edwards. I’m less interested in his hardcore moralistic Calvinism than in his ideas about the will and the affections. A quote from the beginning of his book Freedom and the Will:

    Whether Desire and Will, and whether Preference and Volition be precisely the same things, I trust It will he allowed by all, that in every act of Will there is an act of choice; that in every volition there is a preference, or a prevailing inclination of the soul, whereby at that instant, it is not in perfect indifference, with respect to the direct object of the volition. So that in every act, or going forth of the Will; there is some preponderation of the mind, one way rather than another; and the soul had rather have or do one thing, than another, or than not to have or do that thing; and that where there is absolutely no preferring or choosing, but a perfect, continuing equilibrium, there is no volition.

    This is almost exactly the position stated by Nietzsche, he of the will to power, when he says that the conscious act of will is shaped by a balance of the various affections or desires battling it out beneath the level of conscious awareness. Some dude from Erdman’s blog turned me on to Edwards in this context.

    And I’m interested in your quote from Aquinas. What does it mean?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 May 2007 @ 6:32 am

  53. Doylomania – I’m not sure what Aquinas quote you are referring to. I think you are referring to where I said: ” In Aquinas’ epistemology, it is God who ‘can’ (and ‘does’) apprehend an infinite number of ‘singulars’ (of substance) simultaneously. I say that particularly in response to your prhase, ‘…whatever it is that unifies consciousness with self-consciousness…'”

    Background (from Aquinas):

    ST I, Q. 86, Article 1. Whether our intellect knows singulars?

    I answer that, Our intellect cannot know the singular in material things directly and primarily. The reason of this is that the principle of singularity in material things is individual matter, whereas our intellect, as have said above (85, 1), understands by abstracting the intelligible species from such matter. Now what is abstracted from individual matter is the universal. Hence our intellect knows directly the universal only. But indirectly, and as it were by a kind of reflection, it can know the singular, because, as we have said above (85, 7), even after abstracting the intelligible species, the intellect, in order to understand, needs to turn to the phantasms (sense data) in which it understands the species, as is said De Anima iii, 7. Therefore it understands the universal directly through the intelligible species, and indirectly the singular represented by the phantasm. And thus it forms the proposition “Socrates is a man.”

    ST I, Q. 16, Article 2. Whether truth resides only in the intellect composing and dividing?

    I answer that, As stated before, truth resides, in its primary aspect, in the intellect. Now since everything is true according as it has the form proper to its nature, the intellect, in so far as it is knowing, must be true, so far as it has the likeness of the thing known, this being its form, as knowing. For this reason truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing; and hence to know this conformity is to know truth. But in no way can sense know this. For although sight has the likeness of a visible thing, yet it does not know the comparison which exists between the thing seen and that which itself apprehends concerning it.

    [that was quite relevant to our “metaphysics of presence” question, since I wasn’t around in Galilee in 1st cent. AD to HEAR the speech of Jesus]

    Something Thomisticguy the Aquinasian said, in the midst of our conversation on Crosby, “sequence”, “flow” and “quanta”:

    “In God’s thinking—which encompasses all things–there is absolutely nothing that is ‘absent.’ All things are present to Him. He is the only intelligent being that can think this way because His intellect is His essence. However, angels think differently than humans. Of what they know, nothing is absent from their knowledge. All that they know is intuitively and completely available to them at all times without sequence. Unfortunately, because man is the lowest of intellectual creatures, our intellectual powers are weak. We can only think sequentially and ‘discursively.’ However, we have an infinite capacity to sequentially and discursively move back and forth between intelligible species; therefore, we can make judgments regarding potential ‘goods’ (this is the cause of free will) and can be infinitely creative (in the sense of combining abstractions that—some of which–then can be formed in ‘reality’). Consequently, a human conception of an intelligible species is not really ‘present’ as a real object but they do exist as ‘spiritual’ intelligibles. Yet, they can be the cause of a real object being formed—the artisan forming an object based upon his intellectual design.”

    How’s that? I’m going to email T.G. and find out where Aquinas talks about that stuff about angels and God and “All that they know is intuitively and completely available to them at all times without sequence.”

    Like

    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 22 May 2007 @ 6:09 pm

  54. Oh, and I’ll check out that Edwards link. Thanks.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 22 May 2007 @ 6:21 pm

  55. I emailed Thomisticguy about that stuff from Aquinas, and he responded:

    The section of the Summa that deals with the intellectual capacity of angels is ST I, Q. 54, Articles 1-5. It can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1054.htm. The section regarding God’s intellect is longer but definitely worth reading. It is found in ST I, Q. 14, Articles 1-16. I can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1014.htm

    [I haven’t read it yet, so I’ll try to sort through it myself and see how it relates to consciousness and self-consciousness]

    :)

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 22 May 2007 @ 7:51 pm

  56. Doylomania,

    From the second link, “God’s Knowledge”: “The knowledge of God is the cause of things. For the knowledge of God is to all creatures what the knowledge of the artificer is to things made by his art.”

    I figured you would find that interesting, in regard to your Genesis hermeneutical work.

    The stuff about consciousness is on there too, but I haven’t read it yet. I doubt Aquinas speaks of it in those terms, though.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 22 May 2007 @ 8:33 pm

  57. Interesting Aquinas stuff. Clearly Thomas is a metaphysician of presence: everything is constantly present before God. Universals are more godlike, so they’re more present to human consciousness than are particulars. Still, man understands the universals through the particulars, som man’s knowledge isn’t as present as God’s, who knows the universals directly. Aristotle. As opposed to more empirical thinking, where particulars are immediate and abstractions are understood indirectly.

    truth resides, in its primary aspect, in the intellect. Now since everything is true according as it has the form proper to its nature, the intellect, in so far as it is knowing, must be true, so far as it has the likeness of the thing known, this being its form, as knowing. For this reason truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing; and hence to know this conformity is to know truth. But in no way can sense know this. Truth is communion between human thought and the form of the thing known, rather than apprehended through the sensory impressions of the substance of the thing. Idealism, rationalism.

    So man’s creativity is achieved by combining abstractions in “reality.” This is interesting: artifacts are material particulars assembled out of realized abstract properties. Maybe so.

    Strange to think about a theory of angel cognition.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 22 May 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  58. “…everything is constantly present before God.” That floors me.

    As for rationalism and empiricism, I feel like Aquinas was a good reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle. And yet, at the same time, I feel like Plato and Aristotle weren’t even ever as separate in the first place as they were when came modernity…after Aquinas. What sayest thou?

    I mean, I wasn’t intending to speak to Aquinas himself when I wrote “Irony and Alethia.” As you said, for Aqunas, “everything is constantly present before God.” I mean,

    I think McLuhan was trying to translate the ancient Aquinas for us “conceptualist” moderns when he said: “I am myself quite aware that there is a great contrast between perceptual and conceptual confrontation; and I think that the ‘death of Christianity’ or the ‘death of God’ occurs the moment they become concept. As long as they remain precept, directly involving the perciever [through the mediums of the chruch, scriptures, dogmas, creeds, ect.], they are alive…The revelation is of the thing, not theory. And where revelation reveals actual thing-ness you are not dealing with concept. The thing-ness revealed in Christianity has alwasy been scandal to the conceptualist: it has alwasy been incredible…Theology is one of the ‘games people play,’ in the sense of its theorizing. But using diret precept and direct involvement with the actuality of the revealed thing – there need be no theology in the ordinary sense of the word…There has always been a great clash between works adn concepts in religion. I think that theology can become a work, perhaps a part of the opus dei, part of the prayerful contemplation of God. Insofar as theology is contemplation and prayer it is part of the contemplation of the thingness and the mysteries…Theology should ideally be a study of the thingness, the nature of God, since it is a form of contemplation…” (from The Medium and Light, p. 81-83).

    You said: “So man’s creativity is achieved by combining abstractions in “reality.” This is interesting: artifacts are material particulars assembled out of realized abstract properties. Maybe so.” How would you say this does and does not relate to your thoughts on man’s “creativity?”

    “Strange to think about a theory of angel cognition.” See my “Specular Image and the Social Self” comment, just now. To me its like part of coming to a realization of who I am and how I fit in the interweavings of the cosmos.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 23 May 2007 @ 7:18 pm

  59. I agree: Aristotle was more like a disciple of Plato who introduced some distinctives of his own. Similarly, Aquinas was kind of a Christianized disciple of the Muslim Averroes and the Jew Maimonedes, both of whom built philosophical systems based explicitly on the newly-rediscovered works of Aristotle.

    Assembling particular artifacts out of realized abstract properties — this is the long trajectory that Deleuze continues. Instead of abstractions Deleuze talks about desires and virtual realities, but these speculations are in line with Plato and Aquinas and others who have also tried to understand man as artificer. I personally think that abstract properties too are human constructs — which is in keeping with your McLuhan quote. So somehow man has to infer/create the abstractions by contemplating the particulars, then see how those abstractions can be transformed into different particulars. That I think is a pretty good characterization of human creation.

    Aquinas’s speculations on angel cognition must be entirely that — pure theorizing about what some sort of being intermediate between God and man would be like. Whether he’s right or not, Aquinas’s brief characterization of human capabilities seems good and high-minded.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 23 May 2007 @ 11:44 pm

  60. “good and high-minded”…is that good or bad? Like, Paul’s exhortation to think on all things good and excellent. Or, like…fascist?

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 24 May 2007 @ 7:57 am

  61. I meant the good way (winky smiley).

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 May 2007 @ 10:11 am

  62. Sweet.

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    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 24 May 2007 @ 6:35 pm


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