the logic of three kinds

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Archive for the ‘Impossible’ Category

Truth and Boredom with Martin Heidegger

Posted by achresis on December 29, 2009

“Do things ultimately stand in such a way that a profound boredom draws back and forth like a silent fog in the abysses of Dasein?” (Martin Heidegger)

The Germans say Langeweile and in it you can hear a word that strangely is missing from the English language: long-while.  The French say ennui. The English will say this too when boredom doesn’t quite cut it.  In it you can hear a word that is not missing from the English language: annoying.  But imagine that we had that missing word: the book I’m reading is so longwhiling; I think I might not finish it. 

And so while attempting to ward off boredom we might get a sense of what kind of state it is.  (Here I will refer to Martin Heidegger’s lecture course of 1929-30.  The reference is below.)  We drive boredom away with constant activities but it can always return.  Heidegger thinks that we “constantly cause it to fall asleep.”  While we are awake we want our boredom with things to fall asleep.  We should laugh here I think.  We usually say of something boring that it provokes sleep.  This book is so boring I keep falling asleep.  It’s more like we want boredom to fall asleep.  

What happens?  Something boring provokes boredom in us.  Boredom is both objective (the boring object) and subjective (the boredom we feel when attuned to it).  It is this that prompted Heidegger to notice that “boredom is a hybrid, partly objective, partly subjective.”  We can “become bored by” something, but we also experience this as “being bored with” it.  He also noted that it essentially has to do with the experience of time passing (in German this is already quite obvious).  Time seems to drag while we are bored.

This is what we try to drive away: the passing of time.  Have we forgotten how to feel as a loss the way time can pass slowly, achingly slow?  Why can we not bear this? 

I propose later to follow Heidegger in a simple analysis of the so called three forms of boredom: his claim to truth in the third kind (Grundlangeweile).  But this might take a long while.  It could be, then, not only that truth is boring but, more to the point, in boredom lies the truth.      

(Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude.  Trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).

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Three Kinds of Forgetting: the Truth of Memory

Posted by achresis on May 14, 2009

Forgetting One: Memories are regarded as the received and recorded contents of perception. [A figure enters in a way that is recognizable for this is not the first time: I don’t quite remember the first time for my memory is of her entering and leaving and entering …].   The psyche stores these in the hypermedia archive of the brain.  Access all users?  No.  Forgetting would be the loss of something that has been added.  Something added is buried too deep, taken away, or otherwise lost.

Forgetting Two: But science tells us that memory cannot truly be regarded as an operation prior to forgetting.  Memory is rather regarded as a kind of reserve in which something recorded is simultaneously something else lost.  The forgetting is part and parcel of the remembering.  [The figure who enters forms a shadow within which … I cannot quite make this out …].  One rembers nothing without the positive action of a simultaneous forgetting.  With forgetting two there can be no pure memory ever.

Forgetting Three: Forgetting without reference to anything remembered at all; without reference to anything ever to be remembered: forgetting a priori. [As the figure comes and goes and as its shadow obscures my perceptions I nonetheless glimpse an absolute nothing that my memories and forgettings struggle yet fail to fill].  A priori forgetting forms the functional blind spot constitutive of my subjective experience but beyond all experience whatsoever.  

Memories attached to forgetting one could not have occurred it seems without the a priori function of forgetting three, a fact that tips forgetting one already into forgetting two.  So once again there can be no pure memory.  But forgetting three reserves from the destructive ambiguity of forgetting two the ideal proposed by forgetting one.  No pure memory, no, we need no logic come from the Styx to tell us this.  But pure forgetting, yes … welcome, little one, into our home.         

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Posted by achresis on March 15, 2008


Edmund Husserl

“For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams” (EAP).

Is it still the case, as Kristeva once put it, that “the theory of meaning now stands at a crossroads”?  The choice she gave (in a thoroughly contemporary terminology) was between regarding meaning in a Cartesian/Husserlian way as “the act of a transcendental ego, cut off from its body, its unconscious, and also its history”; or on the contrary as regarding it from the point of view of “The Freudian revolution,” according to which the speaking subject is divided between, on the one hand, unconscious drives (the biophysiological processes) and, on the other hand, social constraints (the institutions and economics of a history).   Science would henceforth, if choosing the second road rather than the first, be simultaneously physical and social. 

It’s odd that the project to establish a transcendental subject should find itself on the road less taken along with the several loose forms of humanism that would otherwise have resented and resisted sternly the encroachments of any science into the literary terrain.  Is it still the case that the theory of meaning stands at this crossroads?  Beneath the act there may lie–as Chomsky, the chief Cartesian in Kristeva’s characterisation of generative linguistics would insist–the innate competence without which such acts would be impossible.  Is there no shared ground between the two roads?


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Posted by achresis on November 20, 2007

And what if the truth was impossible to live by?  That’s not to say that there is no truth.  To the contrary.  One can know the truth and still not be able to accept it.  What if we lived on one level in some kind of permanent denial of what on some other level we knew was true?  That we live only in that denial, that refusal to accept the truth?  The most complete and available form for that denial would be the internet.  Achresis lives only while some other actual entity dies.  Why do people spend so much of their time in the environment that simply swallows it to no end?     

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Truth and Opinion (Everett Piper and the Liar)

Posted by achresis on October 4, 2007

One must contest the arguments of others with arguments that at least aim to better those of the opponent.  Perhaps.  But when an argument is constructed almost entirely of what in the field of rhetoric is the equivalent of sleight-of-hand, a conjuring trick pulled off while the audience is looking elsewhere, we are no longer in the domain of mere argument.  We are now in the domain of rhetoric (not of course to suggest they can be absolutely distinguished, as we’ll see).

It is not sufficient, however, to merely expose the rhetorical sleight of hand.  One must, as Socrates shows, counter the rhetoric with more argument.   So returning to the article I noted last time (and mocked no doubt too hastily),  that of Everett Piper, it might be worth trying to distinguish argument from rhetoric–even if with a constant certainty one must acknowledge at length that there can be no such distinction. [Everett Piper’s “A Degree in Opinions“] 

First, and candidly, my argument with Everett Piper concerns his minor premise: [I sum it up] higher education in the humanities, in so far as it is represented by the works of Rorty, Foucault and Derrida (for instance), teaches opinions and not truth. 

My main focus, for reasons of space, will be on Derrida, whose writings very consistently are deeply concerned with teaching.  But as has been pointed out (correctly) this is only Piper’s minor premise.  The sleight-of-hand occurs with the rather abrupt shift from the comments on Derrida etc. to what is posited as an alternative.  Piper puts no argument of his own in place to oppose those he claims are absurd.  Rather he evokes arguments found in Augustine and Martin Luther King.  We need to be aware of this rhetorical staging.  It is theatrical.  On one side we have Derrida, Rorty and Foucault.   On the other Martin Luther King and Augustine.  “Who,” he asks, “would you rather believe?”  The appeal is not an appeal to any kind of “objective” truth but to the classical standard of the truth of divine law: its authority, its revelation.  So the minor premise is that children (the implication–our children) are being taught that there is no truth, only opinion.  The major premise emerges with the postulation of tuth as divine law.    

We need to quote in the interests of accuracy.  This is Piper:

Opinions can be dangerous, self-centered and cruel. They indeed are used to justify all kinds of unjust things. Only that which rises above the selfish constructs of the human mind can set the stage for freedom and dignity, liberty and justice. King knew that revelatory truth, i.e. God’s law, was the only solid foundation for human value, civil rights, justice, freedom, and racial liberation. He also understood very well that man’s opinion is inevitably clouded with sin and thus, sets the stage for the powerful to construct systems of oppression over the powerless.

Note the two “stagings”: 1. “setting the stage” for freedom (God’s law and King) and 2. “setting the stage” for oppression (opinion and Derrida etc.).  Piper might have made these kinds of argument (I believe that he does everyday) without the mention of Derrida etc.  But here–in the rhetoric–this is the point, which emerges clearly enough when one examines the stages of Piper’s argument.

1. Absurdity can be a good teacher.

2. What is taught in Universities today is absurd.

3. The alternative is God’s law.

4. Therefore what we learn in Universities today is that it might be better to follow God’s law rather than the lawless absurdities of contemporary philosophy.

The argument rests on several deceptively complex and sometimes questionable assumptions.

1. That e.g., Derrida teaches no truth only opinion.

2. That in teaching this Derrida follows no law.

3. We need a law because opinions can be dangerous.

4. We need such a law because otherwise there’d be no chance for human values, justice, freedom, racial liberation. 

There’s the sleight of hand: from truth to law (as truth is to opinion so law is to lawlessness, slavery etc ).  The argument takes the form of an anti-enlightenment revolution.  Once again reason is opposed to revelation (the medieval vs. renaissance debates that we study in university are replayed here as a kind of postmodern comic: the reformation for beginners or something, but I mustn’t mock).     

The theatricality of this textual scene should not be forgotten.

But: Derrida first of all is concerned with a notion of truth that is more powerful than either the authority of the divine law before law or the straw man postmodernism represented as a kind of cultural relativity, of truth-as-construct.  And second, his texts teach the principle of a law before law–a law of the law–that is at least as powerful as the divine law posited by Paul and Augustine (for instance) after Cicero, Plato and Aristotle.  I will state it simply: Derrida’s law is derived from his readings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Paul, Augustine, Montaigne, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud and many, many others, all of whom teach some kind of law before law (whether they always acknowledge this or not) and some kind of truth before truth.  Derrida (and this is not much understood I think) does not teach the destruction of these arguments about law and truth and language.  He teaches their reinscription.  The law before law is that of the repeatable, which explains partly why Piper’s evocation of law is repeated so often throughout 2500 years of history at least.  A law of repetition–its force–its repeat-ability–cannot any more than divine, revealed law be represented.  But we do at least live amongst its effects everyday, all the time, every time we write or speak or think.  And so these effects can indeed be mobilised (the common word for this today is deconstruction).  And, so much more to the point, it does not itself remain unaffected by the law it describes.  We repeat.  And in the difference between repetitions we have our circumscribed freedoms: to apply our citations, our laws, our arguments, otherwise.  (So neither absolute law nor absolute construct, but both at the same time in their tireless incompatibility: repetition of and difference in the same).  Piper’s text itself is free with such freedoms.  What we are interested in is the margin circumscribed by the difference between repetitions of the same.  Simply stated!  We’d need to read quite carefully, but this is not a matter of opinion. 

Piper’s argument would indeed be threatened by Derrida’s texts in Piper’s very evocation of the authority of divine law in the teachings of the great fathers.  Had he really read Derrida’s texts.  But one should ask: did these writers actually say that?  The subtle space between truth and interpretation is what all of this is about of course.  But only by reading them will we ever know.  Derrida’s law, Derrida’s truth: these are of reading and of writing first. 

Piper’s argument depends for its force upon the postmodernism he describes.  He absolutely needs the cultural relativity thesis (men are by nature sinful, polysemic, equivocal, liars) in order to oppose it to the divine authority thesis (God never lies and divine language is univocal).  But these two apparently opposed positions, in his short essay, are the same.  There is no difference between the two: yet they require each other.  God never lies (as Paul says in the letter to Titus in Crete).  But Cretans always lie (he asserts).  But so also says the cretan: I am lying. 


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The vacancy of the face-to-face

Posted by achresis on January 22, 2007


When I look out of my window onto the square I might say I see men but then I would be deceived by my ordinary language.  For what I see might just as well be automatons masked by hats and cloaks.  I do not see men but judge what I see to be men. 

The best of painters then is restricted to mere imagination.  One can only combine–the sublime composition, the wild history inscribed in figures and faces–the painter’s extravagance no greater than that of the dreamer or the mad.  One thus sees but an image reflected as in a concave glass, darkly; until–out in the street, only there–can one be sure of the vacancy of the face to face.

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Metaphysics, Motor-Racing and the Endless Rain

Posted by achresis on August 13, 2006

What ultimately can one make of the philosopher?  Bringing philosophy to an end by starting it anew, the familiar circle, broken down via the break-through (if it keeps on raining the levee’s gonna break anyway).  What ultimately can one make?  The dissolution of the grounding plan by positivist, empiricist, formalist trends and the institutionalisation and professionalisation of the academy–why should we mourn metaphysics?  What ultimately can one … ?  But metaphysics only fails where it fails to mourn its own passing, as it passes itself by (and so is always in the points if not on the podium).

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A New Vocabulary

Posted by achresis on June 9, 2006

Things change so fast, it has too often been remarked, that it seems as if we must constantly be inventing new vocabularies to deal with the new conditions.  However, what does not change is this persistent need, this constant sense that things have changed, that our old languages and old words no longer can be expected to fulfil their tasks of expression and description.  Nothing is older than repetition, of course.  But nothing under the sun is newer or more original than repetition either.  I propose a new vocabulary of old words, an old vocabulary of words whose significance has not yet been fulfilled, and here I shall attempt to develop it: dawn, impossible, tree, window, dream, old words whose active future has not yet been touched upon, let alone exhausted. 

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The Urban Imperative

Posted by achresis on June 9, 2006

It is not possible to date the onset nor to fully chart the emergence of modern urbanism–and anyway the desire to do so would not be separable from it. The sense of "not wanting to hear about it" through thin walls would be a cipher to this emergence. And the two sides of the sentence, divided by a syntax that remains impossibly obscure, never quite meet up: "I don't want to hear about it." While talking about not wanting to hear about it I can't help speaking about it, the thing itself, the neighbours I don't know, and who don't know me, but who talk about me, it, anyway.

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Aristotle’s Ethics

Posted by achresis on May 24, 2006

It was always going to be about tying it all together somehow: the Brian Auger record that is currently playing, wife and cat sleeping next door, the colleagues, the friends, the governments of many nations and the obscure creeds that one follows, by not following, or following blindly or with nothing more at least than a quizzical and passive worry–not enough anxiety, of course, to ruffle the day to day–and there's always the internet, the endless e mail correspondence, the bogus world of doings not doings, knowings not knowings, thinkings not thinkings, photos of me, of us, of them of … nobody in particular.  It was always going to be about tying it all together somehow.  And there's always the phone.

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