Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Stokowski)

Object of Historical Study


'Basically, I have only one object of historical study, that is the threshold of modernity. Who are we, we who speak a language such that it has powers that are imposed on us in our society as well as on other societies? What is this language which can be turned against us which we can turn against ourselves? What is this incredible obsession with the passage to the universal in Western discourse? That is my historical problem.'

... Michel Foucault. (2004). 'Je suis un artificier'. In Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, entretiens. Paris: Odile Jacob, p. 95. (Interview conducted in 1975. This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

I Like You Calm As If You Were Absent

Heraclitean Spirituality

“That it cannot break time and time’s greed—that is the will’s loneliest misery.” Thus spoke Zarathustra. To try to escape this misery, according to him and his ventriloquist, Nietzsche, the will can travel one of two roads: it can fashion an eternity, with the promise of a redemption there, outside of time; or it can reconcile itself to this greed, somehow working through it, seeking a redemption here, in the midst of time. The first road is that of transcendence; the second, of immanence. When we decide for ourselves which road to travel—not only in grand moments of crisis and conversion, but also in humble moments every day of our lives—we implicitly answer the paramount question of our losing battle with time: how shall we overcome this, the will’s loneliest misery?

In my previous post, and in the lively debate that followed it, I argued that the transcendent road is a dead end: meaningful life outside of time proves to be impossible, and the longing for such a life appears immature. Now is the time, therefore, to travel the immanent road. None more than Nietzsche has shown us how to travel this road through the thickets of European intellectual history, and none more than Freud has helped individual travelers navigate its many twists and turns in their own lives. After having discussed these two recent engineers of the immanent road, we should now consider the one who first laid its foundation: Heraclitus.

He is often neglected nowadays, even though the great German philosophers of the nineteenth century recognized their debt to him. Hegel wrote that “there is no proposition of Heraclitus that I have not adopted in my logic,” and Nietzsche claimed that “the world forever needs the truth, hence the world forever needs Heraclitus.” These pioneers of immanence and others who followed them along this road would extend Heraclitean spirituality, adapting it to a secular world, where the transcendent routes have appeared to many more prohibitive than expeditious. To extend their immanent road creatively for our own age, then, we too should return to Heraclitus’s aphorisms, reconstructing above all his innovative response to time’s greed: immersion rather than escape.

***

The enigmatic book of Heraclitus survives only in tantalizing fragments, but it seems to have begun by invoking the logos: “Although this logos holds forever, men ever fail to comprehend, both before hearing it and once they have heard.” What is this logos? Already a puzzle arises: if it is something to be heard, it would seem to be speech; but since it is something we do not comprehend even before hearing it, although we should, it would seem to be something outside of speech, something in the world. This first of many puzzles is solved by the polysemy of logos, a Greek word ambiguous among dozens of English terms, including the following: “word,” “statement,” “speech,” “language,” “explanation,” “account,” “ratio,” “reason,” and “thought.” Deliberately exploiting such ambiguities whenever he invokes the logos, Heraclitus is able to mean both his own statements and the account of the world—the reason—that these statements aim to convey. Consistent with this complex meaning, the best Heraclitean aphorisms exhibit in their form the very account their content attributes to the world. This is more than literary finesse; it is the essence of his approach, without which his philosophy degenerates quickly into dogmatism and cliché. With this unity of form and content, however, he can demonstrate the identity that exists between an individual logos and the logos at work in the wider world.

As an example of this unity take the most famous of his aphorisms, the so-called river fragment. “As they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them.” Even if you do not read Greek, sound out the original, which is artful in several significant ways: Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei. First of all, as you may have noticed, before the comma it is as sibilant as an uninterrupted stream, whereas afterwards its harsher assonances signal the step’s noisy interruption of its flow. Secondly, the Greek word for “the same” could be associated with either “rivers” or “they” or both. In this particular English translation, Charles Kahn’s, it is associated with “rivers,” agreeing with the popular version of this thought: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” According to this version, you, the stepper, are assumed to be a stable thing, but the river’s waters flow so quickly that they pass by the moment you step into them. Yet the form of Heraclitus’s own aphorism encodes a far richer content. The subjects of the stepping are plural, as are the rivers into which they step, so that the subject of the interaction need be no more unified than the object. In other words, this changes the popular version to voice this alternate meaning, “the same you cannot step into the river twice.”

Whenever there is ambiguity in Heraclitus’s prose, as Kahn argues, he intends simultaneously multiple meanings. In the case of the river fragment, then, Heraclitus seems to intend instability in both subject and object together, and he does so with an aphorism that exhibits the same instability. As you step into a river, in short, both you and the waters of the river flow on, for you and the river are what you are—in a word, the same—only by this flowing. So too this aphorism, like so many others of Heraclitus, steps into our thoughts and disrupts their flow, creating new currents and eddies, new appearances of stability, even new selves. Since new selves bring fresh perspectives to old texts, furthermore, this aphorism also catalyzes new interpretations of itself. If this is right, the logos of self, aphorism, and river—or, more abstractly: thinker, thought, and world—reveals itself as identical. Here is one way of summarizing this logos, and, as we shall see later, distorting it: “By changing, it rests.”

Another way of revealing this logos, avoiding distortion by eschewing summary, follows the aphorisms on fire, which Heraclitus gives the same cosmic role as the logos itself. “The ordering, the same for all, no god nor man has made,” he wrote, “but it ever was and is and will be: fire everliving, kindled in measures and in measures going out.” The Stoics and many Heracliteans since them have taken this doctrine for a physics, believing that fire was for Heraclitus the prime substance of the cosmos, just as water and air were proposed by his immediate predecessors. But whether or not Heraclitus had a physics, he is certainly using fire as a prime example, a paradigm of the paradoxical pattern he sees everywhere. “Fire is need and satiety,” he seems to have written, and this aphorism among others has given him a reputation for flouting the hallowed principle of non-contradiction. “It is impossible,” declared Aristotle, “for the same thing both to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect.” Indeed, Aristotle goes so far as to call this “the firmest principle of all things,” claiming that if one fails to heed it—as many even in antiquity thought Heraclitus, nicknamed the Obscure, failed to do—then one cannot have any knowledge at all.

Sympathetic philosophers have thus tried to resolve the paradoxes of Heraclitus, including this one about fire. For if fire were needy and satisfied at the same time (now), with respect to the same thing (its fuel), satisfaction would both belong and not belong to it, as would neediness, and it would flout the principle of non-contradiction. The Stoics were obviously sympathetic to Heraclitus, and saved him from contradiction by making his fire—which became their prime substance, and thus their whole cosmos itself—oscillate between conflagration and extinction. At one time, according to them, the cosmic fire is satisfied and there is a holocaust; at another time, it becomes needy and is extinguished. Imagining a perpetual cosmic cycle between these extreme stages, the Stoics anticipated the doctrine of the Eternal Return some readers find in the writings of another Heraclitean, Nietzsche. But no such elaborate cosmology is necessary to save Heraclitus from contradiction; in fact, as with Nietzsche, cosmologies of any kind distract attention from the deep lessons available upon careful contemplation of something more common.

Consider the humble candle flame: even it is need and satiety (now) with respect to the same thing (its fuel). After all, if it were not satisfied–having insufficient fuel to continue burning—it would be extinguished; likewise, if it were not needy—not consuming the fuel necessary to continue burning—it would also be extinguished. Its burning thus requires it to be needy and satisfied with respect to the same thing, a contradiction, at each moment. The point is difficult to grasp, but only because it demands that we do something impossible: freeze the flame in a moment. Fire cannot be frozen in a moment, since it is, above all, a process. For fire, there is no now. More than anything else, except perhaps a river, fire draws our attention to the fact that time is not composed of moments. Ironically, Aristotle acknowledged this odd truth: time is infinitely divisible, so there are no atomic nows from which it is built, anymore than infinitely divisible space is built from atomic points. Instead, time is more like a river, into which you can step, so to speak, delimiting a now if you like , but thereby generating contradictions such as the simultaneous need and satiety of fire or the stasis of a river.

More than any other philosopher, before or since, Heraclitus affirms this nature of time, not just in his aphorisms on the world, but also in his aphorisms on the self. For the same paradox that arose for fire arises also for the self, most clearly when he declares: “I went in search of myself.” If Heraclitus is searching for himself, at a moment, he must both be himself and not be himself, since he is both the searcher and the sought. As searcher, he must be present to himself; as sought, he must be absent, lest there be no need for a search. As with fire, however, the paradox can be resolved by refusing to freeze self-inquiry in a moment. The search for self-knowledge, like the burning of fire, is a process. But this process of search discloses something amazing about the self itself: it too is a process. Indeed, if Heraclitus be believed, the self is a never-ending process, an unfinished project, an infinite identity: “You will not find out the limits of the self by going, even if you travel over every way, so deep is its logos.”

***

But why should Heraclitus be believed? Why is the logos of the self infinitely deep? Like a fire that grows with the addition of fuel, the Heraclitean self grows with the addition of knowledge. The Stoic Marcus Aurelius would later make this same analogy, twice comparing the strong self—the self that is open to the world and its obstacles, with the consequent opportunities for growth and learning—to “a bright fire that appropriates whatever you throw into it and from it produces flame and light.” By contrast, the weak self, like the weak flame, is overwhelmed by almost anything the world throws upon it. Lest it be extinguished by contact with risk, this fearful self erects barriers against the world, against even itself, thereby suffocating itself. The strong self, however, expands by this same contact, drawing additional strength that enables it to expand still farther, always exceeding itself. “To the self,” Heraclitus therefore adds, “belongs a logos that increases itself.” A human self is thus like a fire, but still more self-excessive, still more unlimited, still more infinite, because it can go in search of itself. Whereas a fire must burn fuel from without, the self finds fuel within. Seeking itself, as we have seen, it finds inside the same logos—the inexorable flow of greedy time—that it discovers outside, whether in a river, a fire, or the structure of the Heraclitean aphorisms themselves. But how shall it come to terms with this greed? In a word, by self-inquiry itself.

In self-inquiry, according to Heraclitus, there is no distinction between inside and outside; the same logos is everywhere. Wherever it finds this logos, then, the self gains self-knowledge, thereby augmenting itself by its search for itself. For there is no distinction, in the end, between finding oneself and searching for oneself: what the self finds in its search is that it is nothing more than this activity of searching. Thus spoke Heraclitus.

To make this obscure speech somewhat clearer, consider again the analogy between a self and a fire, particularly the flashing fire of lightning. “Lightning flashes”: in the reality described by this simple sentence there is not the lightning on the one hand and its flash on the other, despite the illusion created by the grammatical distinction between subject and predicate. “Grammar,” wrote Nietzsche, “is the metaphysics of the people.” In reality, the lightning just is the flash. So likewise with the self. “The self inquires”: in the reality described by this sentence there is not the self on the one hand and its self-inquiry on the other; the self just is the self-inquiry. This is a difficult activity to grasp, more difficult even than the activity of fire, and for the same reason: grasping it seems to demand that we freeze the self in a moment. Were we to do so, as it inquires into itself, we would generate the contradiction introduced above: because the self (as subject of the inquiry) investigates the self (as object of the inquiry), these two selves must be different for there to be a genuine inquiry, but they must also be identical for the self truly to inquire into itself.

Yet this beguiling contradiction disappears, as it did with fire, once we acknowledge that the self, like fire, is an activity. But what kind of activity is it? When we inquire which activity the self is, we inquire into ourselves; if the inquiry be a genuine self-inquiry, though, we find it to be this very activity of self-inquiry itself.

No wonder, then, that Heraclitus speaks also in the plural of those who step into rivers. There is no nugget of self within, no nugget that persists unchanged through time as though outside of it. Consequently, eschatologies that place selves outside of time are incoherent. Instead, the self is as impermanent as a river, as active as a fire, as embedded in greedy time as both. Unlike fires and rivers, however, the self comes to know this impermanence and activity—in the impermanent activity of self-inquiry, the inquiry that is indistinguishable from itself. In this inquiry, it encounters its own self-exceeding logos, which turns out to be the same self-exceeding logos of the world. A vibrant self—a virtuous self, if you will—is therefore one that inquires well, remaining open both to itself and the world, with minimal defenses obstructing its inquiry, ever exceeding itself in wisdom about self and world.

... Patrick Lee Miller, taken off The Immanent Frame

The Eye

Said the Eye one day, “I see beyond these valleys a mountain veiled with blue mist. Is it not beautiful?”

The Ear listened, and after listening intently awhile, said, “But where is any mountain? I do not hear it.”

Then the Hand spoke and said, “I am trying in vain to feel it or touch it, and I can find no mountain.”

And the Nose said, “There is no mountain, I cannot smell it.”

Then the Eye turned the other way, and they all began to talk together about the Eye’s strange delusion. And they said, “Something must be the matter with the Eye.”

... The Madman, Kahlil Gibran

Reading Jacques Derrida

It is with De la grammatologie - which was published in English translation as Of Grammatology in 1976 - that most anglophone readers encounter Derrida for the first time. As we have already suggested, the Grammatology is Derrida best-known work but it remains a forbidding challenge for any reader: the book's single most famous line - "there is no outside-text ['il n'y a pas de hors-texte']' - is regularly mistranslated, misquoted or simply misunderstood even today. To put it bluntly, Derrida is difficult: his philosophical style is often deeply idiosyncratic and challenges formal or argumentative norms in a way that, for new and experienced readers alike, can sometimes seem almost wilfully perverse. Yet, the main reasons why the Grammatology is, for all its fame, somewhat under-read are, in fact, quite straightforward.

First, Derrida's text arises out of a very specific intellectual climate that may well seem daunting to the modern reader. On the one hand, it presupposes a knowledge of a certain philosophical tradition (Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger). On the other hand, it engages with what in France are called the 'human sciences' (linguistics, psychoanalysis, anthropology) and the then-dominant intellectual movement called 'structuralism'.

Second, and most importantly, however, Derrida's own philosophy proceeds - in stark contrast to his reputation as a master 'theorist' who deals in grand claims - via a series of minutely detailed, almost claustrophobic, readings of texts. If we want to follow his argument in the detail it requires, it is necessary to have a close familiarity with the work of the eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss: what Derrida has to say always emerges through the received ideas, concepts and vocabulary of his host texts and it is this almost forensic submersion that gives rise to the common allegations of obscurantism. For Derrida, what has become known as 'deconstruction' is not a 'theory' in the traditional sense of a general set of rules that can be applied to particular cases, but rather something that always takes place within, and cannot be separated from, the singular texts he is reading.

As this book will make clear, however, there is another, even more important, reason why Of Grammatology poses such a challenge to new readers and this is not so much a historical context or its own unique style as its argument. It is what Derrida's book has to say - as opposed to the supposedly obscurantist way in which he says it - that is the most formidable obstacle to anyone approaching his work for the first time. Quite simply, Derrida puts into question everything - meaning, language, interpretation, authorial intention, even the idea of the book as a fixed or finite repository of meaning with a beginning and an end - that we think we know about the process of 'reading' itself. If we all tend to bring certain assumptions to the reading process about what, how and why we read - even something as basic as the idea that we read in order to find out what an author has to say to us or what a book means - what Derrida's book seeks to analyze, and place in historical context, is why we have these preconceptions in the first place" '[i]n what you call my books' he once told an interviewer, 'what is first of all put into question is the unity of the book and the unity "book" considered as a perfect totality'. The everyday or common-sense ideas we have about reading rely, whether we know it or not, on a deep rooted tradition that Derrida spends the whole of the Grammatology seeking to call into question. This is not to say that such ideas are simply wrong - an enduring misconception of Derrida's work is that he does not believe in truth, meaning or authorial intentionality at all - but they are anything but a 'natural' or 'objective' reflection of 'the way things are'. In this sense, Derrida's philosophy ultimately forces us to ask questions about what we mean by 'meaning' itself an the answers he supplies are often radically counter-intuitive.

... Derrida's Of Grammatology, Arthur Bradley

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Now No Trace Remains

I thought that in this whole world
no beloved for me remained.

Then I left myself.
Now no stranger in the world remains.

I used to see in every object a thorn
but never a rose --

the universe became a rose garden.
Not a single thorn remains.

Day and night my heart
was moaning "Ahhh!"

I don't know how it happened --
now no "Ahhh" remains.

Duality went, Unity came.
I met with the Friend in private;

The multitude left, the One came.
Only the One remains.

Religion, piety, custom, reputation --
these used to matter greatly to me.

O Niyazi -- what has happened to you?
No trace of religion now remains.

... Niyazi Misri

Kings Of Convenience

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One World Under Laughter: Yours, Mine or Ours? Part 3

Bodies Of Communities

In the preceding paragraphs, a discussion is always effected by the presence of another. The individual body is subjected to death and rebirth, both socially and politically – in order for a community to be constituted. Even in the utopian world of Bakhtin, a construction of that utopian community will still need to take place. In the Islamic world, the religious clerics are constantly creating a community within the society. What is this community?

During a roundtable discussion entitled Love and Community where Nancy Jean-Luc discussed the limitations of thinking about love on the community, he states that a “community does not have a common being, a common substance, but consists of being-in-common” (Jean-Luc 2001). He argued that a community is always a community of ‘being-with” – the “with” is characterized by “touch” which is further characterized by proximity and distance. He takes the notion of community away from a spiritual ideal to a physical concept and then examines how these communities exist together. Such co-habitation within a community is an embodiment and such embodiment must not be violent. There is therefore the impossibility of “penetration” into a community, according to Nancy, as that means there is something outside of that community that enters it – establishing violence on the practice of love which he was referring to, and not the idea of love.

It would be very tempting to say that Islam, and the traditional notions of Islam, as understood in the concept of love, is a secularizing movement. However, the relationship between what is secular and what is religious is not that clear. But as soon as that love becomes a “love thy neighbor”, it divorces itself from the notion of a Muslim’s love for Allah and that love is now predicated by a certain notion of how love is constituted on a Christian concept. That is, in fact, a penetration.

Do Muslims laugh and do they have a sense of humor? Muslims think they absolutely do – but it is a point that need not be proven as Muslims consider themselves having such humor and laughing on their own terms. The more interesting question would be: do Muslims laugh like the rest of the world? The answer would be that there is no need to. A subjectivication of what a Muslim should find funny or otherwise would be a “penetration” on that community of Muslims. It would be a laughter that is constructed from outside that community forcing its values on another. It would be a colonization of culture, history and socio-historicity of Muslims by the “Other”. This principle plays itself on all levels: on a societal level, a Muslim needs to laugh together with non-Muslims to be considered “normal” and therefore accepted. At the international political level, a Muslim country needs to find extensive commonality (culture, politics, economics, military defense and its worldview in general) and extensive generosity with other non-Muslim world to be considered “mainstream” and not belonging to the “axis of evil”. There is a always a double-need to prove themselves as good Muslims, and hence, good world citizens. This is not to advocate the rejection of the world that we live in, but acceptance of those values would lead to the death of the Muslims’ and the re-birth of a new world community – one common world under laughter – utopian loving in its liberal embrace.

When talking about differing communities, Nancy went on to say that “It is necessary that there are certain links, certain proximities between groups of people and the fact that there are friendships and hostilities has to be taken as such. The question is only to know if a positive community or a community of predilection has to totally exclude the other communities or not” (Jean-Luc 2001). This is another difficult concept to ascertain: how does one define a positive community and how does one decide to exclude another and in what ways? I cannot see a universal basis (in itself a constructed form) for constructing such notions without invoking values and ways of those who possess more authority, more power, more economic superiority and more military might upon those being subjugated. This is also a convenient justification to “penetrate” another community and then, politically leave it to suffer the curse of a pariah.

Laughter As Politics

Is laughter an affect or mere emotive display? As the discussions above indicate, it is not easy to put our finger on the answer. Secularization, however, poses a specific affect between laughter and the concept of freedom. The liberal ability to laugh at those cartoons is a liberal demand made on Muslims – it represents their emancipation from the shackles of tradition and all that is considered “strange and wrong” by the “Other”. It is also a sign of liberal tolerance on the part of the Muslims towards the “Others”.

For the “Other”, it represents freedom of a particular construct – but the trouble is constructing what that notion is. What is that particular freedom that laughter is supposed to give to the Muslims and from what? Is it just a notion of the liberal imperative that Muslims need to be like the rest of “Us” tied to a sense of utopia? The interesting affect that may need to be handled in another paper would be, if so, would laughter then be disembodying?

Laughter is also constituted to give Muslims the freedom of speech in a non-speech manner (through mere laughter) on the assumption that Islam, both as a religion and as a political regime, is oppressive. This is assuming that the assumption is true and that laughter does indeed emancipate Muslims from Islam to be with the liberal "Others". Has anyone ever considered whether the Muslims themselves want to be with the “Others”?

For the purposes of another discussion, it would be interesting also to note that assuming laughter has a political construct which emancipates and empowers, how that construction may be argued diabolically opposite and turned on its side: the current theories indicate that laughter is an emancipation of oneself and as an escapism from all that oppress – and according to Bakhtin, laughter belonged to another world, beyond the authority of another. What if one is now empowered and in opposition to that very power and authority, refuses to laugh as an act of rebellion, as opposed to being civil? The political dimensions of this flip are indeed intriguing.

In the end, who is actually laughing is a particular construct. Do we really want that one world under laughter: yours, mine or ours?

One World Under Laughter: Yours, Mine or Ours? Part 2

Laughter Is Fun, No?

We shall now examine the issue of laughter in an Islamic context by looking at the cartoons’ controversy in 2005. It began after twelve editorial cartoons, most of which depicted prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005. The newspaper announced that this publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship.

This led to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence across the world. While a number of Muslim leaders called for protesters to remain peaceful, other Muslim leaders across the globe issued death threats. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II – such was the magnitude of the backlash.

To non-Muslims who know little about Islam, this was a very strange worldwide Muslim response – for after all, many unflattering cartoons about other religions (or their leaders) have been frequently printed. Owing to the traditions of aniconism in Islam, the majority of art concerning prophet Muhammad is calligraphic in nature. The Qur'an condemns idolatry and pictorial forms, particularly of prophet Muhammad, are seen as ostensibly close to idol worship.

The cartoons were printed in a predominantly Christian community to make a specific point about how Muslims should have a sense of humor. It is a demand for Muslims to explain themselves in a specific constructed way – obviously of the “Christian West” – with the assumption that Muslims do not have a sense of humor. This is exacerbated through traditions held by the religious authorities through their fatwas (legal edict) which Muslims are expected to obey. The over-reaching arm of religious authorities varies depending on the political construct of the country in which they exist. For example, the extensive influence of such authorities in Saudi Arabia and Iran is well known, whilst those in modern secular democracies such as Malaysia and Morocco are more integrated with the secular political agenda. Under the traditionally strict regimes of the former, fun and laughter are deemed “irreligious” and “sinful” and the hadith (exegesis) of prophet Muhammad who was recorded to have “laughed until his molars showed” was constructed in a self-serving way for the religious elites. All other actions that were deemed as bringing one away from God (such as merriment and music) were disallowed. To the outside world, it is easy to conclude that Muslims have no real sense of fun, what more humor and laughter.

What is the significance of fun and laughter such that they are both disdained? Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose gives an insightful look into this matter. Venerable Jorge argued that “a monk should not laugh. Only a fool lifts his head in laughter. Laughter is a devilish wind which deforms the lineaments of the face and makes men look like monkeys”. In true Hobbesian fashion, Father Williams retorted him by saying: “Monkeys do not laugh. Laughter is particular to man”. In Islamic tradition, many men of piety have engaged in the same principle of seriousness and solemnity in reaching towards God and demand others to follow suit – as if there was only one way to be close to and to reach the Lord.

If the populace body were allowed to have fun and engaged in laughter, that would pose a threat to the religious authority politically. When an individual is allowed to freely express himself and defy the sacred and solemn norms, soon enough the individual will realize that he does not need the holding hands of the religious authority to conduct his individual choices in life. The religious authority therefore, quickly assumes the role of political, spiritual and moral authority over the individuals and the community. It takes an iron grip of their hands in showing the way to righteousness and goodness. Without realizing that in doing so, they are committing the same secularist move that they are supposedly bent against. The religious authority in the community becomes the same expanding grotesque body as mentioned by Bakhtin, constructing the identity of the community by the death of the individual and the birth of the more religious community, and in this case, leading them towards transcendence.

What then defines a sense of humor? Does humor as constructed by the Western Christian notion or secular liberal politics apply to Muslims? Asef Bayat in Islamism and the Politics of Fun and Christopher Meichert in The Piety of the Hadith Folk have both examined various prophetic exegesis and actions of pious Muslims approving some sense of humor in their life. We will observe that such concept of fun or laughter or a sense of humor in a Muslim context are constructed in a certain way – which may not correspond with how other non-Muslims view them. This however, does not mean that Muslims do not have fun, or cannot laugh or do not have a sense of humor. For example, one may find it funny when seeing someone fall in the snow, whilst others find it pitiful and necessitates him to help. To put Muslims together in the liberal embrace of a common notion of “humor” or “fun” or “laughter” is to deny the subjectivity of the individual. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One World Under Laughter: Yours, Mine or Ours? Part 1

Introduction

Religion and laughter are two different types of phenomena. Whilst the former is traditionally regarded as a matter of ultimate concerns, the latter is mostly unserious. Curiously enough, they both made strange bedfellows. In many religions, laughing gods, tricksters, holy fools and carnivals are stock in trade. The ludicrous makes a travesty of the sacred; when, for a short while, laughter sweeps away the holy cosmos, the divine order is exposed as an arbitrary construct.

Due to its supposed lack of decorum and its threat to authority, laughter has been subjected to critical discourse and systematization since the time of Plato, yet it has nonetheless thrived in history. Although we find the Greeks, the Christians and the Buddhist are generally against it, there are enough others who revel in it (in the guffawing of Zen monks, in the Feast of Fools in the Middle Ages and in the Gnostic’s making myths about Christ’s laughter at the crucifixion). Its ambiguity makes it an apt expression for religious experience as well as a powerful religious symbol. Like religion, laughter is situated at the intersection between body and mind, individual and society, the rational and the irrational. When laughter works itself into the religious universe, it reveals unexpected connections between elements in the religious web and creates alternative meanings to interpreters of religion and its effects on authority and politics.

Theories of Laughter

It is not easy to point our finger on the meaning of laughter – for it is many things at the same time and is different from one religious tradition to another. It is a versatile phenomena and its study has been pursued in several fields: medical, philosophy, psychology and social sciences. Theories of laughter deal with laughter’s meanings, causes and functions, and the mechanisms involved in the production of humor. There are essentially three main theories about why human laugh:

1. the superiority theory defines laughter in the context of power over and aggression against a lesser other;
2. the incongruity theory sees laughter as caused by two opposite meanings being held together at the same time. The obvious meaning is automatically dropped in favor of the unexpected meaning; and
3. the relief theory stresses that laughter relieves psychical pressure and functions as a safety valve for the individual and society.

These theories, however, treated laughter as a universal phenomenon – they do not capture the subtleties of laughter’s relationship to religion, culture and politics, nor do they analyze the strategies of power and knowledge of which laughter is part. An example will illustrate this point: when the lower priests in France in the Middle Ages took an ass into the church, they joked and laughed (incongruity theory), made fools of the bishops and others who usually took them in hand (superiority theory) and claimed that they were as barrels of fermenting wine which would burst if they were not opened to relieve the pressure (relief theory) (Gilhus 1990).

Utopia And The Expanding Grotesque

Through Rabelais and his World, Mikhail Bakhtin contributed significantly to the creation of the modern mythology of laughter – the carnival laughter is virtually made an alternative to religion and presented as the true exponent of the folk culture of the Middle Ages. In his book, Bakhtin established the connection between Rabelais’s Renaissance novel and the Medieval laughter culture. At the centre of his main argument stands the carnival and the material body, which is conceived in terms of food, drink, defecation and sexual life – and that body is the disciplining feature of the transference of the values of the secular modern. The carnivalesque body is not expressed in any individual body, but in the collectivity of the people – which in itself is the disciplining of the liberal embrace. It is pictured as an enormous grotesque, characterized by brimming abundance, always opening up to the world, at the same time swallowing up and giving birth:

“We repeat: the body and the bodily life have here a cosmic and at the same time an all-people’s character; this is not the body and its physiology in the modern sense of these words, because it is not individualized. The material bodily principle is contained not in the biological individual, not in the bourgeois ego, but in the people, a people who are continually growing and renewed. This is why all that is bodily becomes grandiose, exaggerated, immeasurable.” (Bakhtin 1968: 19)

The focus on the body is especially significant. What sort of meanings do the openings of the Bakhtian body lead to? What is it about the expansion of that communal body? Relating to political notions, as that communal body expands and be everything else, it becomes more imperfect and grotesque. As the individual bodies, hence the community/society, is disciplined through democratic means, it losses its individual existence and values as it converges into the political identity of the State. The old individual self needs to be “killed” for a new and reconfigured body to be re-born. Such disciplining is reflected in the symbol of the grotesque body – the funnel that every individual within the society is expected to go through, conform and re-born to finally be “Us” – and as it becomes more “grandiose, exaggerated, immeasurable”, it becomes more unmanageable and hence grotesque.

But such is the justification that allows a secular democracy to exercise more punitive measures to discipline the body further – as more authority is then required to “tame” the grotesque – and as a result, becomes a monster of absolute authority and power. More governmental departments are set up, more red tapes are instituted, more laws are enacted, more regulations are enforced and more social programs are constituted – all in the name of the “common good”. The disciplined body will reach a stage of despair at such an imbalance of his person and his environment – as by then, any resistance seemed futile as the monster has grown too huge to be killed. In such politics, the monster will keep on getting bigger and grotesque, and as Bakhtin puts it, “it is always conceiving”.

This is where I find Bakhtin to be productive as he describes laughter being cathartic and salvific, an expression of rebellion aimed at the political and religious authorities and their institutions. According to him, the forms and rituals based on laughter had systematically been placed outside the life of the church, officialdom and politics. Laughter belonged to another world, beyond the authority of another: “Thus carnival is the people’s second life, organized on the basis of laughter. It is a festive life. Festivity is a peculiar quality of all comic rituals and spectacles of the Middle Ages” (Bakhtian 1968: 8). The carnival feasts of the people looked into the future, to a utopian realm of community characterized by freedom, equality and abundance, in contrast to the ecclesiastical feasts, whose main function was to sanction the existing order.

Civility And Discipline

Bakhtin’s work can be regarded as a utopian attempt to reclaim the body amidst all the modern forces which had gradually led to subduing the body, with its taming of affect and emotion. Bakhtin sought to establish the body as the ultimate signifier, and to make laughter its key symbol.

The fact that Bakhtin chose laughter as the preferred expression of the bodily material principle is typical of laughter’s position in late modernity, which is rather paradoxical: on the one hand, laughter is treated as a phenomenon of the mind, thus giving it a new status. On the other hand, in Bakhtin’s mythological context, laughter is a symbol of the life of the body, thus making laughter a seemingly simple channel into an immensely complex reality. Laughter becomes utopian.

It is interesting then to juxtapose this position with that of Hobbes. Quentin Skinner examined the history and phenomena of laughter in his article Hobbes and the Classical Theory of Laughter. Hobbes’s principal cause of laughter is the “apprehension of some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves” (Skinner 2002:157). Whilst Hobbes suggests that “laughter expresses a joyful and contemptuous sense of our own superiority”, he finds that “we sometimes laugh not because we feel contempt for any particular person, but rather because we have been made aware of some general absurdity.” (Skinner 2002: 156). Such laughter “will still be an expression of our scorn, but instead of mocking other people to their faces we join together in ridiculing some ludicrous feature of the world and its ways” (Skinner 2002: 156).

Hobbes seemed to suggest that there are instances when we laugh in civility at something or another – which opened another Pandora’s box to our argument. What then is the public notion of “civility”? When does a particular form of laughter be appropriate and what are its conditions? Social construction of what is “civil” varies from periods, cultures and countries – hence the disciplining of the physical body of that civility becomes complicated. As the community expands and becomes “grotesque”, a flip in the argument occurs: boundaries will now need to be put into place to determine what is an appropriate, civil or polite laughter in order for laughter itself to take place. Take the Renaissance period as an illustration where a smile is considered civil whilst loud laughter reflects one’s low social status and poor upbringing. On the contrary for our current society, it will be rude not to laugh at someone’s attempt of a joke in a social setting, even if it is not funny. This in effect paves the way for secular politics to further tighten its grip on disciplining the body. Social constructions of what is acceptable and what is not will have to be put into place. As more control over the body is made, the “monster” keeps on “conceiving” and ever expanding. In the end, the individual ceases to exist. It only exists due to the “Other” (in this case, politics, politicians, political institutions or anyone/thing with authority over the community and exercise that power over it – as succinctly exemplified through the Foucauldian approach) which actively and continually engages in the act of re-constructing the individual and the community to serve its goals.

Such notion brings forth a new construction of laughter. Where the classical theory defines laughter as a result of a particular event – be it due to suddenness, wonderment, delight, ridiculous, contempt etc – civility will instead construct the act of laughter as something physical. As in the example above, one has to laugh at another’s frugal attempt of a joke even if it was not funny – as no emotions are required in that case. In this sense, laughter is then tied to a certain place and a certain time with the aim of moderation and appropriateness as a containment of affect that needs to be disciplined.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Walking Across The Atlantic


Forgetfulness

Foucault's "Love Truth"

My talk will be about the philosophy of Michel Foucault not because Foucault wrote about love - he did not - but because his writing represents much of the thought of our times. Because Foucault represents a framework for meaning where love seems very irrelevant. Because - please forgive me if this is clever - because Foucault's writings define, mark the space, the dimensions and the limits, of ways of thinking that tend to prevail in ourtimes, certainly in the social sciences, certainly in much of television programming, probably in much of average commonsense. Foucault is a relevant topic for All College Meeting because his worldview challenges all places, all meetings,where "love," this my favorite word, is so often and so dearly spoken. Foucault, in his vast writings, charted what he called a history of the present; it is a history of modern sciences, intertwined with a history of modern institutions, and it is therefore a history of modern minds, our minds, the very minds we use every day, and here, and now, to think. Foucault's is a tale of knowledge/power, of knowledge and of power, in which these two terms, knowledge and power, interconnect and interlock, and there is no third. If we leave aside his last works published shortly before his death, we travel in Foucault's space through a mental universe pervaded and defined by power, where I will seek, here and now, with you in this meeting, not to find but to construct a space for some relevance for this ancient and beautiful word "love," for this survivor of survivors, for this word "love" which has more than once been identified with the holy word "God," for thisword "love," this word so often spoken in this meeting house on Sunday mornings, this word that stubbornly refuses to become meaningless in this century of the abuse of meaning. I will seek a space for love, in Foucault's world of power, and I would, if I could, make "love" the principle of resistance to power, in dwelling in every human heart as agape, as the good parent, as loyalty. Please pray for me if you can, and for my part I will try to help us together to lift up and honor a space, a framework of meaning, where "love" lives, still and always, in its own rightful and valid place among the words. I will seek, with your help, to evoke, rather than to say, what most needs to be said, to offer a spoken invitation to a nunspoken message, to offer some footnotes for silent worship.

Roland Barthes has explained, better than I could, why what most needs to be said cannot be said. In our times, wrote Barthes, in his book Sade, Fourier, Loyola, no word escapes abuse, not one, because every word is part of a language, and every language is part of a corrupt social order.There is no privileged language outside society; there is no place, no framework for meaning, where we can stand, and speak from, in order to criticize society. Those of us who denounce the reigning violence which structures this world, often fail to ask ourselves from whence come the terms of our denunciation; out of where, and from where comes the judgmental framework which alone gives meaning to anger and to critique ? I shall call this question, "Barthes' question." Barthes' answer is that every single word we have in our language is a functioning part of a social order which is, among other things, patriarchal, capitalist, and violent; no word is pure, every word, every single one, is an integral part of human culture in our times; no word in our language comes from another planet; therefore no word is innocent enough to name the standard for judging the rest, no word is authorized to cast the first stone. We can only make a word an instrument for judging society if we borrow that word temporarily without becoming too attached to it; Barthes actually says "only by theft." I agree. And as much as I love the word "God"; as much as I love the word "love;" as much as I love our Symbol, the Cross, which unites us as Christians, I must still say, as Paul Tillich said, that salvation will not come from any human word or symbol, but only from a higher being who cuts vertically through all the conformities that humans create. What Foucault did in his book Discipline and Punish was to write the history of the origins of the prison, as earlier in Madness and Civilization he had written the history of the isolation of the insane in mental hospitals. His characteristic theses go beyond prisons and hospitals; he finds that power is everywhere; we modern individuals are ourselves products of, creatures of, power; there is no knowledge, no truth, independent of power. Beyond prisons and asylums Foucault writes of schools, factories, barracks ... He writes of the life of the individual in modern society. In some famous lines in Discipline and Punish Foucault wrote, "Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?" (Discipline and Punish, p. 228). It is here, in this Foucault's synoptic vision of our contemporary world that love becomes conspicuous by its absence.

On Foucault's account, power/knowledge dominates our daily lives. Power/knowledge defines, as knowledge, what counts as "normal," and what counts as "deviant;" and then, power/knowledge, as power, enforces its definitions, accepting the normal and punishing the deviant. It is here - where all knowledge and every possible meaning for any word is already assumed to be some variant of power - it is just here that love's absence can be discerned as the presence of a spirit. Love's absence in Foucault's writings is the presence of a spirit, of a ghost, of a specter which haunts the world of power/knowledge as the presence of another possibility. For two reasons: First, if we ask Barthes' question, then "love" in its very absence, can be seen to be present in Foucault, as an answer to Barthes' question. Barthes' question is, "from whence come the terms of Foucault's denunciation; out of where, and from where comes the judgmental framework which alone gives meaning to Foucault's anger and to Foucault's critique?" More than one critic, and Foucault himself in a 1976 interview, has answered Barthes question by saying that the subtext, the unspoken silent background, which gives moral force to Foucault's account of the gradual rise of contemporary systems for subjecting individuals to disciplinary power, is moral outrage. On Foucault's account of the history of prisons, and in his account of the history of the treatment of the insane, and in his general remarks on life in contemporary society, there lives the presence of an absent critique: it is not right, it is humiliating, for humans to be treated in these ways, and although Foucault does not allow himself to say it, the reader knows he means it. Just here, in this unspoken but very sincere identification with victims, we find the presence of a spirit, a will, in a space presided by an authority which could be named. The name of that indicting authority could be - would be, for a person of the Christian persuasion - "love," or "God."

Second, in his meticulous accounts of what actually happened in the history of modern social discipline, Foucault frequently mentions - as he must, to be true to the facts - the frequent cries from the heart not only of the victims, but of those who in every age have identified with victims and helped them. Foucault mentions, for example, Samuel Tukes, the English Quaker who, moved by charity in his heart, founded the first mental hospital; he mentions, for example, the good Quakers of Philadelphia, who, from concern and loving kindness, at least so they thought and so they felt, constructed the first modern prison, on Walnut Street in that city. These and many other cries from the heart, these and many other benevolent actions, are faithfully recorded by Foucault, but he does not draw them together and bring them into focus; their divinity is not named as response to the voice of a growing inner discipline of the human soul; much less are love's works named as Martin Luther King's great teacher George Washington Davis would have named them as "the action of God in history." For Foucault the words of loving sympathy for fellow human beings in distress, which as an historian he faithfully transcribes, are, in the words of one critic, "so much incidental music."

Of Foucault we can say what Peter Gay said of Edward Gibbon, that he wrote in split-level style, such that on a first level, a superficial one, the historian - Foucault or Gibbon - records expressions of what people actually say, but the author means the reader to decode the actual words of, for example, Samuel Tukes, as expressions of unreal sentiments; while on a second level, treated as the real level, history is a story of power, in which love and all virtue is at best irrelevant, at worst deceit in power's service. But Foucault's focus on power as the underlying reality, which makes of love just what Saint Paul said it wasn't, "sounding brass, tinkling cymbal," is an arbitrary focus. Foucault tells us himself, on page 24 of Discipline and Punish, that understanding the history of punishment in terms of the technology of power will be a principle of his methodology; therefore power's ubiquity cannot be a finding; it is a conclusion made inevitable by a method. And Foucault himself, in an interview shortly before he died, said his focus on power/knowledge was arbitrary. Asked by the interviewer why he had surprised his readers, in the third volume of his never-completed History of Sexuality, by not treating power as the all-pervasive reality of social life, Foucault replied that he had chosen not to, just as, for most of his career, he had chosen to.

Let us take Foucault at his word, and conclude that when he wrote the history of prisons, and of modern institutions generally, using power/knowledge as his unifying theme, it was an arbitrary choice. And, since God is a Spirit, and since we are here to worship God in Spirit and in truth, and since God is love, let us ask why Foucault did not choose instead, as at least one of his unifying themes, the action of love in history. A first answer to this question, the question why the intellectual space in which Foucault's concepts emerge and take on their meaning is not a love-centered worldview, is that Foucault did not choose love because it did not suit his temperament. Foucault once said this about himself: "I think the kind of pleasure I would consider as the real pleasure would be so deep, so intense, so overwhelming that I couldn't survive it. I would die ... There is also the fact that some drugs are really important to me because they are the mediation to those incredibly intense joys that I am looking for and that I am not able to experience, to afford, by myself. It's true that a glass of wine, of good wine, old and so on, may be enjoyable but it's not for me. A pleasure must be something incredibly intense ... I'm not able to give myself and others those middle range pleasures that make up everyday life. Such pleasures are nothing for me and I am not able to organize my life in order to make place for them. That's the reason why I'm not a social being, why I'm not really a cultural being, why I'm so boring in my everyday life. It's a bore to live with me." (Politics, Philosophy, Culture, pp. 12-13). It is usual, I believe, for people to enjoy love in the middle range pleasures, the ones which are nothing for a person of Foucault's temperament; for example, in father-daughter bicycle rides, in mother-son bedtime stories, holding hands at midnight beneath a starry sky, watching movies while sharing a box of popcorn with your best friend, quietly meditating on God when walking back home while the snow is falling, listening to whatever kind of music moves our souls. For people of a training and temperament different from Foucault's, the word "love" is a valid name for a quality of relationships nurtured and sustained in the enjoyment of middle range pleasures. Foucault's exclusive interest in such intense pleasures as those of sado-masochistic sex, drugs, and dangerous brushes with death, partly explains the absence of "love" from his vocabulary. Second, for Foucault "love" is a reactionary concept. Foucault remarked that hewas disappointed when a socialist leader spoke of "solidarity," a word I take to be similar to love, because the word "solidarity" reminded Foucault of listening in his childhood to the radio broadcast speeches of Marshall Petain, the fascist puppet of Adolf Hitler, who governed France when Foucault was a little boy, after France's defeat in World War II. In regarding love-talk as a throw-back to times less enlightened than ours, and as the perpetual pretext of those who destroy even now the liberties some of humanity has gained in recent centuries, Foucault is unfortunately quite correct. Those of us who keep the word must do so penitently, cum onere, assuming its burdens; we can only love "love" in spite of and with a commitment to avoid repeating the crimes committed in its name; there is no other honest way.

Third, last, and most important, in this space where love might be, in this space where anger and critique require a moral framework to be meaningful, there Foucault sees no need for love, because he saw power itself as productive. Those of us for whom love is central see a need for it because however wonderful a liberal ethic, centered on freedom, rights, self-determination and human dignity, may be, we humans still need the indwelling spirit of love to move us to care and to act, to move us off the dime. Love activates us to serve our sisters and brothers, and to serve the dream of a future of peace and justice. Love-driven people have more energy than those who force themselves to get up in the morning to spend another day chasing the dollar, more energy than guilt-driven people, more energy than anger-driven people, and, I would insist, more than those who are driven by commitment to secular liberal ethics. John Rawls, whose A Theory of Justice is an elaborate liberal ethical philosophy in which the word "love" is scarcely mentioned, admitted when questioned that although his philosophy might correctly define what a person should do, without love a person would be unlikely actually to do it. But this is a problem Foucault does not have; at least he does not think he has it; it is for him a non-problem, or a problem invisible from his point of view. For Foucault power is not only and not mainly, repressive.

Power organizes life. It gets things done. Power is not what just what stops us, it also starts us; in its modern disciplinary forms in prisons, in schools, in hospitals, in factories, in the civil service, power sets us our tasks, and then it moves us to accomplish them. Truth, for Foucault, is an issue; love is irrelevant. Truth is the subject of a running debate between Foucault and Jurgen Habermas, a debate which still continues between their respective allies even today more than a decade after Foucault's death. For Habermas and others, truth emerges where power is suspended. For Foucault truth, like everything else, is formed by power; Habermas says truth requires dialogue without coercion; truth can only advance where power retreats...

... Howard Richards

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nothing


Where shall we seek Nothing? Where shall we find Nothing? In order to find something must we not know beforehand that it is there? Indeed we must! First and foremost we can only look if we have pre-supposed the presence of a thing to be looked for. But the thing we are looking for is Nothing. Is there after all a seeking without pre-supposition, a seeking complemented by a pure finding?

... Martin Heidegger

Love and Community

There were many questions about a community as specific structure of being–with. And to say first, regarding the Wittgensteinian nightingale, I would say what interests me is that is the different are together. The question is, what is "to be with", which as you know is a question that Wittgenstein did address. Wittgenstein is aware of and very attentive to the singularity as such and to what makes it possible to share something singular. First it is a question which comes to me through Heidegger, because he is the first to introduce a very simple, almost self–evident concept of Being–With. There is, however, a very strange thing in "Sein und Zeit", that besides so many precise, long and complicated analyses, he makes no analysis of the "With" as such and that seems to be very important, perhaps because the "With" is a quasi–empty category for all philosophy. The whole scheme of our culture knows very well what is to be in or out, to be and to identify with something or to be totally exterior to it, to be homogeneous or heterogeneous. But to Be–With, this is the same thing to say that the glass is with the pen on the table and "be on" is a way to "be with", or I am with Wolfgang and Avital on this side of the table, you are each with the other. What is that? In a certain way this is nothing, because "I and Wolfgang" to a certain extent are like "the glass and the pen", we have nothing to do with the other. Then you’ve got a lot more to do. First, because he is the director, I am the teacher, etc, and perhaps if we go a little further we find that we are two human beings, so we share something biologically, etc… So the "with" has very interesting property in that it shows a proximity, it implies a proximity, and so once again we have the "nearest". But it is proximity without recovering one through the other. If the pen is hidden behind the glass, you can’t say that they are "with". Or if I hide myself behind Wolfgang there is no longer Jean–Luc with Wolfgang. So, "With" implies proximity and distance, precisely the distance of the impossibility to come together in a common being. That is for me the core of the question of community; community doesn’t have a common being, a common substance, but consists in being–in–common, from the starting point it’s a sharing, but sharing what? Sharing nothing, sharing the space between. "With" is in a certain way always between, or implies an in–between, and so from there we can go to the question which Victor asks. Yes, I would say that what I take here from Bataille is of course this central meaning that communication implies a gap between the one and the other, and that communication is not a continuous transmission, because the continuous transmission is a transmission of a information. Information is a concept. What I don’t share absolutely with Bataille is the way he goes from that gap to the cut and then slowly to the sacrifice, which implies that there is still another realm, a sacred realm to which I could transfer something. In the end however Bataille did himself write "what I call the sacred is nothing else than the communication of passions", and from there we could return to love, etc, regarding passion, and once again for you the man with the concept, in the communication, it shall still be a communication of passion, even if it is through or by the means of concept. This is in a certain way like Kant who wrote "I cannot read Rousseau without being too much troubled and so I have to read Rousseau twice, because the first time I could not sustain my emotion." It is perhaps a very good example of communication between men of concepts. I think that touching seems to me to indicate the same thing. That is the distance in the approach, but it avoids all questions of cutting, sacrifice etc. I disagree as well with Bataille who is always presenting the sex of the woman as a wound, because it implies that there is some penetration into the flesh. Sex doesn’t cut the body any more than the mouth or the anus, or any bodily orifice cuts the body. It is an opening, which is something different. This is why, regarding eroticism, I like to say there is no penetration, that penetration in a certain way has no proper meaning. To penetrate is to enter into the internal structure of the matter, but in physical love as well as in spiritual, it is the same — there is no penetration into, there is everywhere only a touching.

It’s a topological issue — for me the body is first a hole, a tube if you want, and around the tube is a skin. The first character of this topology is that it is a resounding thing. The air can go through the tube and you have the skin over it and you produce music. The body is first a certain sound, and that sound is the voice. And yes, with a little more time I would claim that to make love is to produce a sound — sometimes a real sound, even with words, but even in the silence there is a certain sound that is a certain resonance, resounding or vibration. The only place where the two lovers can really penetrate themselves into each other and become one thing is in the grave, like it is in the story of Tristan and Isolde . There is one flower, the rose grows from the grave of Tristan and goes into that of Isolde. I would argue that the community is always a community of Being–With, that the With is characterised by the touch, and that the touch is characterised both by proximity and by distance, but by proximity as distance. In the touch you still need to have both. This is the impossibility of penetration. The conclusion then is that a community is a community of bodies and nothing else. This doesn’t mean that it is a community like the glass and the pen — It means that to be "in common" we need the exteriority of the bodies, contrary to the very old model where the community should become a pure community of spirits becoming One Spirit. Now to return just for one moment to Christianity: in this very point there is an enormous ambiguity within Christianity, which gives the model of one body for all. This model is called the mystical body of Christ. Normally the mystical body of Christ was understood as a unique body of all men, but a couple of theologians even understood it as a totality of the universe. At the same time, however, in a way which for Christianity is quite contradictory, the singularity of each man, not only of each man but of each creature of God, each being, is impossible to suppress. And that is the meaning of the resurrection. The resurrection is a resurrection of the body. The resurrected body is not precisely a spirit, but a body to be touched or not touched. You know the story about Jesus and Magdalene: "Don’t touch me!" All this means that a community as a community of bodies means a community of mutual presentation of the common absence of common substance. Which is another way to say what Lacan says, with the father as being "because of" the mother as a common substance. However, to become an individual means precisely to go out of the common substance, and then even the brother and the sister are separated from the substance. The father, then, is a common law suppressed as death, the father is a dead father as it is said by Lacan. The only thing that I disagree with there is precisely that Lacan needs once again a figure of lack, of castration, and so the figure of the center of signification is an empty center, a zero point. I prefer to take that in the way of the no–thing, as I did before. So then, you are asking about the community’s relation to its enemies. What I said about love did already answer to the question of the enemy – I answer that the meaning of "to love even the enemy" is the meaning of love understood as having nothing to do with predilection such as friendship, or what is the contrary, hostility.

... Love and Community, Jean-Luc Nancy

Of Grammatology

The question of the origin of writing and the question of the origin of language are difficult to separate. Grammatologists, who are generally by training historians, epigraphists, and archaeologists, seldom relate their researches to the modem science of language. It is all the more surprising that, among the “sciences of man,” linguistics is the one science whose scientificity is given as an example with a zealous and insistent unanimity.

Has grammatology, then, the right to expect from linguistics an essential assistance that it has almost never looked for? On the contrary, does one not find efficaciously at work, in the very movement by which linguistics is instituted as a science, a metaphysical presupposition about the relationship between speech and writing? Would that presupposition not binder the constitution of a general science of writing? Is not the lifting of that presupposition an overthrowing of the landscape upon which the science of language is peacefully installed? For better and for worse? For blindness as well as for productivity? This is the second type of question that I now wish to outlines To develop this question, I should like to approach, as a privileged example, the project and texts of Ferdinand de Saussure. That the particularity of the example does not interfere with the generality of my argument is a point which I shall occasionally — try not merely to take for granted.

Linguistics thus wishes to be the science of language. Let us set aside all the implicit decisions that have established such a project and all the questions about its own origin that the fecundity of this science allows to remain dormant. Let us first simply consider that the scientificity of that science is often acknowledged because of its phonological foundations. Phonology, it is often said today, communicates its scientificity to linguistics, which in turn serves as the epistemological model for all the sciences of man. Since the deliberate and systematic phonological orientation of linguistics (Troubetzkoy, Jakobson, Martinet) carries out an intention which was originally Saussure's, I shall, at least provisionally, confine my-self to the latter. Will my argument be equally applicable a fortiori to the most accentuated forms of phonologism? The problem at least be stated.

The science of linguistics determines language — its field of objectivity — in the last instance and in the irreducible simplicity of its essence, as the unity of the phonè, the glossa, and the logos. This determination is by rights anterior to all the eventual differentiations that could arise within the systems of terminology of the different schools (language/speech [langue/parole]; code/message; scheme/usage; linguistic/logic; phonology/phonematics/phonetics/glossematics). And even if one wished to keep sonority on the side of the sensible and contingent signifier which would be strictly speaking impossible, since formal identities isolated within a sensible mass are already idealities that are not purely sensible), it would have to be admitted that the immediate and privileged unity which founds significance and the acts of language is the articulated unity of sound and sense within the phonic. With regard to this unity, writing would always be derivative, accidental, particular, exterior, doubling the signifier: phonetic. “Sign of a sign,” said Aristotle, Rousseau, and Hegel.

Yet, the intention that institutes general linguistics ,is a science remains in this respect within a contradiction. Its declared purpose indeed confirms, saying what goes without saying, the subordination of grammatology, the historico-metaphysical reduction of writing to the rank of an instrument enslaved to a full and originarily spoken language. But another gesture (not another statement of purpose, for here what does not go without saying is done without being said, written without being uttered) liberates the future of a general grammatology of which linguistics-phonology would be only a dependent and circumscribed area...

... Linguistics and Grammatology, Jacques Derrida

Gardener and Garden



Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him!

... Daybreak, Friedrich Nietzsche

The Formation of Objects

The conditions necessary for the appearance of an object of discourse, the historical conditions required if one is to 'say anything' about it, and if several people are to say different things about it, the conditions necessary if it is to exist in relation to other objects, if it is to establish with them relations of resemblance, proximity, distance, difference, transformation - as we can see, these conditions are many and imposing. Which means that one cannot speak of anything at any time; it is not easy to say something new; it is not enough for us to open our eyes, to pay attention, or to be aware, for new objects suddenly to light up and emerge out of the ground. But this difficulty is not only a negative one; it must not be attached to some obstacle whose power appears to be, exclusively, to blind, to hinder, to prevent discovery, to conceal the purity of the evidence or the dumb obstinacy of the things themselves; the object does not await in limbo the order that will free it and enable it to become embodied in a visible and prolix objectivity; it does not pre-exist itself, held back by some obstacle at the first edges of light. It exists under the positive conditions of a complex group of relations.

These relations are established between institutions, economic and social processes, behavioural patterns, systems of norms, techniques, types of classification, modes of characterisation; and these relations are not present in the object; t is not they that are deployed when the object is being analysed; they do not indicate the web, the immanent rationality, that 'deal nervure that reappears totally or in part when one conceives of the object in the truth of its concept. They do not define its internal constitution, but what enables it to appear, to juxtapose itself with other objects, to situate itself in relation to them, to define its difference, its irreducibility, and even perhaps its heterogeneity, in short, to be placed in a field of exteriority.

These relations must be distinguished first from what we might call primary relations, and which, independently of all discourse or all object of discourse, may be described between institutions, techniques, social forms, etc. After all, we know very well that relations existed between the bourgeois family and the functioning of judicial authorities and categories in the nineteenth century that can be analysed in their own right. They cannot always be superposed upon the relations that go to form objects: the relations of dependence that may be assigned to this primary level are not necessarily expressed in the formation of relations that makes discursive objects possible. But we must also distinguish the secondary relations that are formulated in discourse itself. what, for example, the psychiatrists of the nineteenth century could say about the relations between the family and criminality does not reproduce, as we know, the interplay of real dependencies; but neither does it reproduce the interplay of relations that make possible and sustain the objects of psychiatric discourse. Thus a space unfolds articulated with possible discourses: a system of real or primary relations, a system of reflexive or secondary relations, and a system t of relations that might properly be called discursive. The problem is to reveal the specificity of these discursive relations, and their interplay with the other two kinds.

Discursive relations are not, as we can see, internal to discourse: they do not connect concepts or words with one another; they do not establish a deductive or rhetorical structure between propositions or sentences. Yet they are not relations exterior to discourse, relations that might limit it, or impose certain forms upon it, or force it, in certain circumstances, to state certain things. They are, in a sense, at the limit of discourse: they offer it objects of which it can speak, or rather (for this image of offering presupposes that objects are formed independently of discourse), they determine the group of relations that discourse must establish in order to speak of this or that object, in order to deal with them, name them, analyse them, classify them, explain them, etc. These relations characterise not the language (langue) used by discourse, nor the circumstances in which it is deployed, but discourse itself as a practice.

We can now complete the analysis and see to what extent it fulfils, and to what extent it modifies, the initial project.

Taking those group figures which, in an insistent but confused way, presented themselves as psychology, economics, grammar, medicine, we asked on what kind of unity they could be based: were they simply a reconstruction after the event, based on particular works, successive theories, notions and themes some of which had been abandoned, others maintained by tradition, and again others fated to fall into oblivion only to be revived at a later date? Were they simply a series of linked enterprises?

We sought the unity of discourse in the objects themselves, in their distribution, in the interplay of their differences, in their proximity or distance - in short, in what is given to the speaking subject; and, in the end, we are sent back to a setting-up of relations that characterises discursive practice itself; and what we discover is neither a configuration, nor a form, but a group of rules that are immanent in a practice, and define it in its specificity. We also used, as a point of reference, a unity like psychopathology: if we had wanted to provide it with a date of birth and precise limits, it would no doubt have been necessary to discover when the word was first used, to what kind of analysis it could be applied, and how it achieved its separation from neurology on the one hand and psychology on the other. What has emerged is a unity of another type, which does not appear to have the same dates, or the same surface, or the same articulations, but which may take account of a group of objects for which the term psychopathology was merely a reflexive, secondary, classificatory rubric. Psychopathology finally emerged as a discipline in a constant state of renewal, subject to constant discoveries, criticisms, and corrected errors; the system of formation that we have defined remains stable. But let there be no misunderstanding: it is not the objects that remain constant, nor the domain that they form; it is not even their point of emergence or their mode of characterisation; but the relation between the surfaces on which they appear, on which they can be delimited, on which they can be analysed and specified.

In the descriptions for which I have attempted to provide a theory, there can be no question of interpreting discourse with a view to writing a history of the referent. In the example chosen, we are not trying to find out who was mad at a particular period, or in what his madness consisted, or whether his disturbances were identical with those known to us today. We are not asking ourselves whether witches were unrecognised and persecuted madmen and madwomen, or whether, at a different period, a mystical or aesthetic experience was not unduly medicalised. We are not trying to reconstitute what madness itself might be, in the form in which it first presented itself to some primitive, fundamental, deaf, scarcely articulated' experience, and in the form in which it was later organised (translated, deformed, travestied, perhaps even repressed) by discourses, and the oblique, often twisted play of their operations. Such a history of the referent is no doubt possible; and I have no wish at the outset to exclude any effort to uncover and free these 'prediscursive' experiences from the tyranny of the text. But what we are concerned with here is not to neutralise discourse, to make it the sign of something else, and to pierce through its density in order to reach what remains silently anterior to it, but on the contrary to maintain it in its consistency, to make it emerge in its own complexity. What, in short, we wish to do is to dispense with 'things'. To 'depresentify' them. To conjure up their rich, heavy, immediate plenitude, which we usually regard as the primitive law of a discourse that has become divorced from it through error, oblivion, illusion, ignorance, or the inertia of beliefs and traditions, or even the perhaps unconscious desire not to see and not to speak. To substitute for the enigmatic treasure of 'things' anterior to discourse, the regular formation of objects that emerge only in discourse. To define these objects without reference to the ground, the foundation of things, but by relating them to the body of rules that enable them to form as objects of a discourse and thus constitute the conditions of their historical appearance. To write a history of discursive objects that does not plunge them into the common depth of a primal soil, but deploys the nexus of regularities that govern their dispersion.

However, to suppress the stage of 'things themselves' is not necessarily to return to the linguistic analysis of meaning. When one describes the formation of the objects of a discourse, one tries to locate the relations that characterise a discursive practice, one determines neither a lexical organisation, nor the scansions of a semantic field: one does not question the meaning given at a particular period to such words as 'melancholia' or madness without delirium', nor the opposition of content between psychosis' and 'neurosis'. Not, I repeat, that such analyses are regarded as illegitimate or impossible; but they are not relevant when we are trying to discover, for example, how criminality could become an object of medical expertise, or sexual deviation a possible object of psychiatric discourse. The analysis of lexical contents defines either the elements of meaning at the disposal of speaking subjects in a given period, or the semantic structure that appears on the surface of a discourse that has already been spoken; it does not concern discursive practice as a place in which a tangled plurality - at once superposed and incomplete - of objects is formed and deformed, appears and disappears.

The sagacity of the commentators is not mistaken: from the kind of analysis that I have undertaken, words are as deliberately absent as things themselves; any description of a vocabulary is as lacking as any reference to the living plenitude of experience. We shall not return to the state anterior to discourse - in which nothing has yet been said, and in which things are only just beginning to emerge out of the grey light; and we shall not pass beyond discourse in order to rediscover the forms that it has created and left behind it; we shall remain, or try to remain, at the level of discourse itself. Since it is sometimes necessary to dot the 'i's of even the most obvious absences, I will say that in all these searches, in which I have still progressed so little, I would like to show that 'discourses', in the form in which they can be heard or read, are not, as one might expect, a mere intersection of things and words: an obscure web of things, and a manifest, visible, Coloured chain of words; I would like to show that discourse is not a slender surface of contact, or confrontation, between a reality and a language (langue), the intrication of a lexicon and an experience; I would like to show with precise examples that in analysing discourses themselves, one sees the loosening of the embrace, apparently so tight, of words and things, and the emergence of a group of rules proper to discursive practice. These rules define not the dumb existence of a reality, nor the canonical use of a vocabulary, but the ordering of objects. 'Words and things' is the entirely serious title of a problem; it is the ironic title of a work that modifies its own form, displaces its own data, and reveals, at the end of the day, a quite different task. A task that consists of not - of no longer treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak. Of course, discourses are composed of signs; but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to the language (langue) and to speech. it is this 'more' that we must reveal and describe.

... The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault

The Great Longing

Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea. 

We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange. Nay, it is deeper than my sister’s depth and stronger than my brother’s strength, and stranger than the strangeness of my madness. 

Aeons upon aeons have passed since the first grey dawn made us visible to one another; and though we have seen the birth and the fullness and the death of many worlds, we are still eager and young. 

We are young and eager and yet we are mateless and unvisited, and though we lie in unbroken half embrace, we are uncomforted. And what comfort is there for controlled desire and unspent passion? Whence shall come the flaming god to warm my sister’s bed? And what she-torrent shall quench my brother’s fire? And who is the woman that shall command my heart? 

In the stillness of the night my sister murmurs in her sleep the fire-god’s unknown name, and my brother calls afar upon the cool and distant goddess. But upon whom I call in my sleep I know not. 

Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea. We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange.

... The Madman, Kahlil Gibran