Monday, July 27, 2009

Replying to Reader Responses (Pt. 1)

So as I mentioned in the last post, I had to submit a book review for my classwork at the European Graduate School. I am very grateful to Mikael Liss, who was kind enough to not only read my review but also initiate a discussion. Below is my response to him.

Hi Mikael,

Thanks for reading my review, that's very kind of you, especially to then also say nice things about the review. I was reading something the other day by David Wood where he pointed out a funny similarity: according to some anthropologist, there is/was a tribe where young men weren't given a name until they had killed an enemy and then they took that person's name. Wood felt that this practice is not too unfamiliar at times when reading reviews of others' books. Ha!

I've not seen this movie, but the idea of a spirit of machines is compelling.

I should really hasten to stress that I think See's book provides a very useful Heidegger. I think that he wrote about Heidegger in a fairly accessible manner (which we both concede is no small feat), and I think he did a fine job also of maintaining his line of thought throughout the middle sections. When I reread his book I suspected that he had developed some of these ideas earlier, walked away to get more familiar with Deleuze, Derrida, etc. and then came back to Heidegger armed with their insights. I like See's treatment of Heidegger and I will be referencing him in an upcoming talk in October and so I very much need to thank him for his hard work.

I feel bad for having pointed-out the number of typoes, 'cause I know I'm not free of these either. I agree with you, someone should be reviewing these things (and so are we now both going to have our names in the hat for editors at Atropos Press, I'd like that gig).

Y'know, I will level with you: my purchase of Heidegger comes almost entirely from a comparative philosophy perspective. That means I am primarily (and I assume many would say, to a fault) influenced in my reading of Heidegger by what those who came after him had to say. I would defend this, however, by pointing out that the most interesting philosophical movement of the 20th century was the Kyoto School in Japan. I think Heidegger is a wonderful thinker to discuss in a comparative manner because he was so profoundly concerned with getting at the arche of the Western metaphysical tradition. (I recognize that, perhaps, Derrida would pop-in here and say, "ah, but there is no such 'Western' world." To him I would humbly submit that there is most certainly a different worldview between what has come to be known as East and West.) But I have also been very fortunate to share multiple, lengthy conversations with excellent Nietzsche and Heidegger scholars such as Graham Parkes and David Krell.

I 110% agree with you (and I suspect that Heidegger does as well) that the grammar of Indoeuropean languages already have within them the problem of objectifying the world. I got a crash course in this last year when I was working in Japan - where it is grammatically impossible to ask a direct question. I think that it would be putting the cart before the horse, however, to say that people already have the view that the world is a standing reserve and so developed a language that describes it as such. The languages that have developed in the Western world already assume that there are divisions between things; and a handy way to imagine another orientation would be Chinese where perception of the world can be understood as a focusing of attention to a field of events. But I think that the Western particulate view was not a privileged worldview (at least in Europe and slowly dissipating to its colonies) until the Medieval to Modern eras and I would use two very common words to illustrate this shift: thing, and happy.

"Thing" is a judicial institution in North-Germanic societies and it's rooted in English as meaning "an assembly." Very briefly: it's compelling to think that matters of justice could not be decided unless the community was present to judge, this seems to suggest a privileging of interrelatedness (or as Kasulis might say, intimacy). Later on this idea would become developed into a question of whether what is Just cannot be performed at all times by individuals and this could in turn be a guiding principle. Happy, happiness, happenstance - all share the root hap which means luck or chance occurrence. I am not really sure, though, that hap is unpredictable. There definitely seems to be a strong indication of mutual causality between the individual and the environment in which she finds herself. In other words, we don't simply stumble into this fortune, not only.

I defend this reading by looking for guidance from the word "happen." What does it mean for us to make something happen? It means to align our environs with fortune (perhaps understood as natural tendencies allowed to authoritatively manifest) and delight in this alignment. It is only in creating (worlding as Heidegger might say) in a manner that maximizes the flourishing of our coming together (our happenings) with those we encounter that our sense of fate (understood here as purpose or raison d'etre) will be sated.

So to your question, is it possible to choose an ethical comportment first, I feel emphatically yes. This is how I prejudice my reading of Ranciere as well. To foreground interrelatedness is an aesthetic act, and it is a political act in so far as it seeks to reinvigorate the community dynamic (were we to foreground this it would then become a policing action as we establish that it is the way things should be).

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