Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sites of imperfection

This is an old post I've been saving as a draft for some (no) reason. I actually forgot about it, and since I feel too lazy to write anything new.... I have examples to add from Benjamin and Darwin, but that'll have to wait since I don't have the books here in Ithaca.

The dialectic of public/private space is key to understanding Benjamin's style and theory. Interior spaces: the mind, apartments, rooms, dreams, are always immediately and complexly juxtaposed and interwoven within and alongside public frames of reference. What I find very interesting about the use of space is the half-finished or incomplete quality not only of the spatial dialectic employed but the material incompleteness of the spaces he chooses to focus on, i.e., their constructedness. The incompleteness or the open-ended construction of his work and the works he valorizes are what I would call, sites of imperfection. Imperfection is not meant here in the pejorative sense; rather, it is a pre-condition for the evolution of forms. By aligning imperfection with incompletion a series of dialectical constellations appear: interiority/exteriority: complete/incomplete, open/closed, these all have different,yet complementary, spatial valences. Thus, as correspondences, these constellations produce the mutable forms of Benjamin's critical/aesthetic work; they serve as both critical content and aesthetic form; that is, the works politics as well as its poetics is an ever-evolving (and necessarily imperfect) mode of production/construction--a dialectical evolution of form and content.

To my mind, the efficacy of multiple sites of imperfection is all over, to begin with, Darwin's theory of evolution. This is nowhere, as far as I know, explicitly stated in Darwin's theory. That is, he doesn't ever simply say evolution = imperfection. But it is everywhere implied. (It was in Cannon Schmitt's seinar on epistemologies of evolution that I first started thinking about imperfection as a useful tool for approaching aesthetic/cultural forms.) And it is in the radical forms of the avant garde that I think we may be able to put the concept to use. There are a lot of implications here, which I will try to unfold at some point. For now I'll just make a sweeping and general claim: for Benjamin, the perception/cognition of these imperfect sites produces modernity as the ground for new forms of living. Thus we have Benjamin the Surrealist.

(Justin, I'd like to hear what you have to say on this. I had you in mind when I wrote it, in a way.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

"Lacking the Machinery"

"There are those who argue that people can never understand consciousness. The mystery is too deep. Colin McGinn, a philosopher from Rutgers University, argues that because our brains are products of evolution, they have cognitive limitations. Just as rats and monkeys cannot even conceive of quantum mechanics, humans may be prohibited from understanding certain aspects of existence, such as the relation between mind and matter. He says that for humans to grasp how subjective experience arises from matter might be like "slugs trying to do Freudian psychoanalysis--they just don't have the conceptual equipment." Consciousness, in other words, may remain forever beyond human understanding."

From one of my favorite sites, Cyberarts .

A Sad Day for Sad Bears

I love the BBC News.... Here's a lovely little article on Bruno the Bear. My favorite line: "The shooting has happened. The bear is dead." Why do I find this both tragic and funny? It sounds like a line out of a Herzog movie--so German. And I can't help thinking about The World According to Garp and the story of the Viennese bears....

Bruno the bear shot dead in Alps

Wild bears once roamed widely across much of Europe
Hunters in the Bavarian Alps have shot dead a brown bear called Bruno after spending weeks trying to find it.

Earlier the German authorities had said the bear could be shot because it posed a danger to humans.

"The shooting has happened. The bear is dead," said Bavaria's government bear expert Manfred Woelfl. Hunters found it early on Monday near Spitzingsee.

The bear had been blamed for killing dozens of sheep. It had crossed the Alps into Germany from Italy in May.

In the German town of Kochel it had also raided a beehive and a rabbit hutch.

A pack of Finnish tracking dogs was brought in to capture Bruno alive, but they failed to corner it. The plan was to shoot the bear with a narcotic dart.

Bruno was the first wild bear to be sighted in Germany since 1835.

The animal was part of an Italian programme to reintroduce bears to the Alps.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

blogs I should have been reading

Michael mentioned the Theoria blog to me a while back and I was like, "yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's brilliant." Well, it is. I extra like it b/c I found it by googling Habermas and Cassirer and found that he (or she, don't know) detests, for the most part, Habsey. Good. I was just starting to waver.....

More on why Habermas sucks when I return from theory camp.

The ABC's of Kant

I'll start with R (taken from Howard Caygill's _A Kant Dictionary_):

reflective judgement

In the first and second introductions to Critique of Judgement Kant distinguishes between determinant and reflective forms of judgment. Judgement in general is described as 'the faculty of thinking the particular as contained under the universal', and if the universal is already given 'then the judgement which subsumes the particular under it is determinant (CJ sec IV). If, on the other hand, 'only the particular is given and the universal has to be found for it, then the judgement is simply reflective (ibid). The reflective judgement 'is compelled to ascend from the particular in nature to the universal' and is, Kant says, 'in need of a principle'. This principle cannot be universal, since this would make the judgement determinant, but is located by Kant in judgement proposing to itself the reflective principle of the 'finality of nature'. In the FI sec V-'Of Reflective Judgment'-Kant is rather more specific. He suggests that judgment be regarded either as a capacity for reflecting on a given representation according to a principle, or as a capacity for making concepts determinant by means of an empirical representation. The former 'compare[s] and combine[s] given representations either with other representations, or with one's cognitive powers...', while the latter schematizes given concepts. In the former case, where no apprpriate concept is given the judgement proceeds reflectively, *either* by means of comparing and combining concepts with each other according to the 'universal but at the same time undefined principle of a purposive, systematic ordering of nature'-the 'technic of nature'-*or* by comparison and combination with the harmonious play of the cognitive powers (sec V). The former yields reflective teleological judgements the latter reflective aesthetic judgements The analytic and dialectic of these judgements form the two major sections of CJ.
Kant hints on occasion in CJ that reflective judgements are in some sense prior to determinate judgement. It is they which form a bridge between the realms of theoretical and practical reason and their judgements. This suggestion proved immensely fertile, with writers such as Schelling (1800) and Nietzsche (1901) attempting to develop further Kant's allusive hints of a potential post-critical metaphysics based on reflective judgement. The theme has returned to prominence in the work of Arendt (1989)-who conceives of political judgement on the basis of reflective judgement-and also Lyotard (1983), who has used the reflective judgement as a means of questioning the dogmatic, determinant structures of judgement prevalent in modern societies. Both thinkers are struck by the potential enhancement of freedom implied in making judgements in the absence of a given law.

Friday, June 23, 2006

friendly fighting

Considering that part of the seminar I'm taking with Amanda Anderson is concerned with the possibility and efficacy of political discourse, communication, argument etc., I found this quote from Montaigne interesting. Before I transcribe it I also want to mention that it was interesting that, recently, I fell into a discussion with a group of students here, the majority of whom happened to be from other countries--Australia, France, Ireland, Germany, Britain (and others, none of whom are in my seminar, as a matter of fac--in which we discussed "impolite" argument. (It was in response to a lecture by Bruno Bosteels about Badiou where quite a few folks had difficulty Bosteel's argument but felt constrained by the forum--one is supposed to be polite, but how to get one's disagreement across without, at some level, risking precisely that.) Everyone agreed that it was more fun, interesting, even honest to ask a fairly aggressive and straightforward question. I think that this does indeed have soemthing to do with the crowd I was talking to--their being primarily European ; Americans are so afraid of argument. To be an interlocutor sometimes requires, we agreed, disagreeing for the sake of learning. So here's Montaigne on the subject (in the context of friendship, which puts a different spin on it, perhaps):

I can put up with being roughly handled by my friends'You are an idiot! You are raving!' Among gentlemen I like people express themselves heartily, their words follow wherever their thoughts lead. We ought to toughen and fortify our ears against being seduced by the sound of polite words. I like strong, intimate, manly fellowship which rejoices in sharp vigorous exchanges just as love rejoices in bites and scratches which draw blood. It is not strong enough nor magnanimous enough if it is not argumentative, if it is all politeness and art; if it is afraid of clashes and walks hobbled. *Neque eim disputari sine reprehensione potest* [It is impossible to debate without refuting].

Doesn't this sound homoerotic, even sado-masochistic?... Paper idea: The Homoerotic Discourse of Friendship and Debate in Montaigne's Essays.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The view

So this, kids, is my route up from downtown Ithaca to Cornells campus. It is both spectacular and kinda scary (in parts). This is all I have time for. I miss people!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

specific discontinuities

It is not that I'm uninterested in or unsympathetic to the concern for finding and elaborating discontinuity, flows, ruptures, etc. I am just concerned that these don't turn into generalizable categories in their own right; I am interested, that is, in the specific application of discontinuity, the specific facts (historical, material) of rupture.


We must ask ourselves what purpose is ultimately served by this suspension of all the accepted unities, if, in the end, we return to the unities we pretended to question at the outset. In fact, the systematic erasure of all given unities enables us first of all to restore to the statement the specificty of its occurence, and to show that discontinuity is one of those great accidents that create cracks not only in the geology of history, but also in the simple facts of the statement; it emerges in its historial irruption; what we try to examine is the incison it makes, that irreducible--and very often tiny--emergence. However banal it may be, however unimportant its consequences may appear to be, however quickly it may be forgotten after its appearance, however little heard or however badly deciphered we may suppose it to be, a statement is always an event that neither the language (langue) nor the meaning can quite exhaust. It is certainly a strange event: first, because on the one hand it is linked to the gesture of writing or to the articulation of speech, and also on the other hand it opens up to itself a residual existence in the field of a memory, or in the materiality of manuscripts, books, or any other form of recording; secondly, because like every event, it is unique, yet subject to repetition, transformaton, and reactivation; thirdly, because it is linked not only to the situations that provoke it, and to the consequences that it gives rise to, but at the same time, and in accordance with a quite different modality, to the statements that precede and follow it. (28 The Archeology of Knowledge).

Wallace Stevens?

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You are Wallace Stevens. You love everything, especially the sound of things. Too bad you are so obscure that at times even you don't understand what the hell you have written.
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