31 May 2014

Interplay of free starting-points in the time-clearing

Response to a questioner:

Whether you believe that there are free starting-points or not has everything to do with your commitment to two alternative conceptions of time itself. For modern science, i.e. scientific method, time is cast as continuous, one-dimensional, linear, which amounts to a commitment to the absoluteness of efficient causality that generates all movement/change, proceeding moment by moment, from the past to the present moment into the future that accordingly arrives deterministically. For this view, which amounts to modern science's founding superstition, there is only a block universe in which there can be no free starting-points and in which time is an illusion that can cleverly be eliminated from the physical equations of movement of all kinds. Without linear, one-dimensional time with its corresponding efficient causality, modern science collapses in favour of another vista in which the play of three-dimensional time comes into view.

If you return to your everyday phenomenal experience of living, which itself is a kind of movement/change, you can conceive of, i.e. presence in your mind, what might have happened back then, and also what might occur, presencing from the future. This presencing in the mind of what might have been and what might occur is already an indication that time is not a one-dimensional, continuous line connected by totalized effective causality, but is itself an openness open to possibilities that may or may not arrive within it.

Although, starting with your birth, you are cast into situations over which you have no control whatsoever, you nevertheless have the possibility of conceiving ('minding') and casting yourself one way or another into the future, whether this be on the small scale of your next everyday action or, in a wider casting, shaping your future life, indeed who you will become in casting your self. This is the abyssal nothingness of your self as a free starting-point (_archae_), a power as an origin of life-movement. You engage willy-nilly (nolens volens) with others, each of whom, in turn, is likewise a free starting-point and hence also an abyssal source of life-movement, i.e. an individual free power. This power interplay has its own compulsions and 'hard places' that will even negate your own intended aims, pushing you in one direction or another. The ongoing outcome of the power play among free starting-points is uncertain, incalculable, and is so only within the free, non-linear, three-dimensional play of the openness of time itself that provides the clearing for this interplay of individual powers. There are more degrees of freedom than modern science will concede, for it is committed to control over movements of all kinds, for the sake of setting-up all that occurs.

That, in any case, is how I see our sharing of the time-clearing with one another for as long as each of us participates in it, i.e. is alive, self-moving, self-changing.

Further reading: Being Time Space.

30 May 2014

Singularity cannot be con-cluded

Singularity is an important concept for me, too. It is often confused with particularity, being used as a synonym. My critique of Hegel (cf. Chap. 12 iii) of my Social Ontology) hangs on showing that singularity (Einzelheit) cannot be closed together (con-cluded, in einem Schluss zusammen geschlossen) with universality (Allgemeinheit) via particularization (Besonderung). The mediating middle is broken, so no identity. Only in singularity is there a ghost of a chance for freedom of those courageous enough to risk it. Pluralism I see as the (Protagorean) splintering of truth into multiple perspectives at power-play with each other. In the niches and crevices left by the non-identical closure between singularity and universality resides (the potential for) freedom. Any politics striving for a closure into identity are necessarily totalitarian. Like today’s social welfare state pursuing its (unrealizable) ideal of totally caring for an obedient populace (Nietzsche’s “letzter Mensch”).

Originally posted on Terence Blake's blog-spot.

17 May 2014

Graham Harman's misguided Heidegger-interpretation

"Heidegger’s great breakthrough came when he first noted that usually we do not encounter entities as present in consciousness. This is already an artificial special case that occurs most often in the breakdown of entities. As long as [...} the hammer and screwdriver are working in your hands rather than shattering into tiny pieces, they tend not to be noticed. While phenomena in the mind are present or present-at-hand, entities themselves are ready-to-hand for Heidegger, remaining invisible as they work towards various purposes.

"Even this standard way of reading Heidegger turns out to be too superficial. He is not just giving us a difference between conscious perception and theory on the one hand and unconscious practical action on the other. Notice that even praxis reduces things to figures, since my use of a chair or hammer reduces it, oversimplifies it by interacting with only a small number of its vast range of qualities. The lesson from Heidegger is not that conscious awareness is the site of figure and unconscious praxis is the site of ground. Instead, the hidden ground is the thing itself, which is reduced, caricatured, or distorted by any relation we might have with it, whether theoretical or practical. And moreover, this is not just a special fact about human beings, but is typical even of inanimate relations." (Graham Harman 'Greenberg, Duchamp, and the Next Avant-Garde' Speculations V punctum books,  Brooklyn NY 2014 pp.261f my emphases)

In this passage from a recent essay, Harman recapitulates salient features not only of his poor reading of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit but, above all, of his inadequate interpretation of the phenomena themselves.

i) He seems to think that, like his teacher Husserl, Heidegger is dealing with "consciousness" and what is "unconscious", which could not be further from Heidegger's shifting the site of the mind from a consciousness in a subject's interior vis-à-vis an external world of objects to the openness of the Da, exposed to which Dasein understands beings presenting themselves in this Da as such-and-such (the hermeneutic As).

ii) Re the famous broken hammer in Sein und Zeit that draws attention to itself: In use the functioning hammer remains unnoticed, or rather, to employ Heidegger's more precise term, "inconspicuous" (unauffällig), which by no means signifies that the hammer is "invisible", nor that its user is "unconscious" of it. Rather, in use, the hammer is understood in its usefulness without its user having to be specially focused on it. The user's attention is directed rather toward the task at hand of hammering, and his mind, his Da, understands what is necessary to do the task. The hammer in its usefulness is open to him, i.e. understood as a matter of course, and incorporated into his actions.

iii) From i) and ii) it can be seen that Heidegger is not at all "giving us a difference between conscious perception and theory on the one hand and unconscious practical action on the other".

iv) Postulating a "hidden ground [which] is the thing itself" amounts to a vain attempt at resurrecting the Kantian Ding an sich, which is beyond any insightful phenomenal access whatsoever. Only that which presents itself in the Da is open to Dasein at all. Accordingly, "inanimate relations" among things do not "distort" the "thing itself". It is only Dasein, from its perspective, that can understand "inanimate relations" at all, whether it be in daily life or theoretically. Such "inanimate relations" present themselves as such-and-such to Dasein's understanding in one way or another. It makes no sense to speak of "inanimate relations" in themselves, just as it is futile to speak of a Ding an sich, which is merely the untenable, self-negating imagining of something that is utterly beyond any possible human experience, i.e outside the Da. You're trying to imagine outside the Da from inside the Da, thus bringing what was supposedly outside, inside.

The Da itself is the three-dimensional ecstatic time-clearing as the sole (pre-spatial; it has no 'where') 'site' for occurrents of all kinds to present and absent themselves and so be understood by Dasein in one way or another by virtue of its being 'enpropriated' (vereignet) to the Da. Moreover, the quivering of the Da in any situation, period or even age is what enables Dasein's responsive attunement one way or another.

What Graham Harman offers is just one more way of failing to get over the metaphysical split between the conscious subject and the external object whose being supposedly is altogether independent from the subject. This relapse is presented, of course, as 'the next big thing'.

Further reading: Out of your mind? Parmenides' message.

15 May 2014

Lévinas' baby and the bath-water

In an article first published in 1951 entitled 'Is Ontology Fundamental?', Lévinas briefly presents a case for a negative answer to this question. This negative answer bears and marks his entire thinking, and that to such an extent that it is by and large a negative movement, akin even to negative theology. There is no doubt that Lévinas has a genuine phenomenon in view, a phenomenon that opened up and provided the essential impetus for dialogical philosophy and is roughly indicated by the grammatical difference between the third person and the second person. Lévinas is also correct in pointing out that Heidegger's fundamental ontology, as presented in Sein und Zeit and lecture courses throughout the twenties, does not enter into an interpretation of this phenomenon but rather keeps it at arm's length. But whereas Lévinas argues for a strong distinction between what he calls metaphysics, which is concerned with infinitude, and ontology, which he claims to be totalizing, the thesis presented in the present excursus is that Heidegger, even in shying away from the dialogical phenomenon, provides an indispensable placeholder and starting-point for adequately interpreting it. To put it colloquially, Lévinas throws the baby out with the bath-water. Moreover, he insists on mixing theology with philosophy, with the result that his texts take on the hue of a dogmatic, morally exalted, incantatory insistence. This will be shown in the following by selecting passages from the above-mentioned article which is representative of and quintessential to Lévinas' enduring stance toward Heidegger's thinking. Some comments will also be made on Totalité et Infini and Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence.

Read on