Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Part 2 (Whose Project is this Anyway): Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

With this post Flora Sapio and I continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue.  The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts.  Your participation is encouraged.  For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).

Contents: HERE.

Whose project is this, anyway? Does it serve an ends? Ought it?

(LCB)  Flora, you are right to be suspicious of any project of liberation as a false project. Not because the object is false but because the contradiction inherent in a project of liberation. Indeed, any such project is an invitation to escape from one normative prison to another, and neither of the making of those whose object it is to engage in an escape from conceptual prisons into which they have been born, or placed, or into which they have entered.   

At the same time, is it possible to avoid mindlessness?  I am not sure about liberation as doing. The doing/ being distinction is also a trap.  It suggests a physicality, an incarnation, to classifications and the divisions they suggest.  I am not sure that is valuable (though it tends to make talking about these things easier). Nor am I sure about liberation as potentiality.  The potential of doing is unsatisfying.  And it produces a contradiction, a tension with the action that may be the exercise of liberation. Or it might suggest the "action through inaction" of the followers of the Tao. Ought liberation to be considered "in the world" or beyond it?  You suggest at first blush that a disconnection from the world reduces the authenticity of any move toward liberation.  I tend to agree. 
But I get the point.  "Projectivity" (the idea that our conversation can be organized as a project or around a project, etc.) is a suspicious way of approaching what we are trying to think about.  Embracing conception over action is a false path.  And indeed I would go further and suggest that it is the reason why philosophy has gotten a bad name (though analytic philosophy has abandoned itself in favor of cybernetics), not because it is bad but because it is useless except to mop up after the fact. And indeed, it is the focus on potential that has hobbled the elegantly stated sometimes sophisticated systems that pass for philosophy, or ethics, or other guidelines.

So, as we look at preliminaries, perhaps one ought to consider the issue of projectivity from a number of perspectives.  Let us start with the issue of ownership.  Flora was right to worry about the authenticity of a theory of liberation that is not owned or constructed by those who embrace it. Flora is also right to think that one consequence may not be so much the project of developing a "proper" theory in the classical Western sense, but instead to note pathways, perhaps in the sense of a fractured Tao.  But if this is not to be a project, then what is it to be?  Perhaps an exploration is a better way of expressing what we will be doing. We avoid both the instrumentalism of theory (and its managerialism), and the control structures of law or religion (that produces a theory or legal order requiring a priestly caste to interpret and apply it). No one owns the project of liberation precisely, then, because there is no project to own.  

If what we are speaking to, then, is an exploration, then ownership becomes important.  But in a different way.  To speak of liberation in this context is to suggest method and object (we will see).  Yet it is not to homogenize either. We all each own our path, we can share in the stories of path finding, but we might well be going our own way.  For those who view this as an invitation to anarchy (systems without a center) or worse chaos (no systems, no center), the approach maybe profoundly enslaving.  The self, after all, has been either the prisoner of the therapeutic, the narcissistic or the project of communal individuation (self liberation through conformity to communal norms).  These are error, and dangerous ones, freeing the individual from the obligation (to self) of liberation (and without trying to sound like Sartre had a point) and respect for the autonomy of others in shared space (politics and ethics of liberation).
We also have to consider whether this exploration is going to a particular destination.  We have become used (over the last three millennia) to expect to all explorations, philosophies, theories or religions, go "someplace", attain "something", and this someplace can be identified and this something can be commodified (even as an intangible), that is generic in character. It may be too early in our discussion to tell where this exploration will lead, or whether it must inevitably lead in a particular direction for everyone on it, or whether there is even direction to the exploration. 

And Paul van Fleet reminds us that the individual as well as the path requires some thought.  The semiotician might consider the individual the path.  Or the individual may be the "firstness" that remains a potentiality int he absence of action--the rock acquires its characteristics when it is moved or throewn, but that requires the throwing. It may be important to distinguish between the societal self, for which individuation is a societal act, and the internal self.  The aggregation of Betita's suggestion of a base for individuation in the approaches of Western thinkers over the last centuries suggest this possibility.  But this also requires more  thought.  
We thus have a project, but only in the sense of a task.  The task points to an exploration.  The exploration points to paths that are internally unique but the directions for which might be imparted to others.  And others might be understood as the collection of an internal and a societal aggregation of those matters that produce a consciousness of self and others.  But even this produces disciomfort--too neat, too complete, too instrumental.  Does language make this project impossible?


Paul Van Fleet said...

I would not say that language makes this project impossible, so long as we acknowledge not only the limitations of language, but the implications of language as it exists today.

Language is a paradox. It is necessary for our communication of internal mental states, but the danger of language influencing not only the ideas of others, but our own, always looms. This is why is is necessary to take ownership of our language, and if necessary, create a new one. Perhaps a new terminology is needed to fully and accurately communicate our ideas.

It is interesting that you use the term "thrown" to describe potentiality transformed into active substance. We are all, in some sense, "thrown" into the world when we are born into it. But after this birth, potentiality is not passive. It inspires us to solidify our worlds; it calls to us like a siren. "Bring order, create your reality!" That which is the object of our thought lends itself to that thinking.

Our signs and language point to this primordial process that underlies what it means "to be." Perhaps this is the starting point, although it borders on mysticism, as opposed to the rigor of philosophy. But we all must begin somewhere in the cycle.

Betita Horn said...

I was re-reading the texts. Very good your Larry argument. And much good your Paul placement. I think both arguments are logical and very good, which is not to say that I agree with them 100%. Rsrsrsrs Sometimes we need to review often a concept to achieve and be able to see it from different perspectives. This applies to everything. Doing this is very helpful and good.