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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries to the Egyptians

Sinthome wrote: Interesting and well articulated post. I think this is an example of why it is so important to clarify the use of terms. I use the term “immanence” in an entirely different way. In my usage, it doesn’t refer to social, cultural, or historical self-understanding, but is an ontological thesis that is almost synonymous with materialism. That is, immanence means no god or gods. Rather, everything admits of a materialist explanation without making reference to a transcendent being. For me, the stance you outline, perhaps, would remain mired in transcendence insofar as another culture or group is treated as being transcendent to (like an object) the perspective that is evaluating it. I don’t think immanence is genuinely immanence so long as it remains immanent to something… Whether that something be a mind (Kant, Phenomenology), a historical period, or a culture or social group. No doubt this is why I react so strongly to words like “normativity” (aren’t there other, better words?), and some of these questions as I take myself to be working outside a Kantian context and the sort of considerations put forward by Kant and continued after this tradition, which I take to be a serious wrong turn in the history of philosophy.
But this is all irrelevant to your project, as clearly you reject the classical way of doing metaphysics. Within the constraints of your project, one caveat that comes to mind is structural in nature. Both Russell and Cantor demonstrated that we can’t have a set of all sets. In the case of Rusell’s paradox we always end up with a remainder or exception to the structure that doesn’t fit. This point was subsequently confirmed for cultural formations by structuralist ethnography that perpetually discovered an anomalous element to any structure that didn’t obey the rules of structure. This has also been a persistent motif throughout the history of philosophy with things like Plato’s good, etc., and is very likely the source of a belief in religious transcendence. The questions you’re posing very closely follow this logic of exception, and it may very well be that you’re speaking of a structural issue as if it were simply the result of not enough theory. That is, it might be a formal feature of structures that such an exception be present (as your fellow reading groups seem to be suggesting with their remarks about performative contradiction). Monday, 23/04/2007 at 4:02 am Permalink
Sinthome wrote: I guess I just wonder why, in a post-representational philosophy, normative claims need to be justified at all. Why not instead simply relate to theory as a way of life or a technology? The bat needs no jusification for its use of sonar, nor does a dog require justification for its use of sense. In analogy to this, theory can be thought as a proposal for living and interacting with the world in a particular way, rather than representations of the world. They are akin to motor-schema. “True” simply means that the predicted outcomes occur, whereas false means they fail. Or perhaps false refers to an illegal move within the constraints of that game. Good refers to an equivalence with the aims promoted by the schema, whereas bad refers to the opposite. Where the thesis that there is a world has been given up, questions of justification and grounding no longer need to be entertained. Instead a theory becomes a way of living among others in the jungle. I guess, for me, the question I always have when confronting a philosophy is not “is it true”, but rather what does it do and allow me to feel or experience. Or, “what world do I encounter when I adopt these categories as a lense?”
The reference to Russell’s paradox is meant to underline the point that for any formal system there is an element that must be excluded or subtracted. Consequently, a system purely committed to immanence in your sense would, as a necessary consequence of properties of formal systems, necessarily contain a point of transcendence that it cannot eradicate. This was encountered early on in the history of philosophers with regard to relativism, i.e., everything is relative except the proposition that everything is relative. What you’re articulating is that the theorist herself is caught up in context when elaborating context, but speaks in such a way as to subtract herself from context. Here I think it’s worthwhile to take a page from Kant and argue that this is an unavoidable transcendental illusion, and then draw the implications of this transcendental illusion, just as Kant demonstrates that reason perpetually transcends the limitations of understanding as a feature of its moral vocation.
I say that you treat other cultures as transcendent because you speak of them as being something in-themselves that is other than the theorist observing them. You treat them as transcendent to the theorist and then worry how the theorist can make claims about them that aren’t saturated by her own context. This is a variant of the Kantian phenomenal/nuomenal problematic: the culture as a phenomenal manifestation to the theorist synthesized according to the theorists own categories (context) versus the other culture or society being discussed as in-itself and unmediated. This ignores the way in which another culture is already other to itself or mysterious to itself, entertaining no special relation to its own history and culture. As Hegel liked to put it, the mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries to the Egyptians. Monday, 23/04/2007 at 7:06 am Permalink

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