Sunday, 21 October 2007

No Fixed Abode


In between worlds, in between places. Certain objects, within their previous place, fall from their certainty. A collection of keys to previous buildings, all of which have lost their resonance as “homes.” Despite this, those same keys retain their ability to open the old doors. A house is returned to, in doing so, things lose their certainty. The walls, so far built through memory and imagination, lose their grip. What to do with the space that remains? Mementos, contained in a vessel ready to be taken over. Who can squeeze into this room? Tonight, I am watching this place from afar. Shards of a world detonate against the horizon, tempered by both the memory of habit and the habit of memory.

Other people’s lives enter the scene. A world presents itself, alien in its intimacy, yet fused with a desire to seal what time ruptures. Other people come to the fore, beacons of an admission of absence: expired as soon as they've arrived. A concordant desire to turn away from this foreground presence becomes a gesture toward insulation, a confession of disillusionment and a contempt toward the birth of a new intimacy. Aristotle instructs us to treat the other person with due moderation, somewhere between surliness and ingratiation: a moderation broken, however, as the rays of the past seeps into the flesh of the present. Nothing is taken as it is given, nothing admits to genuine spontaneity, and even an accidental discovery contains its own buried history of desires.

Friday, 5 October 2007

In the interim: Tengelyi

My commitment to blogging has been somewhat displaced by the beginning of the term, this and trying to wade through Husserl’s theory of time consciousness. As a result, I’ve only had a brief chance to get a sense for what Laszlo Tengelyi is up to in his Wild Region in Life-History (thanks kindly to Fido for pointing the way), though I am finding the general argument very persuasive. I am also eager to get started on Edward Casey’s new book, The World at a Glance, which has recently arrived and looks good (not so sure about the cover, however). Before then, however, some vague thoughts on Tengelyi.

I follow Fido in taking Tengelyi’s critical distinction between a “spontaneous emergence and retroactive fixation of sense” as his point of departure concerning the condition of “ipseity”: selfhood. For Tengelyi, the former notion refers to the idea of “life-history” as indeterminate, whereas the latter is the process whereby that same history is modified through the articulation of stories (pp. xxvi–xxvii). The distinction is of particular interest to me, since it attests to the morphological fusion between memory and imagination in the construction of an ambigious self-identity (somewhat analogously to Husserl’s problematic distinction between primary and secondary memory). Tengelyi, nonetheless, wants to emphasise the difference between a life-history and a self-identity, despite their inseparability.

In response to this double-bind, Tengelyi follows Merleau-Ponty in advancing a “diacritical method” to the difference between life-history and self-identity, where diacritical refers to a “subsequent” recognition of a difference within an identity, urged by a temporal “phase delay” (p. xxix). The emphasis on a delayed exposure affirms, I would argue, phenomenology’s receptivity to the act of defamiliarizing appearances in and through time, and taken from the first-person singular. The fundamentally genetic dimension of this movement leads Tengelyi to the notion of a “wild region” (p. xxxiii). Tengelyi is led to this notion through doubting the self-evidence of “life-history as [being] the domain of the constitution of self-identity” (Ibid). Rather, for Tengelyi, it follows that between the “spontaneous emergence and retroactive fixation of sense” lies not the assimilation of “events” beyond human scope, but a “no-man’s-land that gives room the avatars of a dispossessed…sense” (Ibid). The existence of this region, for Tengelyi, is evidenced with the sense of astonishment, which marks the insertion of difference within the same, in Tengelyi’s terms, a “dispossessed sense” (p. xxxiv).

The end of the Tengelyi’s preface is marked by an incisive analysis of the difference between self-identity and singularity. Tengelyi’s leading question is: “Should we claim that the identity of ourselves is preserved even if we do not remain the same as we were?” (p. xxxv). Tengelyi supposes the question to be misleading, insofar as the phrase “identity of ourselves” belies a claim for irreducible particularities. I am in agreement with Tengelyi in disputing the allegedly anchoring position of our “choices” (to put it in Sartrean terms). Thanks to the singularity of being ourselves, becoming other than who we are, does not entail a bifurcated sense of self, thus Tengelyi’s significant claim: “It is our singularity that finds its expression in the purely positional fact that we remain ourselves even if we do not remain the same as we were” (p. xxxv). To what extent this difference between singularity and self-identity can be maintained, I sense, will be contentious.