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Tag Archives: Homer

Avatar: The Density of Being

Let’s just say that I am recovering. It is a carefully sculpted onslaught, discretely spaced with only a few flaws, but an onslaught nonetheless. And I am recovering. It’s Pocahontas meets Full Metal Jacket meets The Diving Bell and the Butterfly meets Alien meets Coming Home meets Dragonheart meets Dersu Uzala  meets Brainstorms meets Total Recall meets The Legend of Zu meets Tron meets Dances with Wolves meets Final Fantasy IV meets Logan’s Run, all of this meeting Ecological Crisis ideology meets Indigenous nostalgia meets Disney ethnic cliché and New Age ascension, and all of that sum colliding with the categorical mytho-aesthetic effect of the first Star Wars and possibly 2001. The storylines and plot topologies proliferate at animation-cell frame rates so synthesized, so graced, they are no longer borrowings, but rather operate like flipped gateways for infusions that simply cannot be qualified, nor controled. The movie downloads the viewer with such ferocity and such poetic space the film bends back cinema upon itself, and introduces its content – the question of Avatarship – into the very experience, pulling out from technological increase and its inherent relatability the buried question of sensitivity, connection and projected identification, in short, the implied organic mutuality in everything our machines have brought us. Cameron and his magicians in such a threshold defying 3D invade our bodies and throw out our affects into the arms and sinews of operators which defy all of our repeated attempts to take map of where we are. This past movie recognition, this ethnic familiarity – are the Pandorans African Maasai, elegant Native American Indians, Thai-Myanmar Pa Dong Karen, naked Amazon natives, or even cats – inundates and torques the viewer in a transport that is more than pleasured, more than reflective. It is free…free in only the sense that aesthetic renewal can be free. One is tossed outward amid the equally familiar ideological landscapes of ecological nightmare (however this reads for you), and you are vividly aware of its artifice. But in that practical synthetics the technological nervature examines you and opens you out across the help even to your well-honed intellectual compass. You rifle through cartographies, all of them familiar, all of them critically engaged, but grid on grid, none of them suffice. The imagined-to-be trite self-discovery of the main character’s authentic warrior thymotic spirit (that template) sheds all of is scales amid an interaction with image and physical movement that perhaps only equals the dislocations and alien projections of scuba or spacewalk. If anything else is communicated here, technology is sense, and sense is technology, within the scope of global concern. Nevermind that every Na’vi looks the connotations of every supermodel distortion of mundane biology. Nevermind that videogame freedoms populate with every stigma of ideological absorption. Nevermind that mythologies fragment into flattened space confrontations. The whole thing escalates far beyond its means, revealing how Ideals throw us forwards, how when technologies and techniques are sufficient, they compel the spirit into new-born orbits of extreme decay and apogee, flights that must have been there in the thousands of memory verses when one of Homer’s avatars was repeating the invented history of the Greeks with muscular hexemeter and rhythm in the residue glow of camp-fires.

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The Bristling of Wheat, The Warming of the Thymos

I was talking with my wife today about how our Cattle Dog pup’s fur bristles with fear/excitment when she steps out at night and smells the air, to howl or bark. She was saying how we all know what this feels like, despite our species differences, and what came to mind were a wonderful word-image of Homer’s on how the thymos of an angered man can come to be “warmed” or “softened”. This has consequences I believe for a general theory of Thymotics, as I joined Sloterdijk to advocate perhaps a different notion of economy. 

…and his spirit (thumos)
was warmed (ianthē), just like the dew upon the ears of corn
of a ripening crop, when the ploughlands are bristling (phrissō):
even so, Menalaos, was the spirit (thumos) in your heart warmed (ianthē)
Trans. Nicholas Richardson (Chapter 23 @ line 600)

Richardson translates these lines beautifully, showing their circular structure. The image is that of a thumos (heart, spirit, passion) that upon being warmed by the sun, simply evaporates, bringing the crops to grow. This is in restorative relation to the other images of desire, earlier in the Iliad describe as being vapor-like (kapnos) in the context of loss: the honey-sweet thumos that waxes like kapnos in anger at 18.110 where Achilles savors his anger over his lost Patroklus, and then Patroklus’ psuchē which goes into the earth like kapnos vapor, where Achilles cannot grasp it, 23.100. Instead here, in the shadow of Achilles’s adjudication, the thumos is warmed like dew is, under a divine sun. The bristling of the corn-wheat, phrissousin, has rich meaning; the word can mean anything from physically bristling to having a chill or a shudder, or even holy awe.

What does it take to see the whole world as bristling?

The Sprache of Achilles: The Panoply of Speech

The Man that Does Not Think by Oneself

I want this post to both grow out of a comment Carl from Dead Voles made on the thread Heidegger “Never says…” and Harman says… and also to be an expansion upon the thoughts I began on my recent post Human Competence: Achilles On the Mend. There is a certain compatibility between Wittgensteinian language game approaches and the speaking strategies of Achilles, the hero of Homer’s Iliad, and it is my hope to use the figure of Achilles to point forward toward a way that is neither tragic, nor alienated in the world of objects, a post-human world of forces and coherent assemblage.

Carl was responding to a line from the neo-Marxist/Spinozist Etienne Balibar, that that reflects something of Wittgenstein’s well-known Private Language Argument: “If no man ever thinks alone, then we might say that to know really is to think ever less by oneself”

This is making me think of Wittgenstein’s private language problem. Perhaps we’ve come full circle and back to your original post. In with the not-said is all of the rules and tools that any particular language game makes available to take for granted. These are the conditions for any intelligible and communicative statement. In practice they arise out of discourse communities, which are associated with ways of life, which are conditioned by all sorts of things starting with food and up through durable institutions. I trust I can wave my hands like this and convey a gist.

We make our own worlds, but not in conditions of our own choosing, as Marx said. So I couldn’t agree more when you say “I find it more valuable to see how we can invest the tradition itself with new possibilities, to change the tradition from within. And whether it is the tradition that is doing the thinking, or us as originals, really doesn’t matter.” Except I’d say it’s both, always both…

We had been discussing Graham Harman’s appropriation of Heidegger’s notion of Dasein and implied objecthood, coupled with his stout refusal to grant that Heidegger held such an idea as is originally his own, that objects other than human beings could have their own Dasein determination. The idea is meant to be both implicitly found within Heidegger, but also excluded from Heidegger. In a sense, it partakes in the authority of Heidegger, but aims to be immune to critiques of the same. In this regard, Carl suggests (at least it seems to me) that within a Wittgensteinian terminology, the language game of Heidegger’s description of the world might be seen to have within its possibilities of Graham Harman’s assertions regarding forever hidden, real objects, although these possibilities were not develped by Heidegger.

Achillean Immanence vs. Odysseus’s Instrumentality

In my previous post on the difference between the heroic figures of fierce and woeful Achilles and the table-turning, wandering Odysseus, I pointed out that Western Philosophy, particularly in its modern manifestations, took on the wrong Greek hero. Instead of the radiating Achilles who defines himself by his bonds and presents himself as a pure man of action (or inaction), of which speech was a considerable means, philosophy concerned itself with the No-man traveler of endless turns, the serial human being whose only defining characteristic is his mind’s capacity to dexterously articulate itself amid the contingencies of Being, all the while largely homeless, spread across the earth.

There is an important factor in the story of Achilles though that narrows the point and brings us directly back to the comparison to language games that Carl draws. And this is Achilles’s linguistic strategies as found in his speech of the Ninth Book of the Iliad. For those who are unfamiliar, or need to be refreshed, Achilles the greatest warrior of the Greeks has withdrawn from the Trojan War because his rightfully awarded prize Briseis was taken from him by Agamemnon who is nominally the chief of the Hellenic contingent, as some sort of recompense for his own war-prize, a daughter of a priest of Apollo having to be returned. The Hellenic warriors now are loosing the battle without their most powerful ally, and Agamemnon is faced with the shame of having acted unrightfully. Achilles has been convinced to come to a great hall meeting where he is to make a plea articulating his being wronged. As it has been put, “Achilles needs to be paid, but he cannot be bought off”. 

Now this is the interesting thing. Achilles in our collective memory is largely thought of as some kind of glorious and blood splattered athlete, a kind of brute beauty perhaps, a pure articulation of body. But this is not at all the case in the minds of the listeners of Homer. He is a master of the lute and song, learned in the secrets of medical arts, and adroitly mesmerizing in speech (muthos). In his speech to the hall, in rebuttal to Odysseus’s finely constructed argument, he combines personal expression and ethical character argumentation (I am this way, Agamemnon is that way) to present a plea which strains the very form of the heroic hexameter verse in which it is to appear.

The Book 9 Speech: The New and the Old

There has been debate about the unique uses of language forms by Achilles ever since Adam Parry’s 1956 article “The Language of Achilles” which claimed that Achilles’ abuse of the heroic form actually indicated his pure and existential alienation from the rigidity of human ordination. He was in a sense, cut off from history, and in the end performs some sort of transcendental and divine reconsilation. David Claus in his 1975 “Aidös and the Language of Achilles” denied Parry’s conclusions, rather arguing that Achilles in speech only melded the heroic code to its new possibilities, bending and transforming its rules. The context of these interpretations can be seen in the informative essay, “The Language of Achilles: Reconstrution vs. Representation,” Steve Nimis (1986)[click here]. There Nimis sums Claus’s understanding of Achilles’ maneuver as the following,

Achilles, Claus argues, does not simply negate the heroic “code” (taking this term to mean a pattern of meaningful behavior and speech), but rather stretches and bends it in order to articulate his own ideal view of that code. Hence despite the formality and rhetorical predictability of his overt statements, [Achilles] manages to suggest a division of the heroic world into men who feel and love, who can fight, who have proper joy in their possessions, and those who rely on “things” to defend themselves against heroic sthenos, who seek to be kinglier than others, whose possessions are nothing good to them, who do not even know what a life is worth. Again, while this rejects Agamemnon and all his ways, it leaves the heroic code, at least as Achilles idealizes it, intact.

It is this I would like to focus on, the way in which an Achillean ideal type, through the force of his Being, his ideational and bodily capacity to act, takes hold of the existing “language game” and torques it to express what cannot otherwise be expressed within it. And in so doing, idealizes it by living out the expression he/she has formed. And it is specifically at the nexus of valuation that Achilles draws his distinction within the heroic realm. There are two kinds of men:

1. Men who feel and love, who can fight, who have proper joy of their possessions.

2. Those who rely on “things” to defend themselves against heroic strength [sthenos], who seek to be kinglier than others, whose possessions are nothing good to them, who do not even know what a life is worth.

Beneath this division is really the instrumentality of valuation, the unbodied, placeholder conception of “things” (objects and situations) as separable units of deploy vs. the lived and built bonds of enfleshed alliance. It is the difference between instrument and prosthetic grafting. Achilles forms his words out of his very fleshed circumstance, fully committed to what he can do. Agamemnon (and Odysseus) has politically weighed and buried self-interest against the possibilities of advance.

Nimis, taking both interpretive positions of relative alienation in hand, then qualifies Achilles’s speech act within the linguistic distinction of rule-governed creativity, and rule-changing creativity:

Both Claus’ analyses of Achilles’ speeches and Parry’s notion of Achilles’ alienation can be rethought in these terms, taking our cue from the distinction linguists make between rule-changing creativity and rule-governed creativity. All communication occurs in terms of conventions, but such conventions are constantly being used to “say” new things by various creative strategies. Rule-governed creativity is defined as the production of a new phrase or message which is a combination of conventional units in a way governed by prior conventions. Thus the sentence “there is a golden mountain on the moon” would be a “new” expression, but able to be understood given the existing conventions of English. Wallace Stevens’ famous line, however, “green colorless ideas sleep furiously,” is an example of rule-changing creativity, since the production and interpretation of this phrase require the establishment of a new convention which does not yet exist. Achilles’ speeches can be said to be examples of such rule-changing creativity. Like Wallace Stevens, he is a sign-producer who wishes to change the “code”, to articulate a meaning for whose communication and accurate reception no adequate conventions exist as yet. The situation seems to be paradoxical: if communication is based on conventions, how can it occur where no conventions exist? Yet unless we assume that language is “natural” in the strict sense (i.e., that it is immanent), all language must have become conventional by some form of rule-changing creativity (4)

Aside from the fact that Donald Davidson does have an answer for how language can occur without shared conventions, we can glimpse at the way in which Achilles’s speech act is to be idealized as the exemplar of almost all creative artistic activity. It is the attempt creatively change the rules of the game that refuses your articulation, rather than play by the rules (and break them secretly when you can). And in so doing attempt to isolate and express the purpose of the language game in the first place.

Now there is something a bit Hegelian about this take of Nimis’s, and it really shows up in his conclusion, but I would like to focus on Achilles’s alienation. He is not alienated from human beings as a class, for he gets along well with his Myrmidons who he leads, and Protroclus who he loves, and Briseis, and Phoenix his old mentor (despite disagreements), and his mother the goddess Thetis. He alienated from his moment in history, the condition he has found himself in, as an injustice has been suffered. And he experiences this not as a personal injustice, which it is, but as a crisis in leadership itself, in the unkingliness of the said King who does not fight nor act equal to his position. This is shown much later in the Hellenic games Achilles presides over, after Agamemnon has left the narrative, showing the correct form of generous rule. Fair is not a calculation. So Achilles’s is not an ontological alienation under which he is somehow removed from his very Being, but a contingent insufficiency of expression, wherein his constitutional bonds are stretched. In this way, Achilles creatively stretches the heroic form, and with great expense steps away from the game so to affect it with his absence. A great portion of the tale is told with his absence as the main actor until finally it is only his armor that arrives. Achilles is the full inhuman and divine breadth that is in what’s human.

Achilles as Actor

When I suggest that the Achillean answer to the traditional Odysseus problems of philosophy is available, it is this that I emphasize (to select a few).

1. A substanced capacity to live through your bonds and attachments, and not simply use or deploy them.

2. The capacity to realize that speech acts are fully material acts, and that we can readily use rule-changing creativity to express what is within a rule-governed game.

3.The rhetor and the gnostic become the same person because the difference between the political and performance is collapsed.

4. Maintaining the hyper-human (divine) and trans-human (inanimate, elemental forces) spectrum of action, drawing on all our capacities to manifest (Solar Achilles).

5. Employ the immanence of one’s power as necessarily a limit reachable by mercy, the affirmation of custom renewed (Priam).

6. The value of things is fate.

7. Don the Achillean armor of immanence carefully, prudently (Patroclus); you are already wearing it.

8. When you make the corpse (Hector), turning the living into surface through the inscription of your desire, you must release it.

This is far from the self-negating existentialism of Odysseus (at least before he comes home to Ithica, as he becomes qualified by later Attic Tragedy). The human being takes its place within a panoply of historical objects, each fighting to bring forth its full expression. And bonds formed between living an inanimate things are as solid as atomic bonds, the forceful living through, and by the others around us. Man does not travel on his own temporal river, sequestered from the world, blessed/cursed only with the negating power of his consciousness. Man does not travel cloaked with the negating power of his own mortality. In the figure of Achilles it is not the illusion that man is both angel and animal, and therefore neither, the gap between them, but rather as all things are so constituted, man is a spectrum of forces brought to bear in their moment of history, finding the articulation that is best possible for them, those voices and those continuities.

Human Competence: Achilles On the Mend

 

Carl at Dead Voles wrote a pair of ruminations that flowed from an all-too-honest confession of how to write a philosophy paper by Graham Harman (apparent Graham linked to the comments, and then deleted the link, finding the criticism out of bounds). First he critiqued Graham’s very helpful suggestions on how to structurally spruce up a paper, things like breaking it up into sections, identifying tensions with positions other than your own, and then mixing in a Classic thinker, drawing our attention to how as a historian Carl finds this process (expanded into a prescription for how to read books, and dovetail papers with talks) to be painfully different from the kinds of closer examinations he must carry out. Then in “Shopping at the Black Box Store” he draws heavier consequences from this kind of text and thought production, summing up the problems with the Latourian proposal that Theories operate primarily as Black Boxes, calling for perhaps a better, more lucid metaphors (linking parts of Metaphors We Live By), ultimately pointing towards the Black Boxes of Marxist thought:

This is an interesting metaphor to me, because in my dissertation I used it to characterize marxist approaches to revolutionary consciousness and suggested that its darkness contributed to enabling some pretty serious errors and atrocities. Perhaps a more transparent and reflective sort of thinking (not to mention a more glassy set of metaphors) might have contributed to a more humane revolutionary practice?

Part of this response falls at the feet of philosophy itself, with a real mourning that Graham Harman’s lessons how how to produce and package philosophical ideas does describe the requirements of a real environment for philosophy production. One really must roll one reading into another talk. One really should through in a Classical thinker every now an then. I mean, there is a brand to keep up. Distinct from the real sense that theories can be seen as Black Boxes that can indeed be opened up to see how they work, there is also in Latour (and Harman’s celebration of the same), the sense that the way that a theory succeeds is by Black Boxing itself, keeping its hidden mechanisms opaque to the viewer.

Two Kinds of Magic

Arthur C. Clarke said brilliantly in his Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  There is the sense that any theory that is to be successfully put forth has to operate as a kind of magic, and a magic that happens when we don’t quite know how they did that. This is distinct of course from the kind of magic one feels when we “see how they did that,” when we see how things connect and manifest. There seems to be a fundamental tension between these two kinds of magic.

Graham Harman’s behind the scenes “tricks of the trade”  benevolent advice to up and coming thinkers perhaps invests in both kinds of magic. This is how it all connects, what Carl calls the glimpse behind the curtain: this is how you can create the illusion of deep and analytical thinking, and gather momentum in your profession and your brand. And there is a beautiful magic in “How to be a Successful Philosopher” perhaps in the same way as magician in training would feel relieved to know now how to saw the lady in half. Much of Graham’s professional insight seems to fall into this category of “there is no mystery for how to make the mystery appear”.

But as I read it, Carl’s problem isn’t with Graham’s successful procedures, but with the very social conditions which reward and reinforce just these habits of reading and paper building. Do theories only become accepted through a kind of magical allure, a seduction into a willing-suspension of disbelief, a refusal to let others look under the hood? I believe that what flows from Carl’s objection to skim reading and antique philosopher insertion is something of the same objection to mass-produced objects of consumption. There is the sense that yes, you can do it that way, but perhaps I want something hand-carved. When philosophy bases itself upon idea and text production of this sort, does it not take as its very material that which is most malleable to such a process?

Achilles Contra Odysseus

With these thoughts in mind throughout the intermittency of morning I found my mind turning to a comparison which was somewhat prevalent in Athenian society, the contrast between Achilles and Odysseus. There is something to Carl’s appeal for a glassier set of metaphors, and his dissatisfaction with Graham Harman brand-building Black Box stores that for me invokes this antique difference. Odysseus was he man of many turns, polytropos. The word is rich in meanings. Because clever he can turn in any direction, he is a swiss-army knife of mentality and action, full of devices. Yet because of this, his life (despite the homecoming at the Odyssey’s end) is also in quintessential Heideggerian and Holderlinian fashion, a life of wandering, turn upon turn, endlessly thrown into and against the world. He is thought to be in many ways the essentially modern man. To some degree he embodied both the positive and the negative values of contemporary Athenian citizen ideas.

But Achilles was a different sort of figure, a man of a different sort of Age, someone who the Athenian Greeks often felt put the Odysseus of tricks to the pale. A man perhaps who no longer it seemed could exist. Contrary to Odysseus’s adaptability, Achilles was someone who exerted the pure force of his ability to act and manifest itself directly (even it its absence). He was something like a direct radiation of Being. His story in the Iliad told of how man is to act amid social injustice, when one’s nominal leaders lack the community of values which are required to lead. It is told that he is both a rhetor and a doer  in such a way that we understand that speaking is a kind of act and not something readily separable.

There is a very real sense that as the history of Western philosophy, particularly in its modern form, turned to the Greeks for their blueprints of questions and answers, the wrong, or least desirable Greek ideal was absorbed. People like Heidegger rejoiced over the alienations of Odysseus, his homeless machinations, and did not see the simplicity of force found in Achilles. A man conditioned by his loves (Briseis, Patroclus, Thetis, the Myrimdons, then lastly affimed custom, reconsiliation and mercy), and driven to personal yet mutual justice, someone who bent the rules of the very discourse available to express his dissatisfaction, and through a combination of refusal and action morally shaped both his community and historical events. Achilles was man before Man, something that could manifest both itself in surplus of the spectrum of the human, and become god-like, or in deficit of what’s human and become a mere force of Nature. It was the necessary capacity to bestride these two that he embodied to a far greater degree “what is human” than did the later Odysseus who articulated a specific historical domain, which he remained within. 

As philosophy recovers from the Idealisms which plagued the Rights of Man, and seeks to reorient itself within a Real World of forces and objects, it must be wary of ontologizing the Odysseus of what is human, the specific alienations we have generated through our choices (much of it imported through the ontology of the Negation, how his name can only be pronounced as “No-man” by the poly-phemic One). There is a real choice in philosophy I believe, whether to start with the Achilean man (woman), or the Odyssean one, a beginning which directs the kinds of answers we find.

My sense is that as sufferers of modern and post-modern conditions, it is best not to ontologize these to the degree that we cannot imagine ourselves beyond them. Yes, perhaps it is good to learn the tricks of the trade, to bring forth black box powers as a matter of survival, but it is better I suggest to learn the glow of an other competence, the competence of bond, withdrawl and speaking action. I think that there is something to Carl’s glassy metaphors that speaks to the proposed unifications of Achillean force. The ways in which powers are better read and expressed as Real.

What Does Odysseus know that Achilles does not? And what does Achilles know…ontologically?

Davidson’s Triangulation and the Swarm

Quorum Sensing

wiki; microbiology bites

These bacteria certainly are not “triangulating” in any conscious sense (that is, as Davidson sees it: not conceptually reading states of the world through an assumed causal relationship of the beliefs of others to the same world); but they are affectively reponding to a shared environment, and their communally shared excited states probably cause them to react to that environment in specific, categorical ways, i.e. the responses of others to the environment are informing a bacteria about that environment. At least that is what it seems to be, however mechanically we want to describe the molecular causes and effects that produce the phenomena. What is interesting to me is that the assumed cognitive isolation of a single bacteria as an “individual”, that conceptual, really philosophical notion that a simple bodied thing forms an essential cognitive binary of a “world” and an “individual” is what probably long delayed the discovery of the phenomena of “quorum sensing”. The most elemental cognitions that occur in a bacteria (however slight) simply could not part of a communal organization of perceptions, and certainly could not be triangulating in any sense of the word. Now there certainly are attempts to still explain the phenomena just in this way, along the binary of self/world, or bacteria/environment, usually along the lines of collapsing any consciousness into its explanatory mechanism, but it is interesting that the behaviour of these quorum’d bacteria expresses dynamics to those that higher animals do, such as ants and bees; and these social animals in many ways are of a kind that we as humans identify with them meaningfully, seeing in them something essential to our sociability. The comparisons to bees and ants are quite numerous, but it sufficies to give a most ancient example, as Homer echously tells us of the movements of the Hellenic soldiers peacably gathering themselves to leave the shore of Troy, like:

“bees that sally from some hollow cave and flit in countless throng among the spring flowers, bunched in knots and clusters…” – Iliad, Book ii

Marc Nguis Illustration from a thousand plateaus

Marc Ngui's Illustration from a thousand plateaus

Putting aside the sheer epistemic issue of the power of this brief description thousands of years old (how does it “work”), when conceiving the nature of bodied and cognitive social organization across species, how categorically far is, let us say, a mob panic from a quorum sensing bacteria? And relatedly, as a scientific question, how much of social sharing, across bodies, in humans, is lost by the assumptions of an unbreakable and overriding individualism? This is what I find interesting here, the notion that our very traditioned conceptions of identity and binary relations occlude us to very real alternate factors of organization. And, flipping the question back onto signficance of philosophy, how deep down into the root of our affects does Davidson’s conceptual triangulation go? It would seem to me that Spinoza’s principle of shared affects, the “affectuum imitatio” (E3p27s), provides the reasonable ground upon which to measure these observations, (those of science and philosophy alike), a knotting place where biological mutual expression causally foregrounds our rational capacities for coherent reasoning and action.

The point of course is not to say in one grand thought that we are just like bees, or ants or any other social animal for that matter, in a general sense of connectedness, though admittedly such a thought works to cohere many of the individual arguments along this line (arguments for which a more Spinozist, or Autopoietic account may give strong analytical framework). No, the point is to realize within the necessary conditions for shared affect as a principle of epistemological structures that by tracing the transmission of affect we might identify the paricular conditions that mould our capacity to think, feel and organize ourselves meaningfully. If in some sense we are like bacteria, or ants or wildebeest, the specfic historical and mechanistic vectors of our sharing (as expressed in our knowing), should be made delineatable, against the grain from any preconceived notions essential self/world orientations

The Rhetor and the Knower: Wittgenstein and Achilles

  

The question of this post would be, if once verificationist epistemologies are found to be unsupportable, and speech use is acknowledged to be an act, has not the rhetor (the speaker) and the deed doer become the same thing? And does this not place all “meaning” in a horizon of power?

Homer writes of Phoenix, the tutor of Achilles, that he was to instruct Achilles so as to make him into a “speaker of speech” (a rhetor of mythos) and a “doer of deeds” (a praktēr of ergon). The greatness of Achilles is his eventual fusion of these two into a single form. The political and the performance in war are inter-dependently related.

Homer in the Iliad wrote:

[Peleus, your father] sent you out from Phthia to Agamemnon, a mere child, knowing nothing yet of evil war, nor of assembles in which men become preeminent. For this reason he sent me to instruct you in all these things, to be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds (Iliad 9.338-444).

Cicero the great champion of rhetoric, decried that Greek philosophy of arguments from first principles had broken instruction into two entirely distinct realms, that of knowledge and that of persuasion. The tongue had been separated from the brain, the “knower” from those “with the capacity to speak” (“alii nos sapere, allii dicere docerent”, Cicero De oratore 3.61). The result of which is a philosophical concern with the “res obscurae” and “non necessariae“. Philosophy, in Cicero’s view, had become preoccupied with its own products. The public and practical (pragmatic?) dimensions of knowing had atrophied.

Wittgenstein, a suitable Achillean character for a philosophical place like Cambridge, which can be our contemporary Troy, through his concept of “Language-games” and “meaning is use” breaks down this very rationalist Greek distinction. The rhetor and the gnostic are no longer divided. Speech is an act, one becomes a praktēr of mythos, and in language use one is a rhetor of ergon. The using of language is a kind of doing; knowing how to use words, how to “follow a rule” is the inscription of the realm of knowing itself, through the production of “meaning”. Meaning as practice.

With the unsustainability of verificationist claims of epistemology, rhetoric, that is the effective use of words, becomes the horizon of knowing. Consider Aristotle’s definition of Rhetoric in this respect.

Aristotle in Rhetoric wrote:

Rhetoric then may be defined as the faculty of discovering the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever. This is the function of no other of the arts, each of which is able to instruct and persuade in its own special subject; (translation J.H. Freese.)

Literal: Rhetoric thus is the capacity (dunamis) upon of each of the beheld (theōrēsai) to take in its own persuasiveness (pithanon), and not of each different thing (heteras) [this] is this skill’s (technēs) work (ergon). For each of the other kinds, the underlying (hupokeimenon) of its own, it is instructive (didaskalykē) and persuasive (peistikē) of that sort. (1.2.1)

The literal translation brings about a certain richness.

Rhetorical “Faculty” is actually capacity, or power. A “Subject” is each thing beheld, seen, considered (from which we famously get the word “theory” ). The “Persuasion” of a perspective, it should be noted, is derived from Peithō, Persuasion a goddess attendant of Aphrodite.

Theorizing in the rhetorical sense, is beholding and taking upon oneself (endexomenon) the inherent persuasiveness in the thing considered, that is it is the capacity of capacities. It is interpreting in terms both of sense, and in the power to convince others in a social sphere. It requires a certain discernability that will be marked in terms of a power (dunamis), to join language games to each other, bringing about consent. Instead of epistemologies, there are capacities. It is notable that the capacities are performed in rhetoric through forming arguments (enthymemes) through the identification of topoi (that is literally places), which are ways of relating. The forms (topoi) of Aristotle argumentation it can be said correspond to the rules of Language-games (and in the end Lebensform) of Wittgenstein. The rhetor is gnostic.

 

[written May 14, 2006]