Friday, May 04, 2007

Now suddenly there is no need to make reference to personal gods that regulate nature, but rather nature is auto-regulative

Take the example of Thales from philosophy. Thales exists within a social field where the world is explained through myth. Want to know why it thunders? Tell a story about Zeus. Want to know why there are olive trees? Tell a story about Daphne. The social field is saturated by this form of explanation and this form of explanation is experienced as being obviously correct. So how does a man like Thales occur? What is it that led Thales to turn away from mythology and transcendence– however imperfectly –and suddenly have the idea that perhaps the world can be explained immanently? For, make no mistake, this is exactly what Thales sets out to do when he says “all is water”.
Now suddenly there is no need to make reference to personal gods that regulate nature, but rather nature is auto-regulative, containing its own principles that we can investigate to understand the multiplicity of phenomena about us. It’s a poor beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. Here it would seem that an unprecedented possibility has appeared in Thales’ socio-historical setting. How did Thales develop the vision to even begin to see something such as this as a possibility? In Heideggarian terms, this constitutes a split in the being-in-the-world of Thales’ time. It will be recalled that for Heidegger the worldhood of the world is characterized as a system of relations defining a field of possibilities of the pragmatic sort. We draw from this field of possibilities as the background upon which all our practical engagements with the world unfold. How, then, does a new possibility such as this suddenly manifest itself in the world. How is it possible to see the world otherwise?
The deadlock or paradox is patent. On the one hand, a commitment to immanence entails that we’re all embedded in socio-material-historical contexts that prevent any appeal to transcendence in the form of a subject that is somehow able to step out of its embedded context whether through the sheer power of reason or some grasping of universal and eternal Platonic forms. On the other hand, these breaks do occur. Suddenly it becomes possible to conceive a possibility that was before entirely absent from the situation. It is this issue that theorists such as Deleuze, Lacan, Badiou, and Zizek, among others, have sought to theorize.
For instance, the question for Lacan is the question of how a break with the organizing fantasy might become possible, how it might become possible to see otherwise than through the fractal-like interpretive grid of the fundamental fantasy that pulls everything into its orbit like a mathematical function monotonously producing the same structural output for a series of intergers (2x… 2, 4, 6, 8…). If, then, change is to be theorized– and we know ruptures take place, so it must be theorized –then this theorization must unfold from within immanence in such a way as to forbid any treatment of the critic as transcendent to the constraints of the situation (self-reflexivity). Difference and Givenness Levi Bryant

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