Friday, September 21, 2007

There is a coefficient of revealing and concealing, an alethetics, of the body

The Alethetics of Rhetoric Posted by larvalsubjects under Antagonism , Assemblages , Communication , Deleuze , Heidegger , Politics , Rhetoric , Systems , Uncategorized September 21, 2007
A Disclosure
One of Heidegger’s central contributions to philosophy was his concept of truth as aletheia. Ordinarily truth is understood as a correspondence between a proposition and a state-of-affairs. For instance, the proposition “the sun is shining” is true if, in fact, the sun is shining. A key feature of this conception of truth is that the state-of-affairs to which the proposition refers is transcendent to the proposition, independent of the proposition, and exists in its own right regardless of whether or not the proposition is enunciated. The proposition in no way effects the thing itself. Another theory of truth treats truth as coherence. A proposition here is true if it coheres with a body or web of propositions as in the case, perhaps, of Hegel’s system.
For Heidegger, by contrast, truth is aletheia or the disclosedness or revealing of being. Lest I earn the condemnation of the Heideggarians, I will say upfront that I will not here do Heidegger’s conception of truth as aletheia justice, nor is it my intention to give a careful analysis of his claims. Rather, I wish to indicate how it might be of use in thinking certain rhetorical phenomena.
To claim that truth is aletheia or disclosedness is to claim that an entity must first disclose or reveal itself as a particular sort of entity prior any statements we might make about it. Perhaps this idea can best be elucidated by way of the human body. In encountering the body as a seat of action, an object of medical intervention, a sexual object, and so on, is the body disclosed or revealed in the same way? In living my body, there’s a way in which its physicality, its nature as a volume, flesh, a surface, disappears. Far from being an object like other objects in the world, there’s an invisibility about my lived body, a specific bodily intentionality, such that it is not my body that is the focus of engagement, but rather the destinations towards which I move and the objects with which I am engaged. My hand is not this geometry of flesh, bone, and sinew, but rather is a grasping that is entirely exhausted in this act of typing or this grasping of my coffee cup. To say that my lived body is “exhausted” in this act of typing or in taking hold of the coffee cup and drinking is not to say that it is fatigued, but rather that it disappears in these acts by virtue of the very activity of revealing the world that it is engaged in. It is the coffee cup that is disclosed, the words on the screen, the destination towards which I am moving, not the lived body itself. As such, the lived body is more a collection of vectors, trajectories, directions, illuminating the world independent of it, rather than a geometrical shape and configuration of flesh, bone, and sinew.
Indeed, this can be seen with great clarity in the case of very young children, prior to the mirror stage. Often, as the child is learning how to crawl, it will attempt to enter spaces too small for its body to pass. In frustration the child will bang its head against the narrow opening, unable to get through, and more importantly, unable to understand why it cannot get through. This is because the young infant does not yet have a physical body, but only vectors of movement. It will only acquire a body gradually through encountering the many resistances of the world, the various breakdowns of the body, but also the gaze of others.
When Deleuze and Guattari speak of the “facialization” of the body, of parts of the body, part of what they’re referring to is the way in which the body as a surface is constituted in the gaze of others. That is, the body only discloses itself as a surface, a volume, the flesh in and through experiences of fatigue, sickness, the gaze, and resistance that gradually generate a sort of mental map of the body as a surface in contrast to the body as a set of vectors. The more the vectors of my body break down, the more my body as a surface, as brute meat, begins to reveal itself. Thus there is a coefficient of revealing and concealing, an alethetics, of the body. The more the vector nature of my body is enacted, the less my body as meat appears. We experience this, for instance, in moments where we are entirely involved in what we are doing, such as when we are at the top of our game when running or involved in a sporting event or when writing. Duchamp captured this well with his famous painting “Nude Descending a Staircase”:

1 comment:

  1. This reference gives a unique Understanding of Truth with a capital T. Truth as the always already condition of our being-existence.

    This related essay is about the absurdity of the egoic search for "truth".