Saturday, December 15, 2007

The un-exposable is the nonexistent

Paradox of Ulysses by Fido the Yak
Adriana Cavarero speaks of a paradox of Ulysses, by which she means the situation that we recieve our own stories from the narrations of others (Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, trans. Paul Kottman, Routledge, 2000, p. 17). In other words, we are the protagonists but not the authors of our own life stories. Cavarero's perspective, suspicious of autobiography, contrasts with László Tengelyi's (The Wild Region in Life-History) emphasis on a life history that one tells oneself, although on the question of the irreplacable uniqueness of the existent there is perhaps some agreement. Where does the unicity of an identity come from? It is tempting for me to think that experience has a unicity, that all of my experiences seem to belong to me alone, and thus perhaps my consciosness could be a source of my identity. Cavarero (and in a different way Tengelyi) will have none of that.
In her view the unicity that pertains to identity is given by others; identity is not substantial but rather relational and expositional. On the topic of the expositional character of identity, she is of course interpreting Hannah Arendt, which is her strong suit. When discussing the self-disclosure that pertains to action, she says that identity is expressive. It is not then consciousness which exercises an esemplastic power over experience; rather, relations between singular exposed existents constitute identity and, if I'm reading her correctly, give meaning to a course of life events.
When Jean-Luc Nancy says "birth" I'm not sure if he literally means birth from a womb. Cavarero, who reads Nancy affectionately, leaves no doubt that natality is about birth from the womb. The mother, she says, "embodies the ex- of existent" (p. 19). She says appearance is "rooted in the materiality of the context" (p. 21). I think maybe she means "the context of exhibition," which doesn't really say much, but the mere acknowledgement of a context is perhaps important, and of course there's the question of its materiality, which primarily interests me. Cavarero's thoughts on materiality are fleshed out in For More than One Voice which argues against the primacy of the visual that she posits in Relating Narratives. In any case, she appears to be committed to a kind of materialism. We might call it an expositional materialism, though it is also a materialism of natality... from Fido the Yak

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