Monday, 22 December 2008

On Culture and Fluidity

The city: neon and plastic, alienated, the temporary unsustainable pleasures of capitalism, commerce, the movement of money made material. The human disappears, indeed seeks disappearance in consumption, seeks dissolution in brand names, a plastic imitation of the eternal.

And it is because so much in our culture is transitory, temporary, that we seek meaning in symbolism, in the "added value" of conceptual branding, that give us an intimation of the eternal: the logo, as the word implies, is a manifestation of an ideal. Thus, we approach the eternal, the transcendent-conceptual via its form, the logo.


The reason the world seems impermanent, and that we are so troubled by impermanence, is because we objectify everything - we attempt to create discrete, persistent entities, concrete objects which are outside of us... but persistence demands dissolution. For, by its very nature extension in time must come to an end.

So, our attempts to inject or present the eternal (that which is perceivable in the human mind, the ideal, the abstract-transcendent), in the actual (the material-temporal world) lead always to disappointment for the condition of the real, material world is precisely fluidity - to impose (to interpret) a solid, persisting nature on any part of it, to understand it as an object with walls, that can be separated and understood in isolation from the environment of which it is a part, makes inevitable the eventual, apparent disintegration of that 'object' as the flow pulls apart the elements which happened to coincide long enough to be given that form by us. There never was an object, just different cycles momentarily in unison.

Understanding this should not pose a problem: persistence is found conceptually, in the realm of thought; in ideas and principles, i.e. in the abstractions that humanity is capable of. We only encounter problems when we forget this and try to reclaim it by applying it to an external material world.


If it were possible to solve the riddles presented by language, one feels we would be close to solving most of the uncertainties and disagreements native to humanity. If this were possible. But this would presume there were an actual resolution, a visage behind the masks. An expression not distorted by grammatical form and semantic nuance. This would presume there were actual thoguhts prior to being shaped into words. Perhaps there are, perhaps there is some formless, void material that the semantics of culture and thought make into particular utterances. But this prima materia is prior to any possibility of expression, even to oneself. Experiencing it and making it meaningful, pulling it into the social sphere in which the individual consciousness is formed means dragging it through the conceptual filters that make it thinkable.Further: If these riddles were solved (if) we would find all that is valuable in human life torn asunder. For it is the lacunae of meaning which provide for romance, art, magic, love, all that is beautiful and makes life worth living. This scientistic search for an absolute truth, this negating of the individual by locating life 'within' a grander, concrete material framework, is what I am most opposed to.

Aesthetics and Selfhood

To wonder why we cannot "perceive perception" is a fallacy based on a linguistic misunderstanding: it is like asking why we cannot paint red red, or eat eating. Perception is not an event in the world, or a relation between two objects; it is a transcendent, and it is what constitutes the world. It is perception which gives the world its form and shape, and what makes objects what they are (i.e. gives them their object-nature).

This is why perception can never happen within the world. To perceive someone preceiving would place their world, their selfhood, entirely within mine - and they would become a function of myself, an object of mine rather than a subject in their own right. They would be a figment of my imagination.

The corollary of this: although the self is transcendent, it does not transcend other selves. Selfhood itself is transcendent. It can never be contained in a world for it is the condition of a world, the canvas on which a world is drawn. Selfhood is the boundary condition of a world, and likewise we may understand God as the boundary condition of the world (I speak metaphorically - this is not supposed to be taken literally or mapped in any way on to reality). Just as 'I' cannot be proved (subjectivity cannot be established within the world for it is only that by-which a world exists), God too cannot have a presence within the world, as it is the limit, the boundary by which world-ness is defined. God is never object but only subject, the subject of subjects, the boundary condition by which subjectivity is possible.

As such it is undefinable, it is that by-which, i.e. Being. It is the sine-qua-non of life.

The Rebirth of Metaphysics

If modern philosophy has seen the end of metaphysics (as is often claimed), everyday life will see its rebirth.

As AC Grayling postulates in last week's New Scientist unless we subscribe to a very narrow view of what we mean by 'mind', i.e. equating it with brain activity, then actually understanding how the mind functions will also embrace, also extends into, language, society and history. This means we can only understand thought (what we use the word mind to mean) by extending this beyond subjectivity, and into the web of social life with which the self interacts and finds definition. So, just as Saussure claimed about language, that the units (words) which comprise it are not understandable in isolation; in fact, lack any meaningful content outside of their relation to other words, so the units of society (people; minds) are also not understandable in isolation. The symbols we use to designate a person (i.e. their name) do not refer beyond themselves to any entity whether spiritual or physical, neither to immaterial souls nor to biophysical bodies and processes. A person is a prolonged social event which only has meaning in terms of its interactions with the rest of the world: we are defined by our social role and by our activity. We are happenings, not objects.

And this is why I say that in fact we are now witnessing the rebirth of metaphysics - for this extended concept of selfhood is nothing if not metaphysical. It involves a reassessment of the previous 'spiritual' or supernatural implications of the word, but I have a strong feeling that those associations were always misinterpretations of these complex concepts anyway. It is easy to mistake subtly shaded meanings for bluntly literal ontological ones.


I worry sometimes that there's too much truth in the notion that one cannot separate the philosophy from the philosopher.