>Reading Log 2

June 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

>This morning I plowed through more of Heidegger’s Being and Time.

I am continually struck by the move toward structuralism as a cultural phenomenon in Europe and the fascination with primitivism. Fetishized or not, there is more going on with the European fascination with the essential and the primitive in the early twentieth century than just some gross presentation of ethnocentrism.

There is a yearning to know being beyond reflection, to precede reflection – Erlebnis.

This push to locate the structure of the human in time is entrenched in the major 19th century historical narratives – Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Freud, etc., as well as the development of social sciences – Comte, Durkheim – and as such can be read as a push inspired by a kind of positivism.

This gets tricky with thinkers like Bergson, Husserl, and Heidegger and the development of phenomenology. Phenomenology comes as a metaphysical inquiry based on a notion of natural philosophy not founded in the scientific method.

In the early twentieth century, metaphysics takes a blow from empiricism, especially in England with Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. Consider Russell’s critique of Bergson:

Bergson maintains the evolution is truly creative, like the work of an artist. An impulse to action, an undefined want, exists beforehand, but until the want is satisfied it is impossible to know the nature of what will satisfy it. For example, we may suppose some vague desire in sightless animals to be able to be aware of objects before they were in contact with them. This led to efforts which finally resulted in the creation of eyes. Sight satisfied the desire, but could not have been imagined beforehand. For this reason, evolution is unpredictable, and determinism cannot refute the advocates of free will. (3)

To Russell, Bergsonian thinking is absurd. Artists, however, were highly influenced by Bergson’s thinking. Here is a passage from Time and Free Will:

art aims at impressing feelings on us rather than expressing them; it suggests them to us, and willingly dispenses with the imitation of nature when it finds some more efficacious means […] the feeling of the beautiful is no specific feeling, but […] every feeling experienced by us will assume an aesthetic character, provided that it has been suggested, not caused. (16-17)


And here is a passage from Creative Evolution:

Though our reasoning on isolated systems may imply that their history, past, present, and future, might be instantly unfurled like a fan, this history, in point and fact, unfolds itself gradually, as if it occupied a duration like our own. If I want to mix a glass of sugar and water, I must, wily hilly, wait until the sugar melts. This little fact is big with meaning. For here the time I have to wait is not that mathematical time which would apply equally well to the entire history of the world, even if that history were spread out instantaneously in space. It coincides with my impatience, that is to say, with a certain portion of my own duration, which I cannot protract or contract as I like. It is no longer something thought, it is something lived. (7)

Bergson’s concept, duree, speaks to the immediacy of lived experience, the decaying of my body as I write. Mathematical time is reflected time, virtual time, but it is also the “eternal” time, the unchanging. In that time, simultaneity of form and non-form exists. Duration, on the other hand, is the imposition of form into a collected substance.

European attempts at history in the 19th century are positivist in the sense of being narratives. Narratives conceptualize duration by giving form. History collects pieces of memory, transcending the individual, integrating experience at the level of the species.

There is a real sense for those fascinated with “primitive” man in the early 20th century that he presents a vision of an earlier place in human time. It is not only the “undeveloped” aspect that is appealing, it is the sense for the European that “he” is “us.” Thus, the other physically embodies the European at the level of the species. The “primitive man” is the unconscious made manifest.

The primitive man is the star in the sky from which one receives the light of ancient history.

And with the fascination with the primitive comes the longing to transcend reflective time and live in a way that escapes history. But this living, the grasping of the authentic life, the seizing of angst in Heidgger creates an event. But is only becomes an event when it stops, and so the need for speed, movement, motivation becomes mantra.

One reaches toward experience to transcend the reflective self.

The longing is for an erasure of subjectivity.

We see this in literature. In Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis, in Proust’s searching, always in failure.

Failure is the mark of the artist in Bourgeois culture – in Flaubert, in bohemianism, in l’art pour l’art.

It is carried on in the Great Refusal in Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man. It is Mick Jagger’s “Mother’s little helper.” It is Thom Yorke’s “How to Disappear Completely.”

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