GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

January 22, 2019


Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:09 am

Words like “spirituality,” “religiosity,” “faith” and so on, insofar as they refer to something, refer to a dwelling within and refusal to suppress the constitutive paradox of the human. That paradox emerges with the originary event: the (newly) humans on the scene point to, name and thereby create the central figure that was already there, already a compelling and repelling substantial being—in which case, naming it is just recognizing it for what it is. It is paradoxicality that can never be “proven” or reduced to any particular ostensive sign, because it is ostensivity itself. (For GA, this is the truth implicit in Heidegger’s ontological-ontic distinction.) Paradoxicality is the non-material reality theists are always arguing with atheists about, and if there is to be some kind of dialogue between the different faiths, it would far better be constructed around the assumption that there are various ways of dwelling within the founding paradox than around some general notion of “humanity,” “nature,” “transcendence” or “morality.”

We can run paradoxicality through all of our grammatical categories: the paradox of the ostensive is, as just mentioned, that we refer to something created by and yet pre-existing our referring to it; of the imperative, that the asymmetry of the command relation is reversed with the dependence of the one issuing the imperative on the one fulfilling it; of the declarative, that we must renounce ostensives (all “irritable reaching after fact”) in order to make a new world of ostensives possible. A paradox is any sentence that puts forward a claim or rule to which it is itself the exception, but any sentence and any discourse paradoxically refers to, talks about, a world created by and therefore always running in advance of and behind the sentence or discourse itself. We can formulate the paradoxicality of the declarative as follows: if you try to compose a perfectly clear sentence, that is, a sentence that will be understood in the same way by everyone who hears or reads it, that is, a sentence in response to which everyone will say or do the same thing, the best way to do that is by using the most repeated words and phrases, in the most repeated collocations, in the most repeated grammatical forms, in their most stereotyped uses. This means that you are completely reliant upon a received version of the world presumed to be shared by everyone, conveyed through linguistic means the use of which is characterized by the same unanimity. And that is, indeed, the “vocation” of the declarative sentence: that is how you undo an imperative by embedding its target in a world perfectly constructed so as to cancel it.

But sustaining this clarity requires continually selecting the features of represented scenes that will ensure unanimity, which means imagining the witnesses on that scene, their means of representation, the traditions enabling them to see what they see as they see it. It means placing yourself on the scene, with all that you have witnessed and all who have witnessed you, your conceptual framework and those conceptual frameworks it has modified. That is, it means joining your potential readers in a disciplinary space continued in one’s own discourse, rendering that discourse intelligible not to everyone, but to those who can follow your trail and continue reconstructing the scene. Implicit, though, in the constitution of any disciplinary space is the possibility that anyone can enter and transform it so that eventually, conceivably, everyone might enter it and what it presents would become perfectly “clear.” In producing a discourse, we keep generating this paradox, where the clarity and idiosyncrasy of the discourse oscillate for the hearers or readers of the discourse. The more you seek absolute clarity, the more you approximate complete idiosyncrasy; the more precise, micrological and self-reflexive, the more you anticipate a possible universal scene.

So, trying to say something everyone will understand leads to saying nothing, which nobody really understands because it’s what everyone already presumes they know; trying, then, to make something understood leads to saying something that someone might, someday, in some manner, understand in some yet-to-be-determined sense. We oscillate between the already said and what might turn out to have been said. The virtual scene generated by classic prose through its supplementation of a presumed speech situation can be seen as an attempt to suppress this paradox, while disciplinarity can be seen as an attempt to open it up. Any disciplinarity in the human sciences must start from mimetic theory because the starting point of mimetic theory is that we are all doing what we have seen others do but cannot acknowledge it to ourselves in action—even the most convinced mimetic theorist must believe in his own freedom, that he has “decided” to do whatever he is to do. Trying to figure out whom you’re really imitating in what you’re about to do would be paralyzing; it might be that such paralysis is a condition for a freer act because you would have to realize that your imitation will get the original wrong in some way; that is, not quite be an imitation.

The declarative originates in the representation of a reality immune to an imperative. The “task” of the declarative sentence, then, is to fortify reality against imperatives—in each case a specific imperative, or field of imperatives, that presents a danger because it is both pressing and impossible for those charged with fulfilling it. If your boss says that he wants the inventory done in an hour, and you reply that there are only three employees available, that might be sufficient to repel the imperative—OK, you can have 3 hours, then. Maybe not, in which case you would have to make it clear to your boss that three employees simply can’t do that work in an hour—maybe your boss doesn’t really know what he’s doing and has to have explained to him what taking inventory actually entails, and how long it would have to take to do each and every one of the acts involved in “doing inventory.” In so doing, you construct a “discourse” filled with virtual ostensives (you “point to” maximum employee capability, to the number of shelves and an estimated number of objects on them, and so on) but each ostensive generates a counter imperative of its own, coming from “reality,” which can only be disobeyed at one’s peril. You would be attempting to make reality immune to the boss’s imperative, but all of these imperatives would not be very commanding if the boss wasn’t already subject to another, higher, one, which seems obvious but isn’t: don’t command people to do the impossible; or, don’t issue unfulfillable commands. Reality’s commands gain their force from this ethical one, which is grounded in the nature of the imperative itself, which is meant to be fulfilled.

So, where is the paradox in “there’s only 3 of us,” or in the more extended discourse regarding the elements of inventory and the estimated extent of this specific inventory? “There’s only 3 of us” seems perfectly clear but, really, only if the statement was answering the question, “how many are you?”; in this case, it’s only clear insofar as the boss knows why three is grossly insufficient; the further elaboration meanwhile, makes things clearer by referring to the realities behind the reference to “only 3,” but insofar as the boss needs to be informed of this reality he can only take the employee’s word for it, which means he has no way of distinguishing between an accurate portrayal of the situation and a clever employee saying exactly what he needs to say to get the desired and predictable response from the boss. Whether the statement is clear or not is undecidable, or yet-to-be decided, but whenever it will be decided will be too late and all those references will have lost their meaning. This asymmetry in both power and knowledge could end disastrously (well, unpleasantly, at least) unless a kind of reciprocity is established: the boss modifies his power to acknowledge the employee’s knowledge and the employ frames his knowledge to acknowledge the boss’s power.

This is done through satire. I don’t mean a tension diluting joke, or a self-deprecating quip. I mean each performing a response to the typical expectations coming from the other—the boss showing that he knows he might be read as the typical slave-driving bully and the employee showing he knows he might be read as a lazy smart-ass. It becomes a satire they perform together. While in the end someone has to be right about how many conscientious employees to takes how much time to do inventory, the two will get closer to being right together through satire than serious, reasoned discussion. This is even the case if we assume that both are completely devoted to the “mission” of the company and know each other (as well as such things can be known) to be sincere in their desire to do things properly. Unless they’re already in complete agreement (in which case, they wouldn’t be discussing it), their disagreements will involve some kind of oscillation between “typical” responses that are expected to “work,” on the one hand, and what could only be known by someone “inside” the situation. The asymmetries remain, and would be better maintained by being performed.

Is a good ruler a satirist, then? Must ruling be solemn? (How does a good ruler engage the constitutive paradox?) The awe of sacralized power kings could once rely on may not ever be restored. The ruler is always staging things, and if the bloom of sacrality is off the king, those stagings can’t all be pageants. I will propose, hypothetically (hypotheticalism being part of the declarative form of paradoxicality), that if paradoxicality is to replace, because it is the real essence of, the transcendent, then the stage set by the ruler will have to be a satirical one. The more power I have, the more I depend upon the knowledge, faith and mutual trust of all of you; the more you seek out knowledge, transcendent foundations and reciprocities amongst all of you, the more you rely on my power being unquestioned. The ruler’s power remains unquestioned because there are better questions to ask, and that can only be asked if that power is unquestioned. The declarative paradox is performed as inquiry into the imperative one: all the things that can happen between the time the ruler relays a command originally issued from within the most ancient origins and the time that command is obeyed and completed by all the individuals at all the social “capillaries” where the details of the command need to be worked out. Here is the source of high comedy, low comedy, subtle humor, friendly joking, and the knowledge coming from all this will be worth more than that produced by the contemporary social sciences, which are all constituted by the denial of the declarative paradox. They all believe in the clear statement, which anyone who follows the correct method will agree with and act upon in accord with all of the implications contained therein. The yet-to-be-grasped sentence is just a meaningless one. Once the model of the physical sciences is rejected for the human ones, what does “knowledge” mean? Certainly not predictability, because of all the millions of possible “causes” of any event, how are we supposed to determine the precise “effect” of each of them? (Especially since our very knowledge of what has gone into the event is part of, if not the event itself, then the event of understanding.) To the extent that we can do something like that, it will be in very circumscribed situations, and hardly applicable to others. Knowledge really means surfacing and performing the anthropological form of the event.

I’ve suggested in previous posts and in my Anthropoeticsessay that the most important staging carried out by the ruler is that involved in providing for his own successor. The entire social order would be both involved in and represented by such staging. The entire society would be a school for the tutoring of rulers, who would go through a very carefully prepared and “stereotyped” selection process: they would have to prove their capability to rule while and by renouncing any desire to do so. Shows of hypocrisy and self-delusion would separate the wannabees, however intelligent, capable and courageous they might be, from the real deal. Satire is the medium in which such a winnowing out would be enacted, and for the satire to be trustworthy the ruler would have to be on the stage as well. I’m not talking about Nixon going on Laugh-In, or presidents and candidates going on SNL—the ruler will be the one choosing his successor, so he is inevitably implicated in the selection process, which will reveal his strengths and weaknesses as well. We can’t worship paradoxicality, but we can acknowledge it as something we will never completely master, intellectually and practically, while never being able to rid ourselves of it, either—but paradoxicality can never become the basis of an imperium in imperio, either, because it provides no model for ruling, just a model for staging it.

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