GABlog

July 17, 2019

Media as Scene

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:00 am

It seems to me we have a very simple way of speaking about “media” in a way consistent with GA: the “media” is whatever enables the constitution of a scene. A sign directs participants on a scene’s attention in a particular way and thereby constitutes the scene; but, reciprocally, relying on the elements of the scene makes the sign possible. I think of the originary scene as having a circular structure, because that would maximize the power of the sign: everyone on the scene would see both the object and the others, so they could see each other seeing the object. In that case, the circular configuration would be the medium, or the condition under which the sign could be effectively issued. At the same time, the bodies of all the participants are media—or are the bodies part of the sign? After, what functions as a sign here is not obvious: if we assume a pointing gesture, the sign, most minimally, is the extended fingertip—but, of course, the fingertip functioning as a sign might depend upon how the hand is held, and the gesture as a whole would depend upon posture. So, where does sign end and media begin? Sign shades off into its medium, and the medium is concentrated in a particular sign. What is important is not to draw a line separating the two, but to bring into focus whatever is necessary for a particular inquiry.

Writing is a medium—it generates scenes around a text; film is a medium—it generates scenes around a screen; radio is a medium—it generates scenes around broadcast sound; and so on. Are pen, typewriter, microphone, projector, DVD, large darkened room, also part of these media? Yes, but the various elements, settings or implements of the media are more or less contingently associated with or necessary for that medium. When is it the “same,” and when is it no longer the “same,” medium? Again, it’s best to avoid the trap of using concepts to establish classifications, but we could say the following: the originary media, upon which the subsequent ones are modeled, is the singular irreplaceable scene upon which participants shape the scene reciprocally. So, let’s say, a speech scene. This can be contested—is, for example, sending signals into space meant to be picked up and understood by some alien form of intelligence out there a medium modeled on a speech scene (which, for GA, is ultimately modeled on another scene, but on most occasions there’s no need to insist on this)? I think so—when speaking about other media, no matter how technologically advanced and no matter how much temporal and spatial distance they put between the users, we always, I think, use terms from a speech scene (“conversation,” “dialogue,” “discuss,” etc.—even “transmit” presupposes the same kind of reciprocity and replicability).

Seeming exceptions, but I think really complements, are terms used to refer to media that generate a series of scenes: terms such as “broadcast” or Derrida’s favorite, “disseminate.” Writing, to take the most obvious example (but why do we still say that the “author says…”?) generates innumerable scenes. The scenes of reading, commentary, and discussion generated by a text all, at least, share that text as a center—so, if I read a poem by Juvenal, do I have a scenic relation to an ancient Roman who read it? We’re not looking for yes/no answers here: if we take that as a genuine question, we would try an answer it by expanding our conception of “media” to include the process of preservation, canonization, translation and publication (all media, or part of the medium of “writing”) that made it possible for me to read a text that is at least in some sense the “same” as that read by an ancient Roman. The discipline of hermeneutics understood the transmission of texts to be an ongoing dialogue between readers and the text, and readers amongst themselves—hermeneuticists wouldn’t have a problem saying that “my” Juvenal and some 1stcentury Roman’s Juvenal were the “same.” Post-structuralists would dispute this by drawing attention to all the historical differences, registered in all the cultural, philological and critical discourses that “produce” the text for me. But, if the name “Juvenal” is not just a complete mystification, there must be some continuity, some “sameness.” Knowing all the cultural forms that mediate the text for me in ways unimaginable for that 1stcentury Roman might itself be a kind of “dialogue” with him.

That the model for any medium is the speech scene, with bodies and voices all put to work in the signifying act, is an insight David Olson makes regarding writing, and which I have extended to all media. Olson, as I have discussed many times, sees writing as supplementing everything in the speech scene that can’t be directly represented in writing. “Good” writing induces in us forgetfulness that we are not sharing a scene with the writer, and whomever or whatever he is writing about. A “good” movie or TV show, by the same logic, “draws us in” and makes us feel like we are observers present on a scene. I think reading most movie and TV criticism would bear this observation out—“bad” movies are those in which we can’t believe the events are actually happening, in which a sequence of events doesn’t play out the way we would expect it to in the real world, in which characters aren’t “relatable” or sympathetic, i.e., we wouldn’t want to imagine ourselves on a scene with them. The same with radio—we have to feel we are, and are happy to be, in the same room with the host. The other possibility always exists, and is sometimes exploited—that of foregrounding precisely what is unique in the medium you are using, that which makes it different from the speech scene and all other media. This involves abstraction and the generation of thought experiments, like, what, exactly, makes film, film? What’s interesting in this case is not, say, using the scenic medium to supplement what would be expressed differently in a novel (preserving the “same” content), but to show precisely what couldn’t be expressed in or mediated by a novel. This has been the position of the avant-garde which has never, needless to say, occupied the center of culture, but is always retrieved by those with a low threshold of tolerance for clichés, and this is fortunate because some kind of direct attention to the mediumistic conditions of any sign is necessary for their intelligent “consumption.” The implication of my argument here is that even experiencing the most avant-garde works is modeled on the speech scene, but with the possibility of recognizing all the ways we contribute to constituting that scene.

These concepts—sign/scene, speech scene/other media, unique scenes/iterable scenes—provide us with a powerful way of examining all media phenomena, and one that allows us to never lose sight of the central question: how does this sign, on this scene, defer more or less imminent mimetic violence? The complementary concept pairs allow us to oscillate between them, using what we identify in some case to be the “sign” to direct our attention to media conditions of that sign, or encompassing more and more of what we see as surrounding that sign (e.g., ownership of a particular station as part of the “medium,” or the scenic condition of those words coming out of that actor’s mouth), which in turn helps us refine our analysis of that sign. Academics like to use such concepts to systematize, but their real purpose is to open up discussions and move them in new directions, often in directions those “behind the scene” would prefer it didn’t. This is the kind of knowledge that goes, at least tacitly, into “meme-ing,” for example.

We could think of the media as the fractal conditions of whatever signs and discourses we produce. Any action you propose, or any imperative you obey, presents itself as a whole: so, for example, maybe you are determined to “challenge the liberal assumptions” of a prominent blogger who nominally rejects liberalism. Now, “challenge the liberal assumptions of” is one of those phrases that comes very easily and dissipates just as easily. What counts as a “challenge”? What counts as an unavowed “liberal assumption”? How could we tell that the assumptions have really been challenged—what are the “metrics” here? As soon as you start to break down “challenge the liberal assumptions of” into a set of practices, you start constructing scenes and models of the way others will respond to your “challenge” by stripping away some of the credibility of the putative anti-liberal—or, maybe, you envisage them questioning him in a new, friendly but forceful way. You would want the liberal assumptions, once they are exposed, to be replaced by genuinely non-liberal ones—not slightly less obviously liberal ones. You’d want to provide certain “scaffolds” that would enable your target to know where the line between liberal and post-liberal is to be drawn here. In other words, your discourse aims at peopling a landscape, as if you were modeling lots of little “challenges to liberal assumptions” to be extracted from your discourse. This is what I mean by “fractal”: explicating a practice asserted in strictly declarative terms that represent a reality without any firm referents by including the components of that practice as, simultaneously, its model.

When you think this way you’re thinking in terms of the media conditions of your utterances. “Challenging the liberal assumptions of” gets converted into a scene, or a series of possible scenes: someone saying this, someone writing that, someone broadcasting something else, a flurry of tweets following up in some way, etc. The purpose is to transform the “target” into a different kind of sign across various media. “Thinking” about media is equivalent to producing discourse that travels through various media. There’s something in your writing that will sound just right read aloud; a few things that are tweet-worthy; something that’s an implicit response in an ongoing dialogue with some other position; something that satirizes a TV personality in a way that can only be done in writing, and so on. The reason why phrases like “challenge the assumptions of” need to be fractalized is that they are completely logocentric: they “work,” i.e., go unnoticed, insofar as they generate the illusion of us all being on the same scene where we consent to “see” that “challenge” in front of us as vividly as we could see one boxer knocking out another (and, of course, people refer all the time—mostly somewhat ironically, though, I think—about people being “destroyed” by this or that tweet or meme). That logocentrism, that we see in concepts that construct phony simulations of battles between familiar opponents, is what is to be targeted most persistently. It’s not so much that specific “beliefs,” “principles” and “convictions” need to be dissolved as that the very concepts of “belief,” “principles” and “convictions,” among many others need to be dissolved into scenes that make them meaningful. What are you doing when you “believe”? If you “have” principles, where are they? These are just ways of saying, “you know that thing I just said—I’m not just BSing it”—which is the surest proof that that is exactly what they are doing. Better than believing and having principles is surrounding a discourse by leveraging media so as to interfere with its “wave structure.” The imperative is to embed the declarative in a scene, which in turn elicits its originary structure.

July 9, 2019

Language Paradoxed

Filed under: GA — adam @ 3:43 pm

The discourse of the center bypasses concepts such as “desire,” “resentment” and “mimesis.” Using these concepts, as I mentioned last post, exempt you from the very things you are describing: insofar as your own desires, resentments and modeling are infecting those you are examining, the real topic of your discussion is your own practices; in which case, why not make it directly so? But, then, you couldn’t present your own self-centering without presenting others, so the problem becomes how to do it all at once. The solution lies in beginning with an account of what you’re hearing from the center. The center doesn’t call to say everything’s OK: intuitions of the center indicate something out of order, and at least a preliminary re-ordering (a mark of a better society would be that its members spend ever more time anticipating potential disorders than addressing immediate ones). But “something out of order” means someone positioned where they “shouldn’t” be; to be even more direct, someone positioned where you should be. That’s the elemental core of resentment: the other is in your place, and the center allows him to be there. You can detect the “texture” of resentment in any “sample” of language, including, of course, this one—in this case, perhaps, toward all those maintaining centeredness through distancing declarative language, and toward the center for not sufficiently amply revealing itself.

You can pursue this resentment head on, and there’s no doubt a cognitive yield in doing so: how did he get into that place, how has he secured it, with the help of which henchmen dispatched by the center, with what other displacing effects, how to extract him from there and replace him with the spot’s true inhabitant, etc. This is pretty much the structure of all analysis—this is what it looks and feels like to examine something “critically.” We get to a kind of basic “humanness” here, because everyone can be taught to notice such logics in others but very few wish to examine the circumference one has constructed around oneself as center in similarly meticulous ways (of course I’m resentful, don’t you see what they’re doing…!); even more importantly, it’s not like we can invent another way of thinking. In figures like Jesus or Dostoevsky’s Alyosha we can see what another way of thinking would be, in which every thought of the other would be infused from the start by infinite love, mercy, and compassion. But that could only be the result of a long process of ascesis, itself involving some tremendous wrestling with outsized resentments—plus, one could only attain such a condition at the cost of not really being able to do anything, and how merciful and loving (I ask resentfully) is that?

Maturity means being able to notice more and more distinctions—and all distinctions are on some level invidious—while attending more and more to the formalizing of those distinctions, rather than to seeking out their justifications. The most egalitarian world possible would instantly turn into the most inegalitarian one: imagine we could all be placed in a state of nature, with equal physical and intellectual capabilities. As soon as we got started doing something, status distinctions would emerge—someone notices something first, someone gets a little more of something, someone, maybe for random reasons, is a bit more attractive than others, etc. Even if the differences were minute and rapidly changing they would loom large. So, everyone would be immediately, and constantly, faced with the choice: you can think, how do I get as much as that person (or reduce him to as little as me); how do I make myself as attractive as that person (or reduce his attractiveness), and so on; or, how can these status distinctions be formalized, so that what it means to have access to things, to identify new centers, to be the center of others’ attention can be made explicit and therefore a source of order. You might still want more things, to have more power, to be more attractive, and you might use others as models to acquire these things, but you would do so in such a way as to strengthen the meaning the center has conferred upon such practices.

Every utterance points a way to resentment and a way to transcendence, or what I would prefer to call “presencing” and “centering.” If there is one point of unanimity in the modern world, it is that there is no center. All secular people will insist on this once the question is raised, while the religious will insist all the more forcefully on their center to the extent that they must also insist others can only acknowledge it on their terms. In a way, this is also a concession of the general centerlessness. But our language always tells us otherwise—at the very least, when you say something, you are presenting yourself, or what you say, as a center. And not only as a center in itself, but as a center pointing to another center, as will become clear if you ask someone, why did you say that? You were assuming that those who might be listening to you were paying attention to something else (what, exactly, did you imagine they might be paying attention to?), and you want their attention wrenched away from that to this other thing. What did it say about them that they were focused on something else, and what would it say about them to redirect their attention as you propose? The resentment is in the demand for the attention shift (and that demand’s implication that others were lesser for “refusing” to look at your thing); the centering will be in the new nomos, or division of participatory roles, implicit in getting engrossed in this new thing.

So, gradations, or centered ordinality, are implicit in every utterance, at least insofar as you were less for paying attention to that and will be more for paying attention to this. And whoever follows up on one utterance will construct another order. Listening to the center entails generating finer distinctions along with a center ordering them. In a sense this would be the most originary, and therefore egalitarian way of inhabiting language—far more so than using language to point out that others have something you don’t and demanding some remedy for it. Here, we are all perfectly equal, which is to say the same, for the center, which is more important than where any of us “should” be. It’s very important to keep in mind how impossible this all sounds within a liberal order. I think I’m referring to an extremely mature social order and populace—but not at all utopian—in which people get better and better at doing the things they are asked to do, by whoever is asking them to do it, into ways of sharpening a distinctive practice that will serve as a model for others. But to someone bred and indoctrinated within liberalism it will sound like you’re condemning them to a robotic and/or militarized existence (your language will be full of impossible imperatives for them)—simply because you’re not reserving for them (or promising them) some space outside of sociality where they can imagine themselves as self-starters, or an originating center.

Enacting and speaking in centered ordinality is the only way back to the center. This involves both openness of speech, parrhesia, the explicit articulation of the distinctions evident, first of all, in the other’s discourse; and centering, making explicit the new nomos also implicit in the other’s discourse. The point is not to say, “here’s what everything will look like when we’re done.” The point is to elicit from others the kind of center that might make their demands meaningful. In a way it’s good that argumentation has become completely useless, now that the different camps occupy incompatible worlds of “facts.” Argumentation was always pointless anyway—nobody changes their mind because they’re provided with a better set of pros and cons than they were working with previously—and if they do, they’ll change it right back as soon as they come across another set of pros and cons. This has to be the least effective means of political engagement. To do it right, you would first of all have to determine which subsets of the population, which 5% or so, is worth engaging with; and you would then have to assume, insofar as they are really worth engaging with, they’re not looking for a list of facts but a “scene” within some paradigm they are working with that can be tested for anomalies. If you help some audience exhaust one paradigm by exposing its anomalies, and lend them a hand in transitioning to a new one, you might have actually done something.

But social and political paradigms are not equivalent to scientific ones. There’s no closed experimental space. There’s only language. We just keep going from the resentful demands implicit in the other’s discourse to the centered commands that would render them meaningful—or not. You could say there’s a resentful demand implicit in this blog post: think and speak completely differently about politics, damn it! What makes that any different than “I wish the left would stop being so hypocritical about the border crisis!”? The only thing that would make it different is if it creates, intensifies, or helps to resolve some paradigm crisis. The presence of anomalies indicates obedience to some super-sovereign; the super-sovereign supplements some resentment, positing an imaginary agency and a space within which that agency will satisfy your resentment. A really democratic culture, equal rights, a government that listens to the people, a citizenry that holds its leaders accountable, a return to republican virtue, rising above special interests to embrace the common good, restoring the Constitution—you can make your own list of clichés. These are all super-sovereign supplementations, and we could trace their long history through the disciplines, going back to ancient philosophy.

If we learn to listen very carefully to these super-sovereign supplementations, we can generate anomalies by subtracting them from the discourse. What would people say if they didn’t have recourse to them? That’s at least an invitation to a thought experiment; if the invitation proves less than enticing, it’s easy enough to render all of these concepts incoherent. The paradoxes that inhere in all of them are descendants of the first philosophical paradox that we meet right at the beginning in the Platonic dialogues: is what the gods command good because the gods command it, or do the gods command it because it is good? The disciplines of Western culture have never gotten past this (this was one of the most valuable insights of Derridean deconstruction). In self-government, what’s the relation between the self doing the governing and the self being governed? Similarly intractable questions can be asked about all of them. You’ll know you’re getting somewhere when the other sputters (I say somewhat resentfully) “alright, so what’s your solution?” What’s your rush? Isn’t it helpful to keep working through the supplementations? Ultimately, we’d work our way towards sheer power analysis, which is extremely disconcerting for a liberal, but, then, what is power? Once we start to see it everywhere, we can start stripping it of all those same supplementations meant to make power “accountable” to some imaginary super-sovereign. So, you really mean brute force, don’t you?! The more we find power everywhere, the more it must be just about the exact opposite of that. Why do you listen to, or follow someone, as you surely do sometimes—we can see in your own language the kind of reliance you have on others, the trust and faith you have in them—after all, every single word you say can be sourced to some claim circulating about, or to some tradition. You confer power on them, and assume power yourself within the same space. And you do it without demanding elections or suing to have your rights recognized. What’s going on, then? The answer will lie in the distinctions, the gradations, their suggested operationalization—the centered ordinality we can locate in every utterance

July 3, 2019

Mistakenness Revisited

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:04 am

The ritual order provided models, along with comprehensive initiatory practices to enable members of the community to adopt and inhabit those models. The demise of the ritual order means the end of any harmonious or pre-arranged fit between models and aspirants of social membership. There are plenty of models, but no way to know which we are fit for, or, for that matter, which are “fit.” Our first approach to models, then, is to get them wrong. All of modern culture is a result of the misfit of models and aspirants, which is to say our fundamental mistakenness. This mistakenness is generative of the disciplines: social scientific and humanistic knowledge is essentially knowledge of all the human dispositions and social relations that interfere with our adaptation to models. All the making explicit, in secular and purely “human” terms, of what we are capable of, how we depend upon each other, how what we are capable of undermines our dependencies and vice versa—all the nominalizations and reifications of “attributes” and “characteristics”—is so many attempts to construct as necessary “steps” from one practice to another what was once acquired through a seamless network of ritual, kinship and myth.

The implication is that the secular disciplines (the metalanguages of literacy) begin with trying to figure out how we have gone wrong, while the only way of distinguishing right from wrong is imagining some non-alienated condition modeled on the ritual and mythical order. Let’s imagine a social order in which everything, every figure and every practice is named, and all the names are taken to be given by the center. The procedures for generating new names (for babies, captured slaves, etc.) are also named. Such a community, in principle, can continue indefinitely—many no doubt did so for millennia—and we can all feel, intuitively, how wrong it would be to interfere with it, however it offended our modern sensibilities. But what is of interest to us is what happens when anomalies creep into such a system, in particular due to its successes. My reflections here are in part inspired by Fustel de Coulanges The Ancient City, which traces the consequences of such anomalies, in the form of groups that couldn’t be “incorporated” into the sacred hearth of the family home, and, later, of the city—for example, the plebeians, or even younger sons without any inheritance. It is the attempts to find names for such anomalous figures that generated the “secular” in the first place: their names can only be some version of “that which cannot be fit into the system,” so they can then only be understood in (resentful) opposition to some figure recognized by the system, and this in turn ends up defining that named figure by its opposition to the “other.” What this leaves us with is a social order describable solely in terms of conflicts (patricians vs. plebeians, etc.), and the only way to imagine reconciling those conflicts is through one of those cant political terms that are still with us today: “justice,” the “common good,” the “public interest,” etc.

But these purely conflictual terms, which we can only systematize through some notion of “balancing,” generate all the abstractions that also enable us to diagnose this essentially shattered system. (Whether they enable us to “repair” it as well is a different question.) All secular social scientific terms are essentially versions of “that which has been expelled from the center and takes on its meaning through antagonism to other expelled non-members.” Of course, “expel” is itself such a term. And GA is itself a beneficiary of this devastating process of abstraction, as “mimesis,” “desire,” “resentment,” “sign” and so on are all names of what is nameless within any sacred order. GA’s ambition is to do what can only be done through the secular disciplines—point the way to a renewed practice of naming. In part, this involves getting more minimal, and in that sense more abstract and “secular” (de-mythicized) than the other social sciences; in larger part, it involves collecting and “collating” a vocabulary that can take us so far beyond the concealment of the sacred in the secular disciplines as to show us that even the concept of the “sacred” itself is a later accretion, already reactive and “abstract.” And here I think the concept of the “center” is critical, and unique to GA, as the center constitutes any name (like “God”) we might give to the center. If we want to get a little Heideggerean here, we can say that the center is “thisness,” what we can point to because it is “capable” of being pointed to, as shown by our pointing to it, etc. “This” is even one of Anna Wierzbicka’s Natural Semantic Primes. Restoring our relation to the center as the source of names, recovering “thisness,” is the neoabsolutist project in a nutshell.

Describing ourselves and each other to each other and ourselves is the only way forward here. On the one hand, I have been suggesting that virtually our entire secular vocabulary needs to be junked; but, on the other hand, the only way of doing that is by using all those vocabularies mistakenly to show that whatever sense they have is due to their references to some center, whether acknowledged or disavowed. Everyone wants things, knows things, thinks things, does things, sees things, has things happen to him: Wierzbicka’s primes need to be part of GA because we can see a kind of minimal, “secular,” abstraction constitutive of language here. All the secular vocabularies are more complex articulations of the primes: people knowing what they think, thinking that they want, someone seeing that what another thinks he is doing can be something happening to that person, and so on. And whatever you say about someone else is what you think you see or hear.

The mark of the secularity of words like “desire,” “imitation” and “resentment” is that in using them you feel you are exempt from them—to refer to someone else’s desire or resentment is to be free of it, to point out how another is mimicking someone else is proof that you are not doing so—if your noticing was implicated in what it noticed, how would noticing even be possible? An openly desiring, resentful, imitative discourse would be, by definition, “illegitimate.” Naming these dispositions in others generates the appearance of having transcended them. To put it even more strongly, discourses on these “topics” are attempts to establish a cordon sanitaire around the “contagion” they carry. Originary grammar, in renouncing (or at least bracketing) sanitized terms like “theory, “determinations,”” and “norms” with the more elemental speech forms (ostensive, imperative, interrogative, declarative), is an attempt to remove that cordon sanitaire. This is necessary because that cordon sanitaire, or social immune system, will leave us endlessly proposing new ways of “balancing” the various social elements that can only be named in opposition to each other, as is the case for all discussions of “class,” “race,” “ethnicity,” “nationality,” “gender” and “sexuality.” The compulsion to self-immunize has us looking for something slightly more nameless so as to put it into opposition to something slightly less nameless. But the only way we can explicitly “own” our desires, resentments and imitations is to make them explicitly desires, resentments and modelings of the center.

In this way, you claim to be exempt from the disposition you describe, but the claim is made explicit and the path out of desire, resentment, and contagious imitation made part of your “explanation.” And, of course, you could be wrong—the desires, resentments and mimicry you renounce might be all too evident in what you say and do. In that case, you have provided the terms on which others could point that out—in that way, we would be engaged in shared inquiry into the desire for and resentments of the center. In fact, the person claiming some relation to the center is most vulnerable to suspicions of being “hypocritical,” of being guilty of the very undisciplined resentfulness of which he “accuses” others. And these suspicions would themselves be resentment of your perceived usurpation of the center. Much of liberalism’s self-immunization process is aimed at pre-empting precisely such discussions over relative proximity to the center. And liberalism detects a genuine danger here. The way to respect that intuition is to never explicitly claim the “mantle” of the center, which would anyway put the declarative cart before the imperative horse, while unapologetically shaping the actual, imminent or potential crisis into a deferral and reframing of some violent centralization. The more you act for the center, the less you must claim to do so—must claim, in fact, to be doing the only thing that could be done because no one else seemed to be doing it. The “proof” here will be whether you thereby give others things to do that wouldn’t be done otherwise.

There is always a kind of linguistic test for implicit derivations of one’s performance from central imperatives. The greater your indebtedness to the imperatives of the center, the greater the disproportion between the center’s presence in your language and your own centeredness there. You will be talking about how others, your subordinates as well as your superiors, need to be attended to and followed; you will narrow down your centering of any other participant to their precise role within the system, and, to the extent possible, within the operation in question—someone may be corrupt, cowardly, or treasonous, and none of this should be concealed (because concealing it will force you to violently centralize others who do notice it), but it should all be referred to the inherited means for addressing these vices and crimes. In other words, not “get that guy!,” but “let’s treat Y the way X was treated,” even if you have to construct the way X was treated in a more coherent and sustainable way than was actually the case, and have to stretch the “similarity” between the case of X and the case of Y. Everyone’s resentments towards the coward, corrupter or traitor will be acknowledged, and, indeed, the precise details of the violation will be presented more openly and coherently than in “rushes to judgement,” but in such a way that the more important result is that we have further fortified ourselves against future instances of the same.

You can always tell, and can get better at telling, when someone is speaking in this way, or coming closer to speaking in this way. It’s how you can tell who you can trust but, even more importantly, this is the path towards a renewed naming-from-the-center. I’ve been using the concept of “centered ordinality” for a while now, but haven’t drawn that much attention to it. What the concept refers to is the way, once we identify a center, we all fall into rank behind whoever first identified it. As is often the case, the best examples here are drawn from emergency situations—if, in such a situation, one person sees the “way out” and points it out to others, they will all follow him and the one a little ahead of each of them in figuring the precise way “out.” Of course, in fluid situations the order can change often, but if everyone simply rushes to the way out, the order collapses and the way is no longer out. The more centered ordinality, the less rivalry and therefore the less chaos. What marks centered ordinality is that the naming it involves increases in proportion with the ordering itself—you can’t get a more precise set of “names” than “first, I do this, then, you do that, then he does something else”—even the shift from first, to second, to third person pronouns marks the shift from ostensive, to imperative, to declarative. To the extent that any situation is ordered, everyone is “this one doing this thing right now.” Secular discourse tells you you’re this one in opposition to all these other ones to be balanced by my unnaming of all of you on the Big Scene. The discourse of the center tells you who you are here and now by asking you to ask yourself who you are such that you can be who you are here and now. And that is the form taken by one’s ascension to their name.

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