Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gayzing Into My Crystal Ball...

In this recent post, I argued that Christians were no longer capable of making direct moral judgments about homosexuals. In a follow up post, I said that the emerging orthodox position of not demanding immediate change was a concealed demand for absolute change, which would be a symptom of the inability to make direct judgments.

In the comment thread from the first post, Dan presented an alternate reading of the verses that are usually used to show homosexuality is a sin. He suggests that these verses need to be read in particular cultural contexts, and shows that the condemnations contained therein are not condemnations of homosexuality as such but rather a very specific expression of homosexuality. This reading allows for practicing Christians to engage in monogamous homosexual relationships.

I find Dan's reading to be convincing, and what's more, I expect it will eventually be the standard reading through every denomination (including Pentecostals and Calvinists). Christians no longer make direct judgments about gays, and sooner or later, they will latch onto the fact that there are good, solid, scholarly, biblical reasons why they don't need to. Such a shift seems inevitable to me, even if it takes a whole generation.

It's not about losing theological ground to culture, or getting caught up in postmodern relativism. It's about recognizing that the verses about homosexuality can be read in a variety of ways, and the time for reading them in one way has past. The time for reading in a new way has come.

50 Years from now, people will look back at the fight against gay marriage with the same bemused sense of superiority that we have when we look back at every struggle of the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Failure to Think Abortion

I find myself increasingly frustrating with my own opinion on abortion. I just can't seem to develop a robust, directly stated opinion on the matter. The only way I can think about the subject is basically an equivocation; both/and. I consider that a pretty major failing.

First, I guess, the pro-choice side of my both/and problem. It has become an increasingly common pro-choice argument that pro-lifers are not so much concerned with the issue of homicide and the life of the fetus as they are with controlling sexuality, specifically women's sexuality.

I find this to be a fairly compelling argument. Pro-lifers will insist they believe that the fetus is a person, and that abortion is murder. The problem is, pro-lifers simply don't act as if they live under a regime with a higher civilian body count then Stalinist Russia. Stalin was responsible for 40 million dead Russians; the U.S. alone has had 48 million abortions over a slightly longer time period. There should be constant horror and outrage; how can daily life continue as usual for someone that believes they live in the bloodiest society in history?

But there isn't. The outrage over abortion is no greater than the usual moral outrage over, say, homosexuality.

The other piece of the argument is all the empirical data that feminist blogs collect concerning the activities of pro-life groups; persistent interference with contraception, persistent moral condemnations of (usually female) sexual activity, etc. Or the constant insistence on "responsibility," which is just an extension of the double standard and whore/madonna split women have always had to deal with. If you'd like to see these discussions, visit Pandagon - there's a link on the side of the page.

So anyways, I'm convinced that concern over women's sexuality is the excessive real of the pro-life movement. By excessive real, I mean the ideas and concepts that show through the cracks in the surface (in a previous post, when I say that "hate the sin..." is really "just following orders," I'm pointing out another example of the excessive real).

Because of this, I think pro-choicers are correct when they say the pro-lifers don't so much care about the life of the fetus, but when and for whom a woman opens her legs. And so I consider the pro-life groups to be basically insidious. The forces of domination, as it were.

It needs to be stressed that that this excessive real, this obscene, disavowed underside, is built into the pro-life position. It can't be chased away by logical syllogisms and a body of correct facts. The explicit pro-life position, that of the rejection of murdering babies, is sustained by and dependant upon this underside. It is this underside that allows pro-lifers to go about their day without being overwhelmed by the horror of living in a Stalinist regime; the underside is what provides the distance from horror so one's life can function.

Of course, that isn't the end of the issue. Just because the pro-life position carries with it an obscene underside, doesn't mean pro-choicers are let off the hook when it comes to thinking the homicide issue. Just because your opponent is incapable of being completely forthright doesn't mean you can ignore his explicit position.

In our culture, in our particular place and time, any claim that abortion is murder will carry with it the obscene underside of the domination of women. I know this won't seem like a satisfying statement, but I think it is true. All the valid logic and correct facts in the world won't change it. But for the sake of completeness...

Empirical data will never be able to settle the issue of the fetus' legal status. There is no scientific test for personhood. No body of data can tell you when the fetus becomes a person, and so is entitled to protection under the law.

Any time chosen, from conception to the third trimester to birth, is going to be arbitrary. Sure, empirical data can be interpreted to support some of these positions over others, but empirical data will always leave room for dissent among reasonable people.

The cautious position, which I favor but can't argue forcefully for, would be that conception confers legal personhood. The problem is, "cautious" is not a serious endorsement of a political or ethical position. And "cautious" does not mean "less arbitrary."

None of that erases the importance of grappling with the question, "is abortion murder?" It is the great failing of the pro-choice side that they refuse to do so. They've found out the obscene underside of the pro-life movement, and they think this makes their argument for them. It doesn't.

In the end, my pro-life sympathies are based on something I find compelling, but intellectually weak. I think there could come a day in which a pro-life position can be directly articulated, without the obscene underside. If that day comes, then the primary pro-choice arguments will dissolve (not proven illogical or incorrect, but will simply dissolve into the winds of history) and the abortion issue will be settled. On that day, we'll all wake up, and our hands will be covered in blood, and that blood will never wash off.

The problem is, I refuse to submit the present to the judgment of history. The preceding paragraph, while compelling, is simply unacceptable by any rigid intellectual standard. We live and move and have our being in the present; some pseudo-messianic future cannot help us in the present.

So this is my problem. I have both pro-choice and pro-life sympathies. That isn't acceptable; sitting on the fence is a cop out. I just have no idea how to resolve this. Sometimes I think that learning to do a proper dialectical analysis would solve this problem for me, but dialectics is a game for the big boys. It is hard to do without just being facile, or just making a more sophisticated equivocation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

House, MD and Risk

My favourite show on network tv is House. It’s a popular enough show that I assume anyone reading this already knows the premise: Greg House is the head of a medical team that deals with the cases that baffle everyone else. He’s a medical Sherlock Holmes – almost literally; references to the Sherlock Holmes stories abound in the series.

The series is remarkable in a particular way – it illustrates one of the big debates in social theory today. The first side of this debate is represented by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. His position is basically in support of the standard liberal democratic attitude: 2 opposing sides in an argument sit down and have a rational discussion. Person A presents his case, and person B presents his. Either A or B is expected to present a more rational, fact based case, and so their position is selected to act upon.

The other side of this social theory debate is represented by folks like Zizek and Alain Badiou. In a nut shell, their position is that rational, fact based thought does not always lead to a clear course of action. Whether through insufficient data or through some constitutive limitation of the situation, there must come a point at which the rational discussion ends and a decision is made. A risk must be taken, perhaps in defiance of the standard democratic expectation of majority rule or individual choice.

House consistently finds himself between these two positions. In every episode, he and his team write down a list of the patient’s symptoms. Often, the team is split as to what the diagnosis should be. The doctors on his team are obviously intelligent, and at least one of them is every bit as excellent a doctor as House himself is. That’d be Foreman, for those who watch the show. The other two members of the team are Cameron (who just happens to be played by the hottest woman on tv) and Chase.

The patient is always, of course, in imminent peril. They’ll die in 24 hours if House’s team doesn’t come up with the answer. Often the symptoms conflict with one another; symptoms 1 & 2 suggest diagnoses X, but symptom 3 seems to rule out X and suggests diagnoses Y.

House stands by and occasionally interjects while Foreman, Cameron and Chase debate the possibilities. Foreman insists the diagnosis is X, while Cameron and Chase insist on Y. Eventually House stops the discussion and orders them to treat the patient for a wholly other diagnosis, Z. What follows is a replay of a famous anecdote from one of GWF Hegel’s lectures: Foreman (standing in for one of Hegel’s students) says the facts don’t fit Z, and House basically says “So much the worse for the facts.”

So they treat for Z. Sometimes House is right, and the patient is cured. Sometimes House is wrong, and the patient develops a whole new problem.

Sometimes the doctors find themselves in a situation where diagnosis X seems correct, but the lab test to confirm it will take 48 hours, whereas the patient only has 24 hours to live. If X is the wrong diagnosis, the treatment will kill the patient almost immediately. I think part of the reason House is such an admired character (despite his abrasive personality) is that he is capable of making a firm decision to treat. He says to forget the test and just administer the treatment; how many of the rest of us would hem and haw and fritter away the patient’s life trying to discover new and more reassuring facts?

So my suggestion is that decisions always come down to something like this. Take any ethical dilemma you please; you’ll often find yourself in a situation in which the facts don’t produce a clear answer. It is the same with politics; the situation rarely tells you what must be done. Sooner or later, an authoritative decision must be made. The rational, democratic discussion must end, and action must take place.

Being & Time II, Part 4: Being Towards Death and Vulgar Time

Part 3

When Da-sein is being ahead of itself in such a way that it is being towards its ownmost possibility - which is death - the possibility of being free for authentic existentiell possibilities is opened up. The anticipation of death provides a resoluteness that drives off every trivial possibility; this resoluteness that exists in the moment – rather than some kind of isolated present – is Da-sein’s ability to be free for authentic existentiell possibilities, as opposed to the possibilities that Da-sein just finds lying around in the public realm.

Attunement and falling prey, as temporal, correspond to having-been and making-present. Attunement can either be retrieve, or forgotteness, which is the vulgar past. Falling prey temporalizes as making-present or the Moment, and understanding temporalizes as awaiting or anticipation, corresponding to the vulgar future. The three are a unity; they interpenetrate each other as an ecstatic unity. For example, attunement temporalizes as the “past,” but still temporalizes itself as a future that makes present.

The anticipation of death and the resolute projection upon authentic existentiell possibilities is known as anticipatory resoluteness. This is how Heidegger brings together the ontic and the ontological, the existential and the existentiell, authentic temporality meeting authentic possibilities. I’ve heard it argued that this is analogous to Kant’s schematism, in which Kant brings together intuition and the categories.

Since the possibility of Da-sein’s being-a-whole lies in anticipatory resoluteness, this resoluteness must have a temporal structure. It is being towards Da-sein’s ownmost possibility. This is a coming-toward-itself which is the “primordial phenomena of the future.” This is not a point that could be described as somehow spatially distant, or a potential that is “not yet” actual, but rather Da-sein’s ability to come towards itself. (BT 299)

Anticipatory resoluteness also understands Da-sein as guilty, as being thrown and not mastering its ground. This is what will be known vulgarly as the past. Da-sein, understanding itself as thrown, is how Da-sein can be “in the way that it already always was.” This is Da-sein’s “having been.” There is a unity here with coming-towards; only because Da-sein has been can it come towards itself futurally – “authentically futural, Da-sein is authentically having-been.” (BT 299) By anticipating death, we see ourselves as already having been and able to act in the moment.

I’m going to go over one more topic and make 2 points about it – vulgar time, which is basically the linear time of common sense that we all know and love. The origin of vulgar time lies in Da-sein’s average, everyday inauthenticity. The common concepts of future, present and past represent genuine phenomena, but it is a derivative one. Because temporality is not an aggregate of nows, these nows cannot be said to stretch into infinity. If time is finite, then what do we do with the time that apparently continues? Heidegger is not denying that “time goes on,” he is saying that the belief in a time that moves out of the indefinite past and into the indefinite future is the result of a vulgar notion of time. Commonly, time is seen as infinite, but this conception is really only possible on the basis of temporalizing finitude. (BT 304)

In section 66, Heidegger lays the ground of what will become the datability of time. In an average, everyday way, care is about taking care of things. When using things, Da-sein uses time. In other to use time, it must be datable and calculable. (BT 306) In this way, innerworldly beings are encountered in time; their temporal quality is “within-timeness.” There is a critique of Bergson here that I’ll just mention – this within-timeness is an actual phenomena, not an externalization of a qualitative time into space. I have nothing to say about that, but someone else might.

For Heidegger, all datable time is public time and lies on top of primordial temporality. The public “orients” itself towards this time, “so that it must somehow be available for everyone.” (BT 378) Time can be taken care of in terms of events and innworldly beings, but this occurs in a horizon of “time-reckoning,” which always involves astronomical and calendrical time. The essence of taking care of time is not about measuring quantities or assigning numbers to periods of time. Measured time arises because of thrownness; primordially, temporality is Da-sein reckoning with time. (BT 378)

Public time always presupposes the structure of “then” and “when.” When the term ends, it is time to hand in essays. This public “then” is the structure of significance, which is part of understanding and interpretation, so “it constitutes the worldliness of the world.” (BT 380) This “time for” is what Heidegger will call world time. World time is not an inner worldly being, of course, but rather the condition of such. World time is presupposed when we use clocks, when we calculate and measure time. By saying what I’ve said, I’ve tried to point out how there is an authentic temporality that underlies our common notions of time, and all our calculation of it.

By way of conclusion, I’ve tried to summarize how both Da-sein’s a priori, existential structures and datable public time become meaningful and intelligible only on the basis of an underlying, unifying temporality.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Being & Time II, Part 3: Enter The (Temporal) Dragon

Part 2

In the third chapter of Division II, Heidegger will reach the idea that temporality, as the ontological meaning of care, is the unifying element of Da-sein. Everything I’ve just said has a temporal meaning; consider the projecting forward of understanding. “Meaning” is the horizon upon which something is intelligible as the thing that it is. Temporality is the horizon upon which care becomes intelligible. (BT 298) So what I’ll do now is bring out the temporality of what I’ve just spoken about.

With temporality, Heidegger describes the totality of Da-sein: “ahead-of-itself-already-being-in (a world) as together-with (beings encountered within the world.” (BT 300) None of this is about being earlier or later; all three work together to reveal themselves as the “ekstaticon par excellence” an ecstatic unity of temporality. (BT 302) It is not a sequence moving from now to another now, not an aggregate of the ecstasies. While the future is the primary ecstasy, all three move within one another. This “unified phenomena of the future that makes present in the process of having-been” is temporality. It is a unified structure that cannot be divided into a series of moments. It also cannot be seen as a path upon which historical events trod.

Heidegger will present the ecstasies as authentic or inauthentic. The structural elements of being-in-the-world are understanding, attunement and falling prey. Each of these elements temporalizes as a different ecstasy. Understanding is the projection towards a possibility; it discloses potentiality so that Da-sein knows what is going on.

We are always, in fact, projecting into possibilities. Da-sein always understands itself in terms of projects that it projects into. Because Da-sein projects forward, it is always ahead of itself. Ontologically speaking, Da-sein is always not yet. Primordially, Da-sein exists from the future. There is always something outstanding. What is outstanding is death. Death is Da-sein’s ownmost, not to be bypassed possibility, and it is unrelated to anything in the referential totality. It is not a logical possibility in the world. It is what is always outstanding for Da-sein. The anticipation of death is the authentic future, while the understanding that comes towards itself only in terms of the world taken care of is an awaiting that makes present. (BT 310)

Rather than an awaiting that makes present, authentic anticipation discloses a present that is held in authentic temporality called the moment. The moment is not another “now” that appears in a series of nows, but rather it is a part of the ecstatic unity of temporality. The moment temporalizes itself out of an authentic future, which is part of the “ecstatic unity [to which] a corresponding having-been must belong.” (BT 311) In this authentic moment, Da-sein brings itself forth to its ownmost potentiality, and this is called retrieve.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Head Scarves: Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don't

A while back, the French government wandered into a minefield when it tried to ban Islamic headscarves. Now, a Turkish lawyer is fighting a similar ban: she wants the right to choose whether or not to wear the scarf.

I'm not really interested in writing about the awesomeness of liberal choice ideology, or multiculturalism. I insist that the Islamic head scarf is a symbol of oppression; it falls under the category of "Islamic douchebaggery." One can't "choose" to accept a symbol of oppression; in the 1960s, some southern blacks actually resisted desegregation. It would be easy to say "it's their choice!" but it isn't possible to make a "choice" to tear up one's ethical dignity.

So I disagree with the women that fight to keep wearing their headscarves. But I can't agree with the ban on them, either. When you say to someone "Do X and liberate yourself," they are perfectly justified in responding "Don't tell me what to do, you crusading liberal white male!"

These women are trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they wear the scarves, they are playing into the vile patriarchal structures of their culture. If they remove the hard scarves, then they are submitting themselves to a wholly other patriarchal structure, the one that wants to save them from themselves.

The only thing to do is to completely drop the head scarf issue. Ignore it. What needs to be attacked is the underlying problem, that of the oppression of women in Islamic countries. And on this, I am on the same page as Fatma Benli, the lawyer fighting the scarf ban. She says,

“I could tell you about domestic violence, about honor killings, about the parts of the criminal code that discriminate against women,” she said, ticking off her areas of expertise in rapid-fire sentences. “But we can’t move on to those issues.

“The head scarf is where we are stuck.”

So the head scarf bans need to go, but so do the repeated refrains of "choice!"

Being & Time II, Part 2: The They's Understanding and Care

Da-sein is dispersed into the they and thrown into possibilities. The they has its own modes of understanding and interpretation. These are idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity.

Discourse shares what is disclosed - but the mark of idle talk is that it does not go back to the original disclosure. It is discourse that only offers the most average, leveled down understanding. It’s almost like speaking for the sake of speaking; it has no relation to the being being spoken of. Because idle talk offers a leveled down understanding, it can understand everything.

Curiosity corresponds to sight as a mode of disclosing. Just like idle talk understands everything, curiosity sees everything. Ambiguity has the same sort of thing going on. Ambiguity is what “everyone knows.” It knows what everyone else thinks and feels. These three elements sound very much like common sense.

Idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity constitute the entanglement of Da-sein. This is how Da-sein is in the world, initially and for the most part. Da-sein is fallen prey into the world. It’s an absorption in the they. This entanglement is the inauthenticity of Da-sein. This entanglement is Da-sein not being itself. Heidegger says Da-sein is “tempted” into falling prey; it confuses Da-sein into thinking all of its possibilities are open to it, when in fact they are leveled.

It is important to note that Da-sein be falling prey only because it is concerned, understanding, attuned being in the world.

Now, Being in the world is a structure that is primordial and constantly whole. Until now, the structure’s moments have all been discussed individually. Understanding, attunement, disclosure, etc. But how is the totality of the structural whole to be described? What unites everything that’s been said so far?

Care. Care is the unity of the structural totality of Da-sein BitW. Care is actually BitW as such. This isn’t the same as wishing, urging, watching, etc; these things are founded on care. But what discloses care as fundamental? What is Da-sein’s fundamental attunement?

Angst. Angst is what provides the basis for grasping the totality of Da-sein. Remember the description of fear? Fear is fear of something. One can find this desk fearsome. It’s something present, something in the world. What distinguishes Angst from fear is that angst does not have an object. Angst is anxious over nothing. Literally, the nothing. Nothing definite, nothing present. Angst is anxious about being in the world as such. It is in fact angst that individualizes Da-sein; it does not create an isolated subject, it merely brings Da-sein back before itself out of the they. The world loses its significance, and Da-sein is brought back before itself out of dispersion in the they.

The basis of the structural totality of Da-sein, care lies “before” every attitude and position of Da-sein. Care is the a-priori condition of both theory and praxis. Political and social action are only possible for a being that is unified by care.

So the unity of Da-sein lies in the fact that it is concerned in its being about that being. BitW itself is care. Being with things is taking care of them and being with the Mitda-sein of others is concern. Being concerned about its being, Da-sein is always being ahead of itself, projecting forward into possibilities.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Implicit Demands

Or, "Another Criticism of a Christian stance on Sin."

In Slavoj Zizek's narcissistic adventure of a documentary Zizek!, there is a clip of him on the American talkshow Nightline. He's plugging his new book, and offers a glimpse into the spirit of the book.

He brings up two versions of the standard situation of a father telling his son that since it is Sunday, they are going to visit grandmother, a ritual the son finds painfully boring. In the first story, the father is a Stalinist. He is direct and insistent; "you are coming to visit your grandmother; you have no choice." In the second story, the father is more "loving" and "permissive." He says, "Listen, you don't have to visit your grandmother. But she loves you very much, and I know you love her."

So what's the difference? The first father is telling his son what he has to do. The second father is also telling the son what he has to do, but he is tacking on an implicit demand: "you have to enjoy doing this." Surely that is the far more insidious demand; the first father demands an action, the second father demands submission.

I'd wonder if something similar is going on with well meaning Christians and homosexuals. When a Christian tells a homosexual that they may first recieve God's love, and alter their behavior "when the time comes," it's basically saying "change, and enjoy changing."

There's an idea that I think is fairly common in our society: that one's own individual conscience is where one finds their freedom. That in order to be free, you must be able to follow your conscience and do what you believe is right. External rule systems are crushing and totalitarian. I think this maps onto a common articulation of grace and law; grace opens up room for all those things that are "permissible, but not necessarily beneficial" while the law brings impossible demands and so death.

But what if it is the other way around? What if it is individual conscience, and that common articulation of grace, that is in fact the most crushing and totalitarian?

(As an aside, I wouldn't say the type of grace I'm speaking of is the only kind)

What if the infinite demand for perfection does not come from the external law, but is something we internalize, basically saying that we must enjoy trying to fulfill that infinite demand? "God's grace will forgive you. . . (you're a jerk for taking advantage of it, though)" The seemingly gentle and loving offer of permanant support and forgiveness is a sneaky attempt to get someone to enjoy being under the law, or in other words, to get them to internalize the law that brings death.

So when one says to a sinner "recieve God's love and grace, and change when the time is right," doesn't the sentence continue silently, ". . . but if you love God, the change will come quickly"? This a far cry from "Go now, and sin no more" which silently continues ". . . because if you do, I'll kick your ass."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Slouching Towards Division II: Recapitulating Being-In

I've already presented a summary of the first half of Martin Heidegger's Being and Time; you can see a link to it on the side bar. Last semester I had to present on Division II to a class that I was certain hadn't read B&T, so I tried to set up Division II with some discussion of Division I. This next series is, you guessed it, that presentation. I'll just include it under the Being and Time label.

What I’ll do with this presentation is go over some material from Division I, setting up terms, and then move to Division II, re-reading those terms temporally.

So last week we already discussed how Da-sein is the entity that we must inquire into in order to ask after the meaning of being. This is because it already has something like an understanding of being, a pre-ontological understanding of being. This understanding is a way of being; this isn’t a question of epistemology. We understand the “is” without being able to conceptually define it. This is what makes Da-sein different from other beings - we are concerned in our being about being. Da-sein is related to existence understandingly; the structures by which we do this are existential structures. You might hear echos of Kant’s a-priori transcendental structures here.

Da-sein understands itself in terms of existence, as well. It understands itself through possibilities that come to it through various means; these are existentiell possibilities. These are the possibilities we understand ourselves through; it is an existentiell possibility to be a student.

Rephrased, existentiells are our projects. The stuff we do. They are ontic characteristics specific to Da-sein. Existentials, on the other hand, are what you might think of as our ontological side; the way(s) in which we exist understandingly. One example is mood, attunement.

Da-sein’s relation to itself is mediated by its relation to the world, but this is not to suggest that being-in stands between a present world and a present subject. Being-in is a unified phenomena. It is disclosure; a clearing, an illumination. There are three aspects to being-in as such: attunement, understanding and discourse. These are not three aspects that are separate things; they are equiprimordial. There are the interiority of each other.

Now, Attunement is Heidegger’s ontological term for what would ontically be “mood.” It’s how you’re doing. Attunement is what makes things matter. It discloses things in a particular way. In being in a mood, Da-sein is disclosed as that being which it is.

The primary discovery of the world is also through attunement — not the senses. It is because the senses belong ontologically to an attuned being that they can be “touched.” Heidegger himself will suggest a comparison with Kant’s intuitions; we do not have spacial or temporal intuitions because we have the five sense. Kant’s intuitions are, if this can be said, a non-sensual form of sensibility.

Heidegger’s big example of attunement is fear. There are three aspects to fear. The first is “what” one is afraid of - it is a thing of whatever sort. A spider, a disease, a ghost. A fearsome thing. The second aspect is “fearing” itself; this clarifies what is fearsome. And why are we afraid? Because we are concerned in our being for our being. Only a being concerned with its own being can be afraid. What about animals? I have no clue. What marks fear as attunement is that it discloses things in their ability to threaten.

The second element of being in is understanding. Like I’ve already said, Da-sein exists understandingly. Understanding is what discloses our possibilities as possibilities. This is not a cognitive process of making choices; it isn’t choosing between being a lawyer or doctor when you grow up. It discloses those possibilities in the first place. It’s also not an empty set of logical possibilities; we are always already in a possibility. We are always, in fact, projecting into possibilities.

Now, understanding always has its own possibilities. Understanding has the possibility of understanding itself - this is interpretation. Interpretation is understanding’s self-understanding.

Interpretation is also the actualization of possibilities that understanding discloses. Da-sein projects onto possibilities, then interprets itself as these possibilities. What is interpreted, what has been explicitly understood, always has the structure of something as something. A table is explicitly understood as a table.

Interpretation has a threefold structure: fore-having, fore-seeing and fore-conception. These, again, are all bound up with each other.

The fore-having is the referential totality; it is the interpretation operating within that totality of reference which itself has already been understood. When something is understood but still veiled, still unclear, still implicit, it becomes explicit through an act of appropriation - the fore-seeing. The fore-having reveals what is to be understood, the fore-seeing works specifically upon what is to be understood. This interpretation is already decided upon by a definite conceptuality - this is the fore-conception.

The interpretation of something as something is grounded in fore-having, fore-seeing and fore-conception. This is a circle, but it is not a vicious circle to be avoided; the trick is to enter the circle in the right way; this is why Heidegger had that whole discussion of the structure of the question at the beginning of the book.

The final aspect of being in is discourse. This isn’t language - it is the ontological condition of language. That which is disclosed by attunement and understanding is articulated by discourse. Discourse is a shared event; the listener understands the speaker because they are articulating meaning that is already there. Spoken disclosure is to share what is disclosed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Excessive Religion, Part 10: Conclusion

Part 9

Fidelity, by traversing fantasy, places no expectations on the fulfillment of desire; it is a purely libidinal drive that pushes one ceaselessly and without concern for project. The movement to inner experience is not to “emerge from project through project” but rather to emerge from individual libidinal economy to the global, general economy. Such a movement is akin to a series of streams flowing into a raging river, than breaking off again into tributaries. The moment of the festival is not a matter for repetition in memory; it is only ever a future possibility that drives one forward. Bataille gives the reason for this when he says that The translation of an experience into a communicable form does not betray the experience, and is in fact necessary - but it changes the experience from the peak of a libidinal flow to a matter of discourse. As a “past event,” inner experience is irreducibly different. One is part of a libidinal movement, the other is discourse. Inner experience, in terms of festival and sacrifice, require the discourse of a community to be enacted, but discourse is only ever the tool of libido.

Memory and discourse are also vital for any attempt to transmit inner experience, however both of these are dependant on time. In common conditions, the metonymic movement of desire pushes one into the future; however, according to Bataille, inner experience is “time unhinged.” An experience in which time is unhinged denies the temporal cause/effect relationship, and so does not produce knowledge. Inner experiences from the “past” produce nothing and affect nothing, because of this denial of cause and effect. These experiences rely on the discourse of a community and the desire of the subject to lay the ground, but discourse and desire can only ever move into the future and allow the summit to appear of its own accord. We reach out to the future through desire, touch upon a singularly excessive experience, than immediately move on to reach out for another future, another singular experience.

Religion is not only the search for a lost intimacy, it is the experience of desire. It is not merely a matter of unfulfilled desire, but rather of striving forward, and in doing so, experiencing joy and the glow of the object of desire. One strives forward to touch this object; what Bataille calls “common time” or “secular time” is a period of anticipation, promise, and action. The sacred appears as moment, and then the anticipation begins anew. From this anticipation flows affirmation and joy, whether the anticipation has the character of faith or fidelity.

Edit: Double post corrected!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Part of my thesis research has come around to the concept of irony, or cynicism. Irony is something that I've flirted with or outright wallowed in for a few years now, but I've come to see it as something of a hypocritical or empty pursuit.

So what is irony in a nutshell? It is a stance one takes towards themselves, their beliefs, and the world. Rather than allowing one's self to be encompassed by a particular description or particular roles, one insists on setting up a distance between themselves and these roles. It could be in the name of some persistent inner core, as in "The real Mike isn't a student or an atheist; the real Mike is a hard kernel of individualistic subjectivity that stands against the world." Or, one could say "the real Mike is a persistent flux, a framework of constant change. Being a student is just a suit to wear or shed at will."

There was a time when I was attracted to both of these kinds of irony. However, I've become convinced that such a stance is always supported by a totally non-ironic element.

Let's make that more clear. Take a liberal Christian, and for my specific example I'll say Paul Tillich. He'll argue that religion is about one's ultimate concern, but that exactly what that ultimate concern is is just a placeholder. While he'll say that Christianity provides the best articulation of God as the ultimate concern, over and above other religions, he'll still say that others hold true religion, and that's fine for them. He is unwilling to say to a Muslim "what you believe is false, and we are at odds with one another."

So I'd argue that Tillich takes up an ironic distance from orthodox Christianity. Why is this shallow or hypocritical? Because (as Slavoj Zizek as convinced me) this distance in fact depends on the existence of an other who really believes. Tillich cannot maintain his stance without a secret reference to the Muslim, a Muslim that is entirely interpolated into Islam and that has no distance from it.

Other forms of irony or cynicism have the same issue. Take your standard pragmatic hardboiled liberal individualist. They'll say that there are no more standards, only pragmatic exigencies. They'll say that they have no problem taking advantage of the system or of other people. "Do what thou wilt, with due regard for the policeman around the corner." They may in fact behave this way - but their statements actually concern the fact that they really do believe. When you're speaking to someone that claims only to make pragmatic calculations, then you're actually speaking to someone that, deep down, really does care. They just can't admit it to themselves or others.

The reason this has become an issue for me is the the writer I study, Martin Heidegger, is very easily interpreted as an ironist. To put it briefly, human existence is always embedded within a particular horizon of meaning. There is no particular human nature; rather, what humans do is project themselves into particular projects. We do things in order to be things, based on a prior pre-ontological understanding of existence.

All the projects and possibilities we take up come not from ourselves, because that would require a human nature; rather, our possibilities come from the world around us. We find them in our culture, in the objects we use, in the people we meet.

Most of our lives are spent just taking up the possibilities that the "they" of "they say" we should take up. We wander through our lives fulfilling all the obligations and expectations that the world places upon us, never catching a glimpse of anything that is proper to me, something that has nothing to do with you or any sort of we.

Heidegger will say there is only one possibility proper to you as you - your death. Death is the one single possibility that we do not take from the world. It is our ownmost possibility; it is the possibility that sets us apart from the "they" and individuates us.

The resolute anticipation of death is what allows one to take up projects in the world as if these projects were, like death, proper to one's self.

It's that "as if" that is the problem. You see how it sounds exactly like the irony described above, right? I behave "as if" I were a student, but I'm really not, I'm a being-for-death.

The student example is a bit facile. I guess you can already see how this would play out in other cases; "I'm not really a political activist," "I'm not really a husband and a father," "I'm not really a Christian."

Part of my thesis will involve trying to argue that one does not need to read anticipatory resoluteness as ironic. Explaining how I intend to do that is probably best left for another post.