Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Assignment #2, Thought as a corporeal manifestation

(Response to Question 1)

The passage I chose to explain is the final sentence of the third paragraph. Not only that, but I want to elaborate on it in the context of the third paragraph as well as the entire introduction as it pertains to Lyotard's overall point of view. The passage reads as follows "Thought borrows a horizon and orientation, the limitless limit and the end without end it assumes, from the corporeal, sensory, emotional and cognitive experience of a quite sophisticated but definitely earthly existence -- to which it's indebted as well."

This sentence to me was absolutely brilliant, and to me not only introduces Lyotard as a philosopher, but causes the reader to recognize his point of view as one that expands on his view of "thought" in contrast to a more philosophically behaviorist phenomenon. In other words, he is not as you would expect of Bill Joy, to entertain a point of view that builds on quotes and examples that emphasize action and reaction, but rather this is an author who thinks in terms of more abstract concepts. The sentence quoted above comes after his explanation that the "inevitable explosion" of the sun's expiration will cause all phenomenology and the human experience to end.

The sentence in question brings up what I see to be three main ideas. The first is of thought "borrowing," and as I understand deriving itself from experiences. The second is of a "limitless limit and end without end" which seems to contrast the first idea by showing our acceptance of other possibilities, which to conceive all possibilities I believe opens the reader up to "emptiness" from which all things (all possibilities) and existence is created. The third is his emphasis on thought as an "earthly" phenomenon. The reason this sentence is so important is because all of these themes thereafter are integral and repeated throughout his writing, and acts almost as a culmination of his third paragraph, and an introduction to important philosophical concepts that are expanded upon later.

The first idea, of "borrowing" I felt is his way of explaining to us that human thought as it is exists during one's life, is a reflection of what we have accepted into our minds. He explains on page 19 that when our mind is not directed that it is suspended, and I think he is saying this here too that our conception is the result of "receiving" our world. Thus, our perception of all things, even abstract, reflects what we perceive also in physical reality and day to day experiences. That is why we inevitably borrow a "horizon and orientation," it is because we accept that "some things just are not" due to having recognized patterns in the world that tell us this.

This goes straight to his second idea of the "limitless limit" and elaboration on it. It is very simple to understand this in terms of "other worlds," where we can simply say "it is possible that in another world, x is true". Thus, expands our understanding to one where there are no limits, and even when we think there is an end, we can expand further to "no end." It is thought also by many who are spiritual that one can leave their corporeal body, and Lyotard seems to entertain a lot of spiritual viewpoints here, so it seems pertinent to recognize that though spirituality, one would also entertain the ideas of ascension of the body, or transcendence of sensations to a point where there are no limits and no end to what form the mind can take. Thus, by removing thought as strictly "earthly" we realize the function of the mind as an abstract concept rather than seeing the mind as simply action and reaction.

Despite this point of view, Lyotard congeals these possibilities to the third idea, that is the recognition that we are indeed on an eradicable earth, where despite that we are sophisticated, as it is in point one, we live a "definitely earthly existence -- to which it's indebted as well." And it's no doubt that as I write this, my own thoughts are a manifestation of my own earthly experiences, but this does not deny the nature of "thought" but is important to his model of the destroying of the sun in which our ideas of all things as we know them would cease. In his model, the earth begets humanity, and humanity begets spirituality. Thus, despite all transcendence, the death of all humans on earth would alter thought as we understand it in such a way that seriously scrutinizes whether or not thought in its state could exist without an earth let alone a body.

To conclude, I feel the reason he made this sentence complex (though this is subjective), is because like many philosophers. he would rather some people struggle with an idea than have to lose the purity only for the appeal of a wider audience. He is speaking to, especially when you consider his arguments against, a demographic of philosophical thinkers who likely respect and appreciate integrity. He himself clearly does as well. In the case of this particular sentence, I love it. It sums up a lot of other ideas very succinctly, almost to make me wonder why he doesn't write in an even more complex manner. In my opinion, he actually spends a lot of time explaining himself, so this was a good choice of sentence since he explains so much through it.


LSack said...

I have to say that of all the different blogs, yours was probably the hardest to come up with a comment on because I agree with much of your translation of that particular sentence. In fact, former ideas that I had have been persuaded by your writing to your point of view. My only real objection is that you state that Lyotard should write even more complex sentences than your topic sentence because it preserves the purity of the philosophy. I really believe that if a philosopher is looking to make a substantial impact on society, to change the way of thinking, he should be inclined to use more concise language. Locke and Hobbs' philosophies were intertwined and used for much of the Declaration of Independence and that document is very readable. I have no doubt that Lyotard is making an interesting and thought-provoking statement, but if many people are confused by it and end up quitting on their quest to translate it instead of showing persistence until they truly understand the statement then the statement becomes less valuable to society as a whole. I think philosophers should look to improve the human condition by helping us change our way of thinking, not just by making academic works for other philosophical academics.

Adam Johns said...

Lance beat me to the punch (and provided an _excellent_ example) in making a case for accessibility in philosophy. Of course, he's giving examples of essentially political philosophers, whereas Lyotard's politics are, at least to me, nearly incomprehensible. So it _may_ be that Lance is comparing apples and oranges, but for _my_ part I have a lot of sympathy for what he said.

Anyway, from here on out I'm responding more directly to Jessica. It's noteworthy that the density of your prose takes some queues from the density of Lyotard's. The first (quick) time through I took it as being more about aesthetics than I do now. More readings would doubtless make me shift again... At least for this reading, I think this style is an interesting and worthy choice; to me, at least, you seem to be responding to some of Lyotard's discussion of the nature of writing itself...

The three ideas that you focus on are very well chosen, and your take on them interests me. Let me add in a few words.

"Limitless limit," whatever else it is, sure sounds like an asymptote to me: the limit which you endlessly approach but never cross. Similarly, "end without end" to me invokes the Greek word "telos," which means "end" both in the sense of "goal or direction" and in the sense of "the end," at least ambiguously. I read this phrase as being, then, about "ends[goals]without end[finality]" (some would link this concept to Kant, who does get some space in the essay).

Trying to get my mind about your discussion of spirituality, here's my temptation: maybe spirituality here is an asymptote that we can't reach, but that we strive for?

I don't think I have the energy right now to get into the details of Heidegger's Being and Time, but one final thing that interests me in this piece is that you're picking up on language and ideas which are at least parallel to, and perhaps borrowed from, Heidegger -- borrowing especially is in there somewhere.

This is a hard, dense, philosophical blog entry - a worthy followup to Lyotard himself. My head hurts.