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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

On Abstraction

Recalling how absorbed I was with philosophical abstraction when I was in university, how Dasein and Différance had begun to live inside me as more than ideas and more even than a whole new language, how it had become a virtual reality with new, interesting rules and alien laws – recalling this, I was bemused recently by the distance I have acquired from these ideas after just a few months of being out of school. Once I was so maddeningly intrigued by Derrida that I am sure I would have given up my own legs if it meant he would lose his, intellectually speaking, and stop moving about so frustratingly on the page, like some greased spider monkey. Where did that energy go? I've realized something. The only way I was able to be so interested in these concepts was by taking them for what they weren't.

This is how it works in the university: it encysts the scholars so that they begin to believe that the thoughts immediately in front of them are all there is, or, if not quite thinking this explicitly, at least feeling this. This is the way it is, truly, with every institution, and more or less the way it ought to be. Hospitals, Bible Schools, Summer Camps, Factories, etc. operate on this principle of encysting. Being entrenched in an activity inevitably generates a sense of its importance and relevance, without which the (semi-)insulated community could not do what it does.

Thus the university, and the scholars within the university, operate on what is called alief: the phenomenon of having your attitude or behavior in tension with your consciously held beliefs. Think of the irrational fear you feel on a glass balcony or in front of a tiger at the zoo; you are in no danger, but you "alieve" that you are.  At the university, you may believe that there are other realities, but you do not alieve this – and if you did, you could not hope to thrive. Now, by achieving some personal space from the theorizing of Foucault, Heidegger, Caputo, etc., that I had been absorbed with in school (where sorting through their thoughts were some of my only concerns), this theorizing has become something rather different for me. It is still interesting, but it lacks that feeling of immediate relevance without which one simply cannot, cannot, dive into a text like, say, Truth and Method

This is an obvious point. Of course the only way to study something intensely is to have a basic feeling of its relevancy. But there is something subversive here, too, for doesn't this mean, maybe, that a kind of delusion is necessary? 

Only in a sophistical sense. What is really happening is more complicated than delusion, even more complicated than willful delusion, for the act of paying attention to the virtual as though it were the real makes it real. It creates a relationship where there was none before, rather like the domestication of animals, or the invention of house-plants. It loves things into being. This is one of the powers of being creatures created out of love for love: we may do this with anything. I did it with an imaginary mouse, when I was three. We do it with the characters of the TV shows we watch. Some of us do it even with such minimal connections as we have with neighborhood squirrels, neighborhood birds, the ducks by the pond. Our vehicles, our dolls, our guitars, our guns – we name them. The raw materials that make a house we learn to call a home. Why not with ideas? 

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