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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

there are no accidents

LI was thinking of taking the day off from Schopenhauer’s essay and writing about the J.T. LeRoy hoax that is currently unraveling around a couple of San Francisco situationalists, Laura Albert and her husband, who made up and animated this faux HIV infected, trans-sexual naïf. And, from the accounts of the hoaxed – Susie Bright, Denis Cooper, etc. – it looks like the hook eventually settled in Laura’s mouth, as late night obsessive phone calls to the famous and titillated started growing their own personality.

But then we thought, fuck that. Let others talk literary scandal, at this blog we are all about the bucks and the popularity and the kind of pop stuff that Shirley Mansen and/or Winona Ryder and/or Carrie Fisher just goes crazy for: for instance, the deep probing of Schopenhauer’s more obscure essays .

Let’s put this post under a quote from The World as Will and Representation:

“Thus, although every particular action, under the presupposition of the definite character, necessarily ensues with the presented motive, and although growth, the process of nourishment, and all the changes in the animal body take place according to necessarily lasting causes (stimuli), the whole series of actions, and consequently every individual act and likewise its condition, namely the whole body itself which performs it, and therefore also the process through which and in which the body exists, are nothing but the phenomenal appearance of the will, its becoming visible, the objectivity of the will. On this rests the perfect suitability of the human and animal body to the human and animal will in general, resembling, but far surpassing, the suitability of a purposely made instrument to the will of its maker, and on this account appearing as fitness or appropriateness, i.e., the teleological accountability of the body. Therefore the parts of the body must correspond completely to the chief demands and desires by which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, gullet, and intestinal canal are objectified hunger; the genitals are objectified sexual impulse; grasping hands and nimble feet correspond to the more indirect strivings of the will which they represent. Just as the general human form corresponds to the general human will, so to the individually modified will, namely the character of the individual, there corresponds the individual bodily structure, which is therefore as a whole and in all its parts characteristic and full of expression.”

Schopenhauer’s Spirit Seer essay, in all its eccentric embrace of magnetic somnambulism, clairvoyance, mesmeric healing and its explanation of ghosts, is logically derived from Schopenhauer’s central philosophical positions, and in particular two principles: a., the application of his Will as a sort of general solvent into which all matter dissolves and b., the Satz von Grund, the principle of sufficient reason. Since “Over the implications of spirit seeing” is too long for us to simply cull quotes to mark our breadcrumb trail through it, let’s drastically summarize the argument and get to the stranger bits about dreams.

This is how Schopenhauer procedes:

1. First, he gives us perhaps the first respectable physiological account of dreams. Schopenhauer sticks with the standard empirical account of sense impressions – intrinsic to the sensing of objects is that they be sensed outside the subject, which means mostly outside the body, or at most located in the body but outside of the terminus of the sense mechanism – the brain. However, dreams present us with the puzzle of sense images that are not derived from outside the body. Schopenhauer’s idea, taken from the physiology of the time, is that the bodies sensing system – its nerves and secretions – fall into two channels, one of which fits the standard empiricist account, and the other of which is interior. This former channel provides us, while we are awake, with a constant “noise” or screen of sensations that effectually mask the inner sensations. However, sleep, by suspending the activities of the senses, allows the ‘echo of the organism’s workshops” to be heard. The brain, then, can now receive, without interference, these weaker signals. But since the brain is oriented to the receiving of outward stimuli, it translates these weaker signals into the language of the senses. Schopenhauer’s theory was revived – without reference, of course, to Schopenhauer – by James Watson in the 90s. LI enjoyed Schopenhauer’s comparison:

“Because at all times it [the brain] will only speak its own speech; and so, into this, it interprets these weak impulses, stemming from the inside, that reach it during sleep, just as the strong and specific ones come from the outside via regular routes during waking. Thus the brain is given the matter to make images completely like those which arise from outer excitements, even though there is hardly a similarity between both kinds of impressions. Their relationship can be compared to that of a deaf person who, from the vocables that reach his ear, composes false phrases, or even with a madman, who brings his own wild, fixed ideas, corresponding to phantasies, to accidentally employed words.”

2. Unlike James Watson, though, Schopenhauer doesn’t take the physiological theory to mean that dreams are as meaningless as the sounds you might get by dropping stuff on a piano keyboard. Dreams weave together into apprehensions and meaningful messages, depending on the dreams origin in one or another part of the dream cycle. Schopenhauer spends a lot of time distinguishing one phase of sleep from another, and then investigating “magnetic somnambulism,” or hypnosis, which he takes to be parallel to sleep. Schopenhauer was very impressed with research into mesmerism, just as Balzac was, and many of the Victorians. Because 19th century philosophy is taught will little reference to 19th century psychology, we tend to miss this kind of thing. This is one of the reasons that this essay of Schopenhauer’s has been studiously avoided. If you stripped Freud and Skinner out of the history of twentieth century philosophy, you would have some puzzling patterns on your hand.

3. Schopenhauer has the idea that the dexterity of magnetized sonambules shows that the “dream organ” has a curiously instinctive sense of the world. If we recall that the world is the objectified will, and that our information about it, via our waking senses, is about surface phenomena – in a sense, is an ornament produced by the experience’s instinctive forms, time and space, which have merely the interactive reality that comes from experience – Schopenhauer has philosophical reasons to justify believing that dreams tell the truth – or foretell the truth. In fact, he “proves” this with a story from his own experience. One day, while writing, he absent mindedly reached out his hand to sprinkle sand on the page he had just penned, but accidently dipped his hand in ink and scattered it on the page and on the floor. One of his maids came in and cleaned it up, and she remarked that she had dreamed that this would happen the night before. Schopenhauer questioned her, and she claimed that she had mentioned this to the other maid earlier in the morning. Schopenhauer being Schopenhauer, he immediately rang for the other maid and demanded to know if she had been told anything by the first maid that morning. Upon the story being confirmed, Schopenhauer drew various satisfying conclusions. Firstly, the seeming accident of scattering ink was foreseen, which meant that it was not an accident. Schopenhauer’s philosophy had already, of course, shown this – everything that happens happens by necessity! One imagines he imparted this important message to the maids. And the second conclusion was that the unitary force of experience was weakened during sleep, so that time’s secondary structure of past, present and future was, in a sense, dissolved.

Okay, one more post and then I’ll have this thing done. We all have our obsessions. What can I say?

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