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Monday, June 14, 2010

the ninth series: the problematic

There is a passage in Nordentoff’s book, Kierkegaard's Psychology, written in the 1940s, that assures readers that when Kierkegaard writes of experimental psychology, he was not speaking of "the rat cages of the laboratory". This is very true; but it is also, from the perspective of a materialist intellectual history, sadly insufficient. That is, the transposition of a contemporary sense of experimental psychology to Kierkegaard’s texts doesn’t really explain Kierkegaard’s relation to the experiments of his own day – the experiments of Baird, the coiner of the word hypnosis – or the experiments Baird references in his chapter on “Nervous Sleep” (beautiful phrase) that were performed by the royal commission in 1783 to evaluate Mesmer, and that were repeated in 1838 to evaluate the cures of animal magnetism. This is too bad – as Jacqueline Corroy has pointed out in an article on the history of experiment in psychology, there was, from the beginning, a large allowance made in psychology for trickery – for deceiving the ‘subjects’. And since Kierkegaard’s own great psychological experiment with regard to Regina Olson involved deception – one would like to know what, exactly, Kierkegaard could have known of psychology.

Yet, in this post I am going to do something that might pick up that same wild anachronistic strain in interpretation – that is, I am going to use a chapter in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense to make some sense of the image of the experiment, and its relation to the world of made experience that characterized the increasingly industrialized capitalism of the West in the 19th century. The artificial paradise, as I call it, boosting Baudelaire’s title.

So how do I justify this? It seems to me that the encounters staged by philosophy occur on a different level than those staged by, say, psychology. This is not to say that they are, ultimately, independent of context, but they are freer within contexts, they have a greater range. Of course, philosophers think they have the freest range, in which they are much like those chickens whose thighs and breasts are wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam for your discerning shopper – they mistake free range for immortality. They never do know what hit them. But then again, does any of us?

The ninth “series”/chapters in the Logic of Sense is called: of the problematic. Oddly, Goethe’s essay about the experiment doesn’t say very much about problems. It is, rather, as if the scientist, falling out of the natural attitude, is solely concerned with the kind of observation that takes him out of himself, into the world of phenomena, where what a thing is, and how it connects to the totality of what is, does not present itself to him as a problem.

However, where the problem is located plays a similar role in Deleuze’s chapter as where repetition is located played in Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard made notes for a reply to Heiberg, who reviewed Repetition and condescended to point out a few of the author’s mistakes: most notably, that repetition “belongs to the world of natural phenomena, and it is a mistake to transfer it to the world of spirit.” (286) Kierkegaard was irked; on his reading of Heiberg, this distinction isn’t even honored by the critic. On the other side, the problem, as Deleuze points out, has often been said to be a mental construct: “… a long habit of thought which makes us consider the problematic as a subjective category of our knowledge, an empirical moment which only marks the imperfection of our progress (demarche), the sad necessity we lay under to not know in advance, and which disappears in the knowledge we obtain. However the problem is buried by the solution, it nevertheless subsists in the idea which relates it to its conditions, and which organizes the genesis of the solution themselves. Without that idea the solutions wouldn’t make any sense. The problematic is at the same time an objective category of knowledge and a genre of perfectly objective being. « Problématique » qualifies precisely ideal objectivities. Kant was without doubt the first to make of the problematic not a temporary incertitude, but the proper object of the idea, and thus as well an indispensable horizon for everything that eventuates or appears.”

This notion has been extremely liberating for me – in that it is not the unconscious of history I want to blindly fondle, but the problems, the obscurely felt problematic. This confusion about where in the famous ontological divide the problem, or repetition, should be put is not the only reason, however, that I find Deleuze’s chapter pertinent to Kierkegaard.

1 comment:

northanger said...

once a coincidence was taking a walk with a little accident, and they met an explanation…