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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dethroning the heart: 1

“He did delight to be in the darke, and told me he could then best contemplate.” (John Aubrey, Life of William Harvey)

Barthes, in his Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes wrote that of the tropes, the one that most aroused his suspicion was analogy: “Saussure’s bete noire was the arbitrary (of the sign). His is analogy. The analogical arts (cinema, photography), analogical methods (academic critique, for example) are discredited. Why? Because analogy implies an effort of Nature: it constitutes the natural as the source of truth; and what adds to the cursed state of analogy is that it is irrepressible: as soon as we see a form, it is necessary that it resembles something. Humanity seems condemned to the analogy.


Outside of these transgressions, the beneficial opposite to the perfidy of Analogy is simple structural correspondance: homology, which reduces the appeal to the first object to a proportional allusion (etymologically, that is to say, in the happier times of language, analogy meant proportion).
(The bull sees red when its lure strikes it on the muzzle: the two reds coincide, that of anger and that of the cape: the bull is in full analogy, this is to say is fully in the imaginary. When I resist analogy, it is in fact to the imaginary that I put up my resistance: to wit, the coalescence of the sign, the similitude of the signifier to the signified, the homeomorphism of images, the mirror, the captivating lures. All scientific explanations that have recourse to analogy – and they are legion – participate in the lure, they form the imaginary of science). “

If we take Barthes at his word, it is not only humanity that is condemned to analogy, but especially the human sciences. The escape through homology – the escape through mathematics – is affected, in the human sciences, under the sign of analogy – analogy to the positive sciences.

But the positive sciences are not, themselves, as free of lures as all that. So it is with the history of the discovery of the circulation of the blood. When I talk about my Human Limit project with A., I often say that I do not want to write a talking heads history – and the way to break through that sort of history (and inhabit, a la Nietzsche, all the names of history) is to understand the interactions of images and analogies that circulate, themselves, in the socius. And one must even understand the dominance of homologies, that ultimate iconoclasm – that is, the construction of a mind set that sees the world in terms of placeholders, in which substitution is always the rule and the goal.

“He was wont to say that man was but a great mischievous baboon.”

One of the symbols of breaking out of the prison of analogy is a reference to the analogy between the reading of a book and the reading of the ‘fabric of nature’. Reading the book of nature relies on our sense of reading – an activity that, after the development of the printing press, multiplied both in the number of its practitioners and the number of the things they could read. The scientists of the early modern era – the natural philosophers, the virtuosos – were both products of this reading culture and in revolt against it. The revolt took the form of a mutation in the way in which one argued for a ‘fact’. Harvey is famous for having rejected reading – the works of Galen and even Aristotle, among others – for dissection. There is an anecdote that he dissected an animal in a class led by one of his opponents, Caspar Hoffman, to demonstrate the circulation of the blood. He literally showed how the heart works, to the satisfaction of all present – but Hoffman was unconvinced. Harvey laid down his dissecting knife in disgust. Galileo experienced a similar resistance – the resistance of the reading eye to the seeing eye – when astronomers refused to look through his telescope. In a letter to Kepler, he wrote: “what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? Shall we laugh or shall we cry?” The eye that reads, the eye that sees, the eye that cries. It seems like a paradox that the culture of reading leads to a rejection of reading as a method for understanding nature. Reading, it seems, liberates the eye to look up – and to see, or weep.



Which brings us to Christopher Hill’s political reading of William Harvey.

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