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Showing posts from March 15, 2009

how otherwise was the living thing to the molded stone

Derrida begins the White Mythology with an excerpt from Anatole France’s Garden of Epicurus. In that essay, a dialogue takes place about metaphysics, in which one of the interlocutors, Polyphile, makes a suggestion that should sound familiar to those who’ve read the German ideology: the abstractions of metaphysics are all, in fact, images borrowed from images of matter. The soul, for instance, if we dig our way through the tangle of etymologies, can easily be seen to derive, linguistically, from the word for breath. By an easy inference, we go from the abstraction to the living thing, breath. As France’s interlocutor makes his translations, he remarks that Western texts of metaphysics resemble the Vedas. This is no accident – there is quite a history, by the time France is writing, that attempts to demonstrate that our Western concepts came from India. India to Greece – this was the direction urged by Georg Creuzer in his Symbolik. So we have two scenes play themselves out: one is that

an ancient jug

In 1918, Ernst Bloch published his first edition of the Spirit of Utopia, beginning it with an observation on an ancient jug – Krug. The pitcher had been dug up from some place in the Franconia region. Bloch tells us that it brings a strangeness with it – Fremd fuehrt er hinein. It isn’t exceptionally beautiful – in fact, one could doubt it was beautiful at all, compared to other jugs from ancient times. Yet he likes it. There is something about it that has an Italian mood – perhaps it is roman. Yet its décor shows a very northern thing, a wilderness thing – from the Urwalde. It shows a bearded, savage man holding an uprooted pine sapling. He can imagine Tenier like peasants with big noses holding it and similar pitchers in their fists and drinking wine from it, “until they with the others had to disappear, as all good grounded handwork – bodenstandige Handarbeit - disappears.” He sees the wild man on the front of it descend, in the land, to the escutcheons of the nobility and the sign