Friday, September 24, 2010

the myth of the creator

According to Francois Jullian, the system of classical Chinese thought, in contrast to the Greeks and the Hebrews, did not concern itself with the creation of the world – did not answer the question, why does the world exist, with a story of divine making. “…it is rather the question of the “separation’ of the heaven and the earth: a putting in place that is a putting in order.”

‘The question posed in China would thus be a different kind. As the notion of Tao (dao) expresses it, it is that of the “Way”, which is to say, of the viability of things. In posing the question of how – how does reality ‘march’ [work] – Chinese thought hardly encounters the question of an original why. What I mean is, it didn’t need to regroup or put into form mythical elements that it found here and there, since at the bottom the question which carried it was not this one. Chinese thought sought to give an account of the march of the world, and it did so starting with the idea that the world always functions by polarity – yin and yang…

To sum up, from the moment where it is a question of the march of things that predominates, and that one accounts for starting with a polarity (and not one, but two instances), one no longer meets with the question of a first moment – nor of a last one besides.” (Francois Jullien, interview, Communication, 1997)

Vico, that opponent of the secularizing and mechanizing l’esprit geometrique as a distorter of the human portion (which is fated to exist, as a thing in its essence created, among probabilities, and never among certainties), shared with the moderns a certain conception of making – of the made – that is so embedded in modern culture – and perhaps that of the premodern era in what became the “West” – that the thought of some original polarity – a polarity that always defers the question of origin – is almost impossible to absorb. Zero points, ground zeros, the seed and the target, these are the symbols that swim in the dreamlife of the White Mythology. That the maker does not know the made from the inside – the terrifying discovery of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Freud – is a side thought, a nightmare.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Our escapee, the cogito

Trip like I do...

Vico’s New Science seeks the route to universal history – path of needles, path of pins - through reconstituting the trajectory of thought from the era when men ‘thought humanly’ for the first time to the moment when there comes a time to man and nation that thought dims, declines. Vico’s famous corsi and recorsi, that fatal consort of the society of the limited good, cyclical time, ruled over by nemesis. To be replaced, of course, by happy time, the time of Jack’s beanstalk, always growing, growing up to the sky, and troubled only intermittently by business cycles – the general equilibrium being the last faint gasp of an older temporal framework.

Vico does not suppose – heady thought of his contemporary, George Berkeley - that thought was disembodied, a free range agent. On the contrary, in keeping with his dictum that the true is the made, he clings to the fact that “that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind.” But Vico is far from accepting that the world itself is made by men – not for him Descartes’ heroic cogito, the persevering captive of the genie malin, whose escape into the world out of the dark night of the logical soul proves that the world exists – for the whole logic of escape is escaping from something, n’est-ce pas? Vico, who in his previous discourses had pointed to the erroneous goal of certainty as the ruling purpose by which Cartesians and materialists thought they could grasp and advance philosophy and physics, is not averse to geometry himself – after all, like Spinoza, Vico seeds the New Science with axioms. Axiom enigmas. But these are not to serve us a models of deduction. Rather, in Vico’s eyes, the geometric method, properly applied, lends itself to the New Science as a model of construction. “Thus our Science proceeds exactly as docs geometry, which, while it constructs out of its elements or contemplates the world of quantity, itself creates it; but with a reality greater in proportion to that of the orders having to do with human affairs, in which there are neither points, lines, surfaces, nor figures. And this very fact is an argument, O reader, that these proofs are of a kind divine, and should give thee a divine pleasure, since in God knowledge and creation are one and the same thing.”

Here we strike upon a pleasure we are inclined to ignore – for in the culture of happiness, science is neither gay nor sad, but our neutral eye. Thus, we greet our proofs with the satisfaction felt by the escaping cogito – the satisfaction that attends opening and closing a door. But the divine pleasure of the New Science is, indeed, a cognitive pleasure of a different kind – it is Daedelian, the pleasure of an artisan or artist.

And in this, it too is rapt up with the ingenuity that Fontenelle, as well, astutely remarked as a hallmark of the modern. Subordinate to the escapee’s preference for the exterior – ever more exterior - that set the stage for the love affair between the positivist and the machine is the idea that the maker has a knowledge, a power over the made.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...