Wednesday, 10 January 2007

The Unconditional (5/8)

“(‘Oh yes alright then I can/cannot doubt
(tick one) the simple fact of sensing this
this this, this this which you tell me again
is this red patch or objected example
inducting me into the world of all
dry goods afloat in their negated world
whose exemplarity is all they are
and where the concept only holds up for
so long as the shrunk qualia verify.
A Red Patch instantaneously replied.
‘I this now here present myself to cs. […]”

Note the placing of the quotation marks.

“[I]nstantaneously” would usually be the wrong word. But not here, I think.

OK on my copy of the form, beside the tick boxes, just below “I can/cannot doubt”, it says ‘See Note 4D,’ & Note 4D turns out to be the Cartesian theory of mind, plus its many and various critiques. The Cartesian theory of mind holds that each of us has privileged access to his or her mental experiences, such that they are indubitable and self-founding. Your beliefs about the physical world will never be as well-founded as your beliefs about your mind. Likewise, my beliefs about your mind will never be as well-founded as your own beliefs about your mind. You could always be mistaken about the causes of your pain, or about the appropriate way to describe it to people, but never about the pain itself.

The Cartesian theory of mind often goes further, holding that subjective experiences are caused by a realm of external objects. There is a clear division between these two worlds, the mental and physical. The mental world is discriminated, for instance, by virtue of being indubitable and self-founding, as well as lacking spatial extention, etc. Sometimes the Cartesian theory of mind also holds that the subjective experiences are like ‘pictures’ or some other representations of the external objects.

{… need to describe this in more Analytic language: externalism etc.}

‘Cartesian’ is a word a bit like ‘Christian’ or ‘Marxist’; it has less to do with Descartes than you might think. As far as I can tell, the Cartesian theory of mind is articulated almost entirely within its own critiques. {Counterexamples -- Fodor in his Hume thing? Searle???}. One reason for the plenitude of Cartesian strawmen is that it is extremely hard – perhaps impossible – to completely get rid of the Cartesian theory of mind. It is turns up in the prejudices, language and outcomes of philosophy which was never intended to approve of it.

(Here is a similar complaint: “Cartesian materialism is the view that there is a crucial finish line or boundary somewhere in the brain, marking a place where the order of arrival equals the order of ‘presentation’ in experience because what happens there is what you are conscious of. Perhaps no one today explicitly endorses Cartesian materialism. Many theorists would insist that they have explicitly rejected such an obviously bad idea. But as we shall see, the persuasive imagery of the Cartesian Theater keeps coming back to haunt us – laypeople and scientists alike – even after its ghostly dualism has been denounced and exorcized” (Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, p. 107)).


Simon is interested in why we imagine Cartesian categories like subject and object in the first place, in how they seem to urge themselves onto us, and in why we so often revert to them even when we explicitly try not to. In the following passage, a Mobïus strip becomes a metaphor for the collapsed subject/object. The notion is sarcastically (and spookily) contradicted in the final line.

“The single strip which in a single kink
portrays a sidedness against itself
triumphantly records without a mouth
long after Euclid how there is no two
because a single slippage sings its one
perfected twist of surfacelessness best
& snuffs you out with me & me with you
or overcomes Cartesian dualists
in which meer outside if I utmost learn
to gasp, choke, gag & know I hardly breathe
then ‘utmost’ is the costly motto which
reserves in its hyperbole a small
yet-yet existing remnant which in truth
is just the absolute prohibited.
So say the Two in this inactual breath.”

The “inactual breath” is an example of how “the Two” is restored, displacing the fantasy of integrated subject/object. Even in thinking the thought of a “single strip which in a single kink” dualism is established through the distinction between and co-dependency of speech and internal, unvoiced language. {I’m not sure what all that other stuff is about (except that “yet-yet existing remnant which in truth / is just the absolute prohibited” sounds like a Zizekian theme), which is a sign that I’m probably wrong about this.}

“Instead, we are to understand the radical gulf between two bodies: the subjective & the objective body, between that thinking body the last singular hue or odor of whose experience I cannot possibly doubt, since it is what I am, & whatever that body points at or refers to or surmises about. […] What is essential, instead, is to keep open a difference which can only ever be closed in favor of one of the terms.” (Simon Jarvis, An Undeleter for Criticism, pp. 9-10).

{Perhaps a little more on this?}

“[…] this this, this this which you tell me again
is this red patch or objected example
inducting me into the world of all
dry goods afloat in their negated world
whose exemplarity is all they are
and where the concept only holds up for
so long as the shrunk qualia verify” (27).

So this contemptible “this” . . . it’s the material of a professed material-ism, isn’t it?

“[S]hrunk qualia” evoke fading qualia.

The concept only holding up for “so long as the shrunk qualia verify” is part of a sarcastic complaint. I’m not sure of its contours, but I don’t think it’s the complaint I’d make: the sensuous is ‘embedded’ in the conceptual, and not merely a condition of the possibility of the conceptual, right? What exactly is the difference? {…}

“The more I strip the more I offer blood
to every toxin loving to come in.
Propensity of poisons to invade
the naked surface I propose to them
could reach this word, this breath, this bloodied est?
I rip the surfaces from my inside
only to know the surfaces are there
to know which is to know they are not me
(not disowning but remembering all
that could not only be inscribed in this):
My pronoun spews to offer no inside
since none can show I have no side to me”

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