Thursday, 5 February 2009

A Note on "Mortared Penne: Ha Ha Ha" (4/4)

OK where was I. OK. Two emphases which are utterly main within 20th Century philosophy downstream from its “practice” turn. Emphasis on (1) somatic knowledge and other non-propositional knowledges; emphasis on (2) confabulation and the construction of memory.

Each has been recruited to the critique of Cartesianism. (1) Cf. Cartesianism contra language games (Wittgenstein), Dasein (Heidegger), Background (Searle), Articulation (Dreyfus), Life-nexus (Dilthey), Lifeworld (Habermas), Habitus (Bourdieu) and definite relations of production (Marx) when you get a moment. Some knowledge involves truth bearers (beliefs, propositions) and their relations to one-another (according to coherence theories) or to truth makers (facts, states of affairs – according to correspondence theories). But other knowledge (outside the “I dossier” (Toal)) involves muscle memory, gestures, reflexes, habits, routines, demeanours, styles, instincts, tact, confidence, mood, competence, savoir faire, oblivion, trust, recognition; it involves being at home in a world of stuff and others. (2) Meanings are of the sensuous present, and, however predisposed by the past, remembrance is in essence a subset of such meanings. Almost any introduction to memory written since the 1930s will tell you that some of our deeper intuitions & assumptions about memory are wrong. In particular, long-term memory isn’t as reliable as we are given to think (see note). It doesn’t work like a storage medium, like a casette tape or a bucket or whatever. The big man on campus is the little man on hippocampus.

What the poem notices is that the former emphasis is corrective upon the latter.

The veracity of memory, it suggests, not only a function of remembering, but also of inarticulate-able non-propositional knowledge. When we remember something vividly, maybe its vividness is an outcome of two separate faculties: that of (fashionably famously unreliable) memory coming up with something plausible, and some (fashionably famously potent) non-propositional knowledge vouchsafing it, because it fits. The poem’s missing headline is “Kate McCann ‘just knows’ ‘as a mother’ that Madeleine is ‘out there.’” What death leaves is not memory so much as knowledge in this enlarged sense. “[...] throats in the air / could you...? [...]” (see note 1). “Penne” then explains why we are comfortable with memory and with knowledge whilst inhabiting systemically false folk theories about them. In so doing it clears out a level of potential metaphysical and pyschological explanations for why it is weird to be, and then stops.

Note 1: The ellipsis stands for a contextual or gestural expressiveness: “Could you...?” (and then I work out, from what I’m near, what I need to pass (or whatever)).

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