Thursday, August 09, 2012

what we've learned

Time's about to run out on summer's reading activities. Do I now understand more about orientation and the normal? Or about embodiment and subjection?

I began with wondering about orientation, again, continuing from last year. That led me to the way the concept of normal keeps circulating around in phenomenology, and the relationship between the equivocal phenomenological concept and certain other, critical concepts of normal, in particular Foucault's and Canguilhem's. (Canguilhem's critical history of the scientific and knowledge claims of medicine, The Normal and the Pathological is brilliant, tremendously insightful as a way of thinking about the development of medicine as a consumer product, and astonishingly under-read and under-appreciated, given that he wrote in in 1963!)

I haven't gone back through and done the scholarly folderol to unpack this whole business, and probably should while I have the chance. Who knows, it could result in another bizarre polemic that is unaccountably published.

I have just learned today that what I've been doing the last three summers was presaged by Gabriel Marcel in the 1910s. It's a fundamental paradox of individual human existence and our knowledge and understanding of it, and what Marcel concluded was the impossible quest to give ourselves assurance that we exist as well as knowledge and understanding of the meaning of existence. We're each assured we exist by our own subjectivity -- basically, by the self declaring itself. But we can't cash out the meaning of that existence as a kind of knowledge -- an objective knowledge -- precisely because we can't take an outside perspective on it. In a nutshell, to have both assurance and understanding of our existence, we would need a perspective that was somehow both subjective and objective.

Marcel was certainly partly wrong, and not because we have psychologists and such -- since they can only take an objective view, since no one can declare for me that I exist, and no one else can enter the world through my subjectivity and perspective. He's wrong because this metaphysical way of looking at the problem harbors a dualism. Where I've been going has been to blur the subjective/objective "line" by looking at the ways we (subjectively) undergo our own subjection: we undergo that which establishes our subjectivity. So, rather than begin with the assumption that assurance is a subjective declaration, and knowledge and understanding have to be systematic and objective, I'm performing a classic destructive dilemma. My conclusion is: neither is it the case that subjectivity begins or is assured by the "I exist!" declaration, nor is it the case that knowledge and understanding have to be, or even can be (entirely) systematic and objective.

It looks like a Kierkegaard move, but I'm not as pessimistic about human understanding or as optimistic about god and the leap of faith (to say the least).

No comments: