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Fr. 559

August 25, 2014

Let’s continue by questioning whether Faye’s archeologico-geographical image of self and identity fares better than its rivals and whether his underlying method holds water.

Put simply, how is Faye’s interpretation? The word “interpretation” is to be insisted on in this context, for, as Charles Taylor notes in Sources of the Self, self is not an object available at hand or in the world as so many other objects of empirical study. For this reason, empirical method can at best provide only an indirect approach to self. For more direct approaches to subjectivity, it should fall to an interpretative method to hash out the important features and distinctions at work in self. In particular, Taylor articulates a “Best Account” or “Best Available Account” principle as a sort of yardstick for rival theories of subjectivity. This critico-transcendental principle votes theoretical accounts up or down in accordance with their ability to present features of self or identity without which we cannot make sense of our lives. The account which best lays out the necessary conditions (thus transcendental) after having called into question all that which we take for granted about identity (thus critical) is that which we provisionally take as the most reliable guide to self and identity. As Taylor recalls:

“What better measure of reality do we have in human affairs than those terms which on critical reflection and
after correction of errors we can detect make the best sense of our lives?” (Sources of the Self, p. 57).

Taylor’s own proposition for an image of self and identity is notably less imagistic than Faye’s. In a few words, the former’s can perhaps best be summed up as the triangulation or intertwining of three different moral discourses: empiricist, theological and romantic. Given a proper coordinate-plane mapping program, the synthesis of the three would hypothetically yield a many-sided three-dimensional object, which it would be difficult for the average person to retain before the mind’s eye. Yet the image given by other philosophers can rival the archeologico-geographical. None other than Jürgen Habermas speaks of the self as a sort of glove that we might turn inside out in order to see the different social threads and strands composing it. Gaston Bachelard notes of philosophers or natural scientists of the past that different combinations of fire qua universal principle with various impurities qua accident gave rise to the widely different individuals on display in the world. For the Romantic philosophers and writers, as well as the American Transcendentalists, an image of self to which they had much recourse juxtaposed inner life with the age of discovery and new worlds to be discovered, exceeding the scale of the known. Although we shall pursue the details any further, there seems a striking similarity between Faye’s views and the Romantics’.

In order to meet the Best Account test, Faye’s interpretation must show that its features are those which best enable us to make sense of our lives. In other words, it is now time to evaluate the adequateness of the image of self and identity as a lost supercontinent.

Fr. 558

August 22, 2014

Some years later, a minister whose name history will have soon forgotten lent a modern styling to the notion “a good French citizen” and struck up a debate on a national identity about which I could hardly care more. As if by ricochet, I became aware, however, that I had never looked into the nature of my own identity. Never had it occurred to me to make my way back to its source or, rather, its sources. I thought back on the old man from the gaming circle. For the concept of identity shared something, in my case, as best I could make it out, with that of lost continents which one racks one’s brains to find again and preserve as is, out of loyalty to a certain idea of oneself, or for some other reason unknown to me, which is perhaps linked in part with the myth of Sisyphus and the absurdity of the human condition.

It has always seemed to me, as a would-be archeologist, that the Troys, Mycenaes and other cities of legend had played, well before having been unearthed, a founding role in collective memory. Long before them, a large swath of the Earth was covered by the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Its pieces drew away from one another, seas slipped between them, and this gave rise little by little to Africa, India and the rest of Asia. The identity of which I sought to sketch a map must have come along in the same way. It had something about it of a lost paradise, on my scale every bit as distant as Gondwanaland was for the Earth, and which has likewise broken apart. Writing was a fundamental element therein but it was not the sole and only. As I went on wondering, it was not merely a single but rather a mosaic of identities which took shape, a personal Gondwanaland whose pieces, put together, did not leave the outlines of a good French citizen but an individual who was too little patriotic or close-minded, too curious about that which goes on outside of the irreducible Gallic village. In short, little was genuinely national in this mosaic. To sum it up, certain words of wisdom from Cioran seem relevant: “One does not live in a country, one lives in a language.” Yes, a language before all else, to which I would add an era, that in which one has grown up, that one never truly leaves behind, even when one would like to be on even footing with one’s time. Much more so than a specific country, I come from the 20th century. The bricks making me up were fired in this period and at no other, whatever I might do to put down roots in the new millenium.

The following chapters are a beginning cartographical sketch of the imagination, through a host of travels. Trips to meaningful places, but also from one piece to another of the puzzle on whose surface show little by little the successive layers of a me, layers which led to the one writing these lines. “I have not always been the man whom I am,” wrote Louis Aragon. “I have all my life learnt in order to become the man whom I am, but I have not forgotten for all that the man whom I was. And if between these men and myself, there is some contradiction, if I believe to have learned, progressed, changing, these men, when I turn back and look at them, I am not in the least ashamed of them, they are the waystages of that which I am, they led to me, I cannot say me without them. Now, nothing is fleeting like the me, a state of being given in an instant, and these pages will have been a net to capture a little of the ephemera and attempt to hold it in place. Stefano Landi, an Italian Renaissance composer, grasped this ephemera in the title of one of his works: Homo fugit velut umbra, “Man flees like a shadow”.

Faye’s reflection begins with an incident: the opening by French minister Éric Besson of a debate on a French national identity. Although the specifics of this debate are left aside Faye, he does note that the grounds of the question itself resonated with some deeper part of himself, hitherto unexplored. In particular, he is brought to reflect at some length on the term at the center of it all: identity.

He first notes that the ground of identity should rather be classed as grounds, or “sources” as he notes in the text. This pluralization may at first glance seem of little import, but it has immediate implications for the background debate against which Faye’s musings are set. If identity is itself fundamentally plural or many-parted, then a national identity will either prove an abstract ideal with no instantiations or a practical category only with considerable mending and broadening. In short, in Faye’s eyes, the debate is framed in nonsensical fashion and will not issue in any findings worth mentioning.

With little in the way of transition, Faye puts forward his own proposal for approaching the concept of identity and, by extension, any inquiry on identity. For him, this approach can perhaps be termed a geographical archeology or an archeological geography, depending on the focus. The reason for this melding of fields owes to the precise analogy given for identity: lost continents. For identity is a continent, i.e. an entity or collection of smaller entities exhibiting change over time, the record of which is captured in certain features proper to this entity or collection thereof. Hence the importance of geography.

Yet “continent” does not exhaust the self’s relation to identity. One might well object that insofar as the continents are reasonably available to us as cognitive entities, there would be no need to open a debate and launch an investigation into the continents and, thus, the analogy with identity is an imperfect one at best. With this in mind, Faye qualifies “continents” with the term “lost” so as to distance ourselves in some way from the entities under study and suggest that the entity of identity is not cognitively available. At best, one might have some dim awareness of the existence of such a “continent” without being in the least able to specify its location, history, features or geography.

If the entity of identity is cognitively dim or unavailable in precisely this way, then it is sensible to consider that one would need to draw on a specialized field in order to make known the unknown and brings its mysteries to the fore. Once found, as in archeology, these findings would then be catalogued and preserved in the aim of serving as a reference for present and future inquiries. Faye’s introduction of the archeological term into the analogy thus saves it from inherent ambiguity and draws this image of identity (and, by extension, self) closer to that which one might find in a properly academic discipline. The question remains whether such an image and interpretation of identity better gets at the nature of identity than rival images and whether Faye’s method of arriving at this image holds theoretical water.

Translation 16

August 21, 2014

Extrait de Somnambule dans Istanbul, Eric Faye, 2012, pp. 15-16

Les chapitres qui suivent sont une ébauche de cartographie de l’imaginaire, à travers une pléiade de voyages. Voyages en des lieux signifiants, mais aussi d’un fragment à l’autre d’un puzzle à la surface duquel affleurent peu à peu les strates successives d’un moi, strates qui ont abouti à celui qui écrit ces lignes. “Je n’ai pas toujours été l’homme que je suis, notait Louis Aragon. J’ai toute ma vie appris pour devenir l’homme que je suis, mais je n’ai pas pour autant oublié l’homme que j’ai été. Et si entre ces hommes-là et moi il y a contradiction, si je crois avoir appris, progressé, changeant, ces hommes-là, quand, me retournant, je les regarde, je n’ai point honte d’eux, ils sont les étapes de ce que je suis, ils menaient à moi, je ne peux dire moi sans eux.” Or rien n’est fugitif comme le moi, état de l’être en un instant donné, et ces pages auront été un filet pour capturer un peu d’éphémère et tenter de le retenir. Stefano Landi, un compositeur italien de la Renaissance, a saisi l’éphémère dans le titre d’une de ses oeuvres: Homo fugit velut umbra, “L’Homme s’enfuit comme une ombre”.

=

The following chapters are a beginning cartographical sketch of the imagination, through a host of travels. Trips to meaningful places, but also from one piece to another of the puzzle on whose surface show little by little the successive layers of a me, layers which led to the one writing these lines. “I have not always been the man whom I am,” wrote Louis Aragon. “I have all my life learnt in order to become the man whom I am, but I have not forgotten for all that the man whom I was. And if between these men and myself, there is some contradiction, if I believe to have learned, progressed, changing, these men, when I turn back and look at them, I am not in the least ashamed of them, they are the waystages of that which I am, they led to me, I cannot say me without them. Now, nothing is fleeting like the me, a state of being given in an instant, and these pages will have been a net to capture a little of the ephemera and attempt to hold it in place. Stefano Landi, an Italian Renaissance composer, grasped this ephemera in the title of one of his works: Homo fugit velut umbra, “Man flees like a shadow”.

 

Translation 15

August 20, 2014

Extrait de Somnambule dans Istanbul, Eric Faye, 2012, p. 15

Au fur et à mesure que je m’interrogeais, ce n’est pas une seule, mais une mosaïque d’identités qui se dessinait, un Gondwana personnel dont les pièces, assemblées, ne dessinaient pas un bon Français mais un individu trop peu patriote et peu chauvin, trop curieux de ce qui se passe en dehors de l’irréductible village gaulois. Peu de choses, en somme, étaient authentiquement nationales dans cette mosaïque. Pour la résumer, un aphorisme de Cioran me paraît pertinent: “On n’habite pas un pays, on habite une langue.” Oui, avant tout une langue, à quoi j’ajouterais une époque, celle où l’on a grandi, qu’on ne quitte jamais vraiment, quand bien même on voudrait être de plain-pied avec son temps. Bien plus que d’un pays précis, je suis du XXème siècle. Les briques qui me constituent ont été cuites à cette période et à nulle autre, quoi que je fasse pour prendre racine dans le nouveau millénaire.

=

As I went on wondering, it was not merely a single but rather a mosaic of identities which took shape, a personal Gondwanaland whose pieces, put together, did not leave the outlines of a good French citizen but an individual who was too little patriotic or close-minded, too curious about that which goes on outside of the irreducible Gallic village. In short, little was genuinely national in this mosaic. To sum it up, certain words of wisdom from Cioran seem relevant: “One does not live in a country, one lives in a language.” Yes, a language before all else, to which I would add an era, that in which one has grown up, that one never truly leaves behind, even when one would like to be on even footing with one’s time. Much more so than a specific country, I come from the 20th century. The bricks making me up were fired in this period and at no other, whatever I might do to put down roots in the new millenium.

Translation 14

August 19, 2014

Extrait de Somnambule dans Istanbul, Eric Faye, 2012, pp. 14-15

En bon archéologue manqué, il m’a toujours semblé que les Troie, Mycènes et autres cités de légende avaient joué, bien avant d’avoir été exhumées, un rôle fondateur dans la mémoire collective. Longtemps avant elles, une bonne partie de la Terre était recouverte par un supercontinent, le Gondwana. Ses fragments se sont éloignés les uns des autres, des mers se sont glissées entre eux et cela a donné peu à peu l’Afrique, l’Inde et le reste de l’Asie. L’identité dont je cherchais à dresser la carte avait dû procéder de la même façon. Elle avait à voir avec un paradis perdu, à mon échelle aussi lointain que le Gondwana pour la Terre, et qui s’était également morcelé. L’écriture en était un élément cardinal mais elle n’en était pas le seul.

=

It has always seemed to me, as a would-be archeologist, that the Troys, Mycenaes and other cities of legend had played, well before having been unearthed, a founding role in collective memory. Long before them, a large swath of the Earth was covered by the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Its pieces drew away from one another, seas slipped between them, and this gave rise little by little to Africa, India and the rest of Asia. The identity of which I sought to sketch a map must have come along in the same way. It had something about it of a lost paradise, on my scale every bit as distant as Gondwanaland was for the Earth, and which has likewise broken apart. Writing was a fundamental element therein but it was not the sole and only.

Translation 13

August 18, 2014

Extrait de Somnambule dans Istanbul, Eric Faye, 2012, pp. 13-14

Des années plus tard, un ministre dont l’histoire aura bientôt oublié le nom remit au goût du jour le concept de bon Français et lança un débat sur une identité nationale dont je me moquais comme de colin-tampon. Par ricochet, je m’aperçus cependant que je ne m’étais jamais penché sur la nature de ma propre identité. Jamais je n’avais eu l’idée de remonter jusqu’à sa source, ou plutôt ses sources. Je repensais alors au vieil homme du cercle de jeux. Car la notion d’identité avait à voir, chez moi, comme je le soupçonnais, avec celle de continents perdus que l’on s’échine à retrouver et à préserver en soi, par fidélité à une certaine idée de soi-même, ou pour quelque autre raison que j’ignore, qui a peut-être partie liée avec le mythe de Sisyphe et l’absurdité de la condition humaine.

=

Some years later, a minister whose name history will have soon forgotten lent a modern styling to the notion “a good French citizen” and struck up a debate on a national identity about which I could hardly care more. As if by ricochet, I became aware, however, that I had never looked into the nature of my own identity. Never had it occurred to me to make my way back to its source or, rather, its sources. I thought back on the old man from the gaming circle. For the concept of identity shared something, in my case, as best I could make it out, with that of lost continents which one racks one’s brains to find again and preserve as is, out of loyalty to a certain idea of oneself, or for some other reason unknown to me, which is perhaps linked in part with the myth of Sisyphus and the absurdity of the human condition.

Dream Experiment CXXVII

August 15, 2014

?:?? am: On an adventure westward, not east, all gone wrong, swept along by the train through the Ukraine across the river and into Kiev. Passing through a sector from the past century or two, peopled by imposing, white, vaguely neoclassical structures with green tiled roofs, empty-eyed marble statues and generous gilding, perhaps erected for an exposition of times gone by. Head turning with the growing distance and angle, left to marvel at the unknown.

9:15 am: Normally, a dream of this kind can be attributed to the characteristic combination of meager real world knowledge with the infinitely generative dream-logic in order to fill a perceived gap. It is with some surprise that the dreamer finds certain signature religious buildings of Kiev to have green roofs not unlike those glimpsed from aboard an in-dream train. Such is that from which springs the uncanny nature of coincidence.

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