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Travelogue D4

April 13, 2015

I began the second day in the metro, eyeing the advertisements strategically placed above the heads of others, followed by a tour of the hôtel de ville. In the main stair, my attention was drawn to impressive brushwork centering on the Roman-era burning of Lugdunum. To one side, the German language guide points out a mural whose figures were burned away by the unfortunate placing of a gas lamp. All that remains is the head of an arrow off to the left side and a black and ochre blur.

The group passes the various antechambers, sitting rooms, conference chambers and spaces bearing the names of the numerous Louis but the touch of Napoléon III. Numerous medallions dot the ceilings, themselves thick with moldings and gilding. In the so-called Red Room, four grisaille medallions show the process of making silk, on which Lyon made its name. The first of these held my attention the longest for it recalled Sebald’s presentation of silkworms in one work; two young boys armed with a ladder collected husks from a tree. I was curious whether the medallion’s greyscale children were aware in their own way of being caught in the web of another, his fictions. As we marched in time back to the entrance, the guide commented on the great disadvantage of the rooms’ being strung together like pearls on a strand, in the way of many 17th century palaces. Or the glass spheres clustered like so many grapes beneath an overripe chandelier under which we passed.

At the musée des beaux-arts, my attention was held not by the masterworks but by the marginalia, by those exquisite footnotes to the history of art. Among these I counted an elemental cycle by Bruegel. The Fire allegory drew me in with its endless activity, craftsmen pulling from kiln and forge artifice with which to people the ruins where they had made their workshops. Indeed, the whole was strangely empty save the piling up of the manmade and the collision of disparate parts in the foreground. Perhaps, onlookers are to see not fire itself but as a tool that dominates and refines

Similarly, figures do not dominate certain Fleury Richard works but rather the interiors in which they are set. The happenings in Entrée de couvent and Scène dans une chapelle ruinée play out from the same perspectives, through a broad door into convent or chapel with prominent landscapes seen through a rear window or door. Likewise, both interiors are home to a pair of figures at once there and elsewhere, a young boy and nun bodyless, a young woman solid and a man obscured, scraped or burned away.

Although the online audio guide attributes this ephemeral character to their being self-documentation of Richard’s work process, I was more inclined to see something else in it. My reasons were twofold. The first, suggested by the carefully considered and polished interiors yet incomplete figures, led me to think that Richard attributed more solidity to the buildings than the humans peopling them. The second, perhaps the product of mere whim, stemmed from my own fascination with people as wisp, as that which eludes the touch and is never wholly there.


Travelogue D3

April 8, 2015

My inability to assign a meaningful label to the structure owed precisely to its architectural roots falling outside the schools with which I was familiar. For the Neo-Byzantine style took on for me at that moment another use of “byzantine”, that of “complicated”, a fitting term, what with how the Ancient World and the Near East seem to have been folded together in the snaking lines of its towers and contours. I took some time to contemplate the horizon for a moment and curse my fellow onlookers. I then elbowed my way to a side door and entered the basilica through an adjoining chapel, though not before first lighting an altar candle in offering without particularly knowing what for.

Within the nave, I was taken aback by the wash of color and needed a moment to catch my mental breath as it were. So, I settled into one of the simple wooden pews devoid of kneelers. For no few minutes did I crane my neck about, admiring with wide sweeps of my head the various mosaics dividing the wall space between columns. Thinking back on it, it is more the array of green, gold and pastels which has remained with me, to the detriment of the scenes and stories contained therein, with one exception. At the back right of the sanctuary, I found a depiction of Lyon’s first Christians and martyrs giving themselves and Lyon to the Lord. In the scene, the city is writ both large and small as it both makes up the background and is symbolically condensed in a miniature found in the hands of one martyr.

Of note is also the Archangel Michael’s flaming sword, relieved of its duty before the gates of Eden. It struck me as curious that the blade, though white in color and wreathed in gilded flames, neither loomed over the scene nor relegated the other figures portrayed to secondary status. Strangely, though I distinctly recall having seen it, I have to date been unable to find it in images of the mosaics available online. Perhaps this accounts for the figures not having been burnt away by its brilliance.

Fr. 611

April 7, 2015

If we have previously maintained that Stout’s account of contextualist justification supposes, implies or otherwise draws on an individuality which his work fails to make fully explicit, we have not yet established whether this explicitation is itself necessary for that account to bear fruit. More simply, if we can see the outlines of individuality (in our strict sense) in Stout’s work, is this more important or salient than justification and why?

To frame their relation in somewhat reductive fashion, there are three possible ways to connect justification and individuality. If justification is prior to individuality (logically, causally, or otherwise), then we must establish what purpose the extension of justification serves, if one at all. What new tools for approaching political discourse does individuality afford us? Our difficulty here is then to determine whether individuality serves a function different enough to warrant distinction and elaboration apart from justification.

If individuality is prior, in whatever relevant sense, to justification, our difficulty is then twofold. We must first demonstrate the reasons why Stout remained unaware of this priority in his work and then show how individuality fulfills the promise on which justification alone failed to deliver. This approach would thus consist in establishing the extent to which the notion of individuality completes justification in virtue of the former’s priority. The difficulty inherent to this approach is securing the relevant notion of “implicit” and providing a better framework or dramatic narrative for Stout’s story than Stout himself.

The third option lies in maintaining their reciprocity as concomitant formations. In other words, neither is prior to the other; each is an complete and independent entity to itself which nonetheless contains a reference to the other. In this way, they would arise at the same time, and we avoid both the problem of 1.) explicating an implicit while providing a narrative and 2.) outlining a logical dependence which resists reduction and secures a distinct function. If this option manages to split the difference and accrue the advantages of both, it remains to be seen how helpful it is to any given presentation of justification and individuality to present their relation as strictly concomitant. For this might seem to require establishing potentially dubious lines of logical reciprocity.

How are we to present the relation between individuality and justification in Stout’s work while avoiding the pitfalls above? Without a doubt, the three ways presented are overly reductive and schematic in that they fail to do justice to the variety of relations that may obtain at different times and under different historical conditions between any given pair of notions. If we take care to specify the function in each case or, less strongly, salient kinds of cases, we can reasonably hope to secure a range of cases wherein individuality takes the lead over justification and thereby possesses a distinct function without positing the need to establish priority across all cases, a tall order undoubtedly.

Travelogue D2

April 6, 2015

Although I never determined of the headless saints of Saint Jean, whether their fate owed to human hands, weather or other, they marked the first day’s first step in more ways than one. For, in making my way up the Fourvière from the Place, my plans for this record took shape in the playful tension between curatorial observation and haphazard encounters.

To my left, the slope between bends in the road had been fenced off to form a park of sorts, though unsuitable for most uses given the lawn’s steep angle. Not a quarter way up, I stopped for a time to watch in the park a dog which I had only taken notice of due to the complete lack of motion about it. In the quiet of these fallow lands, the dog remained still and was content to watch and wait and, for this reason, did not appear entirely wild. After some minutes, it disappeared into a bush and was gone, dispelling with movement the unearthly stillness which it had held me with.

As I rounded the way up’s first or second bend, depending on one’s reckoning, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a park of endless stairs. From this angle, hardly a blade of glass marred the uniform stretch of steps, which doubled back on themselves and seemed to climb up and down to no end or purpose. Such a park of endless stairs was of the stuff drawn from a Borges work, having mysteriously remained unpublished, and it was with great disappointment that I learned up-close, some hours later, of their nature, a mere Roman amphitheatre with considerable stretches of lawn. Anything, when seen from an angle below and peculiar to a certain street, can be made other than it is.

Past the second turn, a number of fictional entities began to parade past, as it were. Miyazaki’s forest spirit had made a home of a lamppost, and a Chavin reptile the corner of some new construction. When no longer able to inhabit their own lands, become fiction, these entities, it occurred to me, uprooted and came to populate the very cities complicit in their demise. In this way, they take on a different sort of reality, the Chavin, the Miyazaki being joined by else still.

It is only upon rounding the third and final bend and negotiating private thoroughfares and pavement crowded with Italians that I came face to face with the structure to which I had been unable to assign any meaningful label when seen from the Place below: the basilica of Fourvière.

Fr. 610

April 2, 2015

2. On pourrait se demander si Kant confond ses intentions avec celles de la nature qu’il évoque si souvent dans le texte. La raison pour laquelle Kant se sent en mesure d’attribuer des intentions à la nature (sous forme de postulat, on peut supposer) tient à la distinction entre le noumène et le phénomène ainsi que celle entre l’analyse et la synthèse. Or, c’est précisément de telles distinctions que l’historicisme pragmatique se donne pour tâche de dissoudre, comme dans l’ouvrage incontournable de Quine, Word and Object.

A la base, Kant tente de montre du philosophe:

comme il ne peut présumer un dessein raisonnable propre aux hommes et à la partie [qu’ils mènent], il a la possibilité d’essayer de découvrir un dessein de la nature dans le cours insensé des choses humaines; de telle façon que, de ces créatures qui agissent sans plan propre [ment humain], soit pourtant possible une histoire selon un plan déterminé de la nature.

Pour arriver à ce dessein, l’auteur part d’une proposition synthétique visant la précision de ce qu’est la nature. Formulé de façon réductrice, la nature consisterait en le développement d’une fin. Une analyse du terme de nature semblerait rejoindre la proposition synthétique dans la mesure où la vie renvoie à une fin en raison de son organisation même. D’où la première proposition et son explication:

Toutes les dispositions naturelles d’une créature sont destinées à se développer un jour complètement et en raison d’une fin.

C’est vérifiable chez tous les animaux, non seulement par l’observation externe, mais aussi par l’observation interne, par la dissection. Un organe, dont la destination n’est pas d’être utilisé, une structure qui n’atteint pas son but est incompatible avec une étude téléologique de la nature. Car, si nous nous écartons de ce principe, nous n’avons plus une nature conforme à des fins, mais un jeu de la nature sans finalité, et le hasard désolant détrône le fil directeur de la raison.

Par conséquent, la signification du terme “nature” se résumerait en une fin et, en tant que fin, cette signification est soumise à toutes les exigences d’une étude téléologique comme la propose Kant. Notamment, en tant qu’espèce naturelle, l’humanité serait soumise à ces mêmes exigences et aurait alors une fin précise. Par ailleurs, la nature elle-même lui poserait cette fin. On voit facilement la manière dont Kant part d’une analyse conceptuelle de la nature à l’enchaînement des propositions dans la synthèse.

En d’autres termes, Kant part de la signification de la nature pour arriver à une vision globale de ce que sa définition nous permet de croire à son sujet. C’est grâce cette distinction entre la signification et l’attribution, entre l’analyse et la synthèse, qu’on accède à l’intention de la nature. Et c’est ainsi que procède la justification dans l’Idée d’une histoire universelle. Pourtant, la justification en vue de la signification et l’attribution s’avère plus compliqué que Kant ne le croyait. Pour un penseur comme Stout, de tels procédés aboutissent à la confusion:

Once we confine ourselves […] to intersubjective criteria of identification and classification, we shall have no way to establish a sharp distinction between changes in meaning and changes in belief. If the meaning of a word or sentence is a matter of regularities in the actual use of linguistic expression, and if we use expression differently when we change out minds on important matters (such as the existence of God, the validity of Euclidean geometry, or the question of which authorities to accept), then meanings change along with beliefs. They reflect beliefs. How, then, can they figure in the traditional quest for ultimate justifications? The appropriate response to this question […] is not to search for some class of privileged entities that might secure ultimate justifications at precisely the point ideas and meanings failed. (Flight from Authority, p. 19)

Si l’ultime justification à laquelle Kant a recours dans l’Idée est précisément celle d’une analyse de sens, sa démarche aura le même sort. Car la signification kantienne du terme “nature” est élaborée en vue d’une croyance sur la nature, également kantienne. C’est pourquoi la signification du terme “nature” et la justification revêtiraient une autre forme pour un penseur différent et lui mènerait à attribuer à la nature une intention différente de celle kantienne. Tout cela mène Stout à son tour à proposer une vision de la justification à l’opposée du procédé de Kant:

Holism […] consists simply in the view that language cannot be divided up in the way envisioned by proponents of the distinctions between the analytic and the synthetic, theory and observation, or fact and value.

De cette définition, on pourrait tirer la conclusion stoutienne que l’intention de la nature dérobe des intentions humaines, voire kantiennes.

Travelogue D1

April 1, 2015

If previous travelogues have taken to heart the possibility of the making of unwitting history or the establishing of a past long since gone, this will instead be a travelogue of incidents, at best an incidental one. Rather than setting itself at the heart of the places and scenes traversed, it will content itself to occupy their margins, not within them but without. The thought came to me, without doubt, upon glimpsing the fields of Franche Comté from the train. For I at once noticed that these fields were not set apart by mere fencerows, as our own with their crooked hedge, but comprised a rows of posts and wires to either side of thickets of brush and hardy breeds of trees. Anywhere from two to four meters in width, these thickets stood as a dense no man’s land, that delimited space left by humans to chance. It was to these spaces of chance that I turned my attention, limiting myself to the touch keyboard of my phone in the hope of parsimony.

Accordingly, this shall not be the story of Toul and the sun’s opaque disc behind its morning fog. Nor shall it recount the ugly unfurling of Dijon and the mystery townships surrounding. Instead, I have set my sights on such as the headless saints of Lyon’s Saint Jean cathedral and the Gothic fixings of its portals. For such is my lot to wonder whether they are content with or merely resigned to headlessness before the tourists.

Fr. 609

March 31, 2015

1. Si les prévisions de Kant s’avèrent plus ou moins justes quant à la forme des institutions internationales futures, le texte procède sous une certaine illusion par rapport à lui-même. A chaque fois où il serait nécessaire d’exposer les raisons précises pour lesquelles Kant entreprend une tentative d’histoire universelle ou universalisante, l’auteur écarte la question de ses propres motifs au bénéfice d’une exposition purement descriptive. Sachant que, selon l’historicisme pragmatique, il n’est guère possible de tenir la description à l’écart des buts explico-normatifs, cela semble un grand défaut de la méthode employée par Kant. Pourquoi une telle perspective devrait-il nous importer? Sans autre précision (à part l’allusion rare à l’irritation ou la frustration), on ne pourra pas dire si la tentative de Kant atteint les objectifs qu’il se fixe.

Pourquoi importe-t-il tant de préciser la perspective normative ou explicative en vue de laquelle on procède dans toute démarche? Car il serait impossible de déterminer si la description remplit la fonction qu’elle s’octroie de façon subreptice ou autre. Imaginons, par exemple, un cas où un scientifique propose une théorie selon laquelle les espèces animales sont déterminées par une forte tendance vers des fins et des environnements de plus en plus précis ou définis. Bien que cette théorie participe à la description tant qu’elle prétend décrire le comportement des espèces animales, on trouve ci-joint une attente d’un ordre tout à fait différent. En réalité, cette même théorie ne se contente pas de décrire la situation mais maintient qu’il est aussi important de signaler, à la fois, la raison pour laquelle les espèces se comportent ainsi et combien une espèce ne se conformant pas à cette fin serait considéré comme aberrant. En bref, à cette description se joignent des attentes explicatives et normatives d’ordre important. Les exemples pourraient se multiplier en tirant sur les domaines de psychologie morale ou méta-éthique; on trouvera les mêmes attentes avouées ou non.

Admettons, avec Stout, que toutes les descriptions comportent de telles tendances sous-jacentes. Il serait, par ce fait, un grand défaut d’une théorie de ne pas avouer ces tendances lors de l’élaboration de sa perspective dans la mesure où ce manque empêche de déterminer si la théorie réussit ses propres buts, indépendamment de la valeur de ces mêmes buts. Le défaut de Kant dans l’Idée d’une histoire universelle serait donc de ne pas avoir précisé ces mêmes buts et de nous laisser à la dérive. De cette façon, il nous tomberait de lui fixer des buts plus ou moins appropriés à sa situation historiques. Laissant de côté toute question d’interprétation, on peut se demander si même Kant était conscient des motifs qui l’ont poussé à écrire le texte. Cela met en question avant tout sa notion d’autonomie, ce qui fait progresser l’histoire en dépit de la tradition et de l’hétérogénéité.. Si même Kant n’était pas en mesure de se fixer des buts précis dans ses écrits mais écrivait en vue de mobiles ressentis de façons de plus ou moins obscurs, cela pourrait être considéré une raison de plus pour écarter sa vision de la personne humaine et de l’histoire. D’où l’importance des pulsions émotionnelles que ressent même Kant, le philosophe de l’homogénéité rationnelle. L’affectif et le rationnel, le transcendent et l’historique, le descriptif et le normatif: tout s’implique de façon beaucoup plus importante que Kant le croyait.


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