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Fr. 354

June 26, 2013

It has been previously noted that, in the work of Deleuze, Stout and Gadamer on thought, discussion and language, respectively, there is to be remarked a positive transformation of rigid concepts and structures. In their attempts to loosen up sedimented, dogmatic structures, the focus shifts, at least temporarily, from the universal and formal to the contingent and historic. This shift to the contingent and historic also entails a certain promotion of chance.

For Deleuze, chance intervenes in both the encounter with that which is outside thought or a particular form of thought, demands to be thought, yet can only initially be felt. This chance is also invoked when the time comes for the creation of concepts in that the intellectual materials of which a particular concept will be made depends in part on which materials the thinker has at hand: with which thinkers is he or she familiar?; which concepts has he or she already created?; what new materials might be brought to the fore at this time? Finally, one might consider chance and coincidence to be at work in the resonance between philosophical series and non-philosophical series in the way in which an Idea circulates from one field to another on the basis of its making itself felt to a thinker.

For Stout, chance is at work in the formation of one’s most inner beliefs and convictions, for these owe to a greater or lesser extent to the contingent factors entering into the formation of individuality. Chance is here political, concerning existence and co-existence: chance of time, place, creed, family, language, education, tradition, among other historical processes at work in society. Moreover, chance intervenes in the opening up of new relations both within an individuality and between separate individualities, and Stout enumerates several such relations for himself: his discovery of his brother’s collection of American transcendentalists at an impressionable age, the conviction of a local pastor for civil rights, his years of working with Richard Rorty, among others. Hence, chance and coincidence determine an initial configuration of individuality but never stop determining this configuration, the encounters brought on by discussion chance even go so as to alter distinct configurations of individuality through mutual interaction. In no way could this unending determination and that which it determines be ascribed to the functioning of a formal universal.

For Gadamer, one’s mode of being is linguistic or language itself. As language is itself a historic and contingent formation, the identity that one takes on through language and interaction with the language of others is likewise historic and contingent, limited in place and time. Despite being limited, interaction with others through language can lead to the noted “fusion of horizons” in which the horizons of one individual can be expanded through exposure to the horizons of another. Although this could be brought on with foresight and in recalling universally binding, moral norms to the effect that one must expand these horizons, the fusion itself is an event owing to chance. Indeed, the shape of conversation or the playing on words that lead to this mixing of experiences can never be given beforehand, ahead of the specific encounter that gives rise to it. Logic’s fault consists precisely in trying to rid natural language of the natural logic that is already at work in it.

Accordingly, chance, coincidence and contingency would appear to be three aspects of an intellectual thread common to these three thinkers. Yet this promotion of chance and coincidence is not to be limited to philosophy alone, for it finds a literary parallel in the work of W.G. Sebald, both in his texts and the photographs that the former often contain. Indeed, Sebald’s work aims precisely at freeing up coincidence and releasing it from the strictures of order. As Clive Scott remarks of Sebald’s works in “Sebald’s Photographic Annotations”:

“About contingency one might say that only through chance can coincidence be attained, that only in the recalcitrance of the unordered and the unorderable can those webs of similarity, repetition, correspondence spin themselves into an unbidden and thus revelatory experience” (p. 220).

That which here proves to be true of narrative and photography, holds just as well for the sort of experiences that the reading of philosophy is likely to provoke. And, in much the same way as Deleuze’s, Stout’s and Gadamer’s works invoke a certain constructivism in the making of and working on concepts and conceptual resources, photographs for Sebald also calls on an aesthetic or perceptual constructivism:

“In the instantaneousness of its taking: the camera does not depict an instant so much as generate it, construct it as a gravitational point for memory and meaning, prevent it from wasting itself as a split second of undifferentiated becoming” (idem.).

For, like the concept, the belief or the word, the photograph is never simply to be found; it is that which is to be made and self-made. In the end, this process of self-making and self-formation is ever at work in it.

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