12.07.2011

Examples and Repetition

We use examples all the time. But what is the logic of an example?

Well, an example is an instance of something — a something that is presumably bigger or broader such a concept, genre, ideology, or idea.  This model of exemplarity is hierarchical as the master term determines the identity of the particular.

Here’s an example of an example: “The books of William Burroughs are postmodern.” In this case, the oddity and tics and particularity of Burroughs are explained by, and reduced to, a meta-category: the postmodern. One could, on the other hand, say that his books are not postmodern, in which case, Burroughs is defined in a negative relationship to a category — which is to say, not defined at all. Or one could take another example of postmodernity — say, Thomas Pynchon — and talk about how Burroughs’ paranoia differs from Pynchon’s in that Burroughs is not paranoid at all: to him, the world is at war hence one had better keep a good lookout. In any case, in this model of the example, a particular thing is in a relationship with a category either as an instantiation, a rebel, or a modifier: Burroughs is postmodern; Burroughs is not postmodern; Burroughs shifts the terms of postmodernity.  

This model of exemplarity takes all sorts of forms such as ideology critique in which we read something in light of a predefined “cultural” or “ideological” category such as gender, race, sexuality, Marxism, psychoanalysis. This is a common assignment in college classes as Freudian readings of Vertigo, feminist critiques of Deep Throat, and Marxist analyses of The Wire abound. 

What matters in this model of the example is the category as the difference of Burroughs is minimized or wiped away.  This is a way of domesticating knowledge, of taming ideas that might tear at familiar and comforting categories.  Because, in this model, the categories themselves remain unquestioned, assumed as givens rather than tossed into the fray with all the other muck. And the difference of this or that is ignored.

Now, I could say that there is no such thing as a category and that all there is is difference, particulars ad infinitum. And, to some extent, this is no doubt true (but in a different way for different folks). But it seems to me that things do coalesce, that difference does not mark isolation but a relationship. The question is: how can we speak about such points of assemblage without falling into the hierarchy of exemplarity?

Repetition. With repetition, each thing recasts all the others in its various networks, including the categories.  Every chair is both the idea of chair and the instance of chair: it is both Chair and chair, chair again and anew, chair recast, reconfigured, recategorized.  Occasionally, a chair takes leave of chair all together and becomes something else — a couch, a table, a cat's house.  With repetition, there is no up or down, no firm vertical axis on which a hierarchy could establish itself.  

With repetition, each thing is the center of its category (and of its world).  Each thing is both category and instantiation.  Each thing is an example of itself.  And this is how I like to read the world — examples, nothing but examples, examples all the way up and all the way down, everything an example of itself — a world of pure exemplarity.  


2 comments:

what the Tee Vee taught said...

I very much like the idea: an example is imitation.

The move to "make an example"... particularly in the punitive sense... is to lock the category in one place, and fix it there. And repetition — or the possibility of repetition — dies or perhaps is simply hidden in a dark place, I'd guess.

Pierre said...

an exemple may be this experimental movie ( in french sorry).

an actor tells memories of france in 50's 60's, on a fake bike with a fake decoration. He is alone and begins each sentence with 'je me souviens' ( i remind), with sociological and personnal moments of the period in France.

may be a good exemple on your post about exemples, it all makes exemples about france in 50's 60's..

http://www.ina.fr/art-et-culture/arts-du-spectacle/video/CAB89011816/sami-frey-je-me-souviens.fr.html