1.25.2012

The Joy of Thinking (Differently)

Here's an easy exercise. Look around the room and choose anything you see, anything you think of.  Me, I'm looking at my set of keys. 

Now start listing all the ways this thing — my set of keys — can be categorized, thought, imagined, all of its uses, all the ways it connects to other things. My keys, for instance, are little knives; symbols of discovery; symbols of enslavement; a literal weight on me; a plethora of opportunity and possibility; the limitation of my possibilities; envelope and box openers; a child's toy; a dangerous child's toy thanks to the lead; a collection of like things; a security blanket when I'm out and about, that jangle and jab tethering me to place and vehicle; the history of keys, of secrets, of private property; children's games of secret passageways; a sign of adulthood (my beast does not carry keys; at what age will he have his own key, I wonder).

What else?

Each thing — visible and invisible — exists within multiple categories, multiple series, multiple networks.  Most things have a more or less prescribed use: this is what you do with keys, silly man, you open doors.

Inventors, of course, find different uses for known things.  This is amazing: they find life, extend the thing, create new worlds from the old world.  It is nothing less than a miracle.

Artists do the same: they literally have us see anew. Take something as simple as Starry Sky: doesn't Van Gogh teach us to see the sky — something we see everyday — again and anew, as if for the evry first time?

Reading — interpreting, perhaps, but I don't like that word for a number of reasons — can do the same thing. It can take a known object and make it unknown and then known again as something new. It is truly incredible: I can read some words on a page that make me see something I've always seen, understand something I've always understood, as if seeing it for the very first time.  What was dead is summoned to life, to new life, to new possibility.

This is the way I experienced when I first read Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality v1.  I was someone who believed that sexuality was a vital force that the powers that be repressed, beginning with the Victorians. Such and such culture or such and such historical period were certainly more liberated than we are.  Indeed, like so many others, my understanding of sexuality was defined by the figure of repression/liberation. 

Until I read Foucault who told me that repression was, in fact, another form of power — that power does not only restrict, it constructs.  Look, Foucault says, look at how often and how much the so-called repressed Victorians talked about sex — relentlessly.  They were so obsessed with sex they covered the legs of pianos out of discretion. 

Oh, man, when I read that the whole world yawned anew.  To have such a hallowed idea, an idea that I didn't even realize I had because I simply thought it was true, to have such a thing so completely re-organized, redistributed, a whole new sense of it forged was invigorating, intoxicating,  making me delirious with possibility.  The whole world — every thing, every idea, every person — could be read from multiple angles and perspectives, redistributed and recast and repeated and become something new.  The universe becomes uncanny at its core, always shifting and realigning depending on how you look at it.

To think different, to think differently, is to create life.  It is the ultimate joyful act — to read critically is to perform Whitman's great line: urge and urge and urge/always the procreant urge of the world. 

If all things are multiple, are nodes with different series, then to forge or discover these series is to breed life. 

2 comments:

drwatson said...

What got me so excited about Heidegger 10 years ago was that he made the world look differently - the notion that what is closest to us is often the least recognizable and the hardest to talk meaningfully about seemed and still seems spot on.

There's a way in which, say, academics, but this extends to pretty much all fields, get sucked into to vague, ungrounded concepts because they are easy to deploy if you want a ready-made analysis. I'm not suggesting, for example, that it's not important to seek out oppression in texts, but it's not exciting to read about anymore and it's not particularly difficult to do. That may be unethical - but the most important term for me is usually "interesting."

I love the line in Heidegger's What Is Called Thinking: "What is most thought-provoking in this thought-provoking age is that we are not yet thinking."

αλήθεια said...

@drwatson – this is beautiful! Heidegger says it all!

@ Daniel Coffeen – I don’t know if you have read this wonderful book, Seduction, by Jean Baudrillard. I am currently reading it, and it’s absolutely intriguing to know Baudrillard’s understanding of how seduction works, especially when it comes to words used in literature. He says that words are like rules in a game, in that they are highly arbitrary in nature and do not necessarily refer to a static meaning or a theory. One uses such words (those that are seductive/poetic) for the sake of using words and not for the sake of referring it to some irreversible meaning. Words that are seductive are packed with irony and are open ended, thus creating a reversible and cyclic order within themselves, which ultimately draws readers towards them, and keeps them following words’ rhythmic affect. In other words, words/or art for that matter, are like rhythmic patterns – these patterns are neither logical nor do they have a hidden meaning, their order/affect simply 'is,' just as a rule in any game just simply 'is'; if you choose to play the game, you have to follow the rules (non-sensible rules, I should say!) if you don’t wish to follow the rules, you simply stay out of the game. This way, seductive signs have their own rhythms, patterns, and non-sense logic attached to them, which, by being absolutely arbitrary, seduce those that encounter them! (May be this is why music and poetry are so seductive and easy to remember than a mathematical formula!)
I was pretty much taken up by this idea, and after reading your article I thought maybe artists are seducers in this sense too. They take up signs (those cliché signs that are used as tools to signify a “hidden”, “unconscious” meaning) and make them ambiguous to the point where these signs become living, non-sense referents that are reversible in nature and play a role in seducing other entities around them, just like we human do! In this way, whether it is a piece of art work, or a literary piece, signs that are revealed as ambiguous are seductive, they seduce surrounding entities with their own, non sense, orders.
An example of such art that comes to my mind is that of the surrealists. May be what they have tried to do is just that – they have given reversibility and a cyclic pattern to signs!
I apologize if I’ve just ruined the whole book for you! (I’m pretty sure you’ve already read it!) I just feel that summarizing and relating the books that are love to your ideas give me a chance to better understand certain philosophies!