5.18.2016

The Way of Things


Philosophy, as Bergson and then Wittgenstein argued, has a tendency to ask funny questions which make certain assumptions that, in turn, leave us thinking in unnecessarily convoluted terms. Is a thing a thing-in-itself and for-another? Is a thing a being or a becoming? And, if it's a becoming, how can we say it's that thing at all? We can cast these equally false question in terms of human being: Am I a self unto myself or is my identity only forged through and with another?

This are silly questions because they begin with a certain set of inane assumptions, namely, that being and becoming are distinct terms. Now, perhaps this is just a a series of straw men I've created. But it's unnecessary anyway in that I'm not interested in arguing against a certain belief in as much as I am interested in proffering a certain way of things. Here, then, is how I imagine the way of things.

A thing is not static. On the contrary, it is always already moving and morphing. As Bergson argues, time is not something added to matter but is constitutive of it; things are four-dimensional (at least) from the git go (the fourth dimension is temporal extension, if you will). There is no moment of pure being which is then followed by becoming. No, time never stops. Change never stops. A thing is becoming all the way through, moving and changing at every level of its constitution — molecular, intelligent, perceptive, atomic, affective.

A thing, then, is not per se. It isn't anything, technically speaking. It does things. It takes in the world, takes up the world, gathers this and that together in a particular way — with particular propensities, desires, speeds, intensities. Think of it this way: I am, if I can use that word, this way of taking up skin, blood, air, liver, thought, books, scents, love, gin, images, relationships. What I am is a process that is itself always changing what it is, what it desires, and what it takes in.

Which is to say, I am not a fixed thing that takes in different things. I am run all the way through with a way of taking up different things and these different things and different ways forge a constantly different me. For instance, when I run or move very quickly, the speed and intensity of how I take in air changes. I pant like a sick dog. Or as I age — as I change — my very metabolism changes as do my desires and intensities. I eat less pasta and tomato sauce. I don't take on life with the same umph that I did when I was, say, 27. I don't drink so much bourbon anymore. My how and my what have changed.

But if everything is always changing, what makes me me? What makes a thing a thing? Well, this is perspectival and hence is itself always morphing.

A thing hangs together in particular ways. There is what we might call an internal logic only it's not internal per se or absolutely; it is internal to that thing. A thing is as much a how as a what. What makes a thing that thing is how it hangs together from a particular perspective.

When you try to touch the being of a thing, you discover a localized process — a how, a desiring and distributive factory: a metabolism. A way of taking in other things, including desire, and processing them, distributing them just so. A thing is its way of becoming.

A thing is a thing in as much as it is delimited by a perspective. A toe may be a thing or it may be a part of me or it may be both — it depends on the perspective. A doctor, a foot fetishist, a pedicurist, an alien, me: we all draw different limits of you and your toe and have different ways of taking it up, making sense of it, putting it in play within the metabolic engines we claim as ours.

Another way to think about this is to consider yourself with different people. I know, for one, that when I'm with one person, certain whats and hows of me are amplified; when I'm with someone else, I take on certain things in certain ways. I drink gin with Brian but not with my son; whiskey with Marc but not with, say, Tommy. This makes for a different me, a different way of going. My comportment, desires, speeds, and intensities all shift when I'm with different people, with different things.

Things do not have an essence; they have a way. Or, better, they have ways depending on circumstances.

No comments: