Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fight Club 2 and Barthes's phatic code

The most highly anticipated comics series of the year ends in the biggest way possible—the whole world burns away according to Tyler’s plan, and a new one he never anticipated is conceived. The meek inherit the Earth, and a final showdown proves that, finally, Roland Barthes is right! --  
Hm... I wonder what Barthes is right about, precisely.  I'll guess that maybe his book S/Z or more broadly his codes might be what is being referred to, but this doesn't resolve the mystery just yet.

Maybe (after looking around a bit more) what Barthes is supposed to be right about is that "there is no one possible meaning but instead 'a plurality of meaning or meaning as plurality'" -- from Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, p. 100 -- quoting something from Barthes, but the exact reference is cut off in Google Books.  Perhaps the reference is to "L'analyse structurale du récit. A propos d'Actes X-XI" in Recherches de Science Religieuse 58, 1970, pp. 17-37, or Exégèse et Herméneutique, 1971, also reprinted in English translation here (in part).

Indeed, a plurality of meaning sounds somewhat Fight Club-like.  And come to think of it...

Perhaps the plural view is stereotyped and made extreme with the remark: "R. Barthes refuses to make any connection between the text and the reality which is imputed to it" (Structural Analysis and Biblical Exegesis: Interpretational Essays, p. 17).
In every new summary -- there are at least five in all -- a new route of destination and of communication is established. The text is, therefor, in its own structure, the center of an intense diffusion of messages. (Structural Analysis and Biblical Exegesis: Interpretational Essays, p. 18)
From Searching for Meaning it seems that -- at least potentially -- one of these layers is a phatic code.  But as remarked in Structural Analysis and Biblical Exegesis,
The story [Acts] in all the hierarchy of its levels affirms one and the same thing: communication is now possible, grace flows; the Gospel is offered to all.
And some terminology is introduced: "Barthes proposes to call diagrammatic such an agreement of the levels."

But whereas the text is structured,
Both the mythic and phatic codes are cultural, and intertextual – they are constituted by “certain types of deja-vu” (Barthes “Valdemar” 191), the already read. -- Essay: A Study in Textual Analysis: Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”
Expanding that, I find Roland Barthes (Translated by Donald G. Marshall), “Textual Analysis of a Tale by Edgar Poe,” Poe Studies, June 1977, Vol. X, No. 1, 10:1-12, in which there is the following interesting quote:
The code of communication could also be called the code of the destination. Communication should be understood in a restricted sense. It does not cover all the signification in a text, still less its signifying; it designates only every relation which, in the text, is uttered as an address (this is the situation with the “phatic” code, which bears the burden of accentuating the relation between narrator and reader), or as an exchange (the narrative is exchanged for truth, for life). In sum, communication should here be understood in an economic sense (communication, circulation of commodities).
And near the conclusion of this essay, a now very Fight Club-like (and also Bakhtin-like) point: "Undecidability is not a weakness, but a structural condition of narration: there is no univocal determination of the utterance: in an utterance, many codes, many voices, are there, without prevalency...  one can no longer point out who speaks and when one only asserts that there begins to speak."

Friday, March 4, 2016

The inventor and the hunter

A long quote from "The philosophy of Simondon: between technology and individuation" by Pascal Chabot, page 18.

The inventor 
The inventor has a sense of the future and is therefore a historical being. Mircea Eliade, cited by Simondon, described the recent advent of historical self-awareness in modern societies, explaining why 'moderns' prefer invention to adaptation. 
Invention was forbidden in archaic societies: it upset the cosmic order.  Traditional peoples had cosmogonies that told of the birth of the world and the life of the gods.  They imitated these mythical narratives.  Their acts took on meaning, 'reality', only insofar as they repeated the acts long ago performed by the gods or the ancestors.  The warrior is brave because the sacred warrior proved his bravery in illo tempore: in the mythical time of origins.  Objects and actions derive their value from the fact that they participate in a reality that transcends them.  Nutrition is not a simple, physiological operation: it renews a communion.  Marriage and orgies alike echo mythical prototypes.  'They are repeated,' writes Eliade, 'because they were consecrated in the beginning ... by gods, ancestor, or heroes.'  

The inner quote is from:

M. Eliade (trans. Willard R Trask) The Myth of the Eternal Return, New York: Pantheon Books, 1965, p. 15.

This perspective -- which itself seems a bit atavistic as spoken above -- feels quite resonant with quotes from J. Leach about the Reite people of PNG, quoted (at far too great length) in our current working draft.  Leach explains how Reite people are "created" and also how hunting (for example) "re-creates", operating at once on both a physical and mythical level.  Gendered roles are important (men are the ones who hunt) and Leach seems to think of hunting as a sort of generalized sexual relations.

It seems possible to "replay" this thinking into Greek mythology (and perhaps Eliade already has material on that, I'd like to have a look at his book) and thereby refigure the gendered roles of Hermes and Hestia -- and to extrapolate from that into a discussion on the role of "the message" (see Vattimo quote in previous blog post) -- and from there (back again) to a more-or-less Simondonian theory of the technologies of communication (viz., phatics).

That would be quite a lot to swallow, so I think I'll leave it there for now.  Just a quick remark that the Chabot book is really excellent: it manages to be accessible and engaging without being shallow.  It feels more like "popular" writing than Combes's book, which he puts to good use.  Let me illustrate that (from p. 40-41):

[A]s Muriel Combes astutely notes, Simondon 'consistently denounces the alienation of human beings in general. ... Thus, the bankers are said to be "just as alienated in relation to the machine as the members of the new proletariat.'"  The difficulty of Simondon's position is that it only takes individual situations into account in terms of their relation to technology, and not on their own terms.  From a Simondonian point of view, conflicts and alienation are always caused by a misunderstanding of technology.  The extreme difficulty and even 'unrealism' of this position are evident in practice.  How can we conceptualize the situation in terms of the technical object and the communicative possibilities it presents, when so much else is lacking?  'Simondon,' writes Combes, 'doesn't recognize that the perspective of the workers on machines has any value.  At no point does he ask himself if workers' violent hostility to machines might express something about their relationship to technology, other than mere short-sightedness ...  It is difficult to understand why, even as he deplored the fact that in labour, the machine was understood only as a means to an end, Simondon never took into account the specific experience of technology that followed from this fact.  In this experience, it was not as a man that the worker entered the factory but as part of a mutilated humanity.'
This business of a "mutilated humanity" seems really important -- it's the social field again.  And (back to the case of "archaic societies" from Eliade, we might guess that their social field is not mutilated.  Similar to Sloterdijk's reflections on the circular form of villages in Spheres II.

And remember, what do these villages have at their center, but a fire, which is where both Hestia (mythological level) and phatics (etymology but also "architectonic" level) come into the discussion; see earlier blog posts.

I feel like there are way too many strands and themes here and what I'd really like would be some time and space to bring them together in a coherent form.  It's challenging to do that when most of my research energy is being directed into other papers.  But I'll get some respite from that from tomorrow!

three remarks on interpretation

Gianni Vattimo: [O]ne cannot talk with impunity of interpretation; interpretation is like a virus or even a pharmakon that affects everything it comes into contact with. On the one hand, it reduces all reality to message -- erasing the distinction between Natur and Geisteswissenschaften, since even the so-called "hard" sciences verify and falsify their statements only within paradigms or pre-understandings. If "facts" thus appear to be nothing but interpretations, interpretation, on the other hand, presents itself as (the) fact: hermeneutics is not a philosophy but the enunciation of historical existence itself in the age of the end of metaphysics[.]

Martin Heidegger: Hermeneutically -- that is to say, with respect to bringing tidings, with respect to preserving a message... it is on purpose that the first page of Being and Time speaks of "Raising again" a question. What is meant is not the monotonous trotting out something that is alwasy the same: but to fetch, to gather in, to bring together what is concealed within the old.

Santiago Zabala: If this is true, then the pharmakon of Being must be interpretation itself, because it is not only what allows Being to come through (the remedy) but also what rejects it (the poison). Interpreting is the only act, practice, or way capable of reaching the Being of beings and allowing the Being of beings to reach us.

All found in: Zabala, Santiago (2007). "Pharmakons of Onto-Theology". In Zabala, Santiago. Weakening Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Gianni Vattimo. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 231 and p. 241

And a bonus remark from me, which is that interpreting in a semiotic sense (e.g. Kockleman) has been part of the discussion here for a while.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

war and peace

"...when there is little external warfare and competition, the successful groups find it difficult to curtail infighting amongst sub-groups within their society, and their lack of internal cooperation begins to make them vulnerable to attack from outsiders." - From review of Ultrasociety
This reminded me of the fact that fighting alternated with Kula exchange in the Trobriands before contact with Westerners.