Monday, August 28, 2006

Unapologetic blockquote, revisiting Adorno ("..." and "...." mine)

Adorno (sounding, for all the world, very much like JD, all jabbings at phenomenology, French philo and literary studies notwithstanding):
For it is mere superstition on the part of a science that operates by processing raw materials to think that concepts as such are unspecified and become determinate only when defined. Science needs the notion of the concept as a tabula rasa to consolidate its claim to authority, its claim to be the sole power to occupy the head of the table. In actuality, all concepts are already implicitly concretized through the language in which they stand. The essay starts with these meanings, and...takes them farther; it wants to help language in its relation to concepts, to take them in reflection...Unapologetically it lays itself open to the objection that one does not know for sure how one is to understand its concepts. For it understands that the demand for strict definition has long served to eliminate–through stipulative manipulations of the meanings of concepts–the irritating and dangerous aspects of the things that live in the concepts. But the essay does not make do without general concepts–even language that does not fetishize concepts cannot do without them–nor does it deal with them arbitrarily. Hence it takes presentation more seriously than do modes of proceeding that separate method and object and are indifferent to the presentation of their objectified contents. The manner of expression is to salvage the precision sacrificed when definition is omitted, without betraying the subject matter to the arbitrariness of conceptual meanings decreed once and for all. In this, Benjamin was the unsurpassed master. This kind of precision, however, cannot remain atomistic. Not less but more than a definitional procedure, the essay presses for the reciprocal interaction of its concepts in the process of intellectual experience. In such experience, concepts do not form a continuum of operations. Thought does not progress in a single direction; instead, the moments are interwoven as in a carpet. The fruitfulness of the thoughts depends on the density of the texture. The thinker does not actually think but rather makes himself into an arena for intellectual experience, without unraveling it...

The way the essay appropriates concepts can best be compared to the behavior of someone in a foreign country who is forced to speak its language instead of piecing it together out of its elements according to rules learned in school. Such a person will read without a dictionary. If he sees the same word thirty times in continually changing contexts, he will have ascertained its meaning better than if he had looked up all the meanings listed, which are usually too narrow in relation to the changes that occur with changing contexts and too vague in relation to the unmistakable nuances that the context gives rise to in every individual case. This kind of learning remains vulnerable to error, as does the essay as form; it has to pay for its affinity with open intellectual experience with a lack of security that the norm of established thought fears like death. It is not so much that the essay neglects indubitable certainty as that it abrogates it as an ideal. The essay becomes true in its progress, which drives it beyond itself, not in a treasure-hunting obsession with foundations. Its concepts receive their light from a terminus ad quem hidden from the essay itself, not from any obvious terminus a quo, and in this the method itself expresses its utopian intention....

The more it strives to consolidate itself as theory and to act as though it held the philosopher's stone in its hands, the more intellectual experience courts disaster. At the same time, by its very nature intellectual experience strives for such objectification. This antimony is reflected in the essay....

Rhetoric was probably never anything but thought in its adaptation to communicative langauge. Such thought aimed at something unmediated: the vicarious gratification of the listeners. The essay retains, precisely in the autonomy of its presentation, which distinguishes it from scientific and scholarly information, traces of the communicative element such information dispenses with...

The essay uses equivocations not out of sloppiness, nor in ignorance of the scientific ban on them, but to make it clear–something the critique of equivocation, which merely separates meanings, seldom succeeds in doing–that when a word covers different things they are not completely different; the unity of the word calls to mind a unity, however hidden, in the object itself. This unity, however, should not be mistaken for linguistic affinity, as is the practice of contemporary restorationist philosophies. Here too the essay approaches the logic of music, that stringent and yet aconceptual art of transition, in order to appropriate for verbal language something it forfeited under the domination of discursive logic–although that logic cannot be set aside but only outwitted within its own forms by dint of incisive subjective expression...(emphasis added)


-from Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen

nb: The Long Sunday symposium on Spivak, perhaps also of related interest–being one of several things that prompted this.

1 comment:

Michael Dorfman said...

Thanks for that.