Random notes

13 10 2010

Again, I am confounded by an Anthony Esolen essay. I was especially bewildered by this passage:

For there is something self-effacing, or rather self-forgetting, about the true feast. When we celebrate, we rejoice precisely in what comes to us as a gift, what is not wholly in our power to provide for ourselves; and that is even the case when reapers clear the fields and lie back in the shade with bread and wine and song, or when fishermen haul their nets ashore and drink deep at the public house. A feast without the divine, says Pieper, is quite simply unknown; and for that same reason, it is impossible to manufacture joy from the raw materials supplied by the self alone, and impossible to manufacture love.

I wonder if Dr. Esolen has ever worked a day of his life in an actual field under the hot summer sun. I can tell you that it is not at all romantic. I was spared for the most part having to work in the fields, though we did have to work cutting apricots when we weren’t in school. Also, I have had a number of jobs where I did have to toil under the warm California sun all day long. But as someone whose parents had the joy and honor of picking cotton, cucumbers, and other crops that required you to be stooped over all day, I perceive Dr. Esolen’s invocation of peasant life to be a perverse pastoral fantasy. If they haven’t ever lived it, or seen it for that matter, how can they romanticize it so much.
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On dreams

13 10 2010

Or, Cartesianism in art and drama

The philosopher who stands for one of the extremes of “madness” is Nicholas Malebranche, his “occasionalism”. Malebranche, a disciple of Descartes, drops Descartes’s ridiculous reference to the pineal gland in order to explain the coordination between the material and the spiritual substance, i.e. body and soul; how, then, are we to explain their coordination, if there is no contact between the two, no point at which a soul can act causally on a body or vice versa? Since the two causal networks (that of ideas in my mind and that of bodily interconnections) are totally independent, the only solution is that a third, true Substance (God) continuously coordinates and mediates between the two, sustaining the semblance of continuity: when I think about raising my hand and my hand effectively raises, my thought causes the raising of my hand not directly but only “occasionally” – upon noticing my thought directed at raising my hand, God sets in motion the other, material, causal chain which leads to my hand effectively being raised. If we replace “God” with the big Other, the symbolic order, we can see the closeness of occasionalism to Lacan’s position: as Lacan put it in his polemics against Aristoteles in Television, the relationship between soul and body is never direct, since the big Other always interposes itself between the two. Occasionalism is thus essentially a name for the “arbitrary of the signifier”, for the gap that separates the network of ideas from the network of bodily (real) causality, for the fact that it is the big Other which accounts for the coordination of the two networks, so that, when my body bites an apple, my soul experiences a pleasurable sensation. This same gap is targeted by the ancient Aztec priest who organizes human sacrifices to ensure that the sun will rise again: the human sacrifice is here an appeal to God to sustain the coordination between the two series, the bodily necessity and the concatenation of symbolic events. “Irrational” as the Aztec priest’s sacrificing may appear, its underlying premise is far more insightful than our commonplace intuition according to which the coordination between body and soul is direct, i.e. it is “natural” for me to have a pleasurable sensation when I bite an apple since this sensation is caused directly by the apple: what gets lost is the intermediary role of the big Other in guaranteeing the coordination between reality and our mental experience of it. And is it not the same with our immersion into Virtual Reality? When I raise my hand in order to push an object in the virtual space, this object effectively moves – my illusion, of course, is that it was the movement of my hand which directly caused the dislocation of the object, i.e. in my immersion, I overlook the intricate mechanism of computerized coordination, homologous to the role of God guaranteeing the coordination between the two series in occasionalism…
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