Search results for "praxis "


Author: joe

Wednesday, 03 November, 2010 - 22:15

- on dwelling in the being of a thing.

Looking for the moment the gap closes: being in the flow of the moment; sincerity; dialogue; thinging. Theoria, praxis and poiesis are the three Aristotelian "activities" of man: theoria - the contemplative, analytical mode; praxis - the mode of action; and poiesis - the conjury, the making, or (after Heidegger) the 'bringing-forth'. But how do these modes play together? Are we entrapped in one or the other, only ever switching between them as we might change gears? Or are they like polyphonic tones, playing together, merging with each other, alternately moving back and forth in dominance and recession, but always humming along at the same time?

I quote Richard Sennet at length here because when I read his account of craft (butchered here), I am thinking of these modes, and noticing the opening and closing of the gaps between thought and action, mind and world, being and withdrawal.

We could find no better guide than Erin O'Connor about how the hand and eye together learn how to concentrate. A philosophical glassblower, she has explored the development of long-term attention through her own struggles to fashion a particular kind of wineglass. She reports . . . that she has long enjoyed the Barolo wines of Italy and therefore sought to fashion a goblet big and rounded enough to support the fragrant "nose" of the wine. To accommodate this, she had to expand her powers of concentration from the short- to the long-term . . .
In learning to make a Barolo goblet O'Connor . . . had to "untape" habits she'd learnt in blowing simpler pieces in order to explore why she was failing . . . develop a better awareness of her body in relation to the viscous liquid, as though there were continuity between flesh and glass . . . Now she was better positioned to make use of the triad of the "intelligent hand" - co-ordination of hand, eye, and brain . . . But she still had to learn how to lengthen her concentration.
This stretch-out occurred in two phases. First, she lost awareness of her body making contact with the hot glass and became all-absorbed in the physical material as the end in itself . . . The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes what she experienced as "being as a thing". This philosopher Michael Polanyi calls it "focal awareness" and refers to the act of hammering a nail: "When we bring down the hammer we do not feel that its handle has struck our palm but that its head has struck the nail . . . . I have a subsidiary awareness of the feeling in the palm of my hand which is merged into my focal awareness of my driving in the nail." If I may put this yet another way, we are now absorbed in something, no longer self-aware, even of our bodily self. We have become the thing on which we are working.
This absorbed concentration now had to be stretched out. The challenge O'Connor met was the result of further failure . . . The problem, she came to understand, lay in dwelling in that moment of "being in a thing." To work better, she discovered, she needed to anticipate what the material should next become in its next, as-yet nonexistent, stage of evolution. Her instructor called this simply "staying on track"; she, rather more philosophically minded, understood that she was engaged in a process of "corporeal anticipation," always one step ahead of the material . . .
The rhythm that kept O'Connor specifically alert lay in her eye disciplining her hand, the eye constantly scanning and judging, adjusting the hand, the eye establishing the tempo. The complexity here is that she was no longer conscious of her hands, she no longer thought about what they were doing: her consciousness focussed on what she saw; ingrained hand motions became part of the act of seeing ahead . . .
The Craftsman by Richard Sennet

The materials of life require a master to give them form, while dwelling in the being of a thing is anarchic and free-wheeling. Hmmm. Ahhh. Hello, and welcome to the tropes of mastery and freedom . . .

Categories: theoria, praxis, poiesis, Aristotle, Heidegger, Richard Sennett, craft, The Craftsman, flow, absorbtion, concentration, focal awareness, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michael Polanyi,
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Being and Knowing: World as Diegesis

Author: joe

Tuesday, 14 July, 2009 - 22:52

Another conversation, this time with Shaun, and more thinking through, thinking aloud, thinking thought. Shaun attended all the first year media theory lectures over the last academic year, including the six part series I delivered on narrative. So, he got to hear me rework and reiterate impressionistically over the same endless themes of diegesis and artifice, story and plot, world and representation which I surreptitiously pretended was an overview of narrative theory.

So I was attempting to explain how that period of intense focus on ideas about narrative and, in particular, the phenomenon of diegesis, had since inflected my thought. The diegesis is the storyscape - the integrity of the imaginary theatre we accept when we give over to a narrator the suspension of our disbelief. The diegesis is the internally coherent world of the story - and 'world' is the key word here, since the idea of a 'world' is one of the ways in which I'm trying to muscle into an understanding of Heidegger which I think is going to be central to my PhD thesis. If you are going to read on here, put your Kafkaesque reading hat on and read it all as subjunctive: "I would, God-willing, understand in this way..."

Using a combination of Graham Harman's lucid writing on Heidegger, Timothy Clark's valiant exposition of Heidegger's thought, Hubert Dreyfus' concordance and commentary on 'Being and Time', and the dense source text itself, I've been trying to work towards an understanding Heidegger's concepts of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit, theoria and praxis, not to mention Dasein, being there, and being a 'thing that things'. The concept of 'world' in this realm of thought seems helpful to me. Clark says that Heidegger's use of the term 'world',

"is close to the common meaning of the term when we talk about the 'world' of the Bible, or the 'world' of the modern Chinese or modern English - i.e.the fundamental understanding within which individual things, people, history, texts, buildings, projects cohere together within a shared horizon of significances, purposes and connotations. [...] the more fundamental shared disclosure of things within which [we] find [ourselves] in all [our] thoughts, practices and beliefs, providing the basis even of [our] self-conceptions and suppositions."

- all of which seems to be a perfect definition of diegesis if understood as pertaining not only to the fictional worlds we muster, but also the fields of meaning we conjure in every aspect of what we still call 'real life'. In the tool analysis, Heidegger's hammer [makes sense | obtains | is grasped] as part of the world of equipment, which [makes sense | obtains | is grasped] as part of the world of human action. These realms cohere diegetically - they belong to, define and co-constitute each other. In action, we grasp the hammer as a tool, we extend our limbs and 'be' our intentional 'being' in the praxis of carpentry, and by extension, the praxis of existence. We act, and as we do, we are attuned to the world of action and meaning we inhabit: we experience the world holistically - we cease to be figures, and recede into the ground of the diegesis. Praxis is the means whereby we live and dwell - believe - in the diegesis.

The hammer when it breaks, shatters the diegesis: we are no longer engaged in praxis, but in the comprehension of material objects divorced from their diegetic meaning: an extreme Brechtian 'Verfremdung', or alienation from the essence of the hammer. A broken hammer is no hammer: it is a residue, a fragment, a memory, a concept, an idea, an object, a construct, a prop, revealed and separated from its function in the diegesis: a corpse in the theatrical sense - a moment in which the illusion is shattered, the figure of artifice processes and emerges from the ground of the theatre, and we are appalled enough by the shattering of the illusion to be compelled to laugh uncontrollably in the face of the futility of pretence. The broken hammer is an object of our reflective thought, which we diagnose in its symptomatic failure; it is seen as though from above, outside, from nowhere, divorced as it is from the field of praxis. Our consciousness of the broken hammer is the kind of consciousness we simply relinquish in the midst of being. It is empty, shell-like, valueless, objective. It is the transcendental knowledge to which the academy, science, Western materialist thought aspires - and as in the perennial cliche, it pins the butterfly to a board in order to comprehend it even as it dies.

Following Harman, I understand the fate of the broken hammer not to be merely an event in the life of a lone doomed tool, but to be caught up in the being of all things that do their 'being' - the 'thinging' of things, people, starfish and coconuts - the dichotomy between Vorhandenheit (presence-at-hand) and Zuhandenheit (readiness-to-hand). All things which are capable of submitting to the gaze of other things and being translated into the intentional objects of contemplation are uncovered - as are figures processing and emerging from the ground of their diegetic existence - as lifted out of their being, their dwelling in the multiplicities of the interlacing diegeses to which they belong. The object of my reflection is a shadow of its being - the prehensile presence-at-hand of a thing, behind which all its indestructible being - the inexhaustibly rich readiness-to-hand of a thing - withdraws.

In this way, anything we care to articulate or speak of, any 'thing' to which we care to give edges through the process of signification, and by which we mediate a representation of that 'thing' to another, is reduced to a presence-at-hand - a mere one amongst its infinite resource of arbitrarily graspable facets - a reduction; a theory. Thus all representation, articulation and signification is work in the realm of artifice, mimesis - or presence-at-hand; a reductive distinguishing of a facet of an object from the ground of its diegesis - the world of its Romantic potential, its being, its participation in praxis. The insertion of the stethoscope between the healer and patient is no less than a conversion of the human subject into an object of instrumentation, a reduction of the being to one amongst its many facets: a mediated, rythmic, booming pulse stands in for the beating heart of a living being. The sound is a metonymic reduction of the living being of the beating heart.


A short recap then: praxis is the unification of human action and knowing - holistic. Theoria (and hence conceptual, reflective, objective knowledge) is the distantiation of the world from the experience of that world. This distanced, alienated knowledge, extracted from the diegesis of its being, is a projection, a paper-thin shell, a shadow - a presence-at-hand, available to our consciousness as no more than a facet of the fullness of being. Being itself never emerges from the ground of diegesis - the integral, coherent, self-consistent, co-constitutive storyscape of the world in which we un-self-consciously dwell.

From these thoughts flow other problematisations, to be dealt with another time, of impartial academic enterprises, traditional doctoral theses, and the very nature of the attempt to document the research process.

Categories: Martin-Heidegger, phenomenology, phd, working-through, Dasein, being, Zuhandenheit, Vorhandenheit, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, knowledge, objectivity, research, praxis, diegesis, narrative, world,
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