Friday, January 16, 2009

What is the Difference Between Carving a Duck and Planting Peppers?

I've been reading with particular interest and growing excitement the recent posts on Larval Subjects--without being quite sure what I was responding to. With the lastest post, Margaret's Pepper Prinicple, I begin to see the connectioin.

(For a response see Towards a New Transcendental Aesthetic)

I wish I could quote the whole of his last five posts, but this exert may give you an idea of what I'm responding to.

In the case of the wood carving, the final product cannot be said to arise from either the carpenter or the wood. It often happens, as you’re carving or whittling, that you set out to carve something specific but as you work with the material something entirely different emerges. A particular knot might suggest an eye. The wave of the grain might suggest the contours of a bird’s head. The next thing you know, you’re carving the head of a duck on the end of a stick (I have vivid memories of precisely this happening on a camping trip with my father years ago). Graham and I have gone back and forth on whether object-oriented philosophy should be referred to as materialism or realism. I balk at the term “realism” because it evokes, to my mind, Platonism and the scholastic debate over universals. Graham balks at the term “materialism” because, to his thinking, it implies unformatted matter that simply receives form from the outside or from some other agency. However, I think the example of whittling provides a nice example of formatted matter from whence form is generated or arises, rather than matter that simply has an already established form imposed on it from the outside. The matter of the wood is formatted in the sense that it contains all sorts of singularities in the form of its grain, texture, knots, waves, and so on. These are points of force, resistance, density, potential, that do not prescribe or pre-delineate a final outcome in a process of actualization as in some classic notion of potentiality where the oak tree is already contained in the acorn. Rather, these singularities, these points of density, these knots, function as players, as agents in the unfolding of an entity when these singularities enter into dynamic relations with other singularities. The singularities don’t already contain the final form in reserve such that this form is simply waiting to be unleashed, but rather the singularities negotiate with one another giving rise to the form as a product. It is also notable that what counts as a singularity will be variable depending on the entities that come into contact with one another and the circumstances of that contact. In the case of the whittling, the other singularities would be certain properties of the knife (it’s shape, the sharpness of the blade, etc), coupled with singularities at work in the person doing the carving (elements pertaining to the physiology of the person, how their imagination is informed by their history, etc) [...]

All of this allows me to illustrate the scope or breadth of the Hegemonic Fallacy in a couple of different domains. On the one hand, the Hegemonic Fallacy would be committed in the case of the theorist discussing the carved duck were that theorist to explain the final product, the duck carving, as the result of an idea in the whittler’s head simply being imposed on the brute matter of the wood. What this misses is the dynamic interplay of singularities in the production of something that couldn’t have been anticipated. 

From my earlier POST (a chapter in my novel-in-progress, Ari Figue's Cat, I wrote (with some alterations)

Until the first word is writen everything is possible. ... We may, of course, erase as we write, circling back to a new starting point--speaking to ourselves, as it were, but that all comes to an end the moment the page is read, and in truth, even the freedom of erasure and revision is an illusion. Every word added to the next forecloses an infinite array of possibilities.

If you set out to tell a story you quickly find that you cannot go just anywhere. The more you write the more the words take charge, reducing the writer to a mere instrument playing out theme and variation over sets of ever more determinate patterns, and yet, it is seldom clear what those patterns are.
Busily translating (viva la difference!) from ontology to the aesthetics of process: all the elements of memory, association, ideas and language that we work into a written form are like the grains and eyes in the piece of wood. Like whitling the head of a duck, writing a novel is a process of negotion with the material at hand and every act, each engagement with that material translates both material and our intention. When reading and interpreting a literary work, it is useless to appeal to the author's intention, not because we have no access to the author's mind and are limited to the text--but because the author's intentions have been in a continuous process of translation along with the writing as it evolves. What existed in the beginning, and at every point to the completion of the work, is a continuum of difference that moves both forward and back. We cannot get there from here without changing both here and there.

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