This is my first stab at writing coherently again after the essay period. So I am still feeling a little bit sore, shall we say, after spending five weeks or so over the Christmas period being forced to wage war with my own brain in order to get it to at once generate lucid text and then look back on its own work and systematically try to weave further clarity into it. So here I find myself still reeling somewhat from having to attempt self-analysis, (i.e. having to critique my own mental work) in order to achieve communicability, (i.e. represent my internal thoughts for an external and far away academic audience).
(Lygia Clark: Caminhando)
This is significant because the topic here is humanism and the two most significant issues that I feel that we articulated as inherent to this problematic are:
1) The issue of relationality: how is the human, as a category, unique and therefore potentially united in a human community, either in responsibility towards the Other (Levinas), towards Being (Heidegger), or in abilities for a unique functional relational to the world (Cassirer). (This might also be thought of as the issues of universalism and ethics?)
2) The issue of rootedness: the human remains the central agent and the means by which the human and the world are understood by virtue of the fact that cognition seems rooted in individual bodies. This is also the idea of non-coincidence of self: the fact that humans realise that their existence is dictated by the measure of the cogito and as such the world is constructed by the human cogito. This is where theories of the monad (Liebniz) and the cogito (Descartes) come in. (This might also be thought of as the issues of essentialism and metaphysics or epistemology?)
So, to put it simply, my interpretation was that “humanism” in the broad sense attempts to construct a coherent understanding of self in relation to other (sameness, responsibility) and self in relation to self (locus and conditions of perception) through a definition of the “human.”
The most interesting thing for me, by far, was how one can “imagine” this question of humanism: at what threshold or what point of opacity the question (quite literally) lies. If we take the above as an adequate characterisation of the question of humanism, we can perhaps “imagine” or “locate” humanism as the visibility and appearance of the (shifting and permeable) border between internal and external, as this border relates to the nature of the finite and infinite.
Another way of putting this is that the question is imaginable as a series of relational trajectories: theories of humanism enunciate a certain imprint or lines, streaks, stains of movement outwards from a point where there is purportedly a self. Indeed, the very possibility of conceiving of the question of humanism implies this picture already, even prior to any philosophical articulation of the specifics. (I can also conceive of this as two madnesses: the madness of the absolute and the madness of the infinite – and humanism is the point of opacity that structures and questions these two conditions.) This implies 1) travel, trajectories, movement and 2) a launching point – i.e. there is a locus from which these trajectories articulate relationality. (I think this might still locate Heidegger’s anti-humanist essence of man squarely within the question of humanism: locating Being appropriately outside the human remains a traceable movement.)
(Antony Gormley: Feeling Material XIV)
So my reading is that the humanism question we confronted last week addresses the point from which these trajectories spin outwards and the direction, character, obstacles and end-point (if there is one) of these trajectories. This all crystallised for me in the presence of multiple references to the Copernican Revolution in the texts we were reading and in the background reading that I skimmed through. The Copernican Revolution refers to the paradigm shift that occurred as a result of the discovery that the sun was the centre of the solar system, not the earth. (In this sense it is opposed to the Ptolemaic system, where the earth is the centre of the universe.) We might then also “imagine” the question of humanism in terms of a connected theorisation of stationary subjects, orbits, movements, revolutions.
I think that this also presents a ground for conceptual work that might address several questions:
– Can one actually think outside the humanism question? Is it possible to leave the conceptual framework of a solar system of self and others, or is it rather than one rearticulates the laws of gravity and physics when one challenges humanism?
– Would theories of change (I am thinking of Malabou’s plasticity but there are no doubt others) reconceive of or even eliminate the humanism question?
– Does humanism have an inherent investment in the (differentiation of) categories of transcendentalism and materialism?
And finally: an interesting proposition. I’ve included two pictures from (the Brazilian artist) Lygia Clark’s Caminhando, actually part of a series that she called “propositions” – the first picture here alluding to my writing struggles and the second alluding to the possibility of challenging the geometry (or astrophysics?) of humanism. The Caminhando proposition is quite simply the creation of a Moebius strip (see Wikipedia for a characterisation of this: one side, one boundary, non-orientable, chiral, zero) and I’ll end this post by using the Moebius strip as a potential theoretical starting point for my own proposition for our future conversations: Is it possible to rethink the geometry of the humanist imaginary, or outside of the geometry of this imaginary?
(Lygia Clark: Caminhando)
Anyway, I will leave this post here for now. (Please forgive all opacity, all convolution, all esotericim, I am only human?!)