We Must Have Messed Up Somewhere

by Asher Kay

From SpecHer (via LarvSub) — a call for papers:

If difference in the world is not a remainder from or a bad copy of Identity, Ideas or Essences, but is rather the immanent force characterizing all materialities, including words and meanings, affects and perceptions, things and thoughts, then how do we go forth in the world to think and speak in terms of things and their qualities?

I think the obvious answer to this is: “with a papal tiara, a stale pack of kreteks and a serviceable Mike Tyson impersonation”.


9 Comments to “We Must Have Messed Up Somewhere”

  1. It is easy to mock this sort of thing, harder to imagine that there is, indeed, sense here and come to understand it. But that is, of course, exactly what we anthropologists are trying to do all the time, i.e., take seriously words or deeds that seem on the face of it to be unintelligible. The interesting question here is why the antithesis of a “bad copy of Identity” (the shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave) is taken to be an “immanent force.” Why a force instead of a field or the output from an algorithm, the sort of unexpected result that has give rise to debates about chaos, complexity and complex adaptive systems? Not a shadow that distorts a form but a process that yields whatever surprises us?

  2. The interesting question here is why the antithesis of a “bad copy of Identity” (the shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave) is taken to be an “immanent force.”

    Well the simple answer is that the concept of difference is supposed to be something different from, and independent of the theories of adequation and representational fitness. If ‘difference’ were simply the gap between representation and represented, then it wouldn’t be interesting — and it certainly wouldn’t be metaphysical.

    This said, I actually think the problem has to do with the invocation of ‘immanence,’ which is as spooky as Plato concept of participation. I would be happy to hear a compelling explanation of what ‘immanent’ means in the first place. People seem to use it with a specific meaning in mind, but can never explain it…..

  3. Personally, I don’t worry about whether statements are metaphysical or not, since I take “metaphysical” to be, like “immanent” a word that says nothing more than, “There’s something there. We’re not sure what, but we’re sure there’s something there that our current concepts don’t comprehend.” Since the people we are talking about are geographers, I strongly suspect that the real issue comes down to the relation between maps and what they represent.

    Everyone will agree that the maps are not the territory. That said, we can still distinguish between positions that say (1) we know nothing but what maps tell us=extreme social constructivism, (2) we know that maps are representations of realities that are incomprehensible in themselves=a Kantian view of ding-an-sich, and (3) maps tell us what we think we know now, but we also know that there’s a lot more stuff out there waiting to be discovered; we just haven’t noticed it or figured out how to properly measure it yet.

    Physicists, geologists, geographers, other kinds of hard scientists are forever talking about stuff we cannot see directly. But that doesn’t lead them to say, “Woo, there is something forever mysterious out there.” Instead it directs their attention to questions concerning data, instrumentation and chains of inference. “Immanent forces” is the kind of language bandied about by philosophers who lack experience in laboratory or field research.

    “Harumph!” says this curmudgeon.

  4. I’ve known my fair share of geographers and geologists (the latter were the best people to drink with), and I can actually see a use for ‘immanent’ and ‘metaphysical’ so long as we understand the former as something like the relationship between instance and theoretical kind (a homeostatic cluster of concepts, or some such) while understanding the latter as simply the privileged/indispensable logical spaces a set of practices that a given endeavor implements. (I take this to be a maximally general description capable of subsuming the three examples you’ve given.)

    So you’re right, there’s no specific problem with the words themselves. They have their uses, and they can be explained. Moreover, the distinctions among observable instance, underlying cause, and theoretically stable and projectible kind terms and laws seem invaluable to me. It simply seems to me that in the present context (and this was Asher’s original point I take it) the usefulness of these notions is being obscured by a jargony appropriation of them via Deleuze (so take the buzzwods like ‘Difference,’ ‘de-‘ and ‘reterritorialization’ and ‘planes/plateuas/rhizomes’ and apply them to geography I guess). So to that extent, I too say harumph. From a methodological perspective (and from a theory of science), i take actual scientific practices to be primary, their conceptualization and codification secondary. If someone can point out a definitive practical need for difference in Geography, then we can have a serious discussion. Until then, ‘difference’ is an empty concept meeting an abstract need….

  5. Until then, ‘difference’ is an empty concept meeting an abstract need….

    Sounds like a definition of pure mathematics. [grin] But, no, there’s a wee bit of rigor lacking.

    Still, reverting to my original point, there may be something here that hasn’t been worked out yet. Not a well-grounded idea but a still vague notion that might set someone thinking in productive ways.

    That may seem unlikely. It is, however, a process that I am familiar with from working with advertising creative. Someone says something that at first seems ridiculous. Someone else says, “If that were the case, then….” A third and a fourth individual offer their suggestions. Something interesting begins to take shape.It’s that experience that makes me wary of Punch-and-Judy debates in which the point is to crush the other instead of seeing what might come of developing the idea.

  6. “It is easy to mock this sort of thing, harder to imagine that there is, indeed, sense here and come to understand it”

    When people get down on me for mocking things, I say, “What have you ridiculed lately?” It’s easy to say, “it’s easy to mock things” and much harder to do the real work of deriding and satirizing.

  7. “It’s easy to say, ‘it’s easy to mock things'”

    That’s easy for you to say. Try to remember the selective breeding, the childhood testing, the years of training and all the heartache of failure after failure pitted against more experienced ironists that have brought you to this point.

  8. Surround yourself with people who have humor.

  9. Wasn’t that a scene in “Blazing Saddles?”

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