Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Forks in the Rift of Time: Moments-Becoming and Counter Counter-History

Pursuant to the tail-end of the comment thread over at Cynocephali, Animal Savagery, and Terror, where I wrote that . . .

Increasingly, in all of my work, especially of a medieval studies historicist nature, I find myself wanting to take better account of all the ways in which certain supposedly obvious "connections" are not so easy to always make. For example, it may not be true, a la Foucault, that all events are, to one extent or another, "effects" of various forms of power. It may not always be true, a la Benjamin, that history is always written by the victors. It may not always be true that for every act of oppression or subjugation that there is a clear-cut and straightforward ideology attached to a specific political power that is primarily to blame. History is as chaotic and inconsequential and random as it is often also purposeful and organized and directed to a specific end for specific reasons, which may be better or worse reasons depending on where one stands when making judgments. And so on and so forth. It's almost too easy, isn't it, to, let's say, blame the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib on the specific directive of a specific branch, or branches, of the government, who gave said directive on the basis of an idea, or philosophy, or belief, rooted in a notion of American "democracy" or "empire building" or "economic interests" or "hegemony." Much harder is to ask ourselves: what, and who else, for reasons or non-reasons, for specific purposes or because of a lack of purposes, participated meaningfully and with material effect in--not the "chain"--but the constellated "array" of events that led to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Which of those actors or actions contributed to flows of physical energies that might have existed completely outside any streams of "American" this or "American" that, outside, further, of any "chain of command" and the purposes behind it, but nevertheless contributed some particle of direction, without which the torture might not have happened, or happened differently?

. . . which came back to me with more force this morning as I was re-reading Chapter 6, "Democracy and Time," of the political theorist William E. Connolly's brilliant book Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed [Minnesota UP, 2002], where he writes . . .

I . . . reject the cyclical image of slow time adopted by many ancients. But I also find myself at odds with progressive, teleological, and linear conceptions of time. . . . [Against these] I embrace the idea of rifts or forks in time that help to constitute it as time. A rift as constitutive of time itself, in which time flows into a future neither fully determined by a discernible past nor fixed by its place in a cycle of eternal return, nor directed by an intrinsic purpose pulling it along. Free time. Or, better, time as becoming, replete with the dangers and possibilities attached to such a world. [p. 144]
To better illustrate his point, Connolly cites the moment in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra when Zarathustra is addressing the "vision" and the "riddle" of time in a debate, before a gateway on their walk, with a "dwarf" who embodies the spirit of gravity:

"Behold this gateway, dwarf!" I continued, "It has two faces. Two paths meet here; no one has yet followed either to its end. The long lane stretches back for an eternity. And the long lane out there, that is another eternity. They contradict each other, these paths; they offend each other face to face; and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is inscribed 'Moment.' . . . do you believe, dwarf, that these paths contradict each other eternally?" "All that is straight lies," the dwarf murmered contemptuously. "All truth is crooked; time itself is a circle."
In Connolly's reading of this passage in Nietzsche,

In every moment, the pressures of the past enter into a dissonant conjunction with uncertain possibilities of the future. The fugitive present is both constituted by this dissonant conjunction between past and present and rendered uncertain in its direction by it. Often enough that uncertainity is resolved through continuity; but below the threshhold of human attention indiscernible shifts and changes have accumulated, sometimes finding expression in small mutations and sometimes in large events. So occasionally time forks in new and surprising directions. A rift in time, engendered by the dissonant conjunction between complex systems with some capacity for self-organization and unexpected events not smoothly assimilable by them. A rift through which at any moment a surprising fork may emerge, ushering microscopic, small, large, or world historical shifts into an open future unsusceptible to full coverage by a smooth narrative, sufficient set of rules, or tight causal explanation. [p. 145]

Ultimately, for Connolly, "it becomes wise to fold the expectation of surprise and the unexpected into the very fabric of our explanatory theories, interpretive schemes, religious identities, territorial conceptions of politics, and ethical sensibilities. And to work on ourselves subtly to overcome existential resentment of these expectations" [p. 146].

So, for me, in relation to many of the conversations we have had on this blog and elsewhere about how we account for particular historical events and identities, and in relation to Karl's work with the categories, philosophies, and material forces that coalesce around the historical processes of becoming-human and becoming-animal, and also in response to JJC's comments, in his Afterword to BABEL's Palgrave book, Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages, which Karl quotes in his Identity Soup post, that certain material objects in the present, such as a pig or pig soup, can function as "temporal archives" that are also "wrinkles in time," I wonder if we can't spend some time here collectively ruminating how we might be historians of these "moments" of time-becoming, of these rifts and forks of time that often lie beneath our scholarly attention, or are even willfully ignored by us because they do not meet with our already-established explanatory theories? As regards what happened, and is still happening, in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, but also in post-Bloc Identitaire France and pre-Norman Conquest England, I find that I desire historical explanations that would account for "the dissonant conjunction between complex systems with some capacity for self-organization and unexpected events not smoothly assimilable with them"--is this, perhaps, what is meant to be accomplished by Foucault's archaeological method, or is that something else entirely? Could medieval studies be well poised to write what I might call counter counter-history? Where and how has this already been done, and what aspects of or events within the Middle Ages might be well-served by this method? [I am thinking here of JJC's work, in two instances, on Gerald of Wales and St Guthlac, both of which studies would seem to fit this model; what does everyone else think?]

7 comments:

dan remein said...

Eileen,

Thanks for pointing to pre-Norman England in this constellation/question.

It is exactly the inability for it to fit into the sort of basic frameworks for history employed and championed by "us" on the left which can frustrate the effort to "account" for the sort of phenomenon of guthlac, or--I might add to the list--Judith--AND the Icelandic Sagas. One of the difficult points here, is the desire for "counter history" of these items which are in their pre-french, premodern, pre- etc-ness, ready to violently look us dead on in our (some of our--at least _my_) secular eyes from their positions which are always already a future (these pasts call to us from the future when we encounter them historically)--and slice open our sense of time in terms of secular vs. sacred--the secularized spiritual infertility of a society of finite dying beings without history of _Children of Men_ is coming to mind here [and I would suggest such a pull with a theological position with contradictory finger both in Caputo's and Zizek's (Puppet and Dwarf) pie].

But, I wonder if it is accounting that we really want? And what would it mean if accounting for is what we want. How do we think about the forks we want, the swerves and ruptures of time which will be productive to any revolutionary project without deprieving them of their force, breaking into a now. If we are to take into account what is at stake both for the past (if Benjamin's need to speak for the dead still rings) and the opening of the future, do we need a historiography that is less accouts of which can account for, and more of the kind of touching Dinshaw writes about. What I mean really is mroe of Dinshaw with an extra splash of Derrida from _Specters of Marx_ : the ghost, the inheretance, which from the past but calls us into the future--a weak thing--and maybe there is not room for touching per se here, but a being-pulled--a kind of gravity of affect.

What perhaps I am saying, what perhaps I understand of what Derrida says when confronted with a ghost that as a scholar he cannot possibly speak to as a "scholar as we know them to be"(the scholar of the chronicle, the historian that accounts for), --taunting us: thou art a scholar, speak to it; is that for these forks we need to a historian with a poetics and not a system of accounting.

One might read that to say that the historian writes poetry, not stories--but I would temper that in light of anyone whose MFA work was in Fiction and not Poetry. As a matter of course.

MKH said...

I'm terribly under-read (on these matters and authors, at least) to be commenting on this thread, but it's just too fascinating an opportunity for discussion and learning to pass up -- so I'll do my best.

Modifying the idea of touching into the idea of "being pulled", Dan, is (I think) a really helpful move. This sort of gravitational effect reminds me a bit of something Ricouer talks about in Time and Narrative (vol 3) -- "effective-history," which he defines within a discussion of the relationship between consciousness and the history it inevitably shapes, as "what takes place without us." He goes on from there, but what I think might be useful is the role of consciousness in the endeavor of writing these counter counter-histories. Perhaps it is precisely the awareness of a present consciousness in a non-neutral relationship to the past that changes the possibilities of "encountering" that past.

And I think that would necessarily modify our relationship to the historical "rifts" in time we're trying to look at, simply by the fact of being aware of the non-neutrality. In a sense, it provides the space to not account for or even really encounter (if you can encounter) these rifts: rather it's an awareness of their possibility, and the space that awareness opens as a past horizon that is in relationship (however contingent) with the present, that might allow us to think about the "rifts" that might otherwise be left unobserved (or willfully ignored).

Eileen, you initially asked if medieval studies might have a good starting point for participation in this endeavor of encountering "rifts". I think the answer to that is very much yes. I'd point to Elaine Treharne's recent work on Early English Vernacular (in the "Analytical Survey" in the most recent volume of New Medieval Literatures -- also in a talk she gave to the ASSC that discussed different uses of the vernacular not always accounted for by traditional historiography, including Cnut's letters -- the notes for which are neatly organized in my filing cabinet in NYC) and its variety of uses -- resituating, perhaps, some views on the separation between "Old" and "Middle" English, in addition to positing a more complex production of texts in both languages.

I also wonder if there's a way in which the sheer variety (and, in addition, the incompleteness) of our sources in the Middle Ages (and the early period paritcularly) might make for an auspicious beginning of the kind of endeavor you're suggesting. This discussion brought to mind a short presentation I gave for a class on gender in the Middle Ages this past semester on "The Ideology of the Vernacular," that attempted to parse a variety of secondary literature on the subject. I ended in a place I found useful -- playing on a line from Nicholas Watson's "Conceptions of the Word," in which he says "Piers Plowman ends by sending Conscience looking for Piers, a figure of Christ that the poem has invented but who cannot act as Christ until he is found where he is needed, in the world" (and here's my disclaimer -- I know embarrassingly little about Piers Plowman), I tried to suggest an approach to thinking about gender and vernacularity:

Finally I wanted to point to Watson’s article briefly – “Conceptions of the Word.” Clearly playing on the dominant theme of his article – i.e., that it was often precisely Christ’s carnality, in his Incarnation, that was effaced when women and vernacular language were associated with carnality and flawed, perverted reading. By seeing sin’s “real nature as misplaced desire,” there was (in Julian of Norwich at least) the possibility of reversing the corruption of words (120). Although the “autonomy [the vernacular] could grant was always fragile,” in certain understandings, it could also show the other side of experience of the Logos in its Incarnation. God’s love could only be manifested after the fall – and after the fall into language. Vernacularity could only be redeemed when it was “found where [it] [was] needed, in the world” (114). Might our own readings of an Ideology of the Vernacular similarly need to find a location not in the longue durĂ©e -- medieval or otherwise – but in the particulars that in their moment are instructive as to the construction of the idea of a whole?

I think what I was trying (somewhat inarticulately) to get at, in the end, was not what I said -- i.e., the "construction of the idea of a whole" -- but rather that we might fruitfully attempt an awareness of the particulars of which the separateness is necessarily elided in order to form such an idea. I also wonder if here the idea of a poetics, raised by Dan, can come in -- not to deal with the separatenesses (and so destroy them) but to illuminate it and simultaneously illuminate its own status (though I would think necessarily shifting) as a poetics.

Does any of that make sense in this discussion? (I really shouldn’t be allowed to think – or talk -- or write at any length -- after reading in Middle English all day...)

J J Cohen said...

Bracing discussion, especially for seven AM as I await the kids waking up (they are exhausted from staying up very late last night watching Mary Poppins [!!!!] in Soho and then eating a late night dessert).

Eileen, great questions; Dan and MKH, you bring the discussion to intriguing areas, especially by stressing how temporality can be analyzed as an active force capable of accumulation and gravitational pull (rather than as being an inert history to be excavated). "Temporal archive" is probably too object-like to serve well; "rift" is better.

My colleague Gil Harris is writing a book in which he likewise uses Nietzsche, though on the untimely. Gil's favored term for describing temporal thickness is palimpsest. I posted about his work a while ago.

Being in London has reminded me forcefully of how architectures carry this temporal thickness and resulting gravitational force as easily as a text does. The most haunting example: after the Domus Conversorum was empty of converted Jews, the building itself was eventually converted ... to the Public Record Office.

Karl Steel said...

Not an adequate response, not yet, and certainly not to the issue of my conjunction of contemporary torture and Cynocephalic animal husbandry as a figure for that torture, but I think of a few things:

a) a talk by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne a few months back, which MKH also saw, that discussed, among other manuscripts, Bodley Laud Misc 636 (c. 1100-1150), the AS Chronicle whose final leaves have the AN Brut in its margins. I've mentioned that here before. I think of this as representing rifts and forks of time that often lie beneath our scholarly attention, or are even willfully ignored by us because they do not meet with our already-established explanatory theories;

b) I'm just starting to read up on critical work on time. I started with the most recent issue of the GLQ, which I read over the weekend. There's a lot of woeful or impatient discussion of Edelamn in it (which seems de rigeur). One of these essays is Tom Boellstorff, "When Marriage Falls: Queer Coincidences in Straight Time," 227-48, which contrasts straight time with a "queer meantime." I recommend it to you, EJ, for some of what you're discussing here. Here's a sample:

On the one hand, we have straight time, which "cannot conceive of copresence without incorporation. Agency must thereby inhere in a cataclysm to come, a moment of “liberation” that Foucault critiqued for assuming that power has 'only an external hold on desire'" (232).

On the other hand, we the queer meantime, “a queer meantime that embraces contamination and imbrication” (228), a time that if I'm reading my notes right, is a homo time of multiple moments occupying the same moment; hetero time instead thinks of each moment as separate, different, itself, a time in which the only way to move is for different times to encounter each other, and then for one to give way.

Being new to these discussions, I'm sure there's much I'm missing...at the same time (a phrase that now has a new resonance for me), I've been able to reread O'Rourke's first Edelman post and get it. Which is nice (but I also found the Biddick in the GLQ mostly impenetrable: I think of Hegel's comment, "Schelling conducted his philosophical education in public." So far as I know, he didn't mean it as a compliment).

--

Jeffrey, thinking in terms of crowded time, ruins of history, and so forth, have you been to the V&A's two rooms containing enormous plaster reproductions? If you've never seen it, you must go before you leave. Trust me. It's my favorite place in England. Kid #1 should enjoy it too.

Eileen Joy said...

Just a clarification and some quick comments since I am mired in some heavy-lifting writing today:

1. I have been worrying a little bit that it might seem, from this post and some of my comments on Karl's "Cynocephali" post, that I don't fully understand the ways in which massive political power can sometimes sweep into history and unleash forces that, um, decisively *decide* certain matters, and with immediate and long-lasting material impact upon human lives and institutions [let's not forget G.W. Bush's infamous "I am the decider" comment]. In other words, *vertical* forces exist--political, military, economic, what-have-you--that can level, in a second or a day, all theorizing or debating upon a finely nuanced argument regarding ideology, causes and effects, random contingencies, forks in "moments" of time that lie beneath our attention, etc. So, yes, I get that. But at the same time, I think it would be a bit blunder-headed to look at particular historical actions that involve these larger, seemingly unilaterial forces [such as the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq] as simply entailing a kind of "one man/one button/one reason" scenario.

Hitler was certainly a unique individual whose small frame possessed a great amount of malevolent political power that led to the wholesale destruction or decimation of numerous countries, groups of persons, and millions of souls, but there would be no "industry" in books on World War II or the Holocaust if understanding Hitler's regime simply redounded upon understanding Hitler, or even just his innermost circle of associates. So, we can have works like Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" and Saul Friedlander's "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945," Dominick LaCapra's "History and Memory After Auschwitz," Claude Lanzmann's epic film "Shoah," Art Spiegelman's graphic novel "Maus," Anselm Kiefer's and Gerhard Richter's monumental paintings and Bruno Schulz's short stories and wall murals in a ghetto in Ukraine, and so on and so forth, and we'll continue to write histories, make movies, and craft novels and poetry and paintings, and spin theories and we'll never exhaust all the angles, all the questions, all the different ways in which to mark or narrate or theorize or frame or depict or "picture" what happened, and what is still happening [all the divergent paths, all the forks and rifts] because of Hitler's regime.

So, for me, there is never an easy or straightforward causal explanation for historical events and never just one person or one government or one ideology to blame for what I would call historical catasrophes, although certainly some people in some places and times have more power than others and when they choose to exercise that power without regard for the rights or lives of others, well, bad things tend to happen. Really bad things. But is history about accounting for those massive actions, or for what happens afterward?

2. Dan R.: I love your image of pre-entities, which are also futures, looking us "dead in the eye" and also "slicing open" our sense of time. I do think, also, that much of Dinshaw's work with affective touching is exemplary in this regard, if it also at the same time risks desiring that those situated in the past be somewhat "like us," if "alter" versions. There is a desire for "sameness," in other words, that beautifully evocative but perhaps too narrowly defined "homo-history" that is now all the rage [and let me note here that medievalists like Dinshaw, S. Kruger, G. Burger, K. Lochrie and others thought of this first before Menon and Goldberg!!! Jesus! the early mdoernists always want all the credit!].

As to whether or not it is "accounting" that we really want, I guess I would have to put my cards on the table and say that, yes, for myself, I follow some of the ethical dictums that have been laid down by Benjamin, Edith Wyschogrod, Roger Chartier, Michel de Certeau, Dominick LaCapra, and others regarding what Certeau once referred to as "a proper census of the population of the dead." I realize that this is something of a religious imperative, but it resonates for me. I want history to be ethical, to care for the spirits of the dead, to work toward the recognition of and loving regard of others, both here in the present and in the past. Following the thought of John Caputo, and also the character Ed Victory in Paul Auster's novel "Oracle Night," who lives in an underground sewer where he keeps a "library" of phone books from WWII Germany, if it is only the tabulation of the "proper names," it will be enough. I like your idea of the gravity effect, especially if it means allowing the past to pull on me toward the future [if that makes sense]. I love the idea that Wyschogrod explicates in her book "The Ethics of Remembering," where she writes that any artifact from the past is a kind of "gift inscribed with the 'vouloir dire' of a people that has been silenced."

3. MKH: I love the idea, following Ricouer, of "the awareness of a present consciousness in a non-neutral relationship to the past that changes the possibilities of "encountering" that past." Thanks for giving us the reference to Elaine Treharne's recent work as well, which I will definitely look into. I also love this that you wrote [although I am still trying to wrap my head around how you are parsing out separateness and wholeness in relation to this]:

". . . we might fruitfully attempt an awareness of the particulars of which the separateness is necessarily elided in order to form such an idea [of "the construction of the whole"]. I also wonder if here the idea of a poetics, raised by Dan, can come in -- not to deal with the separatenesses (and so destroy them) but to illuminate it and simultaneously illuminate its own status (though I would think necessarily shifting) as a poetics."

I have been re-reading Martha Nussbaum's "Cultivating Humanity," in which she argues [as she often does elsewhere] that absolutely everything, everywhere, is inter-locked and connected. This got me thinking, too, about Michael Uebel's fantastic essay for the special issue of the Journal of Narrative Theory I am currently co-editing with Christine Neufeld, in which he writes that, in order to be better teachers and learners, and following Buber's I-Thou model-process, we need to learn better how to

"describe rather than interpret, how to be comfortable in a state of not-knowing, how to pay attention to the broader field, how to pay attention to the dialogic relation, and how to bring the process back to the 'space between' self and other. Crucially, the I-Thou process forges, as a feminist theorist of race put it, the 'link between where one stands and what one perceives'."

Further, Michael U. draws upon the idea of "confluence" in work in ecology [primarily from Edward Ricketts' and John Steinbeck's work "The Log of the Sea of Cortez"] in order to argue for more "holistic" and non-teleological ways of understanding the world and our subject-knowledges:

". . . too often social theory and ethics are mired in a materialistic, empirical mode of seeing, tending to look immediately for that which is most tangible. Then, having located those tangibles, the social or cultural scholar may intervene, approaching such tangible parts in a piecemeal fashion, as if there were discrete entities that can be remedied or changed on their own, perhaps with minimal effect on the system as a whole."

What is needed, instead, in Michael U.'s estimation, is a recognition that "the outer, visible manifestations of invisible fields of force are only responsible for the unique pattern and form of individual instances of social and community life. Of much greater significance are the usually unacknowledged and always intangible webs of relationships and connections that subtly lead the social organism to the particular place we find it at any given time. . . . In its systemic whole, the social organism is made up of fields and forces, dynamics and rhythms of power, qualities of leadership, senses of conflict or hierarchy, interplays of dependencies or independencies, and so on."

Well, as I have been working for the past two months on co-editing and co-authoring the Introduction to this special issue, "Premodern to Posthuman Humanisms: The BABEL Project," you can see where my head is currently at in recent posts and comments.

[More later when I recuperate a bit from all my typing!]

MKH said...

Kind of a necessarily fly-by comment/clarification/further musing -- Idea of the Vernacular awaits -- but here 'tis:

Eileen: I also love this that you wrote [although I am still trying to wrap my head around how you are parsing out separateness and wholeness in relation to this]:

". . . we might fruitfully attempt an awareness of the particulars of which the separateness is necessarily elided in order to form such an idea [of "the construction of the whole"]. I also wonder if here the idea of a poetics, raised by Dan, can come in -- not to deal with the separatenesses (and so destroy them) but to illuminate it and simultaneously illuminate its own status (though I would think necessarily shifting) as a poetics."


Ah yes, I'm not entirely sure how I was parsing all that (big ideas much?) -- but I've had this quote stuck in my head all day that I think is related, though try as I might I cannot find its provenance. It's about a light, or truth, that illuminates 'not only the darkness but itself'. (Does that strike anyone as familiar?) Anyway, I think that part of what I was trying to say above is in that quote -- a sense of an approach (I want to call it ethical but am not sure) to these studies which not only takes into account that the particulars are changed in an attempt to narrativize a "whole", but that our simple observance of those particulars has already changed them, because it is an interaction with them (which of course, would also change the observer). To define my terms a bit -- by "whole" I more specifically mean a narrative of historical events or persons (and so a construction), and "particulars" as the separate entities which are narrativized in that process of constructing.

What I was thinking of in regard to Dan's idea of poetics is tied into that illumination from the quote above: a way of illuminating specific entities that form parts of historical narratives (be they people or governments or ideologies or nature or...etc) by letting them be as they are, while simultaneously illuminating itself *as a poetics*, that is, as a construct with said purpose (i.e., illumination). I'm not entirely sure poetics is the right word, but it seems like it would be necessary in order to allow the representation of historical entities and events to exert a pull on, or perhaps even make a demand of, the present.

I think Michael Uebel's essay, at least, the parts you've excerpted, makes argument in a much more sophisticated and coherent way: describe rather than interpret, how to be comfortable in a state of not-knowing, how to pay attention to the broader field, how to pay attention to the dialogic relation, and how to bring the process back to the 'space between' self and other.

The dialogic, then, would be particularly important: going back to the most awesome part of Bakhtin's Discourse in the Novel, there's that section about how in living discourse, any word said anticipates a future, answering word or words. I remember reading some old fantasy novel when I was in high school that ended (after the death of one of the protagonists) with "I am. He is. The great unfinished conversation goes on” (it’s Druids by Llewellyn)

I digress by bringing up the novel, but I think there is another (perhaps related) question here, most specifically informing the context of a "conversation" in which one of the participants is no longer present or even alive: What if the past does speak, as part of a living discourse? And not only through historical narrative or interpretation -- but in itself. I think this ties into (at least somewhat) JJC's comments and thoughts (in the post about Stone Henge and also the more recent Lindow man post) -- can the past send something, anything as a message into a future (pre-sent?) it can't imagine?

So much for a short post. Hope it's not too incoherent. Does that clarify what I'd said or complicate it beyond hope?

And, as side notes -- 1. I am *so* looking forward to the Journal of Narrative Theory Special Issue and 2. Karl, good point bringing up JWB's talk at NYU -- I'm lamenting that my notes are ALL in New York, for everything I want to look up recently. Ah well, occupational hazard, I suppose.

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for your further clarifications [and "big thoughts"], MKH. You wrote,

"I think that part of what I was trying to say above is in that quote -- a sense of an approach (I want to call it ethical but am not sure) to these studies which not only takes into account that the particulars are changed in an attempt to narrativize a "whole", but that our simple observance of those particulars has already changed them, because it is an interaction with them (which of course, would also change the observer). To define my terms a bit -- by "whole" I more specifically mean a narrative of historical events or persons (and so a construction), and "particulars" as the separate entities which are narrativized in that process of constructing."

And then you also mentioned dialogics [a la Bakhtin, and who says the novel doesn't apply here?], and it's really wierd how sychronistic everything is for me right now--maybe because I have something like 1,500 books scattered all over my dining room [my favorite place to write at present], so everything just kind of "links up," BUT:

I was reading yesterday, in Katherine Hayles' "How We Became Posthuman," about the neurophysiologists/biologists Humberto Maturana's and Francesco Varela's ideas for autopoiesis and enaction. Simply put, in their early collaborative work, they put forth the argument that all living organisms [including humans] are basically self-enclosed systems for whom "reality" is simply what the organism re-presents to itself:

"A cognizing system engages the 'world' only in terms of the perturbations in its nervous system, which is 'operationally closed' (i.e., its transformations occur within its bounds). To the extent that the nervous system recursively interconnects its components (as in our brains), the organism is capable of generating, maintaining and re-engaging its own states as if they were literal re-presentations of external phenomena. Such states are 'second-order' in the sense that they are derivative from, rather than literal recordings of, experience. These states are called descriptions in autopoietic theory, and an organism operating within the realm of its descriptions is an observer."

Later, Varela, on his own, and working from developing research in what is now called "theory of mind," as well as from his own Buddhism and the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, added to autopoieis the idea of "enaction"--that cognition arises primarily as an epi-phenomenon of an organism's sensory-motor interaction with its environment [see Varela et al., "The Embodied Mind"]--the "self," in that sense, is "open" and "empty."

This is all just to say that I am currently preoccupied with how a lot of what we talk about here regarding how we "do" or "write" history might be connected to, or refined by, our understanding of our cognitive processes.

Cheers!