Unreal Nature

November 22, 2012

His Fleecy Lining

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:06 am

… We will need to determine after this if it gives the given. Meanwhile, they’re not exactly giving it away.

This is from The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies by Michel Serres (2008, 1985):

… Soothsayers used to listen to the beating of wings in the air, outside of the theatre and before its advent, outside of the social or the political, and before their advent. This noise also resolves itself into information via the neatly complicated box around our bodies; walls, cities, houses, monastic cells. Sounds reach the monad softly, through doors and windows.

… society makes a colossal noise, the latter increases in direct proportion to the former, the town rat can be distinguished from the country rat by its immunity to this din. Our megalopoli are deafening: who would put up with this hellish din if we didn’t simply expect that with a group comes a racket? Being part of one means not hearing it. The better integrated you are, the less you notice it; the more you suffer from it, the less well-integrated you are. Shouts, car-horns, whistles, engines, cries, brawls, stereotypes, quarrels, conferences, assemblies, elections, debates, dialectics, acclamations, wars, bombardments, there is nothing new under the sun, there is no news that is not news of yet another racket. Noise is what defines the social.

… For the most part we do not know how much we frighten the world, nor the dark holes in which it seeks refuge from us. Tigers roam the jungles, eagles retreat to escarpments, foxes into trenches and wise men to certain islands, all in terror of this noise. All these are endangered species now, dying because we have learned how to broadcast our noise more efficiently. Soothsayers must make their pronouncements before the battle — what bird will risk coming near it?

[ … ]

… I know full well that history passes from reality to language, from things to signs and from energy to information: from hard solutions to so-called soft ones. I merely ask that we remember hardness.

… The given I have called hard is sometimes, but not always, locates on the entropic scale: it pulls your muscles, tears your skin, stings your eyes, bursts your eardrums, burns your mouth, whereas gifts of langauge are always soft. Softness belongs to smaller-scale energies, the energies of signs; hardness sometimes belongs to large-scale energies, the ones that knock you about, unbalance you, tear your body to pieces …

… Looking through a window and seeing that tree down there seems as harmless as saying ‘tree,’ but looking at the sun which illuminates it is a little harder on the eyes; even more than that, staring at that same sun at midday, in the middle of the Sahara, or being surprised by the flash of a thermonuclear explosion, will end your sight for good.

… We might mistake the return to things for a return to the simple life, or a beach holiday, but conversely he who never gets beyond the local bookshop, where the wind only stirs on the morning of Pentecost, or who never leaves his advertisement-saturated neighborhood, tends to overwhelm the given with language. There are so many filters, cities, posters, medicines, techniques and assurances, protective casings and customs, erected by history around the reasonably well-to-do contemporary Westerner, entirely caught up in the small-energy software covering our screens, running across walls and through our work, that hardness is a rare commodity these days. Empiricism is not enough to wake us from this new sleep, we need eruption, a large-scale seismic event, a major cyclone, a new Hiroshima. But no: the ocean rises up on our screens, voluptuously.

… It would seem that there are two kinds of given: one is gentle, conveyed by language, a suave kingdom, satin-smooth, syrupy, soft, exquisite, logical and exacting; the other is unpredictably hard, a mixture of hard and soft, giving no warning before waking us with a slap in the face. Faced with this mixture, we must identify the given which resists being named by language and which is still without concept. This mingled given, studded with sharp thorns, wakes us from the sleep of language when the soft membrane of our box — our gaol — of sound is lacerated by hurricanes.

… What remains now is to think about mingling itself; the softening, the levelling, the planing, the smoothing out of hardness into softness. It is time to write about mixtures and filtering.

Voices get through. Raucous, low, full, pleading, vulgar, sharp, cutting, jovial, harmonious, commanding, harrowing, seductive, explosive or irritated, a virago’s, a virgin’s, a fishwife’s or whore’s voice, an overbearing victim’s, a passionate, imperious lover’s, shouting out the dreary obstinacy of true passion, a maternal, sisterly, counselling, pious, infantile, rasping, insolent, egalitarian voice, a team player’s voice, a voice of encouragement, of destructiveness or caresses, an ironic or aggressive or cynical voice, an old alcoholic’s cat lying in the gutter, denying the arrival of spring, a voice that is vile, veiled, velvety, noble, high-pitched, servile, majestic, ample, sick, affronted, clothed in silence, echoing with the sea or forest, undercut by the twittering of birds, howling like a wild beast, street cries reflected off walls and town squares, a piercing, plaintive voice, asking questions and saying come here, an alarming voice, broken, sobbing — along what paths has your voice not flowed, off what surfaces and what rocks has it not echoed, extending the carillon of senses, intuitions and implications beneath language?

… Language must be paid for, in energy at the very least; it is never free. We will need to determine after this if it gives the given. Meanwhile, they’re not exactly giving it away. And if you believe they are, you might as well believe in perpetual motion.

… The philosopher of language would like everything to stay soft. Let him build, let him navigate, let him break stones, let him abandon for a while his rigorous languor, his felt, his logic and his fleecy lining.

My most recent previous post from Serres’s book is here.

-Julie

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