Unreal Nature

November 12, 2017

Manifested Externally

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… In order to endow any ideal with authenticity, one need only conceive of its once having existed in its “natural state” in some Golden Age, or perhaps existing in the present but somewhere at the other end of the world, east of the sun and west of the moon …

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… For the classical Greek, every aspect of existence could be seen and heard. In principle (in essence) he did not know an invisible and mute reality. This applied to existence as a whole, but preeminently to human existence. A mute internal life, a mute grief, mute thought, were completely foreign to the Greek. All this — that is, his entire internal life — could exist only if manifested externally in audible or visible form. Plato, for example, understood thought as a conversation that a man carries on with himself (the Theaetetus, the Sophist).

[line break added] The concept of silent thought first appeared only with the mystics, and this concept had its roots in the Orient. Moreover, in Plato’s understanding of the process, thought conceived as a “conversation with oneself” did not entail any special relationship to one’s self (as distinct from one’s relationship to others); conversation with one’s own self turns directly into conversation with someone else, without a hint of any necessary boundaries between the two.

There is no mute or invisible core to the individual himself: he is entirely visible and audible, all on the surface. But in general there are no mute or invisible spheres of existence either, of the sort in which a man might take part and by which he might be shaped (the Platonic realm of Forms is thoroughly visible and audible). To locate the basic controlling nodes of human life in centers that are mute and invisible was even further from the classical Greek world view. This is the defining characteristic of the remarkable and immediate exteriority we find in the classical individual and in his life.

[ … ]

… mythological and artistic thinking locates such categories as purpose, ideal, justice, perfection, the harmonious condition of man and society and the like in the past. Myths about paradise, a Golden Age, a heroic age, an ancient truth, as well as the later concepts of a “state of nature,” of natural innate rights and so on, are all expressions of this historical inversion. To put it in somewhat simplified terms, we might say that a thing that could and in fact must only be realized exclusively in the future is here portrayed as something out of the past, a thing that is in no sense part of the past’s reality, but a thing that is in its essence a purpose, an obligation.

This peculiar “trans-positioning,” this “inversion” of time typical of mythological and artistic modes of thought in various eras of human development, is characterized by a special concept of time, and in particular of future time. The present and even more the past are enriched at the expense of the future. The force and persuasiveness of reality, of real life, belong to the present and the past alone — to the “is” and the “was” — and to the future belongs a reality of a different sort, one that is more ephemeral, a reality that when placed in the future is deprived of that materiality and density, that real-life weightiness, that is essential to the “is” and “was.”

[line break added] The future is not homogeneous with the present and the past, and no matter how much time it occupies it is denied a basic concreteness, it is somehow empty and fragmented — since everything affirmative, ideal, obligatory, desired has been shifted, via the inversion, into the past (or partly into the present); en route, it has become weightier, more authentic and persuasive. In order to endow any ideal with authenticity, one need only conceive of its once having existed in its “natural state” in some Golden Age, or perhaps existing in the present but somewhere at the other end of the world, east of the sun and west of the moon, if not on earth then underground, if not underground then in heaven.

[line break added] There is a greater readiness to build a superstructure for reality (the present) along a vertical axis of upper and lower than to move forward along the horizontal axis of time. Should these vertical structures turn out as well to be other-worldly, idealistic, eternal, outside time, then this extratemporal and eternal quality is perceived as something simultaneous with a given moment in the present; it is something contemporaneous, and that which already exists is perceived as better than the future (which does not yet exist and which never did exist).

… In its own way each of these forms empties out the future, dissects and bleeds it white …

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

-Julie

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