The Precarious Imagination

Welcome, dear reader, to my new blog. I suppose convention calls for a brief introduction. It’s a blog for blog’s sake kind of blog, a spewing forth of reflections on politics, philosophy and the like,  largely from an anarchical perspective (I prefer anarchical to anarchist etc for reasons that I’ll surely go into one day), in a manner that stems from a deep and universal skepticism. The thread of continuity will be my PhD research in law and politics, but hopefully there’ll be something for everyone; though it’s explicitly for me first, so forgive me an occasional self-indulgent wordplay or the odd bad poem and we’ll get along just fine. To brighten up the place I’ll have a regular slot for Left Good News, thus laying the necessary optimistic emotional groundwork for full social revolution.

To kick things off here’s a reflection on the precarity of knowledge, ergo everything. It’s a joyfully self-indulgent scenic landscape painting, an abstract epistemological starting block, and a titular defence; but don’t worry, it won’t all be like this.

 

This blog-shaped conurbation of disparate thoughts will represent my attempts to see the world through its obfuscatory manifestations, occasionally even venturing the obscenity of trying to understand it. This is in spite of the fact that such attempts are always precarious, temporary, fictional,[1] false, and none more so than here.

He who takes action fails.
He who grasps things loses them.[2]

But beauty and utility have, on occasion, been found by mortal beings among the scattered ruins of our precarious imaginations, new truths are everyday forged, so maybe (just maybe) everything is not pointless and illusory. All is insufficient, and that must be our motivation.

A tree as big as a man’s embrace grows from a tiny shoot.
A tower of nine storeys begins with a heap of earth.
The journey of a thousand li starts from where one stands.[3]

That things get done, made, finished, defined – in naive antagonism to the infinite maelstrom of beginnings, destructions, cycles and disagreements – is an utter confusion (a miracle; legerdemain). Yet they do. We define processes like shoots becoming trees becoming fossils, earth becoming brick becoming towers becoming civilisation becoming dust… Our fictional narratives have meaning – are the source of meaning – they generate and structure reality, despite always being wrong. How can this work? How is this sustainable? Is it even?

Our knowledges do not precede ‘discovery’, lying hidden, pressed beneath the sediment of ignorance; they are invented, in perhaps the crudest sense of the word – made up, speculated, wagered. Our scientific narratives begin as wild dreams and do not cease to be such simply by being repeated and believed – nor even by being useful. This is exemplified charmingly (if you like this sort of thing) on the individual scale by the numerous scientists whose most groundbreaking work materialised under the influence of psychedelic drugs, perhaps most famously Francis Crick, supposedly high on LSD when he envisaged the double helix structure of DNA.

Knowledge-as-invention at the macro scale requires (I reckon) a little attention to Foucault. Dissatisfied with the outlook of scientific authorship he described scientific knowledge at the social level as ‘a matter of a collective and complex transformation of … understanding in its practice and its rules’[4]. But within this structural view of knowledge there is no determinism; it too is a process of invention, and this was, we could say, trying to annoy Foucault, ‘discovered’ by Nietzsche, who Foucault claims instigated ‘a great break with the prior tradition of Western philosophy’ by claiming a ‘discontinuity’ both between the subject and knowledge, and between knowledge and the object.

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history’ – yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die. One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened.[5]

Building on this superb Nietzsche quote, Foucault is able to make some wondrously poetic epistemological claims himself:

Knowledge must struggle against a world without order, without connectedness, without form, without beauty, without wisdom, without harmony, and without law. That is the world that knowledge deals with. There is nothing in knowledge that enables it, by any right whatever, to know this world. It is not natural for nature to be known.[6]

Out of the invention of knowledge flows logically its falsity. As the great David Thomas puts it, ‘By simplifying, lumping dissimilar things together as the same, knowledge is always a misconstruction.’[7] Hence (if my rudimentary understandings hold any water) the incompatibility of quantum physics and general relativity; hence particles being waves being strings being hyperdimensional ripples (or something); hence Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle; hence Zeno’s dichotomy paradox; hence the infinity of the British coastline; hence the improvable axioms of mathematics; hence A ≠ not A, and yet dialectics; hence A = A, and yet quantum superposition; hence the impossibility of politics; hence the irreducibility of antagonism; hence the fractured subject; hence religion; hence poetry; hence beauty as the only meaningful category? I’ll leave that for another day. Hence I might be digressing into nonsense, but poetic nonsense of a sort, I can only hope.

Drowning in skepticism,  I find myself with a foot on the bottom rung of an academic career that will require me to define, contrast, state and conclude, armed with all the surety of a rabbit caught in headlights: there’s sex, and there’s death, and everything else is up for grabs (as too are sex and death if one is brave enough to stop and think about them).

So watch, dear reader, as I magically, before your very eyes, turn water into wine, base elements into purest gold, and purest doubt into vaguest truth. Look forward to posts on Dalí’s Tête Raphaëlesque Éclatée and quantum mysticism, ‘Capitalism. Or Not?’, anarchical social movements and social theories, ‘Law. Or Not?’, Modernity and the Holocaust, posthuman rights, law and determinism, human nature, The Grain of the Voice, addiction, remedial economics, utopia, noise. This is my precarious imagination, and I’m amazed you’ve stuck with it this far.

 

 

[1] ‘I am well aware that I have never written anything but fictions. I do not mean to say, however, that truth is therefore absent. It seems to me that the possibility exists for fiction to function in truth, for a fictional discourse to induce effects of truth, and for bringing it about that a true discourse engenders or “manufactures” something that does not as yet exist, that is, “fictions” it. One “fictions” history on the basis of a political reality that makes it true, one “fictions” a politics not yet in existence on the basis of a historical truth.’ Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977 (Pantheon Books 1980) 193.

[2] Tao Te Ching Ch.64, from one of the endless procession of English translations (Chan).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Michel Foucault, The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on Human Nature (The New Press 2006) 18.

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,’ in The Portable Nietzsche (Walter Kaufman tr & ed, Penguin 1976) 42.

[6] Michel Foucault, ‘Truth and Juridical Forms,’ in Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 (James D Faubion ed, Penguin 2002) 9.

[7] David Thomas, ‘Lecture 1 of Foucault’s Truth and Juridical Forms’ (Unpublished 2014).

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2 thoughts on “The Precarious Imagination

  1. Pingback: Incompleteness | Precarious Imagination

  2. Pingback: The Tool Making Animal in the Land of the Blind: Dialectics and Social Science, Process and Reification | Precarious Imagination

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