Friday, February 17, 2012

That funny feeling ...

How do things come to us? Have you ever experienced a moment when you came across an idea, or a theory of some description from some long dead (or otherwise) philosopher, that simply just spoke to you in a strange inexplicable way, that makes you sit up and say, "I know this," or, "I understand this," or simply, "I get this." Even if you don't understand the ins and outs of it, there is enough there in te general idea or even in the language used to evoke this feeling.

What is it exactly, this moment of correlation, where your thoughts seem to sync up with the world in a peculiarly specific way? Generally speaking, there are two explanations that I know. The first looks outside the world to find an answer, and finds an eternal realm of truth, where the transcience of the world is of a lower order, and where eternal laws dictate. The relationship of our world of change to this place was best articulated by Plato, who gave us the allegory of a cave in which a group of men sit in chains around a fire, only seeing each others others two dimensional shadows dancing in the fire light on the cave wall behind. One man is released from his chains, and walks out of the cave, only to see the world as it truly is.

We are the ones seeing the shadows, Plato holds, and this world is mere illusion. Concepts and ideas belong to this other world, and we grasp at it. There are eternal orders, which dictate that a tree is one tree among many trees, and not something we treat as singular, bearing no relation to other trees. Order, then, is the rule in this eternal realm, and we derive our orders in this transcient world from it. An order (eternal) of things (ever-changing).

Did I touch upon this realm, when I came to realise that someone had a similar outlook to me, that someone came up with similar ideas, as if the idea itself was always already present, and I touched upon it, in some way?

I think that in some way, this must be true. In some way ...

Then there is the second way of explaining this. It is in some ways the ultimate historical perspective in the way that it holds that ideas develop, and permeate culture in various ways. The movement of peoples and culture in terms of discourse and dialectic ensure that these ideas will, at some point, wash over us without us even knowing it. We are moved by the books that we read, the films and TV shows we watch, which in some way are underscored by certain key concepts elaborated by philosophers at different times, who come to have a feeling about the world, always already ingrained within the social strata. We live in a sea of concepts, or language, and, as Derrida put it, "All is text," in the sense that all is pre-empted by a cultural context.

The second explanation is careful to vere away from mysticism, or any talk of the eternal. And yet, I cannot help but feel that these two theories are not so different, especially as they come to us. Paul Fry talks about language as something we enter into and have to, "come to terms with," but is this not the same as the freed slave who has to come to terms with the eternal world? On the ground, without histories that insist that things were different at one time or another, when such ideas are discovered by us, that seem to spark a flame of recognition, all we can do is presume the existence of an eternal substrate.

We have the benefit of history, of an archive that stretches far into the past, and as such we call it something different nowadays. Even with the movement of history, language is a constant in this world view, or the surity of a world beyond our individual experience, beyond the social, of influences that come to us on the wave of some sort of archival memory, a natural history of ideas and concepts constantly in flux. Plato did not have this surity of written history or even the surity of its continuity (as we do today) and he had to evoke an eternal realm, as he experienced it, on the ground. An idea, coming to him, or a sign in his world that his thoughts somehow correlate to something outside himself. A most mysterious movement, the mystery of which is in some ways best articulated by reading any of Derrida's texts!

Like Einstien's famous equation, E=mc2, which dictates that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from one form to another, I say it is so with eternity, that it is so with language, and that all is indeed text, and that this text, this context, beyond ourselves as singular beings, is a certain concept of eternity, and that there must be an eternal realm, or the assumption that it exists, at the very least.

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