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Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns
- From: Ivan Rosero <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 19:24:01 -0700
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Reminds me of a time when a friend asked me why I didn't believe in God. I
told her that I didn't have to believe in God, since God already existed.
On Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 4:29 PM, mike cole <email@example.com> wrote:
> Thanks for all of that including the paper, David.
> A non-German reader, I like the poem as translated, which mucks up
> serious engagement with Rilke I guess. I have checked out other
> but like this one probably for idiosyncratic reasons. Those reasons,
> circuitously, lead me to agree with the conclusion in the final paragraph.
> odd but probably not accidental.
> On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 10:40 PM, David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org
> > I'm going to give two late cheers for eric's formulation "being does", at
> > least insofar as we are talking about cultural being in general
> > and aesthetic being in particular. But at the same time I want to reserve
> > third cheer for some kind of complement to the verb, and to put in a plug
> > for a rather literal interpretation of the word "ideal" in the cultural,
> > artistic realm; I think in order to qualify as culture even material
> > culture really does have to have a utopian, unicorn element, but that
> > element is nevertheless irreducibly realist.
> > Mike likes to cite the Rilke poem about the unicorn. The English
> > translation he gives, though, goes like this:
> > The Unicorn by Ranier Maira Rilke
> > This is the creature there never has been.
> > They never knew it, and yet, none the less,
> > they loved the way it moved, its suppleness,
> > its neck, its very gaze, mild and serene.
> > I think this is a mistranslation; in the German the unicorn is "geliebt"
> > "beloved", because in Rilke love is intransitive; it's not an object
> > oriented activity at all. There's actually a good paper on this poem and
> > it was derived from the unicorn tapestries at Cluny at:
> > It turns out that intransitivity is an important trope in Rilke
> > and of course it was a favorite device of the German neoromantic lyric
> > poets, who believed you could get a kind of unmediated sense of reality
> > stripping verbs of their arguments, like petals from a flower.
> > Adorno is scathing about all of this. It's sometimes hard to read Adorno
> > because he seems so irritated all the time, until we remember that he
> > had a LOT to be annoyed about. In this case, what he is eating him is the
> > "jargon" (or "aura", as Walter Benjamin says) of a secular sacred
> > a language which pretends to be unmediated by human lips.
> > What infuriates him is the philosophical rehabilitation of the linguistic
> > work of Heidegger, a devout Nazi whose main criticism of the
> > camps was that they were too newfangled and modern (presumably real
> > would have strangled the Jews one by one with their bare hands). It's
> > Heidegger who likes to say things like "Being is" and above all "death
> > (yes, I know that Hegel said it too). But even Rilke likes to speak of
> > "encounters" and "statements" as if what was encountered was a unicorn
> > statements were not concretely instances of who says what to whom and
> > Habermas says, in a book that would have greatly annoyed Adorno if he had
> > lived to read it (The Theory of Communicative Action) that our knowledge
> > the structure of propositions. I think Adorno would prefer to say that it
> > propositions have the structure of knowledge, but that knowledge is
> > of questions as well as statements. I'm not sure he would agree that it
> > composed of imperatives; I think imperatives are too sly about their
> > subjects and objects; in linguistic terms, they don't have enough
> > structure.
> > One of the things I most like about the unicorn paper (link posted above)
> > is the historical research. Segal points out that unicorns are reported
> > almost all the major cultures, and go back many thousands of years.
> > Take, for example, the Chinese unicorn, which is probably the oldest
> > speciment. During the early Ming Dynasty, when Zheng He was sent on
> > of discovery to Africa, he captured a pair of giraffes and had them
> > back to China. The emperor then had them widely exhibited, because of a
> > tradition which held that the discovery of a unicorn during the reign of
> > emperor was an extremely auspicious sign. One of them survived, and I
> > remember seeing an astonishing realistic portrait of it, which for
> reasons I
> > never understood, did not have any of the usual polygonal marks on its
> > When I was researching a book on the great Chinese famine of 1962-1963, I
> > interviewed an old woman who said she had eaten part of the giraffe
> > is still called a "qilin", or a unicorn, in Chinese) in the Beijing zoo.
> > remarked wistfully that it was a time when
> > nobody could afford hopes for the future.
> > The ubiquity of unicorns is really clear evidence that they really do
> > exist, or rather it would be evidence of their existence except for the
> > that insistence on the NONexistence of unicorns is an important feature
> > all these instances. To me, it is evidence of something even more
> > the literally IDEAL component of even material culture, the element of
> > culture which suggests, not its reproductibility but rather its
> > perfectibility. And that's what Adorno is really complaining about, and
> > he can't find any culture worthy of the name on television.
> > David Kellogg
> > Seoul National University of Education
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