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Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns

Hello Michael:

Would the problems of language fall into the category of contextual 


Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
10/21/2009 07:42 AM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

        To:     lchcmike@gmail.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" 
        Subject:        Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns

Hi all,
I think that English speakers tend to have problems with Heidegger, 
and the French philosophers, and the difference between Sein (Être) 
and Seinendes (étant), which translators attempt to render as Being 
and beings, with the problem that the plural form brings. Heidegger's 
work was concerned, a problematic he already found in Plato (in the 
concept of khora), to think about the difference between Sein and 
Seiendes, and what its role plays in consciousness. This is one of 
the fundamental problematics that Derrida has taken over and worked 
out (who uses concepts such as différance, khora, écriture, and 
others). Basically, the difference is undecidable, and you get into 
philosophy of difference. And thus the tremendous role of Heidegger 
to postmodern thinking.
                 Anyone interested in Rilke and the tropes he uses should 
read the 
chapter in Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading, which is precisely on 
the topic. De Man reads German, as French and English, and therefore 
has some credibility when he writes in English about the tropes Rilke 
uses in German, and in his later life, in French.

On 20-Oct-09, at 4:29 PM, mike cole 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 

odd but probably not accidental.

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 10:40 PM, David Kellogg 

> 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 my
> 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" or
> "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 how
> it was derived from the unicorn tapestries at Cluny at:
> http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10065/66/4/Segal+-+Rilke 
> +&+unicorns+revised+paper+_April+2007_.pdf
> It turns out that intransitivity is an important trope in Rilke 
> generally,
> 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 by
> 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 really
> 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 
> language,
> 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 
> extermination
> camps was that they were too newfangled and modern (presumably real 
> Germans
> would have strangled the Jews one by one with their bare hands). 
> It's really
> Heidegger who likes to say things like "Being is" and above all 
> "death is"
> (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 and
> statements were not concretely instances of who says what to whom 
> and why.
> 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 has
> the structure of propositions. I think Adorno would prefer to say 
> that it
> propositions have the structure of knowledge, but that knowledge is 
> composed
> of questions as well as statements. I'm not sure he would agree 
> that it is
> composed of imperatives; I think imperatives are too sly about their
> subjects and objects; in linguistic terms, they don't have enough 
> argument
> 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 in
> 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 
> voyages
> of discovery to Africa, he captured a pair of giraffes and had them 
> brought
> 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 an
> 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 skin.
> 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 
> (which
> is still called a "qilin", or a unicorn, in Chinese) in the Beijing 
> zoo. She
> 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 fact
> that insistence on the NONexistence of unicorns is an important 
> feature of
> all these instances. To me, it is evidence of something even more 
> wonderful;
> 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 why
> he can't find any culture worthy of the name on television.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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