[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns

I have some trouble with the notion of context because it works into the hands of those who attempt to parse the individual from everything else, worse, the mind from everything else. In an upcoming book (Language Learning Context, [London: Routledge])----currently I am revising the manuscript---I show how producing text also produces context, that is, we are con/texting all of the time. The difference between producing a text and producing context is undecidable. That is, in acting, we also mark what is relevant context, and because we can "read" actions in the way we "read" (hear, perceive) other forms of text (e.g., Ricœur, 1991), actions, too, produce their relevant context.

This is what CHAT is about, activity as irreducible unit, including subject and the entire "context".


On 21-Oct-09, at 7:30 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:

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
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:


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 by
stripping verbs of their arguments, like petals from a flower.

Adorno is scathing about all of this. It's sometimes hard to read
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
a language which pretends to be unmediated by human lips.

What infuriates him is the philosophical rehabilitation of the
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 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
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

One of the things I most like about the unicorn paper (link posted
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
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 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
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
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

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list