Human Flight Experiments, 2004 © Anderwald + Grond
“You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it, but you’re always falling. With each step you fall forward slightly. And then catch yourself from falling. Over and over, you’re falling. And then catching yourself from falling. And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.”
“By the gods, Socrates, I am lost in wonder (thaumazo) when I think of all these things. It sometimes makes me quite dizzy.”
(Theaetetus to Socrates)
Motion in thought, imagination and the body will be the focus of this blog post. Some of the questions posed are: How can we utilise dizziness in the sense of ‘staring into the abyss’ as a stimulus for the fundamental act of philosophising? Is it really the limit, threshold, limen and aporia that incite thinking? Or could it also be the apeiron (infinite) understood as arche, the first principle of Anaximander? What happens when someone loses grip and, furthermore, orientation? How important are spatial and temporal demarcations (peirata from peras, limit) for being able to move on? And last but not least: Does one begin to philosophise because of stumbling in front of an abyss and falling into aporia or because time and space themselves are falling apart? Is it the limit or the limitlessness that incites motion?
Only once you are no longer able to walk do you realise what walking means. The same occurs with a child that is only starting to walk. While watching a child, one can realise that learning to walk means learning to fall at the same time. If you started thinking of what you are doing whilst walking, you might begin to stumble. In analogy to walking, the process of thinking is a process of anticipating and remembering – going back and forth. It’s not about being present but about a re-presentation, in the sense of bringing back an image to your thoughts. So, what happens when you are conscious of what you are doing when you are thinking? Instead of stumbling and becoming dizzy, you could also become paralysed, unable to move back and forth anymore, stuck at a standstill because the world around you is moving.To put it differently: On the one hand, philosophising on abyss and limit can create dizziness in the subject. That is dizziness in the sense of stumbling, like walking and falling at the same time to quote Laurie Anderson. On the other hand, finding yourself in front of an abyss could paralyse all movement and bring it to a standstill. There is no way to continue anywhere anymore when reaching a demarcation or limit.This last remark leads to the question of aporia. A-poros: Lacking a poros, a way out when reaching a limit or an impasse. You might have to turn around to be able to move on. You find yourself in between the familiar and the unknown. The metaphor of movement, of walking ‘on a line’ links the abstract notion with bodily experience. Burbules puts it this way:
“Aporia is an experience that affects us on many levels at once: we feel discomfort, we doubt ourselves. We may ask, ‘What do I do?’ ‘What do I say?’ ‘What’s wrong with me?’ An aporia is a crisis of choice, of action and identity, and not only of belief. When I have too many choices, or no choices, I don’t have a choice; I’m stuck. I don’t know how to go on.”
(Burbules 2000, p. 173)
So maybe one possibility is to think motion and to think standstill at the same time. This approach testifies to the paradoxical character of thinking itself, as well as of any other kind of movement. Paradoxes describe situations of the “in between”. In European philosophy since Aristotle, paradoxical questions have always demanded that a decision be made in the sense of “either – or”. But already in Aristotelian texts we find this problem discussed under the name of the liminal “moment G”. The latter describes a spatial and temporal point in which something is changing, and in which this something is what it was before, as well as what it is afterwards. To give the Aristotelian example from his book on Physics, I might sum up one passage of Book VIII:
There is a time line or duration that is called ABG. There is a supposed turning or liminal point G and a thing D. This thing is supposed to be white in the time from A to G and not-white in the time from G to B. In the moment G, one has to reason that the thing D is white and not-white at the same time, it is changing and becoming not-white. At this moment, G is like a time cut without cutting the line clearly in two distinct parts. Rather it represents a minimal duration, a stop short or a pause. Nevertheless, Aristotle counts this moment, in which the thing D is not white anymore to the later period of B as if this was clear. He argues that the intellect cannot admit two contraries at the same time, e.g. a thing being white and not-white at the same moment. It would be paradoxical to affirm such an idea. But how could he decide that the specific moment of passing, changing, turning from white to not-white is necessarily belonging to this and not to the other side? This question brings me to my next point that is to the notion of crisis.
A crisis seems to be this Aristotelian moment G, a turning point where one reaches a limit of action and movement. Crisis as well as aporia link psyche with soma – or to put it differently: Intellectual as well as emotional and physical aspects are addressed by the notion of crisis. A fever crisis signals a turning point in the course of a disease, political or economic crises stand at the beginning of a new political or economic order, albeit processes which may take an infinitely long time to be realised. A crisis entails distinctions, decisions, selections, judgement and, in this sense, the word is a cognate of critique. But the very moment of a crisis seems to be a standstill and suspension within the course of time. At this very point, a person may stumble or become dizzy as in a fever or psychotic crisis. The urge for a decision, a turning to the one or to the other side will become necessary – but maybe the time is not measurable during which this urge emerges. It may not last even a second or it may take an endlessly long time. Aristotle, it could be argued, shouldn’t be so certain about the “right moment” of the turning point which he defined as “both a starting-point and a finishing-point, and though numerically one is theoretically two.” In order to avoid dizziness, Aristotle decides that this moment is only one. And how could it be possible not to become dizzy, in front of the abyssal and paradoxical situation that something is, and is not, at the same time and the same place?
Philosophy always seems to look for a way out of this undecidable situation. Only sophists and young people who believe in drawing profit from a confusing paradoxical and aporetic situation seem to jubilate when things are not fixed forever. The need to solve a paradox and critical situation stems from the wish to find an everlasting truth – for the philosopher Sarah Kofman, this is the typical attitude of Greek philosophy: “to find some ‘better route’, to escape this dizzying wordplay, whose counterpart is a stupefying paralysis.”
The means by which we could get out of such an obscure and dizzy situation are due to Metis, the wily resourceful intelligence. There is no certainty in finding the right way out; we are all walking and falling at the same time. Better than the metaphor of walking on a pathway, the metaphor of a maritime passage seems to fit into the context of the paradox of dizziness, that is to say to the paradox of the in-between of motion and standstill. Walking supposes a stable ground, whereas a maritime passage supposes the moving substance of water where no trails can be followed. So there is need to move – or as Kofman reads in Plato’s texts: to swim – in order to find a poros, a trail or a way out. If we stay where we are, there is no chance to shed light on what we are looking for. Going on, things might come to us.
“Like the sophists, Socrates draws his interlocutors into a situation from which there is no escape, makes them fall into a directionless space where they become disoriented and dizzy. The aporetic state always arises as one moves from a familiar environment or space to a space to which one is unaccustomed, during a transition from below to above or from above to below, from darkness to light or from light to darkness. In both cases, falling into an aporia is like falling into a well of perplexity and becoming a laughing stock for bystanders.”
The metaphor of falling is of particular interest when considering how to find a (new) way, make a (new) move, create a (new) concept. This is especially true when we link the problem of falling to the physical question of gravity, the question arises: what is falling and how do these falling ‘particles’ become linked to each other?To link what was said previously to the question of limit and limitlessness and whether philosophising starts with the one or the other, I think it is necessary to mention the importance of the peirata. Instead of choosing either the limit or the limitlessness, it might be the combination of limit and limitlessness, of motion and standstill, which gives ground (arche) for something new, emerging out of the chaos or the void. Disorientation and dizziness are the pre-conditions for orientation and directed motion. They go ‘hand in hand’. At this liminal turning point of becoming, what enables transition, are the peirata. Kofman also translates the Greek word of peras (limit) to mean link, she says:“Peirata are also links; for the Greeks, a certain kind of path, of poros, can take the form of a link that binds, just as the action of linking can sometimes take on the appearance of making a traverse, of making one’s way.”If there is a possibility to establish a relation, to link one move with another, something new emerges. This is not happening all of a sudden, but only gradually. There might be some kind of ‘before’ and ‘beyond’, but it will only be après coup, afterwards, that we realise that there had been a ‘before’. Referring to Greek cosmology and to the first pre-Socratic philosopher Thales, the first principle out of which every existing natural thing emerged was water. Anaximander, one of Thales’ pupils, transformed this first principle of water into the apeiron as indefinite substance. Kofman states:
“The watery depths [l’abîme marin], the pontos, is the ultimate apeiron [c’est l’aporie même], aporon because apeiron: the sea is the endless realm of pure movement, the most mobile, changeable and polymorphous of all spaces […]; it is analogous with Hesiod’s Tartarus, with the image of chaos itself; Tartarus is a realm of wild swirling squalls where there are no directions, no left and no right, no up and no down, where there are no fixed directions, where one can find no landmarks, no bearings to travel by. […] Sea-lanes, those roads to safety, are to be related to the peirata, the landmarks, the points of light that mark the sailor’s course.”
The phrase “aporon because apeiron” captures in a nutshell the question of linking limit and limitlessness, standstill and motion. It establishes a link between the lack of a way and too many ways. If there are no directions anymore, no up and no down, how could gravity still work under such conditions? This question is to be left for the next blog post, treating Lucretius’ clinamen, the unpredictable “swerve of atoms”, which occurs at no fixed place or time and its adaption in the context of quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement and the theory of relativity:“When atoms move straight down through the void by their own weight, they deflect a bit in space at a quite uncertain time and in uncertain places, just enough that you could say that their motion has changed. But if they were not in the habit of swerving, they would all fall straight down through the depths of the void, like drops of rain, and no collision would occur, nor would any blow be produced among the atoms. In that case, nature would never have produced anything.”
Quoted from John Llewelyn, “On the saying that philosophy begins in thaumazein,” in Post-Structuralist Classics, ed. Andrew Benjamin (New York: Routledge, 1988), p. 173.
“Limit” and “Threshold”
Cf. Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari, On The Line, trans. John Johnston (Boston: MIT Press, 1983). http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/line.
Cf. the experimental theatre of Meyerhold who developed the notion of “biomechanics”. In his texts, he explains that any body movement begins with its contrary action, e.g. to raise one’s arm before striking a blow (cf. on http://www.mimecentrum.de/bucher.htm).
Cf. Aristotle, Physics, Book VIII, 8, 262a.
Cf. Sarah Kofman, Comment s’en sortir? (Paris: Galilée, 1983), p. 31.
Sarah Kofman, “Beyond Aporia?,” in Post-Structuralist Classics, ed. Andrew Benjamin (New York: Routledge, 1988), p. 14.
Cf. Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Les Ruses de l’intelligence (Paris: Flammarion, 1974). And as well in: Kofman 1983/1988.
Sarah Kofman, “Beyond Aporia?”, in Post-Structuralist Classics, ed. Andrew Benjamin (New York: Routledge, 1988), p. 19-20 (emphasis in original).
Ibid., p. 10.
Ibid., p. 10.