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The Little Phrase (Vinteuil's Sonata)



           Agamben provided a philosophical relay locating chora in the event of troubadour poetry, along with an analysis useful for tracking the mechanism from Plato's Timaeus to Derrida's trace.  Algirdas Greimas, The Semiotics of Passions, adds depth to this relay, explaining in detail the functioning of this resource for inventing an electrate metaphysics.  We learn from Greimas how to shift focus in consulting away from conventional projection of (narrative) scenarios into the figural as a different way of addressing possibilities for transformation out of present circumstances.  Appiphany is designed to coordinate the empirical body with egents's transcendental subject (to use the terms of the coming philsophy adapted from Kant).  The point of epiphany is this position of contact between the sensible and intelligible dimensions of experience, with the sensory body articulated through language as mediating between the inner individual and the exterior state of affairs in the world.  This relationship is figural. The relevant point is that electracy, responsible for institutionalizing the third apparatus, must develop a "logic" of feeling, augmenting the undergoing of attraction/repulsion--the capacity to be affected that is to electracy what propositional logic was for literacy.  The source domain for the relevant practice is the arts, and the capacity of aesthetic form to capture and augment intense personal sensory experience that exceeds abstract categories, and that registers, rather, a singular manner of existing that has everything to do with quality of life and well-being.

            Greimas's semiotics of the passional (thymic) dimension of discourse, grounded in the instance of Marcel Proust, turns out to be a heuretics of choragraphy.  The description is heuretic in that its analysis of how chora is manifested in Proust may be translated into a template, not only for further analyses, but as a poetics. The epiphanic experience outlined here has not only critical but also ontological importance in demonstrating the origins and emergence of valency and value.  Specifically, in the context of a konsult on justice as well-being, Greimas's semiotics pinpoints precisely the mechanism of potentiality and capability in the affordances of discourse in culture.  The figural event involves a transformation that Heidegger described as an appropriation of Being--Ereignis as a particular relationship with Being (with life energy).  Humans are not born in the open (as Rilke put it) but must become their being (let it come for them).  Different relationships with Being are possible, such as the utilitarian appropriation currently hegemonic, in which everything is equipment for (commodity) production. 

            How might a different value emerge? How might an individual separate from the present ethos (habitus)?  The relay is dramatized by Proust, in "Swann's Way," the first volume of In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past).  A work of art, in this case a sonata for piano and violin, by the (fictitious) composer Vinteuil, the first few bars of which attracted Swann's sophisticated attention one evening at the Verdurin's salon.  Swann's capacity for this experience was latent, virtual, part of his competence and that of his culture--a potentiality in principle that could have been triggered by any work.  Existence breaks out into several primary modalities:  wanting-to, knowing-how-to, being-able-to.  In fact, the semiotics reveals that Western culture assumes that want or desire includes capacity (being-able), with the caveat that other cultures and civilizations have different assumptions.  Our apparatus context shows that the assumption is not just cultural but metaphysical. At the level of experience in the prototype, Swann's encounter with the sonata erases the concerns of his empirical subject, producing by means of the sonata form the opening that is chora, available for inscription of a new value: in Swann's case, the possibility of falling in love with Odette.  This initial event (epiphany) is just the beginning of the new capability of feeling.  The formal features of the art supply a system of relationships -- aesthetic, as distinct from the dialectical logic of Aristotle's topics--that project a syntactic route, beginning with a valency, around which accumulates a semantics creating a positive object of value.  The "little phrase" of the sonata heard in the salon setting (outside) gives form to the matter of Swann's inner feeling, the formal structure constituting a prosthesis facilitating passage between inchoate existence and transcendent being.  Greimas describes the association relating Swann's experience of Odette and the musical phrase.

A syntactic framework, based entirely on aspectual arrangements, is outlined behind the figurative and sensory description of the musical phrase:  lateness, delays, expectations, surprises, incidences, and decadences.  These aspectual figures are explicitly associated with Odette de Crécy, the object of value.  At a moment when each time the phrase is heard Odette's image is called up, Proust writes:

The violin had risen to high notes where it stayed as if waiting, a wait that would continue without its stopping to hold the notes, in the exaltation he experienced seeing the expected object approaching, and with a desperate effort to last till she arrived, to welcome her before dying, to keep the way open, with all its last strength, so that the object could come through, just as we hold open a door that would close if we were not holding it open.

We have already shown that worry created two distinct roles in Swann:  the birth of a new Swann, according to seeming, who commits himself to passion, and by contrast makes the former Swann a subject according to being.  A whole world of discourse is set up around the new Swann, a world that includes another kind of space, another perception of time, and other system of reference, thanks to the generalization of simulacrum and the spreading of the sensitized arrangement onto all actors, places, or moments.

The challenge for Appiphany is to provide an interface that maps the coordinates of both "Swanns," both subjects of the egent, empirical and transcendental, the one physically existent, and the other a simulacrum.

See Algirdas Julien Greimas and Jacques Fontanille,, The Semiotics of Passions:  From States of Affairs to States of Feelings, Trans. Paul Perron and Frank Collins, University of Minnesota, 1993