Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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May 31, 2007
How to Deal with Vertigo

                                        or "What to Do When Standing at the Edge of an Abyss"

some suggestions, from the experts:

use belief to leap over it:
But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things you have heard the scientists say of maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of despair, you roll into the abyss.
William James, from the Will to Believe

throw yourself into it:
First we must acknowledge that Kierkegaard is right; anguish is distinguished from fear in that fear is fear of beings-in-the-world whereas anguish is anguish before myself.

Vertigo is anguish to the extent that I am afraid not of falling over the precipice, but of throwing myself over.

A situation provokes fear if there is a possibility of my life being changed from without; my being provokes anguish to the extent that I distrust myself and my own reactions in that situation.
Sartre, from "The Origin of Nothingness" section of Being and Nothingness

create a bridge of language, then quickly walk -- but don't dance!-- across it:
Each and every word that enables us to leap so rapidly across the chasm of thought, and to follow the prompting of an idea that constructs its own expression, appears to me like one of those light planks which one throws across a ditch or a mountain crevasse and which will bear a man crossing it rapidly.

But he must pass without weighing on it, without stopping -- above all, he must not take it into his head to dance on the slender plank to test its resistance!. . .

Otherwise the fragile bridge tips or breaks immediately, and all is hurled into the depths.
Paul Valéry, from "Poetry and Abstract Thought"

[deconstruct it:

Let me add yet once again that this terrifying and exhilarating vertigo is not "mystical" or "theological."

The abyss appears when Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Derrida lift the lid of the most familiar and comforting notions about the possibility of knowledge.
from Gayatri C. Spivak's preface to Derrida's Of Grammatology]

when done deconstructing it, find solidarity and do political organizing around it [?]:
Why these words again, when they no longer mean what they were always thought to mean?

When they still mean what they were believed not to mean -- a meaning to which a memory, another memory, another friendship, ought to awaken them again?

The question is not only the one which brings on semantic vertigo, but the one which asks 'what is to be done?':

What is to be done today, politically, with this vertigo and its necessity?

What is to be done with the 'what is to be done?'?

And what other politics -- which would nevertheless still be a politics, supposing the word could still resist this very vertigo -- can this other community of the 'common' dictate to us?
Derrida, from the Politics of Friendship

(p. 297 of the nifty recent Verso edition)

draw a picture of it:
It is drawing, as so many of the great masters seem to tell us, that holds back the abyss.
Frank O'Hara on Jackson Pollock

(published in Peter Selz's 1959 New Images of Man)

(A capsule bio of Selz is here.)

A wonderful interview with him is here.)

Here's another cool O'Hara observation about the works of a certain painter:
[S]mall dissonant areas provided points of subtle perception like a turn in a conversation full of insights.
Frank O'Hara on the paintings of John Ferren, Art News, May 1954

(quoted in the v. cool new catalogue "Journey of an American Modernist,"

put out by this v. cool gallery)

Ferren is awesome for his paintings.

But he is also awesome for the dream sequence in Hitchcock's "Vertigo."

He storyboarded it.

Some of the sequence appears in this U2 video.

Ferren also painted the roadside paintings in "The Trouble with Harry," fictionally painted by the character played by John Forsythe.

Oh, so I guess the last suggestion is, "Film a movie about it."

I gathered the above pointless links approx. two weeks ago when surfing around on the web to see if anybody, like me, had wondered about how Derrida's (non)concept of "différance" overlaps and/or does not overlap with Sartre's account of "nothingness," or what work one idea does that the other does not, and vice versa.

I never really found anyone else's "answer," so I decided I'd have to figure it out on my own.

Then I, in part, kinda got sidetracked.

[update 6/6/07: actually, on that "answer":

1) to end the post on a less wiseass, more constructive note, and

2) (more importantly) to make more easily findable (by me, later) a couple of the more fruitful looking leads I found:

Steve Martinot ("machinist, truck driver and union organiser" --!!) seems to have done a lot of digging on this question, and packed it into his aptly titled book, Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida.

The intro to Martinot's book is here. The intro provides tantalizing info about the strange relationship/non-relationship, on an intellectual and personal level, between JPS & JD.

Martinot's intro, in addition, suggests that Prof. Christina Howells went thinking in the same direction I did, regarding the congruence between "nothingness" and "différance." She apparently did so in a paper entitled "Que perd gagne: Sartre and Derrida."

Howell's paper seems to have first appeared in 1982 in the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, which later become a chapter in one of her books [?].

However, an alternate, more roundabout, and happily more digression-rich strategy for me might be:

to rewind the film, to look at the common thinkers in which JPS and JD have mutual roots (Heidegger, Husserl, maybe Lacan?),

to read all that stuff,

then play the film forward again, to watch how and to where JPS and JD go off in divergent directions.

yah, get back to me in 2021 and see how i'm doin on that project]