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I spent all day in berkeley today being teacherly at times and at other times minutely adjusting margins on various parts of the dissertation so that when I take it to the lady at the Graduate Division window and she takes out her ruler to measure the margins everything will be within the prescribed limits.

I also rewrote my abstract for the third time--judith finally said it was ok. funny how I can write a 200-page dissertation without speaking to anyone but must have my hand held in order to write a satisfactory academese-dialect abstract. goes to show, perhaps, why I am not meant for academia in any sort of formal way.

I post the abstract for your amusement. if you like it, let me know and I will let you read the dissertation which is written in a completely different style thank the gods. I couldn't do this sort of thing indefinitely and there's nothing more indefinite than writing a dissertation.

oh and I made up the title in five minutes because it has to be printed on the abstract and I had to print the abstract today so judith and lyn could sign it. so far I haven't heard from lyn but I'm not sure if she was going to contact me today or tomorrow. michael will sign on thursday.

anxiety is rising a bit. just a bit.

The Question of Ethics for the Metonymically Restless, as posed by Gilles Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gertrude Stein
Erik Martin Schneider
Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric
University of California, Berkeley
Professor Judith Butler, Co-Chair
Professor Lyn Hejinian, Co-Chair

This dissertation attempts to articulate a postmodern ethics according to the theories of Gilles Deleuze and Emmanuel Levinas, primarily. Although their sensibilities might seem opposed to one another, I argue that Deleuze's Logic of Sense and Levinas' "approach of the other" can be read as parallel iterations of that which inaugurates the possibility of both a distinction between self and other and of signification itself.

To concretely explain the paradoxical relations both writers set up between Western dichotomies such as inside/outside, language/experience, and subject/object, I utilize Francisco Varela's theory of autopoietic self-constitution of living organisms, reading it as a textual figure for the abyssal origins of the subject. This figure echoes Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen's observations about the Freudian unconscious: that it is not a "subject behind the subject" but is a paradoxical point of dis/identification with the other which renders identity itself undecidable and without discernable origin.

I also argue that Giorgio Agamben's writings create a counterpoint against the oft-disparaged "postmodern" sense of irresponsible free play; rather, they assert that postmodern theories themselves imply an ethics that eludes signification, as do Deleuze's event of sense and Levinas' approach of the other. Keeping in mind this unspeakability, I argue that metonymy makes an apt figure for characterizing both the Deleuzian event and the Levinasian approach, when imagined as an articulation which is the event of speaking and of appearing, but which is not reducible to what is said or that which appears. As such, metonymy functions as a literary trope for Levinasian "transcendence," which does not occur in any "realm" beyond appearances, but is the transcendence of appearance itself.

I conclude with a metonymic link to the work of Gertrude Stein, asking whether her poetics suggest an ethical “way” by which we might proceed without ironically reinstituting a moral code or foundation. I also conclude by asking a series of questions rather than providing answers, thus suggesting that ethical sense as Deleuze, and perhaps Agamben would have it, must be understood as the exclusive gesture of differentiation suspended upon its own potentiality: a metonymic ethics proceeding as questions rather than propositions.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2007 04:50 am (UTC)
Dude. I had to use the interweb to figure out what you were talking about
In rhetoric, metonymy is the substitution of one word for another word with which it is associated.

In cognitive linguistics, metonymy refers to the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity and is one of the basic characteristics of cognition. It is common for people to take one well-understood or easy-to-perceive aspect of something and use that aspect to stand either for the thing as a whole or for some other aspect or part of it.

A few commonly used examples of metonymy are:

word -- original use -- metonymic use
The Crown -- king's headwear -- the British monarchy
dish -- item of crockery -- a course (in dining)
the press -- printing press -- the news media
Washington -- capital of the United States -- the United States federal government

Cognitively, metonymy is attested in cognitive processes underlying language (e.g. the infant's association of the nipple with milk). Objects that appear strongly in a single context emerge as cognitive labels for the whole concept, thus fueling linguistic labels such as "crown" to refer to a king or to the monarchy.

The word metonymy is derived from from Greek μετά- beyond/changed and -ωνυμία, a suffix used to name figures of speech from ὄνυμα name (OED)) (IPA: [mɛ.'tɒ.nə.mi].

May. 9th, 2007 04:51 am (UTC)
Re: Dude. I had to use the interweb to figure out what you were talking about
(pasted from wikipedia)
May. 9th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Dude. I had to use the interweb to figure out what you were talking about
if it helps, I am relying most heavily on the associative feature of metonymy, and the way in which it does and does not differentiate objects from each other. and I do think it is the process underlying language, although perhaps not quite the way that they tell it but sort of. to me the metonymic is that which both associates and differentiates and so is a paradoxical figure to a degree.

if that makes sense.
(Deleted comment)
May. 9th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC)
yeah like I said the dissertation isn't really like this. I wrote the abstract my way and judith vetoed it, with apologies to my sensibility.

I'm just hoping the grad division doesn't mind that it's two chapters: one 25 pages, the other 200. they say the internal organization is to be worked out between you and your committee, and judith said to write it the way that it came out of me so I did.

it could just as easily have been ten chapters, some of them one paragraph long, but who wants to format something like that??
May. 9th, 2007 07:22 am (UTC)
i really wanted to understand that. but i definitely didn't.
May. 9th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
sorry. maybe it will help if I say that I'm working on an ethics that takes the postmodern elimination of universal truth seriously, and which attempts to negotiate between traditional western dichotomies such as good and evil, or sacred and profane, but without resolving the dichotomies into a synthesized, "whole" solution. rather I advocate dispersing them into infinite variations. my "middle way" is infinite, rather than "the One." when buddhists refer to "the One" or even "the Absolute" I start to yawn. for me the Absolute would have to be an infinite procession of unspeakable singularities rather than any sort of holistic figure that might resolve into a single god, for instance.

that sort of thing. if that is any clearer. mostly I think of ethics as the relationship we sustain with that which is other than ourselves but cannot, strictly speaking, be fully differentiated from ourselves but is still unrecognizable or inconceivable. which sort of means that part of us is unrecognizable or inconceivable (the post-freudian unconscious, perhaps). either way, that which is "other" is completely vulnerable and must be looked after with care, as almost any contact with its surface is a traumatic one.

I'll try again if you want or you can tell me to shut up.
May. 9th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
i would have understood more of it if i had ever read levinas or deleuze or stein. at least i've read varela and still have a stack of books on metonymy, although they are by the cog. ling. folks. great title, though!
May. 9th, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC)
I'd actually like to see what the cognitive linguistics people have to say about metonymy as the primary trope (I know that some do see it that way), even though I know that I disagree with them when they start talking about language "representing" thought. of course they don't all talk about that.

that's cool you've read Varela. autopoiesis is a fun concept to play with. I'd really like to get my hands on the computer program that was written to create an ascii character-based "entity" that autopoietically maintains itself within its ascii "environment". I'm not sure if Varela and/or Maturana themselves wrote it or if someone else did.
May. 9th, 2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
it was longer ago than i like to admit. being at the west pole (do they still call berkeley that?), you'd probably be familiar with lakoff, but i always found him irritating. i remember liking mark johnson a lot better (i.e. the work of mark johnson, ha.) 'the body in the mind' was good. i think i have some more recent papers on autopoeisis, but they're probably in that filing cabinet that i can't get open.
May. 9th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
I'm vaguely familiar with Lakoff. I haven't really had time to read the linguists' version of the story, although I feel that I should, just to be fair and to know the issues there.

autopoiesis is all over the web. try googling it. if you're bored, that is.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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