Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Blanchot's "The Proper Use of Science Fiction" (1959)

Incredible analysis from Blanchot here. I regard him in this instance as intimating some of the concerns I touched on my 2 "carbon chauvinism" posts. But it also breathes new life into what I regard as the most interesting and enduring philosophical questions, in part because they touch on issues familiar to sociologists and anthropologists. I'm thinking here of systems theorists, along with the profane and the sacred as foregrounded in the writings of Durkheim, and "the liminal" as featured in the writings of Victor Turner. All it took was a PhD for me to shape up to this legacy as in some sense constituting a theory of creative action.

Then as now, the questions of interest to me: What is a system? How does it negotiate its inside/outside? What is transgression, and how can it be situated, if at all, with regard to conceptions of "other spaces"?  I wrote in my thesis something about Benjamin Noye's discussion of Bataille and "the summit", so it is clear today that I also need to revise my notes in order to come to terms with the meaning of "the limit" described by Blanchot in the passage to follow.

I'm taking off tomorrow, so I can't even begin to touch on Cyclonopedia, which derridata bequeathed to me yesterday...suffice to say, I'm intrigued by the discussion of "exteriority" in that book as well.

Shelving these concerns for the moment, let me just add [in Twitter mode here] that I'm intrigued by what I regard as an approximation of the "performative contradiction" I mentioned in my 2nd carbon chauvinism post (see the conclusion of this excerpt from Blanchot). In any case, clearly these are issues that every science fiction writer has to engage with at some stage, and I suspect the same might be said about the imaginative capacity of xenobiologists to make allowance for the possible existence of lifeforms that confound their existing taxonomies.

Whenever science fiction guides us through space and the future as in a beyond where we are puerilely detached from ourselves, it proves vulnerable to all the jibes that Marx reserved for religion and philosophy. It is curious to see with what simplicity the great myths of transcendence learn to survive in these hypothetical worlds consecrated to immanence: that is interesting, and disappointing as well. ...What would happen if man suddenly encountered a superior being? The most common, and, imaginatively speaking, most impressive solution consists in finding signs of superiority in the lowest forms of life- insects, larvae, microbes- something which cannot but recall to us an immense chapter of theology.  But here we clearly see the import of this way of inverting the problem: it is that the problem itself is absurd, it is that human consciousness will never be able to convince itself, upon discovering it, of a superiority of other species; for this is the characteristic feature of consciousness: because it is null and void, it is always equal to all that is, the biggest and the smallest. Man is the summit- virtual or real, it little matters which. The idea of God, the idea of the microcosm, are only translations of this impossibility of consciousness being, in itself, inferior to that of which it is conscious. There thus remains only the trap of those species said to be inferior: if we admit, indeed, that among the beings known to us there are some that are ontologically beneath us, that means that they are just as much above us: these are truly our gods, and the literature of the fantastic makes use of this revelation in order to astound us for a moment. But the dramatic core of such visions remains this: man [sic] can never encounter a being superior to himself; this means that he will always be superior to everything, given that such superiority constitutes precisely the limit he tries in vain to surpass....

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