As I wonder where one is to make a beginning I am reminded of Deleuze’s notion that one begins, of course, in the middle. Though my last post was intended to serve as an introduction, it must now be reassigned to the role of preface. It was like a dispatch from the heart of the current project but it was somewhat insufficient in giving a sense of scope. The scope is grand and the road is long. One must be dropped into the thick of things, bewildered and struggling to formulate questions. Once these questions are formed they are then immediately subject to rapid redefinition as both crowded avenues are seen anew and old, overgrown pathways are disturbed. Discovery and interpretation is an adaptive process and when pursued wildly its limits are often temporary.
We want to understand social bonds and solidarity. This means we must speak of friendship and of politics. To speak of of friendship and politics, which means to begin with popular notions and then to begin again with Plato. Because Plato and all who came after left us ideas of friendship and politics and all of those ideas met with the thinkers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and were both accepted and rejected and these contacts altered Jews, Christians, and Muslims and how they thought about their lives. And if we wish to put forth an idea of traditional accounts of society and their prescriptions and warnings then we must follow them and trace the riverbeds along which they have flowed and found form.
The tradition of Western thought is held to be a basically contiguous movement from Plato until today. It flowed from Greece to Italy and then north into the continent and eventually crossing the channel and much later finally penetrating Scandinavia. We know that Western thought only later became Western and never has been contiguous and in fact is permeated by much of what the European consciousness would find alien to itself. And this necessitates exploration of the internal and external borders of European identity, the Jew and the Muslim, respectively. And even this is not a static relation, for the Frankish idea of the Saracen horde is not quite like Enlightment thinker’s anxiety about the nomadic Arab. The task of excavating the points of différance that must cause the collapse of the European story of its identity has obviously been taken up by many and they will provide much aid, although I think the field is yet rich still for the enterprising prospector.
And so we see that the barest formulation of initial inquiries seems to require a broad knowledge. Not only are we seeking to undermine the castle walls but also to build what I hope is a formidable and imposing siege camp. That which is suppressed will be free and in that freedom new stories will begin to emerge and be told here. Transhistorical phenomena will be identified and a new knowledge created, born out of many great old knowledges.
Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, an Islamic scholar and man of many noble and beautiful virtues, has spoken much on the concept of cognitive frames and the idea of rooting knowledge. Similarly, Sherman Jackson has spoken on the idea of structures of plausibility. These notions are, I think, all addressing a contextual issue, specifically a kind of lack. You see, much of what I know of the science of biology is deeply linguistically rooted in the modern western weltanschauung. Its a cultural context that was born from the Enlightenment, the traumatic violence violence of Europe during the 30 Years War, WWI, and WWII, and the current dominant modes of thought that have emerged within the last hundred or so years. When you talk about biology you’re using the lexicon of a positivist, liberal, atheist. The knowledge of biology which we have inherited is so rooted linguistically in this culture that you always learn to speak about it in those terms.
But empirical knowledge of biological processes doesn’t necessitate such cognitive frames. And if you are a committed Confucian, Taoist, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Zoroastrian, etc. you will likely sense the tension between this cognitive frame and the one that is described by your faith or Way. Knowledge is important, we need to know the things that the sciences have revealed to us. We need to know the things that reason has revealed to us. And we need to know the things that our traditions have revealed to us. But we have to ask ourselves, in all three cases, what are the ways in which a variety of cognitive frames are mediating this knowledge when we think and speak? And until we begin to look and dig through the ways in which this knowledge has come down to us we don’t have much of an idea.
And it is for this reason that this project is not a mere recitation of traditional injunctions concerning conduct and social organization. These things are extremely important. But I am not the best person to give guidance in these matters, though I can and will attempt to use myself as a mirror to reflect some light from those who are indeed true possessors of this knowledge. And it is my earnest hope that in conjunction with that, these investigations that I hope to pursue to can shed light on what our cognitive frames are and how we have received them and in knowing this undertake the task of rooting our knowledge. It is not a quest to expel alien influences from our thought, for there is a vast richness that exists across this world which is of great value and we should take from it and imbibe it. It is a matter of expelling received and unwanted cognitive frames that are usually working against us in our goals. Just as Foucault said that Anti-Oedipus was an “Introduction to Non-Fascist Life,” I hope that similarly this may be the introduction to a non-capitalist/positivist/atheist/materialist life. And hopefully a better title will be forthcoming.
And so it is that with these preliminary points of excavation at hand, we charge deep into the citadel of Western thought. The very heart of the most dramatic change. Not Plato. For I said that we begin in the middle. No, we seek the storm the gates of Immanuel Kant! Once secured and the secret plans and documents held within brought under scrutiny, we can move outward. Perhaps a two-pronged assault on Plato will then be strategically sound. Or the necessary task of sweeping up the outlying countryside of Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, and Locke? The decision cannot be foreseen but the possibilities are exciting.
Sound the horn for the host is now assembled. Let the march begin. And for all who remain here, raise your spirits and look to the horizon for each new rider bearing word of the frontier.