I woke up at about 5:30 this morning and spent the next 3 hours or so lying in bed and thinking. (I certainly wasn’t going to get out of bed that early on a Saturday morning!) I have decided that I will start writing my next term paper today so I was idly turning that over in my mind, trying to convince myself that I really did want to sit down and start writing an essay on the weekend. I didn’t mean to start thinking about it, to be honest. I was originally thinking about far more exciting things, but somehow study crept in to my mind anyway. I am apprehensive about starting the next paper. Its all scary, but actually sitting down to write an essay is terrifying. Its not so bad once I get started, but before I start I find myself worrying that I won’t be able to write anything. Although, having said that, 4,000 words in to a 5,000 essay (the last term paper I had to write) I was still worrying about getting stuck and not being able to write any more. Clearly I have various insecurities about my ability in this area! Part of my strategy is to start the day by writing a post for my blog (which is just play so doesn’t worry me at all) in the hope that it will give me some momentum for the much more scary prospect of starting the essay.
After I had had a minor panic about actually starting to write today, my mind wandered on to Adorno. The theme for the paper is Minima Moralia so I have spent quite a lot of time reading it and I love it. Adorno drives me up the wall, but I love his writing. This morning I found myself thinking about some of the fragments about particularity. I am thinking specifically of 48 For Anatole France and 49 Morality and Temporal Sequence. These leapt out at me when I first read them and I have since read and reread them.
Liking something specific over another, valuing something more highly than something else is essentially discriminating between two objects, or recognising their non-identity. Adorno makes the case that ‘indiscriminate kindness’ (applying more to people) or aesthetic indifference (applying more to art), when pushed to its logical conclusion leads to devaluing or failing to appreciate the objects concerned. Part of his point is that this negates the whole aim in general kindness or aesthetic tolerance of trying to value everything. In trying to do so you run the risk of valuing nothing. He has a point, there. (Yes, I am being very particular here in my advocation of Adorno, and I am not ashamed of it at all!)
I was then thinking about this in terms of my personal life at the moment, specifically in terms of love/affection for other people. The strength of the love for those dear to us can be overwhelming and that leads to both postive and negative consequences. What leapt to mind was the possibility of loss when you care about someone very deeply and, of course, loss is also a strong theme in Adorno’s work. Without particularity in fact, there could be no loss. How could any one feel loss if the object of their affections (I now mean affection in a much wider sense than just applying to people) could be fully substituted? It would be impossible. In fact it is that very impossibility of substitution that causes us, as human beings, most anxiety and prompts us to search so unceasingly for ways of substituting or lining up a contingency plan. Its all about mitigating that threat of loss somehow. Perhaps we most often think about this as a resistance to change or a desire maintain the status quo, which it is. Approach the same thing from the other side though and it can be described in terms of avoiding loss.
This lead to vague and ill formed thoughts on loss and language. I will have to come back to this, because this will only be a very short sketch, something to jog my memory about this when I re-read it. I don’t have the energy or motivation to pursue it fully now, but I want to return to it.
Language is the expression of loss.
In making abstractions we lose something of the object. A motiavtion for abstraction is to give up some of the object in order to avoid losing it completely. We are, therefore, left with the concept if nothing else. This allows us some leeway with substitution and exchangability. If the particular object deserts us or is lost to us, there will be another that can (partially) fill the void left by its absence.
Language is an abstraction. It is always a generalisation. We make reference to specific objects in the world using concepts. The concept can never entirely fit or cover what we are talking about. (Likewise, the object can never fit/cover the concepts we use to refer to it, but I will leave that to one side for now.) This abstraction is immensly useful and we wouldn’t be able to communicate the way we do without it. However, because language is an abstraction it is also an expression of loss. The very form of language inscribes loss.
For any language to be understood, it must regain some sense of particularity. The concept has to be decoded back to referring to something specific, but this cannot happen until after the moment of loss. Without the moment of loss there would be no need for interpretation, because there could be no question about what the author/communicator meant. It strikes me that this would make the world frightening static and indescribably dull. It would be unquestionably obvious what everything was and what every one meant and there would be no need to think or say anything at all, because it would all be self evident. I find that thought faintly horrifying. Its horror is only mitigated by the almost complete incomprehensibility of what that would actually be like.
I guess this comes back to the idea that without risk there is no reward. Without the risk of loss there can be no possibility for discovery and the rewards it may bring. It feels slightly like I have just taken a very, very long road to get somewhere that is actually very close. But then, as I think Adorno would say, it is the journey and the exploration that is the important bit. I am in no way convinced of this, but it is just possible that I have managed to illuminate things slightly differently, which was all I was aiming to do.
Note: I have to give credit for the emergence of these rambly thoughts to a number of sources, only some of which will be mentioned here. I have been reading Thought-Images by Gerhard Richter, Adorno’s Minima Moralia (obviously!), Adorno’s Essay as Form, I have had several fascinating taught seminars on the Frankfurt School with a great seminar group and tutor. Last, but not least, the form of my thoughts on language as an abstraction, while not new, were given direction by a recent conversation with a Mathematician I know. Incidentally, he told me that he gets mightily fed up of this kind of philosophy because it is not practical enough so I am sure he would be thrilled to be credited here!