The NEW Philosoflicks 7: Appearing, Disappearing, and Reappearing — Visual Philosophizing With Hannah Arendt, Part 3.

By Snaut

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The OLD Philosoflicks was a series of seven experimental works in philosophy that were published online in the edgy, radical philosophy blog Against Professional Philosophy between July 2015 and May 2016:

Philosoflicks 1: You Are Not a Machine!

Philosoflicks 2, Installment 1: Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus, Preface & Letters I-IV.

Philosoflicks 2, Installment 2: Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus, Volume 1, Chapter 1.

Philosoflicks 3: On the Metaphysics of Puppets.

Philosoflicks 4: The Vienna Circle Meets The Hollow Men Meets Flitcraft Meets Us.

Philosoflicks 5: caesargodkantgoldman.

Philosoflicks 6: Thoughtless Images, aka Guns R Us.

OK. So what’s a “philosoflick”?

Here’s what the author of The OLD Philosoflicks said —

In “Let’s Make More Movies,” the epistemological anarchist Paul Feyerabend wrote this:

The separation of subjects that is such a pronounced characteristic of modern philosophy is … not altogether undesirable. It is a step on the way to a more satisfactory type of myth. What is needed to proceed further is not the return to harmony and stability as too many critics of the status quo, Marxists included, seem to think, but a form of life in which the constituents of older myths — theories, books, images, emotions, sounds, institutions — enter as interacting but antagonistic elements. Brecht’s theatre was an attempt to create such a form of life. He did not entirely succeed. I suggest we try movies instead. (P. Feyerabend, “Let’s Make more Movies,” in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, Ch. J. Bontempo and S. J. Odell (eds), McGraw-Hill: New York 1975, pp. 201–210.)

By cine-phenomenology, I mean the direct expression of philosophical ideas in cinematic, visual terms, from a first-person point of view.

Intertitles are printed texts inserted into (especially silent) films in order to convey dialogue, descriptions, or expository material directly relevant to but not necessarily covered by the filmed material, e.g.,

And montage is the cinematic technique, discovered by Sergei Eisenstein, of combining, juxtaposing, ordering, and sequencing (more generally, synthesizing) visual images for the production of various kinds of aesthetic and emotional effect.

A philosoflick is an experiment in visual philosophy, blending text and images–employing cine-phenomenology, intertitles, and montage–inspired by Feyerabend and Eisenstein, by Chris Marker’s La Jetée, and by W.G. Sebald’s pictorial novels.

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I think that The OLD Philosoflicks were very cool; but I also think that their author barely scratched the surface of what can done with this experiment in visual philosophy.

So that’s why I’ve undertaken a new series of philosoflicks here on Medium — hence The NEW Philosoflicks.

The first in that series was about Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics, the nature of reality, and the profundity of movies, Nietzsche Does Hollywood.

The second was about human unhappiness, poetic empathy, and the minds, lives, and deaths of non-human animals, Death of Hedgehog.

The third was about our own lives and deaths, What Makes Life Worth Dying For?

The fourth was about what, if anything, might transcend rational human existence, and what we should be doing about it, Pascal Does Vegas.

The fifth, Appearing, by Snaut, was the first in a tetralogy that visuo-philosophically explores themes in the work of Hannah Arendt.

The sixth, Postscript to Appearing, also by Snaut, was the second installment in that tetralogy.

And this one, Disappearing, again by Snaut, is the third installment in the tetralogy.

Part 3 Disappearing

“Hat man erst einmal angefangen zu denken, kommen die Gedanken wie Fliegen und saugen einem das Lebensblut aus.”

Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch 1950–1973, Erster Band, Heft XXI, [22], S. 522, München/Berlin, 2016.

I swatted a fly with a copy of Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, Bd.I. This is my starting point: a black spot on the all to white page of my text processing program; whiteness, the color of innocence? But there is no innocence in thinking. Thinking never is innocent. Or perfect. A whiteness approaching perfection, but never reaching it. Innocence and perfection being associated with whiteness in thought, as a conception, for centuries. Depending, of course, on what you might call your “cultural background.”

One fly never flies alone, it appears, it has a whole tribe to relate it to its world: table, chair, lamp, … very neat and tidy concepts, don’t you think? And yes, do not let your irritation grow, the spot is black, not red, the thought being so small that fortunately beating it did not leave any red spots. Seeing blood makes you feel uncomfortable?

What is inside, and keeps things going, whether animate or inanimate, should not come to the fore, leaving a decipherable sign of its abrupt and violent ending on the cool surface of a screen. If virtually anyone knew the trick, then what would it be worth? Not a penny, presumably.

A penny for your thoughts.

What a cheap phrase, you might think, betraying a certain mind-set you are not be very sympathetic to; I hate to tell you this, but you are processing your own thoughts in that very same set right now, like a computer. I am sorry. There are no other mind-sets on offer or should I say “We no longer stock these items.”

***

What is the cost of a metaphor? The metaphor generating cheap phrases like the one mentioned earlier: trading your thoughts as the outcome of an activity measurable in terms of efficacy and productivity, your mind processing data like a computer, your mind as a computer, your mind is a computer, your thoughts emerging on the surface of the screen, as you roll your eyes, scroll, there you can read it:

“Maybe it is a matter of size, thinking of flies. If a fly exceeds a certain size, and is too weighty, then you cannot simply beat it with a copy of a book without leaving those reddish spots as gentle reminders of the end of all living thought.”

Whose thoughts are this? Who put them into quotation marks?

So what applies to flies, maybe applies to thoughts as well.

But wait a minute, you might say now, there might be something wrong with this model. This is not your idea. It is hers, I’ll quote her again in a second, Hannah Arendt. What can you do with others’ thoughts, but quote them? How do you appropriate others’ thoughts to yourself, adapt them, make them yours, without stealing them?

So you gently, cautiously, wrap them in quotation marks, to protect them from becoming mingled with your own confused ideas.

Are one’s thoughts one’s private property? Are people the owner of their thoughts?

Of course, that is part of the picture I wanted to draw your attention to earlier: owning implies the possibility of selling and trading.

But again, wait a minute, you say, or I imagine you to say, as the words continue to emerge on the screen, isn’t there something corrupt or foul about this picture?

Owning and trading all presuppose some tradeable object that can be owned by someone, its producer, for instance.

However, Arendt suggests that this view is utterly mistaken. I quote, finally, by using those quotation marks. I love them, they are very handsome, like black mascara on a girl’s eyelashes:

appropriation by alienation.

So this is what she says, in German, again, I am sorry. It is the language she was writing, and I suppose, even thinking in, at least in this very place.

“Denken ist die einzige reine Tätigkeit, die wir kennen, weil der Gedanke, der immer ein Gedankenblitz ist — … –, niemals ein eigentliches Resultat dieses Tuns ist — wie das Getreide das Resultat von Säen, Mähen und Ernten.”

Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch, Bd. I, p. 249.

Thinking, she says, is a “pure activity,” and it is the only “pure” activity human beings are capable of.

If you think that only the use of technical terms warrants the seriousness of thought, you could also say that thinking, contrary to what its linguistic property of demanding some grammatical object or other construction suggests, has no “mental” object, distinct from the act of thinking; thus it does not behave like an object of seeing — a fly, for instance — that is distinct from your seeing it. How else could you be sure about there being some “world” distinct from your thinking?

The content of an act of thinking is not a mental object the mind is busy processing, according to Arendt.

Also, it implies that the old tradition, do you recall Augustine? to conceive of thinking analogous to seeing is mistaken. But that’s another issue…

The point, another smashed fly perhaps, is that a thought — as distinct from the activity of thinking — is not a “proper result” (“ein eigentliches Resultat”) of thinking — a product FOR SALE — in the sense that a crop is the result of reaping.

(I am just translating, not thinking myself, just in case you did not notice.)

Why this is so? And why some “proper” result of thinking?

– It’s the thunderbolt, the lightning. No. Do not mix things up. Not that any thought of anyone were a kind of scintillation. Geistesblitz! again.

It is about how thinking unfolds, how it happens, blitzhaft, in the manner of a thunderbolt.

Perhaps she thinks that having a thought happens to you, suddenly strikes you. Note that you are not the maker of the thunderstorm, you are not in possession of a lightning bolt, you are not a Greek god, so you cannot be held responsible for the weather conditions. If there is any climate favorable to thinking, then you have to find out yourself. It seems favorable to the multiplication of flying insects as well.

***

If you happen to be a professionally trained philosopher you might object, not merely remark that one could question whether Arendt favors some version of the so-called adverbial theory of intentional mental acts, where “intentional” means something like “being about” or “being directed at,” like the arrow being aimed at its target: the object of a thought, although I tried to talk you out of such an object…

Just another of those weighty, theoretical flies philosophers nourish and cherish with devotion, feeding them crumbs of bread.

Some of them, therefore, even reach the size of rats or young cats, and then you might never get rid of them again: who has the heart to kill his darling pet?

So that pet, the so-called adverbial theory was brought up by some philosophers, phenomenologists I think, in order to avoid the admission of some obscure entities, “intentional objects,” as the objects of thinking, carving out a miserable existence in the twilight of the mind, even more miserable than unicorns seeking solace in the idea of being at least the objects of some true negative existential proposition:

THERE ARE NO UNICORNS

So whenever you say that there is no such thing, you say something true, about them, the unicorns, and only about them, not about any old other non-existing thing, at least if you happen to have an appropriate ontological theory of non-existing, yet possible objects. No possible object, of course, wants to be mixed up with impossible things. There are as many possible objects as there are flies…

No, not those flies again!

And there is more, you might suspect. Neither is there is a proper object of thinking, nor would that “object” then turn into a modification of an act of thinking, so that thinking that flies can fly would then become a Thinking-that-flies-can-fly-thought as opposed perhaps to a Thinking-that-cats-cannot-fly-thought.

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No. The point is that what you can tell others, or jot down by pressing the right keys on your keyboard, is something you stitched together, retrospectively. It is not your proper THOUGHT you express, the thing that stroke you in the manner of a thunderbolt — it is merely something you make up out of pieces you remember, or believe to remember, it is neither here nor there. Arendt calls the communicable thought the “consequences of the activity of thinking.” She says:

“Die Gedanken, sofern sie resultathaft wiedergegeben werden können, sind nur die Folgen, die unsere Erinnerung aus jener reinen Tätigkeit die plötzlich sich aus sich selbst erhellt, herüberrettet.”

Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch, Bd. I, p. 249.

The activity of thinking itself is not communicable, it is not something you can share without mediation. It is therefore a lonely experience. As soon as you try to tell others what you think, even just by the lonely activity of pressing down keys, you are no longer actually undergoing this thunder-like experience.

IT IS THE JOB OF YOUR MEMORY TO INVENT COMMUNICABLE THOUGHTS.

That is why I opened this part by telling you about killing flies. Only the problem is slightly more complicated. The question is this:

If thinking is a thunder-like actual experience of something that simply happens to you, of something you do not seem to be — at least not wholly — in control of, then what exactly counts as such an experience?

I mean, can reading and trying to understand the communicable vestiges of a dead person’s actual thinking constitute such an “authentic” experience of thinking? Or can it at least give rise to such an experience? — whatever that means…

It has to. If not, then you would merely ingest dead, yet decipherable signs reminding you of the end of all living thought.

***

But how could something living — a living experience of thinking — arise from a dead sign, from the sign of something dead?

How to appropriate — foreign — content of thoughts by way of a living, authentic experience?

And then, how do you preserve this experience, if it is so ephemeral? Perhaps it is a matter of training your memory.

But is there a thing such as “authentic memory”?

– No. See: another dead fly.

Then it is a question of imagination. Imagine those flies.

Cope with those flies. Kill them. One by one. They will come back to you.

Not as the same. But can you tell? If you do not kill them yourself, they will simply disappear. Your thoughts.

Your disappearing thoughts.

***

The NEW Philosoflicks is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.