Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Position

If intuition is the immediacy of knowledge in thought, then institution is the immediacy of power in feeling. I'm increasingly committing myself to the radical idea that this undermines the legitimacy of social science. We cannot reach an understanding of social institutions through scientific inquiry; there cannot be a "philosophy of power" (a philosophical ethics). We can only hope for greater precision in our obedience (and perhaps our disobedience), and the only way to improve our precision is through poetry and politics. Philosophy and science are simply misapplied when applied to society.

Institutions determine how we feel immediately in a situation. Let us take the banal example: a man's experience of a beautiful woman. Even her beauty (his experience of her beauty) is already conditional on institutions that imbue her features (and not the features of some "plainer" woman) with a very real power. He is "taken" with her (just as philosophers might speak of objects as "given" to us under certain conditions). But consider now the possibility that the year is 1953 and he is black and she is white. Or he is 50 and she is 16. Or consider the difference between his experience of her beauty as a married man and as a single man. All of these differences are felt, and are conditional on the institutional structure of the society in which he lives. We can imagine a society in which color does not "enter into it", and a society in which age differences (and age as such), has a very different effect on our "feelings". It is poetry and politics, not philosophy and science, it is practice not theory, that helps us deal with the exigencies of our "moral sentiments".

The man's experience of this woman's beauty, then, must be extricated from the policies that immediately impinge upon his life. This extrication (a kind of liberation) is effected by poetry. (Lately, I've been reading WCW's Paterson, which is an excellent example of what I'm talking about here.)

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