Friday, October 05, 2012

Problem, Seduction, Solution

Last week, I posed a riddle:

Wittgenstein said that "the civil status of a contradiction" constitutes the philosophical problem. Deleuze and Guattari said there are no contradictions, "only degrees of humor." I have said that the poet's problem is "the civil status of seduction". But what if there are no seductions? Only degrees of...

The solution is: cynicism. Cynicism is to power as humor is to knowledge. I had offered this entry at Etymology Online as a hint. Notice that the "province" of humor is "human nature". The stated province of cynicism is "morals", which we might rephrase as "human culture" (culture is nature's pangrammatical supplement). Also, humor aims at "discovery". We can rephrase the aim of cynicism as decision, i.e., cynicism is the mood towards which all decision making tends: it simplifies the moral situation to make my act possible. That is, it offers "self-justification". Humor's audience is "the sympathetic", but knowledge of course needs to push against our sympathies. That's its critical edge. The critical edge of cynicism, meanwhile, is set at the throat of respectability, which so often causes us to forget the name of action.

Finally, we can adjust the chart's sense of the "methods" of humor and cynicism in both directions. On the one hand, negotiation is to power as observation is to knowledge. If contradictions dissolve in a series of more or less humorous observations, seduction ceases to be seduction as it approaches negotiation. On the other hand, an observation is a way of registering concealment, just as cynicism is the "exposure of nakedness". An observation will only ever capture an appearance, but it is an observation (and not merely an impression) because it senses that this is an appearance of something concealed.

It's not perfect, but we do what we can. Deleuze and Guattari said, "In truth, there are never contradictions, apparent or real, but only degrees of humour" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 68). We can now add: Justly, there are never seductions, superficial or ideal, but only degrees of cynicism. The Pangrammaticon is a machine for making aphorisms.

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