File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0011, message 74


Subject: HAB: Aesthetics and Discourse, an Illustration from Fight Club
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2000 09:32:22 -0500 (Eastern Standard Time)


On Wed, 29 Nov 2000 16:08:10 -0800 (PST) Gary D <gedavis1-AT-yahoo.com> wrote:

> The challenge, then, is to clarify how language is constitutive (or
> world-disclosive) without political overtones. This requires a clear
> differentiation between the communicative and world-disclosive
> potential of language (which, by the way, a language-as-institution
> thesis dangerously occludes--conversely from poietic occlusion--by
> absorbing world-disclosure into the accountability/responsibility
> domain of communicative life, which ontologizes reason, beyond
> pragmatic interests).

I haven't been able to respond to much lately... but this point is crucial, 
absolutely crucial. Perhaps this can be discussed further: the distinction 
between rhetoric/aesthetics and discourse/logic.

It has been suggested that theorists like Derrida have "aestheticized" the 
political. If we read through people who have made this charge, it is most 
often supported with very little evidence (it should be noted that Habermas 
critique of JD relies on Culler's reading more than JD's writing). One of 
Derrida's interests, from his earliest work, as far as I understand it, is the 
primacy of logic over rhetoric (which he *does not* reverse, rather, 
highlights the undecideable nature inherent in language itself). Habermas's 
position is one that ensures the a priori legitimacy of logic over rhetoric in 
its world-disclosing capacity. We ought start, then, with the fundamental 
distinction that Habermas makes between science, ethics and aesthetics, a start 
wherein which science and ethics are given political and objectivistic tones 
over and against rhetoric on an a priori level. We have, at our disposal, 
however, countless examples of instances where such a distinction cannot be 
made. For instance, in the movie Fight Club, Marla Singer is in Jack's cave, 
and she says to him, "Slide" (in the same manner a penguin had done a few 
scenes earlier). Of course, the pronunciation of "Slide" coincides with "It's a 
lie" - which is the truth of Jack's participation in various therapy grounds 
(ie. he's not really sick). So which is it?  The implications are tremendous, 
the first having to do with a normative way in which Jack lives his live (as 
Jack will note about Tyler later in the film, "Tyler possessed the capacity to 
let anything that does not truly matter... slide." However, the other reading, 
"It's a lie" coincides with Marla's threat to Jack's 'abyss' - he threat to 
expose him so that he'll be kicked out of these therapy groups). The nature of 
the comment is, radically, undecideable. And we can say, without hesitation I 
suspect, that it will have nothing to do with grammatical analysis - and 
everything to do with Jack's desire. At the same time, it is precisely this 
radical undecideability that facilitates any further communication - it is the 
very undecideability of the gesture that allows Jack to make a choice, to 
"slide" or risk exposure. His choice here is not merely an aesthetic one - it 
is a political choice that has to do with how Jack will arrange his politics, 
lifestyle, ethics... and identity. Of course, he opts for something completely 
different.

ken

ps. i should note, the *inherent* confusion here has 'leaked' into "reality." 
In the script (both by the director and the screenwriter - the scene is cast 
differently in the book) the word reads "Slide" - but in the closed captioning 
of the video release, it reads "It's a lie." So which is it? Which "reading" is 
to be given priority? Habermas would like assume that the director and 
screenwriter's version is the "correct" one. But then what about the other 
interpretation (if we can call it that)? What we hear depends on how we relate 
to voice (the law behind the symbolic form). We have here an instance of 
llangue, the 'noise' behind the symbolic which makes any 'reading' or 
'listening' to the symbolic possible in the first place... in short: this 
example, I suspect, points to the radically undecideability of the distinction 
bewteen normative commands and ethical choices (this is all complicated by the 
fact that Marla takes the position of Jack's [castrating] m(Other) when she and 
Tyler become involved (Jack will later say, "I'm six years old again, passing 
messages between my parents")...



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