Sunday, 6 March 2011

Anthropomorphic, Abstract

Reading Jameson’s dense account of Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative in Valences of the Dialectic.
Ricoeur’s polemical target here is, to be sure, complicated by the presence on his agenda of not one but two key texts of Aristotle, namely the Poetics and the Physics, which are evaluated positively and negatively respectively: the first staging an essentially anthropomorphic account of human time in terms of narrative, while the second offering [sic], as we have already seen, a philosophical description of temporality which omits the distinctiveness of the human or existential dimension. The crucial attack on narrative semiotics which lies at the heart of this essentially traditionalist project of Ricoeur is aimed explicitly at what he considers to be semiotics wilful and perverse substitution of abstact categories for anthropomorphic ones. [Valences, 488]
Jameson adds ‘we must leave aside the obvious retort that Augustine does not resolve the aporia of objective versus subjective time either’ (he kind of does, though, doesn’t he? In the sense that ‘God’ can be positied as a resolution for every dilemma of this sort).

This is all good, of course; except that abstraction is itself an anthropomorphic category. It is unique to humans, after all; the projection of a particular form of humanocentric thought onto the cosmos as a whole (maths, philosophy, certain forms of religion). We could go further and say: it is precisely in the extent to which religions resist abstraction—the focus on the incarnated physicality of Christ for instance—that they manage, paradoxical though it may seem, to escape the merely anthropomorphic.

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