11.2.09

"It is the opposite which is good for us"

Because a certain someone keeps trying to shove Parmenides down your throat, I thought I'd share some Heraclitus. Thanks to Plato's misunderstanding, most of us attribute to Heraclitus the trite paradoxical aphorism "you could not step twice into the same river." But, as the Interent Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, Heraclitus' phrasing can be translated as more sophistic and complex: "On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow." For a river to exist as Word (as Being), there must be a constant movement (becoming) that betrays the rectitude of the written, graphic signifier (of course, this play of signifiers produces multiple translations). The play of existence not grounded in mere negativity, Parmenides distinction between static contemplation of "is" and "is not" ("On Nature" II). From the Encyclopedia's explication:

There is an antithesis between 'same' and 'other.' The sentence says that different waters flow in rivers staying the same. In other words, though the waters are always changing, the rivers stay the same. Indeed, it must be precisely because the waters are always changing that there are rivers at all, rather than lakes or ponds. The message is that rivers can stay the same over time even though, or indeed because, the waters change. The point, then, is not that everything is changing, but that the fact that some things change makes possible the continued existence of other things.

The beauty isn't anything that we can see. Beauty eclipses sensual experience. Sensual experience is the progeny of becoming's imperfect, invisible union, a coming into Being. The beautiful mystery underlies the isness of is.

Perhaps it is fitting that Heraclitus now exists only in fragments.

And I feel obligated to admit that Heraclitus probably surpasses Plato in his elitism and disdain for the common cattle of everyday life (much of Plato's allegory of the cave echoes the politics and characterizations of Heraclitus). But, hay, nobody is perfect.

6 comments:

Casey said...

I've read this sentence ten times and I don't know what it means:

The play of existence not grounded in mere negativity, Parmenides distinction between static contemplation of "is" and "is not" ("On Nature" II).

-Do you mean "The play of existence IS not...?"

-Do you mean to type, "The play of existence is not grounded in mere negativity, BUT IN (or, AS IN THE CASE OF)...?"

-Can I assume your Parmenides there is possessive?: Parmenides'

-What do you mean by "The play of existence?" (and "mere negativity"?)

I'm not trying to pick a fight -- I'm engaged in what is becoming the intellectual mission of my life. I'm assuming you have some kind of counterpoint concerning Parmenides that may very well help me crack the whole thing... I'm just not understanding you.

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And when you say "For a river to exist as Word...," are you paraphrasing Heraclitus? Or are you offering your own argument? And: why do you (or is it Heraclitus?) suppose that language cannot indicate movement?--I don't see much of a problem with the written word "River" indicating an ever-changing flow of water. Can't the ideal form of "river" include "flux" as part of its essence?

Also: I do understand this: you say "The beauty isn't anything that we can see. Beauty eclipses sensual experience." By saying "The beauty isn't anything that we can see," can I take you to mean "...or smell or taste or touch or hear?" How do you imagine beauty, then?--as an ideal unembodied form? Something not sensual? What, then?

---

Parmenides argues very clearly that it is impossible for something to "come into being," because ex nihilo nihil fit--nothing comes from nothing. So this "beautiful mystery" underlying "the isness of is" is non-existent, for Parmenides. I would love you (Platonically) if you would explain to me how he's wrong about that.

I'm serious here, Santeezeee -- take the time to walk me through this. I'll listen. But I'm not satisfied with this nifty tapping of the Heraclitus button in response to hearing the Parmenides bell.

I want to hear a thesis statement and see some evidences.

Oh, to be sitting in 215 again, legs on desks, tossing the bean-bag football...

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Actually, I think the sentence got butchered a bit during revision. Perhaps it would work better like this:

A play of existence not grounded in mere negativity, in Parmenides rigid distinctions between "is" and "is not."

The idea here, and this is what I believe is the basis of classical and postmodern sophistry, is that "Is" need not be opposed to "Is not." The state of Being is not so static. Reality, and our perception of it, are [always, already] undergoing change. Being is always becoming. Hence the pun on "play"--since the world of Being is a kind of performative from an infinite becoming. But we cannot access the becoming outside of Being. However, that doesn't mean we cannot postulate that it is there. Because it is metaphysical, we can do nothing more than postulate. And, of course, you demand evidence...

What is that old aphorism? For the believer, no evidence is required. For the skeptic, nothing counts as evidence.

If you look at Heroclitus, he was very, very interested in the power of Words. Both their power, and their illusiveness. I was letting the ambiguity of "for a river to exist as a Word" play itself out--for the river to exist in material reality, for me to signal the river into your reality, the fact that there is no river, but there is a river. Same, other, simultaneously.

"Don't think of an elephant."

There is no way to walk you through the not-not-isness of the is. I think the Buddhists taught us this, with the ancient parable of the disciple who seeks to cross the river, only to determine that he never left the shore. Or something.

Ultimately, the difference for me is between a perspective which takes a firm possession of its senses, that operates from a position of security, and a perspective that constantly questions its foundations, that believes its senses always betray the totality of experience.

I'm pretty sure I don't like it when people are sure of things.

Casey said...

That's much clearer -- I get what you're saying. For Parmenides, though, there is no "not." Which is to say, there's nothing that's not being. Which is to say, there's only this. Which is to say, nothing that does not exist exists.

Does that make sense? He's not enforcing the opposition between "is" and "is not" -- he's making "is not" a perfect impossibility.

Parmenides' "One" is precisely all of this (look around).

There's nothing more frightening than being sure.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I'm following you better now, too. I guess my response to Parmenides would go through Kenneth Burke's "Definition of Man," or any other poststructuralist, to point out that we experience everything that is through language, and language operates through the negative.

All that is (be)comes to us through language.

I'd link to Burke's essay, but I can't find it on the web. I can always email a copy.

Wishydig said...

could you email me a copy? my username at gmail.

cause this idea that what is becomes through language...

what's the language i'd use for that? oh yeah. bullshit?

i'm not sure tho. really i'm not. i don't know the argument. so i make no claim.

Casey said...

Email me, too:

c.pratt@wingate.edu

Let's all read it and post responses.