Folding the Manifold

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 2.43.25 PMI think often about these passages in Kant and how they describe the details of something like phenomenological intentionality. Along these lines, I think of skilled intentionality as a practice of conformation, of training the manifold of perception and intuition to bend in certain ways on purpose.

The Side View’s thesis is based on something like this idea: Practices of conformation, in Kant’s sense of “objects conforming to cognition,” are ways of bending and folding the manifold in certain ways.

I also noted recently that we might define a concept as a fold in perception. Taking up a concept as a part of experience is to shape the manifold of intuition in such a way so as to realize new details, emphasizes, and meanings for action.

But the concept is just one way of reorganizing the manifold. Practices of all kinds are nondiscursive (nonlinguistic) means of shaping perception. They also “fold” experience in different ways and allow new subtleties to show up.

If you can see the links between Kant’s manifold of intuition, and its potential of being shaped through practice, you can start to look at spiritual, religious, and contemplative exercises in a new light, one that might interest even the ardent atheists among you.

This shaping of the manifold is what unites the different disciplines The Side View draws from. The emphasis on practice also lets us view a variety of disciplines from a different angle. This includes the sciences, the humanities, the arts, as well as the contemplative, spiritual, and religious traditions, and their various philosophical commitments.

When we link these disciplines through the idea of practice—rather than in an effort to forcibly compare, contrast, conjoin, or reduce one tradition to another—a number of unhelpful divisions can be resolved, such as those between the religious and the secular the scientific and the philosophical, and the theoretical and the practical, especially in terms of their existential value for transforming perception and action.

In this sense, the practices, habits, and rituals explored through TSV are treated as ways of conjuring up novel syntheses of perception in experience that yield new meanings, details, and possibilities for action in the practitioner. I explore these ideas in more detail in my introduction to the first issue of The Side View Journal, which you can find here.

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Aesthetics and Athletics

IMG_8968I write sometimes about philosophy as a way of life, as an exercise (askēsis) of conversion or transformation. But one could also write a parallel story of art as a way of life, as an aesthetic askēsis likewise oriented around a re-constellation of sensing, feeling, and thinking.

Gabriel Trop writes this way about art as a way of life, and of poetry in particular. Trop’s idea is that art begins as a kind of mimesis, an imitation of the world, but ultimately drives at askēsis, a reconfiguration of the artist and the viewer of the work of art.

The art work is a material presence in the world, an attractor that interacts with and transforms the ordering of perceptual experience—art is a means of transforming the physiognomy of seeing; it is a way of re-patterning habitual modes of experience.

Aesthetic askēsis, the work of making art, is thus different from other modes of askēsis, like the critical self-examinations of philosophy or the practice routines of athletics and physical development, which are aimed at maintenance, improvement, and optimization.

The figure of the athlete shares in common many characteristics with the figure of the artist—they are both engaged in acts of askēsis—but they also exhibit important differences. The athlete has a special relationship to the program—to the set and predictable ordering of a routine, executed again and again with a ritual intensity that favors the mad person capable of unending repetition.

The artist, on the other hand, certainly partakes of the athletic sensibility in their upswing and development—as the artist builds strength in a craft—but the end result and aim is something quite different from that of general athletics.

The athlete operates within the structure of a pre-existing game. The artist creates new ones. Art is in this way a kind of anti-program; it is not a planned routine in the same way that athletic preparation is. Art delivers the unseen or the unforeseeable; it creates novelty.

Aesthetic askēsis aims at states of absorption without purpose, though as with every kind of askēsis, the work of art—both the artwork and the work required to produce it—links exercise and perception. Aesthetic work is an act of transforming perception and being.

These figures, the artist and the athlete, may cohere in the same person. The artist may be an athlete of preparation and the athlete may derive creativity through artistic inspiration—the great ones always do—but they are nevertheless distinct, if mutually enhancing, activities.

Practices of Perception

In my dissertation summary, I linked the works of Evan Thompson, Pierre Hadot, Peter Sloterdijk, and Michel Foucault in terms of each philosopher’s emphasis on what we could call skills of perception and action, each suggesting a view of philosophy as practice. In Pierre Hadot’s work What is Ancient Philosophy?, for example, we find a view of the history of philosophy as a history of practices of self-transformation and self-overcoming (up to and including considerations of just who the “self” is that is overcome).

Despite the implications of his title, Hadot sees the emphasis on practice as also prevalent in modern philosophical figures, including Descartes, Kant, and Montaigne. In principle, we could take a practice view of any tradition of philosophical thought, as many of Hadot’s commentators have done. This is largely the same approach that Peter Sloterdijk takes. In The Art of Philosophy, Sloterdijk introduces us to his method of reading the history of art and science (and philosophy, as the work will show): Continue reading