Re: MD Rhetoric

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Fri Nov 11 2005 - 21:15:40 GMT

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    By the way DMB,

    DMB said:
    I think there is some confusion in your asserton that "both mysticism and
    pragmatism tells us that we can't SAY anything about reality as it is in
    itself". It seens you are confusing ineffability with some kind of Kantian
    gap between appearance and reality, between the phenomenal and noumenal
    realms. But the "ineffability" of the mystical experience refers to the gap
    between two kinds of experience, mystical experience and intellectual
    experience and NOT between that which we experience and that which we are
    forever completely ignorant. In other words, the mystical experience is said
    to be ineffable because it is intellectually unknowable but NOT because its
    impossible to know at all.

    You mentioned this before and you do have a point, but its not so much that
    I confuse the two as I define "knowledge" in such a way that the very idea
    of "non-linguistic knowledge" doesn't make sense. I do this because I
    actually can't make much sense of the idea. It seems to me that in this
    sense Kant did make progress over his predecessors.

    The problem as I see it is that, okay, so there are two kinds of knowledge:
    non-linguistic and linguistic. I know what linguistic knowledge is. But
    what is non-linguistic knowledge? Can you describe it to me? But you
    can't. Its inexpressible. To describe it would throw it into the
    linguistic pile. So I don't know what to do with it. To my mind it doesn't
    play a part, a wheel set spinning that doesn't touch anything.

    You pretty much predict my reply when you say I'd probably "reject the
    distinction [between "the ineffable Dynamic experience itself and the static
    patterns later used as a reference to it"] ... because language is all we
    can know and anything beyond language is beyond knowledge." That's kinda'
    it. But I wouldn't say language is _all_ we can know, I would say that
    language is _how_ we know. And I'm not rejecting an ineffable/effable
    distinction. I'm just trying to redescribe the area so we stop getting
    hooked on the Kantian problems with the distinction. The effable side is
    all we get to work with because the soon as you try anything,
    anything to fill that ellipsis, you've destroyed it.

    For instance, is Pirsig's "Quality" really so undefined? Hardly. It has at
    least _one_ definition: _undefined_. And as soon as you do that you've
    destroyed whatever it is you tried to preserve by leaving it undefined.
    What I'm trying to do is redescribe why Pirsig defines Quality as
    undefinable so it doesn't seem like we're always, perpetually, eternally
    (and thoroughly predictably) losing something we thought we could have.
    _We_ are _defined_ as never being able to come close to it. I'm not
    defining us that way--everybody has always defined us that way. Eastern
    mystics with their concept of maya and enlightenment, the Judeo-Christian
    tradition with its ideas of Fallenness and Redemption, the Platonic
    tradition's Divided Line, Descartes' episteme, Kant's noumena. Ever since
    humanity became a linguistic creature it has been searching for a way back
    to purity. We are fallen, we are fallible, we can't ever have what is
    supposedly best for us.

    The undercurrent of the mainstream Western philosophical traditions, after
    they say we are fallen, has always been, "Yeah--so what are we gonna' do
    about it?" Its been the effort to not try and sound so defeated when we
    recognize that we could be wrong, that we can make ourselves better, that
    our children will probably be better than us. Part of that effort is what
    James and Pirsig are talking about--we are always and everywhere in touch
    with reality because reality is experience. But what does it mean to lose
    the wistful tone when we recognize that absolute certainty is a pipe dream,
    when we realize that--whatever it means to be fallen--it is the way we are?
    I think part of it is ditching the distinction between purity and impurity.
    _All_ experience is pure.

    What I see in Pirsig is that, while he does make this move to get rid of
    what we might call the pathos of distance, he seems to reconstitute it in
    the static/Dynamic distinction. In ZMM it is harder for me to detect this
    tone, but when we get to Lila it begins to bleed in. Static patterns are
    what we are--we have to deal with them. But Dynamic--that's what we want to
    be. We want to be Dynamic as often as we can. But we can never sustain it.
      When a child is born, everything is Dynamic to her. But as the Dynamic
    turns to static, the feeling becomes more and more infrequent. Like being
    cast out of Eden, we long for the Dynamicness of our past, the easy Dynamic
    highs of a child. But this has to be like trying to fall in love--falling
    in love is the greatest feeling in the world, but you can't sustain it. If
    you fall in love with falling in love, you're doomed to walk the earth
    moving from one relationship to the next, trying to recapture that fleeting

    I remember when I first started posting to the MD, an image that was often
    used to characterize DQ was of the carrot pulling the donkey forward. I
    used that image myself for a while. But I now think that that is the wrong
    image, the wrong analogy we should be using. That image epitomizes the
    pathos of distance, us always trying to reach that damn carrot and the
    carrot never quite being in our reach, somehow always staying one step ahead
    of us. I think Pirsig's mistake in the move from ZMM to Lila was when he
    reconfigured the classic/romantic distinction into the static/Dynamic by
    draining the romantic of its _every_dayness and vaulting it up into the
    mystic's eternal Other, something rare and mysterious. No longer was the
    classic and romantic just two different ways of looking at things or
    patterns of behavior, two things we switched back and forth from constantly.
      Dynamic Quality became the telos we were chasing, that rare moment when we
    _see_ differently, when we are _connected more directly_ with our
    experience, with reality.

    I suspect the first line of reply from you, DMB, will be to protest that
    Pirsig's point is that DQ just _is_ this everydayness, that mysticism isn't
    as esoteric as all that. I think that's the proper move, but I think that's
    a strike against the tone being used, as pathos slides off the end towards
    bathos. Going back to Pirsig's original point about Quality, that
    experience _is_ reality, that we _are_ always and everywhere in touch with
    reality, should be enough to make us rethink the way Pirsig talks about DQ
    sometimes. If we are always in touch with Quality, and DQ and mysticism
    happen in everyday life, then I think we should realize that there's no
    sense in trying to _chase_ DQ--that when Pirsig talks about being more
    _open_ to DQ, he's singing in a minor key that is an outcome of the pathos
    of distance, the one he sought to ditch by collapsing experience and reality
    into each other's arms. DQ will happen to us whether we want it to or
    not--we can't be more or less open to it. You don't _choose_ to have God
    speak to you--God chooses, and usually quite inexplicably.

    A related tone that may or may not be in Pirsig, but I find it in you and
    others here, is what we might call the pathos of belatedness. This is
    something like a temporal distance--those in the past were closer to X, but
    now we have fallen off the path. You find it in both Rousseau and Heidegger
    who both loved the Greeks (actually, the Greeks are commonly the lost love
    for Westerners). I'm thinking of your characterization of the Sophists as
    the last philosophical mystics in the West, that we've lost a tradition that
    we desperately need to recover. This again causes a tone of wistfulness for
    a time that is not here. It causes people to write downward spiraling
    stories of regress rather than upbeat stories of progress. But I'm not sure
    Pirsig thought we were belated. It seems to me that, at least in ZMM, it
    was a story of progress that told us we needed a better next chapter.
    Actually, Pirsig does tell us in Lila that the outlines of history _are_ a
    story of progress. He says in ZMM that the track of reality is Quality--and
    if all there is to reality is that track, then how could we even be
    derailed? This being the case, Pirsig's story is _defined_ as a story of
    progress. Its interesting that we see so few upbeat stories being told
    around the MD. (Bo, actually, is one of the few who does try and tell one,
    though I have only a vague idea of what the details of that story are or

    For my own self, I don't think there is a lost tradition that we desperately
    need to recover. I don't think we need anything philosophical desperately.
    What we desperately need is a way out of the material bind we've placed on
    our children, ways of avoiding both self-destruction (unlike earlier in our
    lifetimes, probably no longer self-immolation, but we still have quite the
    political quagmire at hand) and self-degeneration, as civilization runs out
    of gas (literally). And I don't think either mysticism or religion or any
    other high culture pursuit is going to help with those more short-term

    Is there lost wisdom in the ancients? Sure. Would we be better off if we
    regained it? Probably. But being unable to tell an upbeat story about the
    route of the West ignores much that the West has done to improve the world.

    A way of wraping this together is to follow the Pirsigian, upbeat story of
    progress on the track of Quality, from inorganic to biological to social to
    intellectual. What I'm saying about knowledge and pre-linguistic knowing is
    that knowledge is what happens at the intellectual level. "Knowing" is what
    we do at the intellectual level. DQ isn't a _way_ of knowing (just as our
    cells aren't a way of knowing), it is an impingement on our knowledge. If
    the track is Quality, the cars static patterns, and DQ the front edge of the
    train, then our knowledge is what's being changed by DQ, but its not a
    different way of experiencing the world. We should stop viewing DQ as an
    alternative to static patterns. DQ _breaks_ patterns, and broken
    intellectual patterns are innovations and epistemic revolutions. DQ may
    _cause_ changes in our static patterns, but as long as DQ is what it is, it
    can't be a _way_ of doing anything. There is only one way--static patterns.


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