10/01/2009

Backs to the future

Basic ideas can deform in the course of time. E.g. this ethnological report shows that our idea of progress into a future ahead of us, away from the past which vanishes out of sight, could be just a case of collective selfhypnosis. The natural attitude would probably be opposite: "Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies' orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind." (More) Benjamin gives a startling connection to modrn art: The face of Klee's angel of history is turned toward the past. He would like to pause, but a storm is blowing in from Paradise which has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm carries him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned. This storm is what we call progress. Wondering if other basic concepts may have become similar deformed, I think about the idea of "abstract concepts" as being just reductive shadows of some basal reality. The natural attitude would be opposite: "abstract concepts" as being an enriched intensification of reality, causing things given at some basal, sensoric or emotional or rhetoric, level to become "really real". Other key ideas may have become simply forgotten. E.g. browsing translations of ancient greek philosophers, I wonder if they used irrational square roots and antique versions of continued fraction expansions as rhetorical model, e.g. for Platon's dialoges, or as model for the human mind. Heraclit's proportions like "god:man=man:child" look like that. But only if their "paradigm" were that "gods", "childs" etc. are well known, static ideas. Like the "docta ignorantia" or "coincidentia oppositorum", which was used by christian theologists to characterize the possible knowledge of "god" - only with the roles of "god" and "human" interchanged. If that guess is roughly correct, it would rhetorically explain why the ancient greeks saw the human mind as inherently dynamic entity, on which idea later gnostics relied.