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PRC Talk on Oedipus

By March 6, 2010January 24th, 2018Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita

Balay and Long at PRC

Originally uploaded by Christopher Long

Yesterday I presented a version of my paper on Antigone, Oedipus and Ismene to the Philosophy Department’s Philosophy Research Colloquia at Penn State.

It was great to see so many Penn State Philosophy graduate students in attendance for a talk scheduled on Friday afternoon prior to spring break. The discussion afterward was very helpful to me as I continue to develop my book project on patriarchal politics.

I thought I might mention a few points from our discussion I intend to integrate into the revised paper in the hope that students and faculty and who were unable to attend or ask questions might contribute something here.

For those who were not there or who want a reminder about the content of the paper, I have a brief abstract on my Sophocles in Utah post from last November.

Kristeva and Abjection
Kristeva’s conception of abjection should be pursued into the second and third moments of touching treated in the paper so that the political significance of Oedipus’s abjection is amplified

I want to articulate more clearly the way the brother/father and sister/daughter ambiguity offers us a way to think a kind of political subjectivity that is non-dominational. Here something of Kristeva’s suggestions about the incest taboo might be introduced.

Touch and Sight
The emphasis on touch in relation to sight will more clearly resist the tendency to fall into a simple dichotomy between the two that privileges touch over sight. In this regard, reading Ismene and Antigone as “supports of light” might help me think through how of the meaning of sight is transformed by Oedipus’s blindness.

Before my PRC Talk

Before my PRC Talk

Originally uploaded by Christopher Long

I intend to trace this transformation: when the sight of sovereign authority recognizes itself as blind, becomes blind, another possibility for vision emerges: Antigone sight involves seeing for herself and for others. Tracing this will need to focus on specific instances in the text where she sees for him – as when she describes Ismene’s arrival. This might be thought in terms of ethical insight.

With regard to touch, I will need to emphasize more clearly the double meaning of reciprocity: mutual recognition can turn quickly into a grasping violence. The notion of justice as reciprocity can fall easily into the notion of justice as retribution.

I welcome other suggestions, feedback and insights in the comments below.


  • David Agler says:

    Loved your talk on Friday. Very thought-provoking. I have three points for further discussion/inquiry.
    (1) What are the conditions for symmetrical touching which would allow for reciprocal acknowledgment? There seem to be a variety of different types of asymmetrical touching (e.g. someone touching you on a bus but failing to recognizing it, or people sleeping or in a comatose state). If touching is a necessary condition for a non-patriarchal politics, then what does this mean for those who cannot touch back (e.g. due to paralysis, sleep, or because they are in a comatose state)?
    (2) Some symmetrical forms of touching seem insufficient for the reciprocal touching needed in a non-patriarchal politics (e.g. killing, rape, fighting). This was noted in one of the questions during your talk, but assuming that there are symmetrical forms of touch, what extra condition is needed to elevate an act of touching into a genuine relation conducive to reciprocity rather than a relation reducible to two degenerate (or asymmetrical) acts of touching.
    To be a little more explicit. In the context of a play where incest is a theme, there seems to be an important difference between the following two utterances:
    (a) ‘He touched me’
    (b) ‘We touched each other’
    Touching is a 2-place relation in both (a)and (b), but (a) is a bit more ambiguous since it can connote the agency of one party over another, while I think that (b) generally resists that type of reading and tends to elicit co-agency (e.g. holding hands is different than having one’s hand held, even if both are 2-place touching relations).
    (3) What does this mean for other organisms? Touch might be the favored mode of reciprocal acknowledgment for humans but what about animals that make use of other modes of sensation to recognize the individuals that comprise their community (e.g smell for ants and dogs).
    Again, great talk.

  • Christopher P. Long says:

    These are great questions, David, and I appreciate your taking the time to post them and your willingness to engage my paper in public.
    Let me focus on the question of asymmetrical reciprocity. First, I am not sure I want to connect asymmetry with the degenerate. All touching is both reciprocal and asymmetrical. It is reciprocal because one cannot touch without being touched – even if one is sleeping or comatose. But even so, this reciprocity is never fully symmetrical, because the dynamics of any touching, or what I call the economy of touch, does not operate without a remainder – there is always something elusive and irreducible involved in touching – indeed, in all perceiving. I believe Peirce would call what I am suggesting here “Firstness.”
    Because of this, however, the question you raise is critical, namely, where is the boundary between a touch that is nurturing, caring and supportive and a touch that is violent, violating and destructive. To deny that the nurturing touch is on a continuum with the violent touching is a dangerous delusion.
    Part of my project, however, involves anchoring the relational logic of touch – and sight and smell and hearing and thinking – in what I have called ontological response-ability. The ability to respond involves cultivating habits or excellences of response to others, to the world, in ways that seek to do justice to that which is encountered. My Aristotle book on Truth focuses on this, but it is at play in this work on patriarchal politics too.
    As for the ants and dogs, Kurt von Fritz has a good essay on the original meaning of nous in early Greek thinking in which he claims it was originally associated with the sense of smell. I refer to that essay in The Ethics of Ontology, pp. 156-7, and in an essay entitled “On Nous and Logos in Aristotle” co-authored with Rick Lee, p. 336n56. The von Fritz essay is called “Nous, Noein, and their Derivatives in Pre-Socratic Philosophy (Excluding Anaxagoras)” in Mourelatos’s The Pre-Socratics: A Collection of Critical Essays.
    You might also look at Santayana’s excellent essay “The Scent of Philosophers” in Dialogues in Limbo, where he has Democritus sniffing for the goodness of a Stranger and “discerning the odour of his thoughts.”
    As I mentioned in the discussion after the paper, we need to be inclusive of all the senses if we are going to attempt to articulate the complexities of our relations with things.

  • Brunson says:

    A quick note – I expect that Agler is using the term ‘degenerate’ in a technical sense via Peirce, who adopted it from geometry
    Here is an example of what Peirce means by degeneracy in relation to the categories:
    Category the Second has a Degenerate Form, in which there is Secondness [the Idea of that which is such as it is as being Second to some First, regardless of anything else, and in particular regardless of any Law, although it may conform to a law. That is to say, it is Reaction as an element of the Phenomenon] indeed, but a weak or Secondary Secondness that is not in the pair in its own quality, but belongs to it only in a certain respect. Moreover, this degeneracy need not be absolute but may be only approximative. Thus a genus characterized by Reaction will by the determination of its essential character split into two species, one a species where the secondness is strong, the other a species where the secondness is weak, and the strong species will subdivide into two that will be similarly related, without any corresponding subdivision of the weak species. For example, Psychological Reaction splits into Willing, where the Secondness is strong, and Sensation, where it is weak; and Willing again subdivides into Active Willing and Inhibitive Willing, to which last dichotomy nothing in Sensation corresponds (CP 5.68[66]).

  • Christopher P. Long says:

    I appreciate your comment, Daniel, regarding the technical meaning of degeneracy in Peirce. The mention of the Secondary Secondness, however, is something I would like to ask you and David about.
    If you had said that the dimension of the “degenerate” involves the Firstness of Secondness, I think it would be in line with what I am trying to describe as asymmetrical reciprocity. This idea of a secondary secondness is perhaps a description of the degeneration of the relationality that is called Second by Peirce.
    However, what I am trying to emphasize is that element of the elusiveness endemic to secondness itself; this, I think, is really the firstness of Secondness in Peirce, am I right?
    In my Aristotle book, I talk about it as the “unicity” of things – that dimension of each being, whatever it may be, that remains irreducible to the economy of any relation.

  • Brunson says:

    Yeah, it gets a little tricky here because all Secondness includes Firstness; at minimum, the quality of being ‘brute’. So this does speak to the elusiveness of Secondness in at least one sense, as being ‘brute’ involves being forceful and being mute. As for the degenerate Secondness, that can be understood as dyadic relationship between a Second and a First, rather than two Seconds. This is illustrated by the grammatical difference between touching (a relation) and being touched (more a quality), as Agler notes in his second point. So you have both the qualitative element of the dyadic relationship as such, and then many dyadic relationships have a relatively qualitative member within that relation.

  • David Agler says:

    Chris, many thanks for the response.
    1. My worry in focusing on touch had to do with its vagueness and its lack of universality, so a more general “ontological response-ability” existing on a continuum with an “ontological irresponse-ability” answers my question. Thanks for the references.
    2. With respect to the reciprocal/symmetrical/asymmetrical issue, let me try to spell out my question more precisely than I did in the previous post. With respect to Thirdness, Peirce writes “Thirdness is found wherever one thing brings about a Secondness between two things” (EP2:269). So, I took your discussion to be an inquiry into a particular mode of touching (a Third) which brings about a compulsive feature of experience (a Second) between two things (see EP2:268). This compulsive feature being the experience that is co-nourishing or what you call an ontological response-ability.
    In asking my original question, I made two assumptions. One which we agree upon and another where there is a hint of disagreement. First, I assumed that not every form of touch is a Third that elicits this compulsive feature of experience. Second, in discussing a 2-place touching relation ‘Txy’, I claimed that touching can be asymmetrical. That is, I assumed that it is possible for Txy (but not-Tyx), even though it is possible for Txy&Rx (where R is the 1-place relation ‘x is touched’). I think Brunson (above) draws this out more clearly than I originally did, but the distinction might not be essential to what I was trying to ask.
    So, here is the question. From elementary ecology, there are the notions of parasitism/predation, interspecific competition (reduced fitness for both organisms), mutualism (increased fitness for both organisms), and commensalism (increased fitness for one organism but no reduced fitness for either). For the purpose of my question, I’ll crudely associate parasitism/predation/competition with a paternalistic politics while associating the politics you are aiming at with a more general type of mutualism/commensalism. So, given the first assumption and that touching is a particular mode of Thirdness, what makes one mode of touching a type of mutualism/commensalism over a parasitism? Does it have something to do with some intrinsic property belonging to a mode of touching (and if so, what?), with some beneficial effect of the interaction (and if so, what types of effect), or something more elusive?
    3. I agree with Brunson about the difficulty of explaining the elusiveness of 2ndness. I take 2ndness to elude elaboration in two respects:
    (1) insofar as the contingent, particular existence of an object is a phenomenal ingredient independent of conceptual elaboration. This motivates Peirce’s discussion of haecceities and Peirce’s reject of the a priori method of philosophy.
    (2) insofar as the compulsive force of experience (2ndness) involves a qualitative aspect of experience that Peirce thinks is not definable by concepts alone.
    In Peirce’s jargon, (1) has to do with pure Secondness (or the Firstness of Secondness) while (2) has to do with genuine Secondness (or Secondness that has Firstness as an ingredient).
    A discussion of (1) can be found in Tom Short’s Peirce’s Theory of Signs (2007:50), a discussion of (2) in Murray Murphey’s The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy (1993:307-8), and a discussion of (1) and (2) in Thomas Goudge’s The Thought of C.S. Peirce (1950: 88-91). For an excellent article on mutualism (with lots of historical details about its development), see Boucher, Douglas. 1982. The Ecology of Mutualism. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 13:315-347.

  • Michael says:

    I apologize for being absent from Dr. Long’s PRC lecture and discussion, but would like to add my $.02 to a thread of the discussion above.
    The concept and practice of “asymmetrical reciprocity” is of great interest to me. As far as I know, the term has been mobilized by Luce Irigaray, Iris Marion Young, Drucilla Cornell, Patricia J. Huntington, and Calvin O. Schrag. I’ve also written something on the topic, vis-a-vis Kierkegaard and Levinas:
    This essay would become the core of my Ph.D. dissertation, and I’d be happy to discuss this (at length) with you, Chris, or the other folks posting and reading this blog.
    Enjoy the remainder of Spring Break 2010!

  • Brunson says:

    Here is an interesting distinction under the genus of ‘touching’ that illustrates Peirce’s relatively dynamic/relatively qualitative distinction within Secondness:
    Knismesis and Gargalesis

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