The sensible insensible

What is included in this essay was supposed to be in the previous one, but then I opted not to include it. It’s important and related to it, but it would have shifted the focus a bit too much away from the discourse itineraries and materialization of discourses. To summarize what I wrote in the last paragraph of the previous essay, I found Ron Scollon’s examination of transformation and reinforcement of discourses valuable. It should help to explain why it is important to examine inanimate objects as having an effect on people. More importantly, he manages to explain it on a very everyday sense, which, I think is the point in much of this. The mundane things in life are the things we tend to take for granted. They are the things right in front of our eyes, but we don’t really pay attention to them. Why is that? Why do people pay little attention to what’s right in front of their eyes? This essay is an attempt to pick up where I left and try to address that or rather those (related) questions.

In contrast to landscape research, in the field of linguistics it seems to be the case that landscape is ignored. I can’t say it’s entirely ignored, but I find the discussion largely insufficient. When I’ve discussed my research informally, for example at conference dinners, others have found the attention to materialized discourses superficial, sort of touristy, just taking some photos of things and then writing an article. I guess what they mean is that it is unjustified to do so. I’m not actually surprised by this though. I think people put emphasis on reason, free will and voluntary agency to the extent that if that is taken to consideration (I’m attempting to step into their shoes here), the justification to study materialized discourses, typically as manifested on various signs somewhere outdoors, may indeed seem rather poor, if not ludicrous. Since when did some signs have capability to act upon people? Since when? Come on! … off! If that was the case, I would notice it!

I’ve written a number of times that landscape is something that is just taken for granted. In ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Some Guides to the American Scene’, Peirce Lewis (11) points out the obvious: “landscape just is.” He (12) also likens landscapes to books, in the sense that they can be read, only to point out that unlike books, they are not meant to be read. Why is that? He (12) does add that the problem with landscapes is that they are hard to read because unlike most books they tend to be missing pages and some of the pages are torn and smudged. However, I don’t think that’s really the issue. In ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’, Denis Cosgrove (46) argues that what we see, the landscape, is taken for granted because it is based on science and knowledge, the certainties of geometry, the linear perspective. In other words, as geometry is seen as an inherent feature of space, landscape builds on mathematical certainty, as explained by Cosgrove (51). Simply put, following Henri Lefebvre, people do not question the representational spaces because via the link that is geometry landscape is seen as one and the same with space, as an inherent feature of it. Following John Berger, this can also be illustrated by understanding landscape as a way of seeing, not seeing itself. As elaborated by Cosgrove, landscape is never merely seen as something out there, yet, as Lewis (11) points out this is exactly the case for people. What is so impressive then, as argued by Cosgrove (55), is that landscape, as a way of seeing, offers a structuration of world, an illusory sense of order and control, combined with aesthetic pleasure taken in the view. In other words, as elaborated by Maurice Ronai (80-81) in his second landscape article, landscape offers a ‘posture’, a position entailing a commanding view, a mastery of observation, which, is, in fact ‘imposture’, an illusion of mastery.

Connected to this, the way I see it is that people overestimate their liberties, to the extent think they are in full control, when, in fact, they aren’t. As I’ve explained in my previous essays, namely in reference to Foucault and Deleuze, people have this idea that they can know themselves, that they are this and that, which I don’t buy into for a moment. Following the two, this can be exemplified by some wordplay. We come to think of ourselves as individuals. What is an individual then? The dictionary definition tells us what we need to know of it (OED, s.v. “individual”, adj.) and its counterpart, as presented in the Oxford English Dictionary, but we’ll come to that soon. The modern usage, or rather, I’d say common usage of individual simply refers to a single person (or a thing). Sure, you can use it that way, fair enough. Here the point is, however, that, as explained in a dictionary (OED, s.v. “individual”, adj.), in classical Latin it stands for ‘individuous’ + ‘ālis’, the indivisible. Now then, if you are indeed indivisible, how can you say you are this or that? If you say are this or that, it means that you are splitting yourself, into this or into that. That means that you are no longer individual. Instead, you are dividual, a bit of this and a bit of that, as explained in a dictionary as divisible, something that can be divided (OED, s.v. “dividual”, adj.). The irony is, of course, following Foucault and Deleuze, that you are dividing yourself in the process of claiming to know yourself. A fitting word for that can be found in Greek: ‘schizo-‘ (OED, s.v. “schizo-”, comb. form), representing ‘split’. Now, I did not come up with this myself, but by reading Foucault and Deleuze, namely Deleuze’s article ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’.

Okay, to be fair, I don’t think the lesson here is that people are bouncing off the walls insane (albeit the whole reason/unreason or sanity/insanity debate itself is quite interesting), but that now more than ever in the digital age, this (mis)conception has real consequences. As suggested by the title of Deleuze’s text, it has to do with how self-identification as this or that (think of social networks where you are this and/or that and like this and/or that) puts the person into neat little boxes, which makes it easier, way easier to control, or I would say, manage you. If you know who are like this or that (from the perspective of those who seeks to manage you), you can target them. You don’t even have put in much effort because they are willing to tell you just that, which is exactly what you want in order to sell people something. Now, I like to use the word manage instead of control, albeit I see why Deleuze (or that is the translator, I believe Martin Joughin, as it’s not indicated in the article, but it is hinted to be the case as he translated the book where it also appears) would use it. Managing is less sinister and more … productivity oriented than control, so that’s my word of choice instead. You can, of course, retain the notion of control, in the sense that if the data exists, what you presented as you to others, then it’s hardly surprising that those with the authority to do so, might be inclined to make use of it, which may not be in your interests. The logic behind that angle is that if someone can make use of you, as a willing participant, for profit, then it only makes sense that your willing participation is subject to matters of security as well. Anyway, I’d still emphasize the profit angle. It seems rather unnecessarily conspiratorial to suggests otherwise. For me, controlling seems too direct and directed, whereas subtly pushing people towards autodiscipline seems way better, way more efficient and productive, thus good for business.

Because Deleuze (+Guattari) might be, I guess, too acidic for … many, I try to explain this via the concept of the mirror-image, as explained by Jacques Lacan. I know that Foucault, as well as Deleuze and Guattari, weren’t exactly Lacanian (opposition to psychoanalysis), but I think it’s less acidic, that is to say easier to swallow. This is, for example, detailed in ‘Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English’. So, you think you are you, this and that. Look into a mirror. Is it you, or your mirror-image? I’d wager that what you see, or rather perceive, is your mirror-image, a mere representation of you, not you, but because you assume it is you, it grants you this … sense of stable identity and rational behavior.

The mirror is also addressed by Foucault, namely as a heterotopia, the other site, as examined in ‘Of Other Spaces’, which was originally presented in ‘Conférence au Cercle d’études architecturales’ in March 14, 1967. Foucault (4) addresses the mirror:

“In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror.”

So, similarly to Lacan, staring at the mirror offers a utopian view of the self. Foucault is not content with this, yet, so he (4) adds:

“[I]t is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.”

What’s worth noting here is how the mirror offers us something that is both real and unreal at the same time. So, summarizing what he is after, Foucault (4) rephrases this:

“The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.”

Indeed, as also pointed out by Lacan, Foucault states that the mirror offers an absolutely real view, while also being profoundly unreal. I’m not going to delve deeper into the text here. I think it’s just worth covering in this extent here. Perhaps some day I’ll find time to go over the text. We can find something similar in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, something that Foucault (2) seems to acknowledge implicitly, in passing. Merleau-Ponty addresses this in ‘Eye and Mind’, as included in a number of edited volumes, for example in ‘The Merleau-Ponty Reader’. Merleau-Ponty (359) states:

“The mirror emerges because I am both seeing and visible, because there is a reflexivity of the sensible; the mirror translates and reproduces that reflexivity. Through it, my outside becomes complete. Everything that is most secret about me passes into that face, that flat, closed being of which I was already dimly aware, from having seen my reflection mirror in water. … The mirror’s phantom draws my flesh outside, and at the same time the invisible of my body can invest the other bodies that I see. … Mirrors are instruments of a universal magic that changes things into spectacles and spectacles into things, me into another and another into me.”

While Foucault (2) is at best implicit on this, stating that “phenomenologists have taught us that we do not live in a homogeneous and empty space”, Lacan is explicit on his influences. This is evident from ‘The Split between the Eye and the Gaze’, which is included in ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’. I didn’t see it coming, but the title is highly fitting for the dividuation of individuals.

In conclusion, returning to landscape, as examined by Cosgrove and Ronai, landscape has all to do with gaze. It is a way of seeing as Berger would put it. Following Deleuze and Guattari (142), as an abstract machine, it “does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that that is yet to come, a new type of reality”, as they point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. Simply put, landscape makes you see the world in a way that offers an illusive mastery of the world, that you are in control. As Ronai (126-127) explains in his first landscape article, landscape is a visual reduction of space, not space itself, providing an illusion of harmony. It is, as he (127) puts it in wordplay, an a(n)esthetic, the sensible and the insensible. Taking all this into account, it should be rather evident as to why landscape research is important.


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