Posted by: HAT | November 5, 2009

About Ideas

image of mosaic A Glimpse of Paradise

A Glimpse of Paradise

Noting and trying to understand the relationship of Benjamin’s discussion of “idea” in the introduction to The Origin of German Tragic Drama and Agamben’s discussion of “idea” in Idea of Prose, and particularly in “The Idea of Appearance.” Here appearance is “beautiful,” inexplicable in any further way than through a hypothesis which “saves” it — insofar as it can be saved, or needs to be saved — for “a different understanding which now grasps it as it is in itself, anhypothetically, in its splendor.”1 The appearance is sensible, but not in a sense in which something sensible is “presupposed by language and knowledge, but rather exposed in them, absolutely” such that the appearance stands in itself “the thing no longer separated from its intelligibility, but in the midst of it, . . . the idea, the thing itself.”2

Regardless of what might be thought of this representation of the idea of appearance as representation, or as idea, or as truth, it seems to demand reading in light of Benjamin’s image of Adam’s “action of naming things” in Paradise as a direct encounter with things in their intelligibility so that it “confirms the state of paradise as a state in which there is as yet no need to struggle with the communicative significance of words.”3

The struggle with the communicative significance of words — which Benjamin assigns to philosophy, and which is clearly philosophy’s political task — then explicitly characterizes a post-paradisaical state. No linguistic politics in Paradise.

On the other hand, the struggle with the communicative significance of words might be illustrated pretty well by the problem of the meaning of “die” in Genesis 2:17, 3:3, 3:4, and (negatively) 3:22. There are the coordinates of a paradigmatic story of linguistic politics and bad exegesis, suggesting that whatever fall out of the Paradise in which there was no struggle occurs earlier in the story. Just off stage? Or already with the setting up of an original need to manage communicative significance, in the encounter with a different subject of an encounter of things in their intelligibility.

Anyway, I uploaded my notes on the first few pages of the Origin etc.. Back to work . . .

1 Giorgio Agamben, Idea of Prose, translated by Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995) 122.
2 Agamben, 123.
3 Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, translated by John Osborne (London: Verso, 1995) 37.


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