The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

October 29, 2013

Paradox, Brunet, razor

"A white horse is not a horse."

The paradox here, asserted by Kung-Sun Lung-Tzu,* cannot be
resolved by the production of an ontological apparatus; in fact
it remains irresolvable, pointing instead to the very plan of
language and language's (im)possibility: what is said, even
within the performative, is performative only to the extent that
an arbitrary nexus of laws and protocols exists: without this,
the statement devolves into sound. In other words it either
takes/makes the world with it, or abandons the world altogether.
And I believe that the paradox, as it stands, does in fact imply
an abandonment, a sense that the truth as such cannot be allowed
to falter on the shores of language, that is to say, sound. So
the paradox stands in fact as a hard paradox, inherently
contradictory, without solution. Or rather, solution itself is
placed on the plane of the nexus of laws and protocols, and
therefore may be no solution at all, inhabiting only the same
ontology as the original statement - which might here be
considered a sheaf or plane occupying the zeroth degree of
three-dimensional space - the hard paradox in relation to the
hard space of tools and the mute substance of the real. This is
the insight that occurred to me, that the very nature of such
paradoxes is only to point to the weakness of the ontology of
the symbolic, before it is overtaken, conquered, bowdlerized, by
political discourse which proceeds as if it matters: what
matters is the pull of the level in the voting-booth, what
happens with the enumeration of the votes, what's slipped under
the table, what becomes of the allotments of food and materiel
designated and distributed among whom, and for whom, and to what
purpose? The paradox of the white horse is a pucker, then, in
ontology, which references a certain uselessness of the
universal and the fabrication of universal judgments: everyone
knows where the votes go, who's doing the tallying, and towards
what end...

*Gongsun Long.

From Wikipedia: "In the White Horse Dialogue (Baima Lun), one
interlocutor (sometimes called the "sophist") defends the truth
of the statement "White horses are not horses," while the other
interlocutor (sometimes called the "objector") disputes the
truth of this statement. This has been interpreted in a number
of ways. [...]" . See
also: The Works of Kung-Sun Lung-Tzu, Max Perleberg, Hong Kong,

I've been thinking through Sartre's concepts of existentialism
and freedom, in The Last Chance, Roads of Freedom IV, which
includes sections of what was to be the fourth volume of his
trilogy. The absolutist position of the Communist party is
contrasted in the camp with history (whose history) and the act
of escape. I recognized at this point that such an escape, for
me, is not a language act, but something that escapes language
as the final section ends before Brunet makes his second attempt
with the aid of Mathieu. There's also a quote from Lingis, from
"On the Essence of Technique," in Heidegger and the Quest for
Truth, ed. Manfred Frings, 1969: "The pilgrim of the Absolute is
a tourist." The twisting of language resonated with thinking
about Unicode after a discussion with John Cayley about language
in the Cave at Brown University. My own work wars and succumbs
to language - "A white horse is not a horse," in its original
context is irretrievable - and I end up veering into the world
of the substance of sound manque, stripped of the symbolic, of
meaning, of organism itself. Just as writing, then, returns,
Brunet readies himself; the end of "The Last Chance" section
reads (trans. Craig Vasey):

    "I'll come wake you at 6 o'clock."
    He opens the door and slips out without shaking hands, Brunet
looks around at the room for a minute, then goes to look at
himself in the mirror He puts some more coal on the fire, he
yawns, he goes up to a painted red board supported by a couple
of boxes. There's a razor, a piece of soap, and two used blades.
Brunet takes the razor in his hand and looks at it.

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