Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Word Tools

In formulating instructions for the assignment, I am unsure If should focus on Jullien’s concepts or his method. The notion of shi is a very interesting one, and I think it holds great import for thinking about an electrate metaphysics due to its close attention to “the disposition of things,” as he puts it (13).

However, I also think that his etymomethodology (etymological methodology) is peculiar enough to grant equal (if not more) attention. He writes in his introduction: “I have accordingly decided to make the most of the fact that we have in shi a word that can serve as a tool, even though it may not correspond to any global, defined concept with a ready-made framework and pre established function. This fact will give us a chance to undermine the system of categories in which our Western minds are always in danger of becoming mired” (13).

Here, Jullien is rather explicit in outlining the purpose of his selection: shi is a rather ambiguous term within China’s cultural history. For this reason, and not because it is a poorly understood term that needs to be more clearly defined (i.e. put into a “category”), Jullien wants to follow it. In this way, Jullien’s methodological movement across the disparate realms of Chinese culture mirrors the concept he is trying to elucidate for the reader, which is, perhaps, the only way to actually understand shi in any genuine sense. One has to take on shi as a method (“as a tool”), not as another term to look up in a dictionary or index.

Perhaps an electrate metaphysics should take this kind of methodological approach to grasping its essential characteristics. If the electrate realm is fluid and affective, then perhaps its method must be fluid and affective as well. My question: what kind of word-tools (or image-tools, for that matter) should we follow in extrapolating an electrate metaphysics?

1 comment:

  1. Ulmer: ""Shi" is the first order of business, no doubt. Jullien is right that it is not a concept, but that goes without saying, since Chinese metaphysics developed its own fully adequate mode of logic without creating concepts. Concepts are the creation of alphabetic literacy. Chinese metaphysics organizes "reality," which is to say it has the equivalent of the Western "category" (invented by Aristotle). Here is one of the points of instruction: electracy needs the functionality of shi and category: it may learn from both shi and category, borrow features from both, but must propose an equivalent relative to the historical conditions of today. Any Western book describing Chinese civilization discusses "shi." It may never have been defined as such (obviously, since "definition" is a literate feature of concept formation), but its operations were and are evident to any participant observer of the civilization. And yet, nonetheless, both Borges and Foucault, for different reasons no doubt, seemed ignorant of it.
    A syncretic question would be: what is the offspring of the marriage of shi-category?"