www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Codework / Eco / Aquinas (fwd)
Charles Baldwin on Thu, 26 Feb 2004 14:31:27 +0100 (CET)


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Codework / Eco / Aquinas (fwd)


"The inarticulate cry which seemed to be the voice of light." * Hermes 
Trismegistus 

I was thinking about codework presenting "its object and the inscription 
of its object, both taken in the broadest sense," as Alan wrote 
recently, and about the discussion of Eco. A while back I was working 
out the relation of Eco's dissertation * published in book form in 1956, 
later in English as _The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas_ - to his 
semiotics. Note that first book appeared before Eco's turn to semiotics 
(remember, he first adapts a kind of structuralist version of 
information theory in _The Open Work_ [1962?] and then turns to 
semiotics a few years later). The following is a perhaps too long 
meditation on this connection, with the idea that it might contribute to 
the discussion of Eco.

What interested me at the time was the importance of the Thomist notions 
of manifestation, claritas, participation, proportion, and so on, for 
semiotics and (differently) for media theory (where, separately from 
Eco, McLuhan was also reading Aquinas, and claimed his goal was to 
create a Thomist theory of media). The idea, for me, was that the 
Thomist model provided the underlying dynamics for Eco and McLuhan, all 
hinged around the metaphorics of light * i.e. the sense certainty and 
immediacy (speed) of light was the guarantee that sign and material were 
the same. (This works out differently for McLuhan vs. Eco: "light is a 
medium without a message," so the inaccessibility of light [for McLuhan] 
is what underwrite the more kinetic flip-flop theory of "the medium is 
the message.")

The attraction of Aquinas was precisely the answer to how formal systems 
participate with the world, an answer that deals with both the grounds 
and the exteriority of sign systems. That is: codework was already the 
issue, though under the guise of aesthetics rather than code * 
aesthetics in the older sense of sensation / aisthesis and not 
aesthetics in the sense of codified responses or artistic forms * or 
rather, in the sense of the ground of these responses/forms. (I've 
discussed this elsewhere in relation to "code aesthetics.") This is 
precisely what interested me in my last post: attempting to resituate 
the problem of semiotics in a general economy. Its also why the question 
is semiotics' "reductiveness" is both entirely accurate and entirely 
part of the puzzle rather than a reason to turn away from semiotics.

Here I'm going quickly and trying to bring up stuff from years back, 
but: remember, the underlying concept is analogy, particularly 
proportional analogy as analogy of being. (Here there's another 
connection to be pursued in the trigger for Heidegger's Sein und Zeit in 
Brentano's work on the analogy .) The analogy of being means a 
"resonance" between proportionally arranged entities. "Proportionalitas 
posits a similarity of relations between any terms whatever" (Ricoeur). 
Entities in analogy participate, share being (participare = partem 
capere). Aesthetic forms (or media) are the "extension" (participation) 
of our senses. Human senses "delight in things duly proportioned as in 
something akin to them; for, the sense, too, is a kind of reason as is 
every cognitive power." So, proportionality of being leading to an 
aesthetics of delight. 

The working out of all this is the notion of manifestation, a quasi-
mystical translation between proportionalities enabling the whole 
system. (I think here of the relation between code and AS's notion of 
"plasma."). There's a whole lattice of connecting references here, a 
whole history of formal / semiotic systems built on the Thomist notion 
of participation/manifestation. One example: Panofsky's "symbolic form" 
originates in his study of this Scholastic notion, in the idea that 
Gothic cathedrals didn't simply represent thought but manifested thought 
itself. The organization of the cathedral involved a "clarity" that 
resonated immediately with viewers/participators. [Eco: "Clarity is the 
fundamental communicability of form, which is made actual in relation to 
someone's looking at or seeing of the object." "Claritas" is both reason 
and the mystical dazzle of saint's bodies, both sign-form and 
emanation.] From this Panofsky developed the notion of "habitus" as 
"ways of thinkin!
g" or "arts of living." In turn, Bourdieu's entire theory is built on 
this concept * habitus as "structuring structures" that "make 
history" -- taking Panofsky but generalizing it from architecture. And 
so on. (In addition, Panofsky, Eco, McLuhan, etc. all argue that 
manifestation and clarification are at work in the organization of 
writing as well * I'll return to this below.)

Now, here's the crux of the matter, a crux that enables semiotics but 
remains a crux and remains the productive site for codework within and 
across semiotics. Aquinas argued that sacred doctrine "makes use of 
human reason, not to prove faith but to make clear (manifestare) 
whatever else is set forth in this doctrine." The articles of faith, and 
thus the analogy of being, cannot be made immediately evident, "for 
thereby the merit of faith would come to an end" explains Aquinas. 
Representations ('similitudines' for Aquinas; signs for Eco) are this 
manifestation. The organization and reflexivity of signs is due to their 
proportionality with the world. (I think here of AS's discussion of SR 
qua Wittgenstein.)

The paradox here (Panofsky gets this too, but it's crucial to Eco's 
semiotics) is the notion that manifestation will clarify faith, clarify 
the underlying participation in being, but in doing so will *finally* 
clarify faith (bring it to an end). This impossible need for 
exemplification leads, in Panofsky's terms, to the "POSTULATE OF 
CLARIFICATION FOR CLARIFICATION'S SAKE." Leaving Panofsky , I think it's 
possible to see in Eco precisely this paradox enabling semiotics as an 
intra-formal economy of proliferating signs. Everything must be 
clarified / made into as sign, but (also) there always remains some 
unclarity, guaranteeing a kind of momentum from being to sign. 
Elaboration, i.e. the structures of signs systems, arises from 
clarification. Semiotics is clarification * not in any particular sign 
but in semiotics "itself" as the residue of clarification.

So, it seems to me that this is another historical approach to codework. 
Again, for Eco, Panofsky, McLuhan, Aquinas as well, this whole complex 
is transferred from the visual arts to the written arts * not that it 
doesn't remain in the visual arts, but writing is increasingly where 
this question is most intensely elaborated, where the impossible paradox 
(above) is exemplified. To what degree is Eco's semiotics a concealed 
continuation of a Thomist aesthetics? Read across the trajectory of 
Eco's work, from the earliest text through the _Theory of Semiotics_: 
every sign is a ghost emanation of being. Beyond this, there's another 
related but different history explaining how the whole thing is staged 
rhetorically, dissolving "being" into "performance," but that's probably 
enough for now. Thanks for your patience.

Of course, as far as McLuhan goes, Ezra Pound wrote, following one of 
Marshall's visits to St. Catherine's, "McL procedure is arcyFarcy / 
whether poisoned by Thos d/Aquin or some other."

Sandy Baldwin
West Virginia University
Assistant Professor of English
359 Stansbury Hall
304-293-3107x452
Coordinator of the Center for Literary Computing
203 Armstrong Hall
304-293-3871
charles.baldwin {AT} mail.wvu.edu
www.clc.wvu.edu
www.as.wvu.edu/~sbaldwin
--------------------------
"If it's working, it's already obsolete." - Mountbatten

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net