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The Holding and the Held Center: Beyond Disagreement
There’s a kind of spatial problem involved with speaking of the center and I think I’m ready to resolve it at this point. What I mean is that “the center” is always what draws your attention right here and now—and, even if it’s something you’re looking at by yourself, the fact that you are directing human attention towards it means that the attention is nevertheless shared—you are looking at with, through, and for others even if those others are not there. In this case, the center is always shifting, with one center being constantly replaced by another, and while this is an indispensable meaning of “the center,” it’s not what I, at least, mean most of the time when I speak of the center, which is to say the social center. And there’s something a little disorienting here, because insofar as you’re attending to some local center your back, so to speak is to the social, or occupied/signifying center. So, the articulation of these two centers needs to be accounted for, and it needs to be accounted for in a way consistent with, and to the extent possible, overlapping with, the distinction between the occupied and signifying center, and doing so should provide considerable explanatory power. And my recent post addressing precisely the issue of locating the signifying center in one’s relation to the occupied center should provide the needed resources here.
The very possibility of attending to something in such a way that it implicates you upon an actual or possible scene with others demonstrates your humanness and indicates your reliance upon the signifying/occupied center, even while your back (so to speak) is to it. Even more, the degree to which you create an idiomatic relation to some thing, that is, “hold” it in front of you, notice new “features” of it, imagine ways you could frame it and point it out to others if you could help them get situated on this scene with you, is a marker of the degree to which you are yourself held by the center. The occupied/signifying center, then, is more powerful and all-encompassing the more it goes unnoticed precisely because it provides you with the space within which you can construct a disciplinary scene. If you had ample cadres of researchers across all fields, from the most esoteric humanities to the most “hard” STEM subject, working free of political and economic pressures, simply trying out as many ways of gathering and interpreting data as possible, then you would have a situation in which the imperative gap between occupied and signifying center is very nearly closed, and those researchers (which would then be all of us, in our own spheres) would never have to give it a second thought—but they would, though, notice immediately, feel revulsion at, and respond forcefully to, any violation of the evolved practices of the disciplinary space in question, and this would be them donating their resentment to the center.
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The center, then, would be silent and present only in the way its being embedded in our practices turns us into fervent guardians of those practices. This model is not obviously consistent with my much reiterated concept of singularized succession in perpetuity, which argues for a regular and emphasized organization of attention around the occupied/signifying center. This model involves those with authority having the sole right and duty to appoint their successors, and therefore making a public show, around which the entire institutional order would be organized, of nominating, testing, selecting, revising the selection, shaping the institutions so as to provide ever more highly qualified candidates. This model corresponds with the notion of human orders as ongoing festivals commemorating our shared human origin as it has been instantiated in that order, and certainly implies that we are turning toward the center in overt ways. There’s a kind of tension or oscillation here which is important for theoretical development, and the resolution is already implicit in what I’ve said here: a highly mature order (way more mature than any we’ve seen or even imagined so far) would see in even the most mundane objects with which we busy ourselves the entire infrastructure of the order that produced, identifying especially with the human decisions whose results we would see inscribed on those objects. So, in experiencing the marvelous forms of coordination the most advanced researcher is privileged to participate in that researcher also experiences the wisdom of each of the decisions which in their concatenation placed him there. Maybe those everyday objects would have explicit commemorations of that decision chain inscribed upon them or maybe the researcher we place at the center of this thought experiment does the governors and traditions of his order more honor by getting right to work on it.
So, we are held by the center even as we hold our own centers in front of us, and we are measures of the integrity of that center in the effort needed to defer the resentments that, like swirling demons, try to interpose themselves between us and our objects. When we turn and face the occupying/signified center, we turn what is happening there into “things” we can center within a disciplinary space (always, still dependent upon the juridical to create the visibility of things). If we occupy the Big Scenic Imaginary, we imagine that offering opinions about the conflicts at the center enables us to “weigh” in and affect the outcome, and if we imagine that we are allowing the encirclement of resentments to confuse whatever object we could genuinely bring into view. If we, instead, take those events at the center as indications of the state of the ritual, juridical and disciplinary, we might point to ways in which those categories could be strengthened. In this case, looking at the Center is no different than looking away from the Center at some object we place at the center, because we have to single out the “marker” that offers us useful intelligence in studying politics as well, and that also involves a kind of turning away from the Center—which, in that case, we could say, much like the sun, never comes fully into view, even back when we had God-Emperors who could only be seen through very thick ritual mediation.
So, the translation of the occupied/signifying center into intelligence available at some disciplinary center refers to the same thing as the “redistribution” of the signifying center into our management of the imperatives from the occupied center. And this conceptual advance also enables us to speak of scale, which is also necessary if we are to dispense with the Big Scenic Imaginary: there are scenes that position an entire country, even the entire world, on their margins, and we could imagine this entailing a gradation of positions from various layers of participation and responsibility to pure spectatorship. And, in most public scenes, the vast majority are pure spectators, and coming to terms with the fact that that’s all we are and can be is a condition of possibility for dissolving the Big Scenic Imaginary. Of course we can take in intelligence as spectators, but vicarious participation is wasteful and obfuscating and the intelligence gathered can only be meaningful on scenes where we do participate. If you’re thinking in terms of intelligence gathering, filtering and transmission, you’re also thinking about what might be useful intelligence for those positioned to use it, and what would be involved in positioning yourself so as to offer it, and this attitude provides a powerful check on the disciplinary spaces you construct.
But this also means that I can and should be more explicit about something that has been at least strongly implicit in the concept of “centered ordinality” which served as an organizing principle of Anthropomorphics, which is that attention is always directed through membership, even if virtual or potential, in some team. You’re always putting together, seeking to join, or advancing the goals of some team, and that is what makes one or another object meaningful or worthy of attention. Even being an advance scout, making a preliminary mapping of some strange terrain, without yet knowing what you’re even looking for, is part of being on some team you might be only dimly aware of as a possibility. I’ve tended to avoid the word “team” which seems too “corporate” (which means I haven’t been quite ready to take in all the intelligence offered by companies, and that’s something to fix), but, as is often the case, checking out the online etymological dictionary adds an interesting dimension. Here, we see that “team” in Old English (and its Germanic roots) includes notions of “brood,” “race” and “band,” among other meanings, which to me connects it strongly to notions of “breeding,” which I find extremely interesting and helpful. To put together a team is to engage in a kind of breeding process, which involves selecting, mating, looking into lineages, and so on. It may be a metaphorical breeding practice, but this is another case where this continuum between the literal and metaphorical is suggestive.
Breeding gets us into questions of tribes, ethnicities and races, including eugenics, questions which are always there in some way or another. The question of breeding also resonates with my Biblical inquiries, where questions of the “first born” (in what is represented as beginning in a pastoral, nomadic, shepherding order) seems to me to cross lines between animal sacrifice, human sacrifice and inheritance and succession—and all of this, in turn, is crucial to the extraordinary transference effected by the Hebrew scripture of relations between God and king, imperial and vassal states, to relations between God and the individual made in “His image.” So, “teaming as breeding” seems to be a generative way of fleshing out the relations between the held center and the holding Center. There’s a very literal breeding going on when, for example, parents interfere in their children’s dating and mating; a somewhat less literal one in choosing to live in a neighborhood made up exclusively or primarily of co-ethnics; a somewhat more metaphorical breeding involved in creating, say, a company dealing in information (how literal or metaphorical is the breeding if one is drawn to work with or hire people who went to a small cluster of universities?), where we start to tilt towards teaming. Teaming as breeding might provide a way of speaking more openly and less hostilely about race—breeding, something humans have always done, with animals as well as themselves (the word “team” might have first referred to animals yoked together), and must therefore be affirmed and revivified where possible, but there must also be points where breeding priorities interfere with teaming priorities; and, for that matter, where teaming needs some ballast from breeding. At any rate, looking for the breeding-teaming continuum within any practice is sure to clarify what we’re doing in that practice.
As to the subtitle of this post (“beyond disagreement)—it seems to me that our misplaced faith in the Big Scenic Imaginary is what leads us to think disagreements are meaningful, that we’ve done something important in settling them, in winning over or convincing the other of one’s own position, and so on. I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt at convincing another I was right about something, because I already agree with myself, so why do I need another to do so, and all I’ve done is close down a vector of intelligence that might have come from that person’s difference. This doesn’t mean we should stubbornly disagree with the other; rather, the goal should be to situate our respective positions on the originary scene, and solicit from one another’s postures some indication of the furnishing of the scene. As a kind of language policy, I would like to work towards formulations with which it is impossible to disagree, that one could find unintelligible or uninteresting, but that so contain their references within their own articulation that disagreement would be meaningless. Eric Gans says somewhere that the meaning of the word “God” is that the signified of the word is simultaneously its referent, which means its ostensivity (and subsequent imperatives) is built into its use in a declarative sentence. Since we should always be trying to speak only the word of God (is it meaningful to disagree with that?), we can do so by bringing the signifying center into our relation to the occupied center, the holding center into the held center, which is to say being on both scenes at the same time as demonstrated by showing someone, in your utterances or samples, something they could only see by virtue of being on the very scene upon which your showing them it has placed them.
We can also know from scripture that this direct relationship between signifying center and the individual required the destruction of the occupied center, placing center stage the biggest unresolved problem bequeathed to us by the Axial Age. But the supplement of the lack was the expectation of the Messiah (also involving a kind of breeding, as the line of David needed to be invented for this purpose) which also includes an expansive continuum ranging from highly apocalyptic scenarios to the one who will simply redeem the human order by making it more of an order. So, teaming as breeding directs our attention to intelligence of open source Messianism, gathering and promoting signs of singularity in succession in texts and events we read as texts. The object of a scribal or search pedagogy is to practice a turning toward the center through a reading of the legible signs bred by the center—sacred writings are also the children of God, and the signs of succession we turn into those writings will always be at some distance from the center, in the seed of some future and singular occupant. Even when you’re looking directly at power you’re seeing its traces. And if someone disagrees with you they’re just providing more signs of the center, more data. Let’s put it more paradoxically: precisely the most vigorous and irreconcilable disagreements best mark a shared search for origin, center and succession; even more seeking out and cultivating such disagreements represents the remembrance of the originary scene where we try to issue the same sign from different positions. “Disagreement” is how we all say the same thing in order to avoid doing the same thing at the same time.
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