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Do You See What I See? - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Do You See What I See?
I decided to pick up Paul Feyerabend's Against Method today. I bought it used nearly fifteen years ago, when I was first beginning to be interested in "Theory." At that time, because I didn't know where to look or even what I was looking for, I picked up all sorts of things that would later have been expunged from my shopping cart for being too far afield. As I recall, though, I did have a reason for wanting Against Method that still makes sense in light of my present theory-consciousness, namely the fact that Michel Foucault was said to have been enamored of the book.

Typing that I wonder where I heard it or even if it's true. Nevertheless, reading in Against Method today makes it clear to me that Foucault should have been a big fan. There's a great section where Feyerabend is discussing early uses of the telescope -- the book is preoccupied with the history of science -- and the fact that there was much disagreement about its accuracy. He turns then to the problem of Galileo's drawings of the moon. "It needs only a brief look at Galileo's drawings, and at photographs of similar phases to convince the reader that 'none of the features recorded... can be safely identified with any known markings of the lunar landscape.'" Feyerabend acknowledges the possibility that Galileo simply did a bad job translating what he saw to paper, but notes, "I rather doubt it in view of the quite extraordinary observational skill which Galileo exhibits on other occasions."

Seeking a better explanation, Feyerabend goes on to entertain two possibilities. The first, that Galileo was merely recording the imperfections of the early telescopes, their distortion, is only mildly interesting. The second, however, is a real mind-opener:
Hypothesis II, just like Hypothesis I, approaches telescopic reports from the point of view of the theory of perception; but it adds that the practice of telescopic observation and acquaintance with the new telescopic reports changes not only what was seen through the telescope, but also what was seen with the naked eye. It is obviously of importance for our evaluation of the contemporary attitude towards Galileo's reports.

That the appearance of the stars, and of the moon, may at some time have been more indefinite than it is today was originally suggested to me by the existence of various theories about the moon which are incompatible with what everyone can plainly see with his own eyes. Anaximander's theory of partial stoppage (which aimed to explain the phases of the mooon), Xenophanes' belief in the existence of different suns and different moons for different zones of the earth. Heraclitus' assumption that eclipses and phases are caused by the turning of the basins, which for him represented the sun and the moon -- all these views run counter to the existence of a stable and plainly visible surface, a "face" such as we "know" the moon to possess.
The effect of this second hypothesis, which is clearly the one that Feyerabend favors for polemical reasons, is to recast the theory of perception as the history of perception or, to be more precise, to demonstrate how theory is always already historical and that to think otherwise is an example of severe ideological closure. Personally, I love the idea that what we can all plainly see is a function of our place in history.

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Comments
tommix From: tommix Date: December 17th, 2005 08:07 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Feyerabend pulled me from philosophy to english. I'm serious, he like, actually, pulled me.

I was a Marxist homosexual Jewish pornographer soon after.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: December 17th, 2005 08:28 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My paper would be so much more interesting if it involved Marxist homosexual Jewish pornographers.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 17th, 2005 04:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I thought Sebald was one.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: December 17th, 2005 08:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Still there is not enough porn in my paper. That's what I'm saying.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 17th, 2005 03:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
See, that's something you could say during a campus-visit situation, should it come to that. Work it into the narrative somehow.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: December 17th, 2005 08:22 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes yes. So theory is deeply historical but also what counts as/gets taken for history at any given moment is deeply theoretical, ideological so...

And there I am trapped in another dialectic, at a standstill. And I should right now be writing more regarding dialectics at a standstill. So I leave this now but I am thinking. So much thinking. I will still be thinking when I get to Arizona and the paper is a thing like history, or like a moment functionally on its way to done. To undone. I need to stop writing.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 17th, 2005 03:45 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You need to stop writing so you can start celebrating!
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: December 17th, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Soon. Soon. Tonight? I will be done at some point loosely defined as "tonight." I will be done before I board that plane tomorrow. Yes.
From: bobo_amargo Date: December 20th, 2005 07:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Twilight Glow

A few points bear adding here, I think, lest a thing or two I'm reasonably sure you don't hold are allowed to insinuate themselves. The historicizing of what you call "theory" -- what Feyerabend generally calls "fixed scientific method" -- is not enough, by itself, to rattle the locks of the "severe ideological closure" of which you speak. For the gist of Hypothesis II is a pretty fair analogue of claims that art historians like Panofsky, Gombrich, and other Warburgians have made about different epochs in the making of art, and their commitment to divers Weltanschauungen does not entail -- rather is, in general, inconsistent with -- the nonteleological opennness of Feyerabend's nonmethod. For the Warburgians, as for other quasi-Hegelians, history is more or less reducible to the cunning of reason, but the cunning of reason is, at the end of the day, a card-carrying member of the Club of Severe Ideological Closure.

Does the eye have an essence of any kind?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 20th, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Twilight Glow

I was playing a little loose with Against Method, obviously, reading it from the perspective of someone in the humanities, hence my ideological choice of the term "theory." I see your point about the fact that plenty of people have made claims similar to the ones Feyerabend makes within the areana of cultural history. Much of the excitement that comes with reading him, or Thomas Kuhn, for that matter, is the sense that what cultural historians have long acknowledged to be the case for their realm might be equally applicable to the natural sciences. He clearly was opposed to even the slightest whiff of Hegelian logic. Yet the fact that he ends up making claims that overlap so much with those of the art historians you mentions suggests to me that he may have been drawn to the neat-and-tidy despite himself.
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