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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 55
Year: 1997
Author: Harry Beleván
Title: The Heirs of Ariadne

THE ORIGINS OF THE TERM AND TERMS OF ORIGIN

There is no such thing as chance. All coincidences are significant and nothing is a fortuitous confluence of circumstances. Still, not everything is knowable to us and we substitute those subterfuges of reality that elude us with something called imagination.

Imagination, in the form of a ball of thread, was what Ariadne told Theseus to use to unravel the mystery of the Labyrinth. Later, Ariadne wept in desolation when she awoke to find herself on the island of Naxos, where the one who had defeated the Minotaur had abandoned her, leaving her alone with the image of the Labyrinth, the very root of all her misfortunes. The legend, we know, tells more, but not everything: it tells us that Dionysus, moved by the tears of Parsiphaë’s daughter, rescues her from that meditation that might eventually have revealed to her the fundamental enigma of her existence. And although he plucked Ariadne from the Aegean world to give her a home among the celestial bodies, he left behind the Labyrinth that Ariadne never conquered as an enigma to challenge man’s imagination.

Nietzsche believed that inasmuch as Ariadne was never heard from again and the weavers of myths left us with an incomplete tale, no doubt the gods’; intention by having her disappear as she did (did she go to Olympus after marrying Dionysus?) was that her adolescent dream—imagination in waiting—and the dream of all human beings since then should never materialize.

Any approach is a valid one for interpreting the Labyrinth, given the insignificance of any knowledge we have of Him whom we—like Theseus, but without his victory—can only approach by following the golden thread of our imagination. So it is possible to suggest (grammatici certant, never assert) that all themes of the Labyrinth, starting with the origin of the species, are either explicit or implicit in Ariadne’s personal story.

Hesiod tells us that the gods were always envious of man’s happiness, which is why Ariadne’s dream (or anyone’s dream, for that matter) of divinity never materialized. As men do not have the breath needed to achieve the divinity they long to have, the gods offer them instead that faculty called imagination.1

Since then a kind of cult to the Unknown God, which the Greeks were already practicing judging from St. Paul and the Apollo of Rhodes, has conjured up, via the imagination, any number of masterpieces. Works like The Odyssey, The Thousand and One Nights, Dante’s Comedy, Don Quixote and Faust are unique in that they go beyond external reality and probe the inner man with all his passions, as Hoffmann would later say.

Over the course of the centuries, between where the unverifiable leaves off and the tangible begins is a no-man’s-land of sorts which imagination itself has named the fantastic. Ironically, however, it is there that imagination—freedom as a synonym—encounters its first obstacle, which is to articulate the fantastic in that shared externalization that requires specific codes common to all men. It thus resorts to language and, in language, to writing: a prophetic choice, since the fantastic will then embark upon a long and dark road that is usually and may forever be- littered with ‘none-sense’.

Every thought is a search. The search, in turn, becomes a questioning of the very notion of origin, since there is no previous reference from which to begin the search.

So when we ponder the word “fantastic” we have a meaningful intent that, nevertheless, does not lead us to any meaning. We must, therefore, be fully aware that when we use a word like fantastic, all we are doing is forcing ourselves to capture, within a general concept, a specific meaning for the word we merely articulate. What we have in mind when we search for what was originally meant by a word like “fantastic” is just some signal, clue or symptom of a transcendent meaning that is beyond our consciousness. This symptom is an indicia of something that exists at once as “object” and as “object signified,” regardless of the intent when it is used; the meaningful intent is ultimately devoid of content.

Given this notion of origin, that something (that “fantastic something”) is not so much appearance as apparition, a kind of communication that precedes communication itself—a proximity (a precondition for any communication) between “object” and “object signified” that paradoxically never manages to transcend itself. Hence, as symptom, the fantastic never achieves a metaphysic of its own logos; it never bridges the permanent gap between its essence—its “as-symptom”-and its “state of” essence or symptom: it is effected without the source of effect having any means to represent itself; it is realized without its original reality ever revealing itself. “It is ... when the meta-ontological and meta-logical structure of proximity, of this relationship with another in which consciousness is achieved without knowing that it has been achieved becomes blurred,” writes Jean LaCroix2 (emphasis added) when examining how proximity functions as an essential element in Levinas’ philosophical system—words that fully illustrate, context notwithstanding, the diacritic—in the etymological sense of the word— operating within the origin of the fantastic as an ever present property to distinguish its symptom from (what would be) its representation; in other words, a kind of perennial proximity that never realizes itself. Our path is indeed littered with ‘none-sense’.

In truth, what we are talking about here is the (unresolved) problem of reference, what Russell called denoting3 and believed he had explained back in 1905 with his “theory of descriptions,” that is: how to refer to something that does not exist. Although the principles of epistemology, of metaphysics, of logic and of the philosophy of language are all held up for question, the exercise is a necessary one if one wants to find less sclerosed modes of philosophying. Then came what Leonard Linsky called referring,4 which was one of the most formidable philosophical advances made thus far in this regard.

Inasmuch as the origin notion is of no use to us in getting at the essence of the fantastic, we must immediately confine the term to some expressive meaning; we are suggesting what today is called (somewhat casually, I might add) the linguistic meaning.

We can hardly assume, however, that this linguistic meaning will get us away from any philosophical approach to the fantastic, since before theorizing about the essence, we must first suggest some hypotheses arrived at through an empirical thought process that, ideally at least, transforms itself into a logic; ‘none-sense’ is littering our way ...

We might well wonder, therefore, whether a linguistic approach necessitates our subscribing to some theory of knowledge. Might it be the hidden face of the notion of origin? And if so, how can we reconcile the philosophical method—which comes from a speculative approach to the phenomenon being observed—with the scientific method—which is always inductive in approach?

Given the fact that all theory is built upon a more or less unbiased base of observations, we are inclined to think that although the philosophical approach may be imperfect, especially when the subject is as voluble as the fantastic, it does allow us to draw some general conclusions by observing only certain premises—such as the linguistic criteria, for example. Unlike the scientific approach—the ideal approach so long as one never has to come to grips with the problem of the inductive principle that generates it—, a philosophical approach, even considering the very small number of observations that it has of any phenomenon, particularly of the fantastic, is more viable as it allows one to piece together some general theories based on a finite number of observations. (In fact, philosophy is not a science. It does not have an “object” in the sense that science has one; indeed, the classifications that philosophy concerns itself with can be neither tested nor proven in a scientific sense. Still, its role is crucial, as Althusser tells us, since its theoretical function is to draw the line between the “ideological” and the “scientific”.)5

And so, by that axiom of logic that holds that a universal proposition can never be based on a finite number of observations, whereas generalities can be verified, we can build general but not universal theories. (As Tzvetan Todorov points out when citing Popper: The basis of philosophical generalization is that “It is not the quantity of observations, but the logical coherence of a theory that finally matters” whereas with scientific universals, there’s always that thing about the white swans: “...no matter how many instances of white swans we have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white”6.)

It is precisely from Karl Popper that we borrow the concept of the “degree of corroboration” of a theory. Ironically, despite his obvious hostility towards the linguistic philosophy of Wittgenstein (to whom we believe we are indebted, as the reader will discover) it is Popper who offers us the first approach to the phenomenon of the fantastic which—our intuition tells us—we can elucidate only by confirming or corroborating the linguistic patterns we discover in the essence of that fantastic.