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Sunday, 3 July 2016

The ethics of perception: reading and building a nexus

Whitehead understands creativity to be inherent to perception. Also, he sees perception as tied to an indirect object, an (broadly speaking) intentionally developed subjective form. If we see perception as a kind of reading, we can take it as always part of building a nexus, making sense of what is in front of one in terms of what is important, of what makes difference, of what one is prepared to read out. Reading has an ethics perhaps because it requires some kind of nearness that contrasts with what just stands, in the terms of Heidegger, in a position (Ge-Stell) and acquires a standing reserve that indicate an equal distance from everything - a position in a topology where everything is placed in a map that could be conceptual, geographical or like a B-series in time. Things placed there don't thing (as Heidegger says), they just stand in a distance, in the equal distance of eveything like what in a de dicto expression for something. Reading - and at least in some circumstances perception - requires a nearness which is requisite for an interlocution. Reading requires an attention of the sort Heidegger would find in physis, a movement of unconcealment from the concealed that requires the accord of what is unveiled, the thinging of the thing, the opposite of a standing reserve. Reading is only possible from nearness. We only read what is near to us.

Because reading requires a presence in terms of nearness (one cannot focus on more than one reading) it can be interrupted or, as I wrote in a recent post in this blog an intettuption. To be called somewhere else within the text is to attend to its movements of concealing and unconcealing - the physis of the read text. It follows from Derrida's conception of deconstruction that these movements cannot be positioned in a topography as presences but only as traces waiting for a reader. Reading is to attend to these movements and to inscribe something on these movement because the reader is also near to the read text, she is also close and addressed by these movements. The reader also has a physis according to which she conceals and unconceals: she does a writing because she reads. This attention to what is close, to what is being written at the same time and to what can interrupt the flow of reading (intettupt) introduced a responsibility to the act of reading - primarily, a response to the author, to the traces of the author in the text. The close traces that appear: they constrain the reading (the writing) with their acts of concealment in the background of what remains unconcealed. Reading responds to justice - and there are indefinitely many ways to respond to it.

Now, maybe perception is like reading. I believe that if perception is not understood in terms of positionality, it requires nearness. It would be about making a contact that is not necessarily cognitive. If this is so, perception is like reading: it brings about a nexus attending to a matrix of importances, of differences, of capacities to respond. But like reading, it is never writing in a blank slate, it is more like a dialogue where the traces perceived call for responsibility, but the response required is the response of an author (Whitehead's creativity) and not that of whoever follows orders. If it is so, perception is not an exercise in receptivity (in the sense of following orders from a different agent) but more like an exercise of coupling, of counting on what is perceived. (Think of the nearness required for an alliance to be craft, for a deal to be made, for dialogue to take place.) As such, perception has an ethics, that of attending to the demand coming from what is perceived. Such appeal is not an order, but inculcates responsibility. Perceiving agents are not only endowed with creativity, a sense of satisfaction and a goal - they also have a vulnerability to the other they perceive. They can be affected. This is why a nexus built in perception doesn't leave the perceiver in standing reserve (at an arm's length from what is perceived).

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