lds-herm blog

Discussion of hermeneutics, esp. as it pertains to LDS scripture

Chapter 1, Part 1: “Reading Guidelines” and “The Greek Heritage”

Posted by joespencer on February 22, 2008

Ricoeur opens part I of his book with a two-page introduction of sorts, nicely summarized in its final two sentences: “This will be our path: from ‘What?’ to ‘Who?’ passing by way of ‘How?’ From memories to reflective memory, passing by way of recollection.” (p. 4) The “reading guidelines” that then opens the first chapter of the book doubles this projection with a problematic that might ultimately be said to be somewhat Lacanian: “The constant danger of confusing remembering and imagining, resulting from memories becoming images in this way, affects the goal of fiathfulness corresponding to the truth claim of memory. And yet . . . [sic] And yet, we have nothing better than memory to guarantee that something has taken place before we call to mind a memory of it.” (p. 5) Two problematics, then, to get this book started: the distinction (Aristotle’s) between memory as an almost passive experience (I happen to remember something) and the intentional act of recollection; and the knot of memory and imagination. Ricoeur’s take on “the Greek heritage” shows that these two problematics are interconnected.

If I can get away with it, I’d like to begin with a word or two about why I said that the second problematic mentioned above might be said to be Lacanian. As I currently read him, Lacan’s aim was primarily to thematize the complex relationship between the imaginary and the symbolic (two registers that, for a Freudian, are obviously connected to the first problematic mentioned above as well, that of the split between memory and recollection). Lacan essentially accused psychology of failing to recognize this relationship, thus collapsing the distinction between the imaginary and the symbolic, a distinction set in motion by the installment of symbolic language through the name-of-the-father (le nom du pere). The relationship between these two registers, as Lacan seems to understand them, is much like the relationship between imagination and memory as Ricoeur lays it out here: memory and imagination must be distinguished, but one must recognize even as this distinction is made that memory remains a kind of image-ing.

This distinction “and yet . . .” that Ricoeur points out right at the beginning of the book can be said to undergird all of his work: it is in fact this complex relationship between memory and imagination that essentially gives Ricoeur’s hermeneutics its shape (it seems to me that it is for this reason that Ricoeur found himself writing an almost systematic study of Freud). I would like, in light of these details, to suggest that Ricoeurian hermeneutics be seen as closely related to (perhaps even roughly equivalent to) Lacanian analysis: if the linguistic connection between Ricoeur’s “imagination” and Lacan’s “imaginary” is obvious, can I suggest that we find reason therein to cancel the apparent distance between Ricoeur’s “memory” and Lacan’s “symbolic” as manifest on the linguistic plane?

I’ll leave that issue there for now, but I raise it at this early point simply because I will likely return again and again to Lacan’s Freud over the course of our readings here.

The bulk of our reading this week is in the subsection “The Greek Heritage.” Ricoeur deals, of course, with two figures in continuity: Plato and Aristotle. With each of these figures, he first addresses himself to the texts on what might be called an exegetical level, and he subsequently takes up the same on what might be called a hermeneutical level. I’ll deal only with Ricoeur’s hermeneutical dealings (I could hardly have much to say on the exegetical level without doing far more study in preparation for our discussion!).

Ricoeur sees Plato as working up two aporiae, one far simpler (though not less important) than the other: first, Plato does not explicitly situate memory as a function of temporality (memory is thought in essentially atemporal terms); second, memory is defined according to a kind of mimetic theory (of truth). This latter point is spelled out at length on pages 12-13. It is of significance here that Ricoeur is drawing on the two dialogues with Theaetetus, since it is in one of them (the Theaetetus specifically) that Plato provides the definition of knowledge (as justified true belief): the “correspondence” theory of truth (if indeed that is what Plato intends to lay before his readers!) undergirds the mimetic model of memory, according to which a memory imitates an impression or trace.

This leads Ricoeur to work out a brief typology of the trace, one strikingly reminiscent of Derrida’s typology of the impression in Archive Fever (pp. 25-31): the trace as the written (Derrida says the “scriptural” or “typographic”); the trace as the experienced (Derrida says the “something else to be felt in anticipation”); and the trace as the corporeal (Derrida says the “circumcision”). (That Ricoeur here meets up with Derrida’s discussion of Freud is rather interesting in light of the above linkage between Ricoeur and Lacan.) For Ricoeur, these different uses of the word “trace” not only establish the aporiae Aristotle will have to follow out, but they also (particularly the last two: Ricoeur is content to separate to one side the written trace as what the historian deals with in the archives) point to “different readings of the body, of corporeality.” (p. 15)

The first full paragraph on page 17 contains Ricoeur’s discussion of Aristotle’s rigorous reemployment of Plato’s central terms. The importance of this reemployment is discussed fully, though, on pages 19-20: “By drawing a line in this way between the simple presence of memories and the act of recollection, Aristotle has preserved for all time a space for discussion worthy of the fundamental aporia brought to light by the Theaetetus, namely, the presence of the absent. . . . Aristotle has made great strides in the discussion by introducing the category of otherness into the very heart of the relation between the eikon, reinterpreted as an inscription, and the initial affection. Having done this, he begins to advance the concept of resemblance, which, moreover, had not been challenged.” This major advance, however, is not yet enough to press beyond the aporia introduced by the model of the imprint and its correlative mimesis: “But the paradoxes of the imprint will continue to reemerge, primarily with the question of the material causes of the anamnesis of memory, prior to its recall.”

In a word, Aristotle forces the aporiae of the trace as a problematic, forces one to grapple with the relationship between the false and the true in recollection. The way along the pathway is clarified, as well, in that for Aristotle, memory is always temporal, is always a function of the past.

And this nicely sets Ricoeur up for his preliminary phenomenology of memory . . .


30 Responses to “Chapter 1, Part 1: “Reading Guidelines” and “The Greek Heritage””

  1. Jim F. said

    Joe, I have nothing to quarrel with here. As always, you do an admirable job of summarizing these pages. However, if I were to quarrel it would be with the alacrity of your linkage of Ricoeur to Lacan and Derrida. That is an if-then sentence because, truly, I don’t quarrel with the connection. The leap you’ve made is very interesting and probably fruitful. But such leaps make me nervous. I worry that we may end up understanding everyone to say something like the same thing if we start by reading a philosopher in terms of some other philosopher(s) with whom we see a connection.

  2. joespencer said

    Such connections generally make me nervous as well, Jim. The similarity between Ricoeur’s and Derrrida’s brief typologies of the trace/impression was simply so striking that I thought it had to be mentioned, though I’m not sure what, really, to make of it: it would take a great deal of convincing to make me think there is ultimately much agreement (at a broad level) between Derrida’s and Ricoeur’s projects.

    The connection between Ricoeur and Lacan, though, strikes me as very promising. I don’t at all propose—as I’m sure you understand—to suggest that their projects are one and the same. Rather, I see pairing them as helpful in two very different ways at the same time. First, I think that reductive readings of Ricoeur that essentially misunderstand the complexity of his “double vow” are often rooted in a misreading of what is in him parallel to the symbolic/imaginary problematic in Lacan. By recognizing the parallel with the problematic in Lacan that is generally recognized as complex enough to deserve closer attention, the structure of interpretation as Ricoeur understands it can perhaps be recognized for what it is.

    Second, because there is, in the works of Lacan that begin with the beginning of the Seminar, a decided though subtle argument against phenomenology (and implicitly, at times explicitly, hermeneutics), and because this continues into the work of Lacan’s most interesting disciples (obviously, I have Badiou foremost in mind here), it is helpful to recognize that at least one way of doing phenomenology is actually very amenable to Lacanian thinking. Though Lacan’s concerns about phenomenology might well be justified in relationship to, say, Gadamerian hermeneutics, I think it is important to see how Ricoeur’s departure from the phenomenology and hermeneutics he inherited makes his work… compatible, I’ll say, with the work of Lacan and Badiou. In other words, my linking Lacan and Ricoeur functions, in part, as a plea to those who follow Badiou to recognize that they haven’t thereby finished off hermeneutics; to see that a serious engagement of Ricoeurian hermeneutics may well help us to fill in the gaps in Badiou’s project (do I hope Adam reads this, or do I hope he doesn’t?).

    Both of these “helps” are important to me because of their connection to what I see as vital to the de-stagnation of Mormon studies: we have got to get, at last, to the texts—interpretively, of course—that make up this dispensation (Ricoeur), and we have got to relate to them in a radically faithful—that is, prescriptive—way (Badiou). What I am trying to do, then, is not to equate two thinkers or two threads of thought, but to arrange them together in a way that allows us to describe philosophically what it means to be a faithful Latter-day Saint. Could the rigor of Ricoeur’s project, paired with the rigor of Badiou’s project, be enough to persuade academic Mormons to turn to the text faithfully?

  3. Jim F. said

    Joe, I didn’t assume that you were identifying the two projects, but I am cncerned that some reading your suggestion of something like a parallel might turn that into an identity or too quickly assume that they understand Ricoeur to the degree that they already understand Lacan or Derrida.

    I’m interested in the differences you see between Gadamerian and Ricoeurian hermeneutics–not that I’m asking you to specify them here. I’ll watch for you to say something about those differences as this reading unfolds. I’ve not seen much difference myself.

  4. joespencer said

    I’m glad you mentioned the concern, at any rate, since it is probably good for me to announce my ulterior motives from the beginning. And, while I’m at it, hopefully I have deterred anyone assuming I’m pointing toward an identity.

    I’m also interested in the differences I see between Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s hermeneutics… that is, I wish I had what I see as the differences a bit clearer myself! It seems clear to me that it centers around the meaning of understanding, though I’m not sure I’d have much more to say than that. I do hope that changes during the course of this project.

  5. Clark said

    The similarity between Ricoeur’s and Derrrida’s brief typologies of the trace/impression was simply so striking that I thought it had to be mentioned, though I’m not sure what, really, to make of it: it would take a great deal of convincing to make me think there is ultimately much agreement (at a broad level) between Derrida’s and Ricoeur’s projects.

    I’d strongly suggest reading Lawlor’s Imagination and Chance: The Difference Between the Thought of Ricoeur and Derrida. It’s a fantastic book and convincingly argues that while there are some key and important differences overall they tend to be fairly subtle. Put an other way they agree on far more than they disagree. The book also has a great transcript and translation of a round table in which Derrida and Ricoeur contributed back in 1971 after Derrida’s “Signature, Event, Context” was read and Ricoeur’s “Discourse and Communication” was read. (According to Lawlor there is no English translation of Ricoeur’s paper)

    Lawlor suggests the following differences:

    1. Description of historicity: Ricoeur describes it as an endless spiral and Derrida a zig zag. (Although Lawlor suggests Derrida got this phrase from Ricoeur and his 1950 introduction to Hurrel’s Ideas I)

    2. Focus within Mediation: Ricoeur focuses in on the present. Derrida sees mediation always prior to the present. (I think this ends up being a subtle difference and perhaps more a difference of focus than position)

    3. The Mediation (or Middle): Ricouer sees the distanciation of meaning from the immediate event as dialectical with the dialectic movement as repeatability. (Although repetition here is separated from how the structuralists saw it) Derrida traces mediation from Husserlian historicity. The inseparability of genesis and structure. Once again a difference, but a subtle one.

    4. The End: Ricoeur starts with Heideggarian finitude. Ideal meanings always present more events. There is symbolic inexaustibility. Derrida tries to reconceive the relation of the finite and infinite. The trace (roughly the Derridean term for symbol) neither refers nor means but points to the empty spacing that enables meaning and reference. Rather than account for all meanings as inexaustible (per Ricoeur) the spacing can not all be accounted for. Once again an important (one might say the most important) difference between Ricoeur and Derrida but an exceedingly subtle one with debatable practical difference. (i.e. I think one could affirm both)

    5. The Idea: Ricoeur sees ideas in terms of Kant and is defined by openness and totality. It’s openness is from endless possibility of instantiation. The relationship between totality and infinity is the Idea. For Derrida the Idea isn’t anything but is nothing. It is the space between form and content rather than the unity of form and content.

    6. Questions: Ricoeur focuses in on hermeneutics or the endless questioning of the one principle. Derrida focuses in on deconstruction or the infinite response to the lack of a principle.

    One can see that for Ricoeur origin + mediation + end = Idea. For Derrida origin + mediatiation + end + ‘+’ = Idea. That is Derrida focuses in on the plus.

  6. Clark said

    To add, my copy of the book hasn’t arrive yet. But I have a few other comments.

    the distinction (Aristotle’s) between memory as an almost passive experience (I happen to remember something) and the intentional act of recollection; and the knot of memory and imagination. Ricoeur’s take on “the Greek heritage” shows that these two problematics are interconnected.

    One should add the cognitive science connection (which Ricoeur is, of course, very familiar with). Even in a passive ‘act’ of memory there is an act of creation. The brain when remembering is always creating. Cognitive science has discovered, especially with many important studies the past five years, that key to remembering is forgetting. That is effective and efficient memories are as much due to being able to forget as anything. So even ignoring philosophy these are intertwined. The way philosophers so often treated memory was quite wrong empirically.

    One can’t help but see in all this the evolution of a notion of trace. (Important for both Ricoeur and Derrida but also for the neoPlatonists of late antiquity). We never have a sign of something perfect, if perhaps limited, in either meaning (representation) or reference. Rather we always have a kind of gap that the brain then fills. Exactly how it fills it isn’t clear. But memory can be seen as a kind of ‘shape’ that our imagination must fill.

  7. Clark said

    An other way to look at the Derrida/Ricoeur difference is in Aristotilean terms. Derrida focuses in on prime matter whereas Ricoeur focuses in on form.

  8. Jim F. said

    Clark, this is helpful, great stuff. Thanks very much. I’m embarrassed to say that I bought Lawlor’s book some time ago but never opened it. I think I better look at it.

    Nietzsche has very interesting things to say about the necessity of forgetting to remembering, in “On the Use and Misuse of History.”

  9. joespencer said

    Indeed. Very helpful. I’ll be getting Lawlor’s book for certain. I’m also very interested in this book Ricoeur wrote with Changeaux (a neuroscientist)… anyone read it?

  10. Clark said

    Yeah, I have it Joe. It’s a mixed bag and, of course, a little dated at this stage. It’s been a while since I read it but I remember enjoying it but also remember skimming a lot of the pages.

    I can glance through it again if you have any questions about it.

  11. Clark said

    BTW – New Scientist last week had an article relevant to the current discussion. It’s behind a password protected wall. So you have to subscribe to read the whole article. As with all their articles it’s primarily summary of the current state of things in science. The article is about forgetting as key to a healthy mind. The main discussion is of people who don’t forget (although as the article notes this remembering is actually fairly limited – it’s not photographic memory).

    I’ll quote a few excerpts for folks.

    In simple terms, new memories start life as the temporary excitation of synapses in a network of neurons. If you recall a memory, the same neural pathways are reactivated. The more times this happens, the more important the brain deems the memory to be and the more likely it is to be converted into a long-term memory, by forming permanent connections between the neurons. These connections are reinforced each time the memory is recalled, making it easier to retrieve. The brain contains so many potential synaptic connections that, in theory at least, there is no limit to the number of long-term memories that the brain can store. So why don’t we remember everything?

    “A system that records every detail willy-nilly and makes that information accessible on an ongoing basis is one that will result in mass confusion,” according to Dan Schacter of Harvard University. He says we forget because the brain has developed strategies to weed out irrelevant or out-of-date information. Efficient forgetting is a crucial part of having a fully functioning memory. When we forget something useful, he says, it just shows that this pruning system is working a little too well.


    In his 2001 book The Seven Sins of Memory Schacter describes several ways that we forget. He calls one “sin” transience. This is a strategy whereby we discard information that is out of date – an old phone number or what we ate last week, for example. Since retrieving and using information solidifies it in memory, our mind gambles that the information we rarely retrieve is safe to discard.

    Another sin is absent-mindedness where, for example, we fail to properly encode information about where we put our keys because our attention is elsewhere. Yet another problem is blocking, where the brain holds back one memory in favour of a competing memory, so we don’t get muddled, for example, where a single word has two different meanings (see “The need to forget”). Occasionally we retrieve the one we don’t want first, then struggle to remember the other.

    Schacter argues that each of these strategies has an adaptive purpose, preventing us from storing mundane, confusing or out-of-date memories. We want to remember our current phone number, not an old one, and where we parked the car today, not last week.

  12. Clark said

    Two other relevant articles. Forgetfulness is a Tool of the Brain.

    Comparing these findings to the fMRI data taken during the test, the team found participants’ brains were highly active in a region known for handling competing memories, and also in an area believed to induce memory suppression.


    “Whenever you’re engaging in remembering, the brain adapts. It’s constantly re-weighting memories,” says Kuhl. “In this simple test, we see it reverse memory to weaken competing memories. This is something that probably happens a lot in the real world.”

    A good example is the confusion that arises when we change passwords on our computers or email accounts. We often mix up old and new passwords at first, but through repetition we develop a strong memory of the new password and forget the old one.

    “The process of forgetting serves a good functional purpose,” says Michael Anderson of the University of Oregon, US, who was not involved in the study. “What these guys have done is clearly establish the neurobiological basis for this process.”

    And Forget It.

    For a start, you can’t lose what you never had, and much of what we call “forgetting” is not so much caused by the brain losing encoded memories as by it failing to create them in the first place. If you can’t remember what you had for breakfast, it’s probably because your brain never bothered to encode the information. Moreover, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that many of the memories we do form, and then later forget, are not so much erased from the brain as simply put out of reach. When surveyed recently, 84 per cent of psychologists said they believed that forgotten memories are all still lurking somewhere in our brains, ready to be cued into consciousness.


    According to Daniel Schacter, a psychologist at Harvard University who specialises in memory, there’s a good evolutionary reason for remembering traumatic events: they pose a threat to survival, so animals and people who can remember and learn from them would have a better chance of staying alive. But sometimes the system works overtime and becomes counterproductive. “Persistence is the flipside of an adaptive feature of memory,” he says.

    And again, not being able to forget can have serious consequences. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema at the University of Michigan has found that people who tend to mull things over excessively experience longer episodes of depression than those who don’t. She studied people after the 1989 earthquake in California’s Bay Area, for instance, and found that those who’d “ruminated” a lot in the immediate aftermath were more likely to be seriously down about it weeks after others had come to terms with the experience.

  13. Justin W. said

    There’s a lot of good stuff in these posts–thanks especially to Joe and Clark. My lack of familiarity with Lacan precludes my commenting on much of the post, but I’m interested in fruitful connections and, like Jim, wary of quickly identifying one author with another.

    I’m curious about what the neuroscientists mean when they say that memories are “still lurking somewhere in our brains.” Is it that the synaptic connections are in someway intact but not frequently traveled? I also think the relationship between the neural pathways and memories is intriguing. For example, are the same types of pathways created when we imagine something or think something new? How do memories of experiences–last week I walked to school–differ from memories of an idea–I wonder what would happen if I dropped my bag on my toe?

    I’m intrigued by Shacter’s (and friends’) idea that one of the keys to an effective memory is the ability to efficient forgetting. I think this idea may have a lot of interesting implications. And I’m interested to see how Ricoeur engages the concept of forgetting.

  14. Clark said

    I think they mean information is encoded but we’re unable to extract it.

  15. Robert C. said

    Clark #12: I’m glad to know there are studies that link my interest in philosophy and my penchant for brooding, though I was sort of hoping for a more direct explanatory link to my absent-mindedness also!

    All: I had a hard time keeping ideas and terminology straight in this reading (and in Joe’s post), perhaps b/c I’m less familiar with Plato and Aristotle than I ought to be (not to mention Derrida and other behind-the-scenes figures), so keeping their thoughts separate from Ricoeur’s thoughts, and the development of ways to think about these issues, was difficult for me. So, here are some rather clumsy notes, mostly for myself trying to think through some of this aloud:

    Plato basically thinks about memory as a subset of the problem of representing something that is absent. So, for Plato, the question of memory seems to be primarily the degree to which an eikon in the present can properly represent the marking event (or eidolon, see the bottom of p. 14) of something that is no longer present (i.e, the past). It may thus be helpful to group the following terms as being located firmly in the present for Plato, each of which somehow presently represents something that is absent: phantasma, eikon, image, mimesis, and trace. In contrast, the following terms have more of an absent, “located in the past” connotation: eidolon, imprint, and tupos. Grouping phantasma and eikon together as both being present representations of something absent already suggests the danger of conflating phantasma or appearance with eikon or likeness. Accordingly, Plato’s approach immediately raises questions about the possiblity of error or deception, something that Aristotle will try to avoid or postpone (and it seems that Ricoeur will follow suit in the next section).

    Aristotle makes a significant new distinction by differentiating imprint and inscription, a disctinction that is closely related to the difference between mneme (passive evocation) and anamnesis (active recollection). Imprint and inscription both occur in the past, but imprint is what is externally caused by the past event whereas inscription connotes a degree of active, internal discretion in terms of how a past event is recorded (see p. 17 esp.). In this sense, it seems there are two kinds of past memory mark[ing]s that we might try to recover: first, a mark that was imprinted or impressed through no active willing on the subject’s part; secondly, a mark actively recorded (by the subject or otherwise) of a past event at the time it occurred.

    Well, that’s all the time I have for now. Any corrections or comments are appreciated.

  16. Jim F. said

    I want to add a couple of more concerns to my concern, above, that if Ricoeur is saying the same thing as Lacan and Ricoeur is saying the same thing as Derrida (I exaggerate what Joe said), then all these philosophers are saying the same thing. I find that unlikely. I understand the Heideggerian point that there is a sense in which all truly interesting philosophers are saying the same thing. However, I don’t think that is the same “same” that seems to be at work here. But that is repeating what I’ve already said.

    Additional comments.

    A minor, very minor one: It is perhaps anachronistic, though possible, to say that Ricoeur’s work is “reminiscent” of Derrida’s.

    When it comes to truth, imitation is adaequatio, adequation, rather than correspondence. A and B could correspond without being in an imitative relation.

  17. Clark said

    First let me say that this book scares me. I’ve read the first 25 or so pages and there’s a lot to digest there. I want to break out my Plato and reread a few dialogs before returning to those first 25 pages and then finish the chapter. I can’t believe the rest of you are on chapter 2 already! And with so little to say!

    Allow me some initial thoughts and then more when I finish the rest of the chapter and conduct a return.

    1. Ricoeur and Derrida. I know the connection makes Jim uncomfortable. But am I wrong in at least seeing veiled references, asides and snipes at Derrida? Derrida, to me, is very much lurking in the margins. I noticed this when I first started reading tonight and came on the opening page (3).

    If one wishes to avoid being stymied by a fruitless aporia, then one must hold in abeyance the question of attributing to someone…the act of remembering and begin with the question “What?”

    Is this a reference to Derrida and fruitless aporias? To the kind of aporias that Socrates raises in the Platonic dialogs? To the kind that Aristotle uses? Or is this a reference to the aporias Ricoeur encountered himself in Oneself as Another? Or is this merely a rejection of the kind of philosophy done under the name of epistemology since Descartes but which really got going in the neo-Kantian approach to things?

    I don’t know for sure.

    Yet often Ricoeur speaks almost Derridean like (as Joe noted). Part of this is just the inherent logic of the situation as presented by the two early philosophers. One key feature: the relationship between temporalization or distantiation in that sense and then spacing. (See especially the quote from Aristotle in footnote 20)

    Still the key differences I mentioned earlier (comment 5 above) can be seen here as well. I think page 21 is a key.

    …a warning against the tendency of many authors to approach memory on the basis of its deficiencies, even its dysfunctions, tendencies whose legitimate place we will indicate later. It is important, in my opinion, to approach the description on mnemonic phenomena from the standpoint of the capacities, of which they are the “happy” realization.

    In other words Ricoeur is not focused on impossibilities, of ‘malfunctions’, but of capacities of which memory is the realization. This is the Kantian idea and its endless possibility of instantiation. As opposed to Derrida’s rather opposite tact. (Although I’ve not read Chapter 3 to see if Derrida is addressed by name. Although a glance at page 141 mention’s Derrida’s pharmakon)

  18. Clark said

    2. Aporias. How many of the arguments Ricoeur briefly goes through in Plato and Aristotle are really aporias? He’s not as clear here as he could be. The problem is the traditional problem of signs which can be cast into three categories: icon, index, and symbol. If I understand him Ricoeur is trying to problematize the icon by showing it has a double move of resemblance and connection. The wax metaphor is key since the impression leaves a resemblance but much of the argument (as I see it) is based upon the indexical relationship (sign as an existential relationship) as it is the icon relationship (sign by resemblance).

    With Aristotle we have topos and thus a topology which one suspects one ought tranform into a typology. Then we have the icon and presumably an iconology.

    The paradox (aporia? Dare we call it a paradox?) here is the old question of what our concern is on. The ‘affection’ or the thing. This brings to mind the old paradox of love. Do we love our lover because of who they are or what they are. That is the object or the representation. The paradox there is that we can quickly show that it is neither. Presumably the paradox here is that our ‘love’ is for neither the icon nor the object. Although Ricoeur (thus far) doesn’t go in that direction. And perhaps that is me pushing a Derridean critique up against Ricoeur – perhaps against his will. For if it is neither icon nor index (resemblance and physical connection) then one suspects a Derridean sort of place.

    It gets a tad more difficult since Aristotle, as Ricoeur notes, separates out the impression as phantasm and the ‘other’ of the impression which is the icon (eikon or copy) I think though what is meant is the difference between the mark itself and the mark qua sign. This is the type-token relationship as applied to an icon. This then raises the old problem of what gets replicated. The type. The token. The type + token. Or the relationship of the type to token. This to me is at least one of the great fundamental problems of philosophy. Probably as big as the question of Being itself.

  19. joespencer said

    Interesting thoughts, Clark. Though I see a striking similarity between Ricoeur’s typology of the trace and Derrida’s typology of the impression (an almost disturbing similarity), I see little else here that meets up with Derrida (so little, in fact, that I’m willing to believe that the parallel typologies really are only coincidence). I assume that the disparaging reference to “fruitless aporias” is, as you suggest, “a rejection of the kind of philosophy done under the name of epistemology since Descartes but which really got going in the neo-Kantian approach to things?” I don’t see Derrida there.

    It is with reference to such “fruitless aporias,” especially in their genealogical link to Descartes, that the distance between Ricoeur and Lacan must ultimately be measured. How does the relationship between Lacan’s symbolic and Lacan’s real map up against the relationship between Ricoeur’s memory and Ricoeur’s remembered things? I don’t know the answer to that, but it seems to me that it is precisely there that one would have to look to begin to disambiguate the projects of these two thinkers.

  20. Robert C. said

    Clark, the book and pace of our reading frightens me too. The only reason I’m not making more comments is that I barely have to digest the reading. In fact, for this reading I came to the blog several times ready to ask a specific question, but then figured out the answer to my question in the process of trying to ask it (these questions were of a very basic nature, just trying to follow the main ideas and basic logic of particular passages…). I’ll probably continue participating in the following way: first come with questions about passages in the reading that don’t make sense to me; then try to write a little summary comment outlining the main ideas of the reading, as I understand them (as I attempted in #15); then, if I have time, I will try to engage the many, many questions and thoughts that the reading provokes in me.

    (In contrast to this blistering pace, I’m sitting in on Jim’s philosophy of religion class and the past few lectures we’ve covered only about 4 pages of text from Figuring the Sacred, and I have to say it is sheer joy going that slowly. Alas, how great it would be to have time to take up this book that slowly! If you missed it, we had a bit of discussion about the pace of the reading and reasons thereof on the lds-herm listserv before starting….)

    Regarding “the old paradox of love” (#18), if you have any particular references in mind, I’d be quite interested, esp. since I’m trying to work through Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon—in all my spare time!—and this issue seems very relevant, and I’d like to know who else specifically is talking about this (I know Levinas takes up this up in Totality and Infinity, but I’m too new to philosophy to know where else to look for discussion of this…).

    Also, as to Ricoeur not being as clear as he could be regarding aporias, I thought Ricoeur was only trying to set the stage for the aporias that he will try to explore and articulate (and articulate by exploring and explore by articulating…) through the rest of the chapter, section, and book. In this sense, it seems he tries to become more clear about what the aporia is in the last section of the chapter under the subheading “Memories and Images.” I’ll save my comments on that section for the next post, but I would appreciate some more detailed discussion about what exactly the main aporia(/s) is(/are) for Ricoeur. I think I have a pretty good general idea of what the aporia he is getting at is, but it’s quite a challenge for me to keep track of—let alone appreciate at any nuanced level—all the interweaving that he does in this chapter in exploring what seems to be the central memories vs. images tension.

  21. Clark said

    Robert, I’m glad I’m not the only one. I’ll be with you reading it a bit more slowly than the rest. So feel free to ask me questions. I’ve still not finished reading chapter 1 and as I said I want to break out my Plato and haven’t had time to.

    Joe, I think there’s a lot of Derrida here although the focus is quite polar opposite. (Derrida looking down, Ricoeur looking up : as I mentioned in slightly different words in my list of their differences) But I think the basic approach is actually pretty similar. The difference is how they respond to the aporias. Which is partially why I asked my question about whether Ricoeur was secretly making snide comments about Derrida. (Perhaps snide isn’t quite right) We’ll see when we get to chapter 3 and Ricoeur engages Derrida more directly.

    I’m not really familiar with Lacan or Badiou so I’ll not comment on either.

  22. Clark said

    Oh, Robert, I think what bothered me is that he keeps referring to the aporias of Aristotle and Plato but he doesn’t really spend enough time making clear what they are. I didn’t think those sections were as well written as they could have been. A bit too wordy (and from someone who likes Derrida that is saying something) and not quite to the point. The problem is of course the type-token relationship ultimately. But I think he is presuming you’re reading Plato along with him.

    I agree this is setting the stage for what he’ll explore and articulate. But that’s a very good reason to get clear in our minds what is at stake. The genealogy of the problem.

    That’s why I surprised everyone appears to have skimmed through this section so quickly without making a comment about this beginning. I’d argue that often the first and last chapters are the ones we must pay the most attention to.

  23. Clark said

    Regarding the paradox of love. I’ve seen this in so many places I’m not sure where to start. I’d discussed it in a few places on my blog. (here and here among others) I think the formal paradox goes back at least to Pascal but I’m too lazy to look it up right now.

  24. Robert C. said

    Clark, thanks for your blog links. In one post you linked to the SEP entry on love which is particularly helpful and has a decent bibliography. I’d really like to push for reading The Erotic Phenomenon with others (perhaps after MHF, or maybe even earlier—I think the paperback edition comes out in April…). Marion’s book so far seems surprisingly clearly written, but it doesn’t engage other philosophers (I don’t think there are any footnotes or bibliographic references!), so I’d be very curious to learn how Marion’s approach compares and contrasts to ways others have approached the question of love.

    Also, I found this SEP entry on “Types and Tokens” which (so far) looks quite interesting and helpful for sorting out some of these issues that Ricoeur is getting at (I agree that Ricoeur isn’t particularly clear in this first section, but then my newness to philosophy makes me more apt to chalk that up to my own inadequacy as a reader than fault Ricoeur!). If nothing else, I think the article will be helpful in giving us a vocabulary in which to think about and discuss Ricoeur’s work.

  25. joespencer said

    I agree that much more can be said about the aporia(s?) Ricoeur is presenting us with in this first chapter, but I think Ricoeur is (rightly, for the most part) assuming that the problem is one so central to philosophy that most readers should have a good framework to work from: the aporia is the aporia of the present absent.

    Ricoeur moves through it so quickly, it seems to me, because he is “only” employing it (at least, this early in the study) in order to show that it (the aporia) is what is shared by memory and imagination, which he hopes to disambiguate without imposing an absolute separation. To get caught up in the aporia itself at this early point is, I think Ricoeur would say, to miss what he is trying to do. The aporia, I assume, will get plenty of attention during the course of the book, but for now it must be seen as the what brings memory and imagination together, even as they are to be distinguished.

    In a word (hopefully better written than the above two paragraphs): the aporia must for now only be seen to be what forces us to recognize that while memory represents a relation to the truth, it does so always by grounding itself in the classic aporia of the present absent, always by being founded paradoxically. This is the what (truth, “and yet…”) that leads to the how (given that truth, how does memory happen?)…

  26. Clark said

    I should note that the type-token relationship arises primarily out of Peirce who actually is amazingly helpful on these issues. He actually makes a type-token-tone trichotomy and I’d argue that tone is very important for Derrida although not necessarily Ricoeur (although we’ll see). The tone ends up being roughly the way the mark can be presented and be the same mark with the same rough type but with variations. The metaphor is obvious of course since words can have different tones and those are important for meaning.

    I’d argue that the passage from the Sophist he quotes gets into this. There Socrates splits the icon in to two types. One is a replica that maintains all the same proportions, colors and so forth. The other is one where one has different perspectives. Socrates discusses this relative to beauty but I think something deeper is meant. One might say that what we have is the icon as seen in analytic philosophy as a kind of replicable entity with the same proper properties versus something more out of a Nietzschean perspectivism.

    At least that’s how it struck me when reading the relevant passages in the Sophist last night. (I’d encourage everyone to break out their Platos, by the way, it really does clarify a lot that Ricoeur is doing)

    One interesting thing is that in the section before the passage in the Sophist Ricoeur discusses is a wonderful line. There Socrates discounts (perhaps merely to catch his interlocutor) the metaphor of a gardner for memory. However many of us would argue that is precisely the metaphor to use rather than the craftsman metaphors that they instead head towards.

  27. Clark said

    Joe while I agree with what you say, I think that reading carefully here is important. Certainly I agree that Ricoeur is focusing in on the relationship of return and production. (Thus the Sophist) I suspect though that by being careful here – especially with the topos one is better prepared for what comes later.

  28. joespencer said

    Clark: certainly! I just mean to defend Ricoeur’s brevity, not to dismiss careful reading of that brevity!

  29. Clark said

    I guess my point is that unless one reads Plato I think that one is missing the situation Ricoeur sets up.

  30. Clark said

    I finally finished the first chapter. Makes me want to break out my Husserl like I did my Plato. BTW – am I the only one who has to break out the crib sheet every time I read Husserl or read folks discussing Husserlean phenomenology? Man I can just never remember that terminology…

    Ultimately the issue ends up being persistence or recreation. It’s a very interesting philosophical question.

    I can also see why Joe suggests there isn’t a Derridean move. Ricoeur explicitly notes that with respect to memory he is following Husserl more than Heidegger. I’m not sure how he’ll manage this. It’s interesting he’s going to make that move and I think it gets into that whole Khora vs. The One dichotomy (or fulness of truth vs. prime matter) between the two. I’m clearly much more on the Derridean side so this will be an interesting debate to see.

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