[NB: I’m scheduled to deliver a plenary talk somewhere in Central Philippines in an event organized by the Philosophical Circle of the Philippines. Below is a brief sketch of what’s on my mind or something close to ‘mind’].
This short talk will pay attention to what I think has been thoroughly neglected today, with the contemporary attention otherwise paid to one of the most dominant functions of conception, namely, its reproductive capacity. For purposes of my talk, I will borrow and expand in the course of my discussion key insights from Plato, specifically Timaeus, one of his most controversial dialogues, and from there expand these insights to their postmodern appropriation in the works of Julia Kristeva. The focus will be on Plato’s concept of chora which Kristeva would revisit in her most influential work Revolution in Poetic Language.
As a foretaste of what is to come of this talk, we can say in advance that the chora is controversial for many reasons. For one, it is resistant to any definition, or logical representation. We can also note here that Aristotle, in his critique of Plato’s fascination for the ambiguous, would reduce the indefinability of the chora to a kind of logical presence (logos apophantikos). It would seem that Plato deliberately left the concept of chora to its ambiguous state in opposition to ‘conception’ which Aristotle identified with logical reasoning. This logical reduction of chora to rational conception is not without its connection to the definition of Man as animal rationale.
Our basic contention here is that the definition of Man as animal rationale is a productive concept as opposed to the unproductive concept of Plato’s chora. The difference between the two concepts plays on many levels. For one, Plato’s chora is opposed to reproduction on the simple basis that it is opposed to production. We may also connect this to Plato’s opposition to mimesis or the production of reproduction of what is already a reproduced copy—the copy as always already reproduced by something close to what we can name as reason.
And yet, the origin of reason can be traced ultimately to what is not in the essence of reason. In Plato’s Timaeus, the origin of the cosmos, for instance, is ultimately traced to storytelling rather than to logical deduction. The world, in other words, is created by fabulation, itself a ‘force’ of [or] behind reason, not strictly reason. And as long as it is in the order of storytelling and its persuasiveness, that which originates the world is also resistant to any finality, or final causation which otherwise is the case in a logical conclusion as may be applied to cosmology (which Aristotle did).
Another controversial aspect of the concept of chora, which Kristeva would expand later in her work, is its incestual nature. In John Sallis’s contribution to the elaboration of this Platonic concept, the chora is described as the outcome of “incest between Man and his ever virginal mother.” Its relation to incest is not in any way obscene. Freud would tell us that incest is an anthropological fact of our prehistoric past, which nonetheless continues up to our historical present, albeit, in a displaced or condensed manner. Freud is referring here to the two primary workings of the unconscious (displacement and condensation). In other words, the incestual essence of our past continues to influence our present, not because there are cases of incest in our time, rather because it continues to define us unconsciously. For Kristeva, it influences us within the sphere of existence that may be described as pre-reflective, pre-analytic, pre-propositional, pre-logical, or pre-representational. Kristeva identifies this sphere as the body or the flesh itself as a matrix of uncategorized passions, drives and urges. Incidentally, logic (which qualifies here as the representative of society in the education of the human person) would reduce this erotic dimension to a categorically defined moral or epistemic proposition for socially productive ends.
We may argue here with Kristeva that the persistence of the chora in our body which no logic can totalize amounts to infertility in the sense we may describe of love without reproduction, not in the literal sense of opposing sexual reproduction, let alone, the incapacity to reproduce, but rather in the sense of resisting the reproduction of the social symbolic (an act not restricted to the sexually fertile or infertile) which reproduces the dominant function of conception, namely, the logical fertilization of love. We understand this logical fertilization as the opposite of the imaginative fertilization of love. The imaginative pertains to a kind of fertilization of the body, the care of the flesh, its nourishment, its education outside the bounds of biopolitics, or any form of totalization, be it conservative, reformist, progressive, or revolutionary with the end of making life programmable by representation.
Lastly, we understand the body as every-body which connects Kristeva’s project of the care of the body to the realities of the everyday where everyone is a body. If the body sustains the chora (we can say the body is incurably in love with it) despite the history of the totalization of this ‘bastard concept’ to anything other than a body full of love, we may say in conclusion that we have never been an animal rationale. It suffices to say that we continue to defy the definition in the name of love that remains unnameable.
Conford, Francis M. Plato’s Cosmology: The Timaeus of Plato, trans. with running commentary by Francis MacDonald Conford (Indiana/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997).
Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).
Sallis, John. Chorology. On Beginnings in Plato’s Timaeus (Bloomington and Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1999).
St. Mary, Nueva Viscaya, Philippines
February 21, 2015