Last night to tonight

I hate it when people write “tonite.” I’m known for my own range of silly abbreviations, neologisms and the like, but “tonite” and “lite” are the ones that get me.

Last night I re-viewed (I like funky hyphenation but am not phond of phunky spelling, you see) the January 1st Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Boise State. The pregame show, with a trip to Boise and a talk about the Smurf Turf was precious, it was great — it featured locals saying “Boy-see” not “Boyz-ee” … there were a couple “Boyz-ees” in there but few and far between, and nothing like the lazy forms of Boise heard by commentators. Tokens, lots of tokens. Linguistic evidence, and I’m not even a linguist.

But I play one online from time to time.

I meant to be very productive today, writing dissertation stuff. Kant and analogy, primarily.

But first, the remainder of last night. I re-watched Hellboy, which is a hell of a movie, a great little flick, well-enough acted, a witty script with real zingers, special effects befitting its budget, and a care for characters, plot, and mythology rare for such features.

Underworld (and the craptastic [neologism of sorts … but not realiy, since others use it, too] sequel Underworld: Evolution) had special effects and mythology, but lacked a real plot, one beyond coincidences, or characters. Ron Perlman under plastic shows more emotion than Kate Beckinsale. But let us look at “plot” oh-so-briefly. In Underworld characters stumble upon things. And things work out. And another character’s persistence does reveal the plotters and along the way she awaken Viktor — Bill Nighy — but facts about Bill’s “Viktor” are crucial — CRUCIAL — to us caring about the rest the plot. And we should care, but Viktor just becomes another Big Bad at the end. And the movie ends. The thing is, Viktor is a racist, a pretentious, powerful, aristocratic racist. We start out the movie loving the vamps, putting those brutal werewolves out of their — our — misery. Then we discover that the head werewolf has a plan, and then we learn that his coconspirator is a vampire, and the thing is, when you hear the head ‘wolf’s tale, your sympathies change. We’ve been cheering for the wrong side. The classism, the racism, it becomes apparent, and eve if Lucien the head Lycan is a bit of a backstabbing, self-important freak, we should at least abandon both sides. But any consequences, anything that follows directly from this major revelation has to wait at least one movie to be deal with. And the sequel comes along, the ever rocking Sir Derek Jacobi, seriously slumming it, provides gravitas, and the important points from the first are not dealt with. The racist ideology, to which there was critique in the first movie (see: the Lycans’ rhetoric), is just taken here and accepted. Our protagonists aren’t fighting for anything. If this were survival horror, fine, but it’s not. There are chases and fights, but it’s not survival horror and we don’t care about the characters.

I’m really off-topic now.

In Hellboy it’s different. The movie and the comics obviously aren’t the same, but I’ll just stick to the movie and accept any changes to the comics it made. They’re now canon, or at least canonical enough. There’s a beginning, provided by way of a long exposition during WWII that involves a voice-over by John Hurt, and while part of me says, “show, don’t tell, and put this in the movie” (see: the extra-long craptastic beginning scroll to Alone in the Dark), the reality is that the exposition is pure showing. It show characters and their behaviors, their ticks. It shows major plot points, and it introduces Hellboy as a “toddler.” From there we skip to the present day, introduce a naive POV character through whom we experience much but not all of what follows,, and what seems to be just another paranormal attack — it’s clear that our main characters have “history” and we’re getting them in the middle of ‘other things’ — has structure and consequences. And we learn that what is happening is being structured, and what Hellboy & Co thinks is/are the major foe is/are not. The bad guys are cunning and are leading our heroes on. We get a bit of this by way of scenes of Rasputin that the heroes don’t experience (or at least not while conscious). And while that opening exposition could have been dealt with “in-movie” (flashbacks, monologues, the rest), that would have slowed the movie down, hindered its pacing. And del Toro knows pacing, he knows composition, and he knows how to tell a story.

And he has characters. Characters who suffer and laugh and mope. They have quirks. They’re just characters, just actors in suits playing people who don’t exist. It’s an “illusion,” but it’s a convincing one. Even a throw-away “guard” or whatever, Clay — he has his quirks and concerns, and when he bites it, we care a bit.

This afternoon/evening I rewatched it again (this time without the hyphen) but with the cast commentary (Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Rupert Evans), and the actors were clearly having fun. Now I have The Thirteenth Floor — Gretchen Mol’s potential breakout role .. but her career went nowhere, at least until that Betty Page movie, which I haven’t seen –, another of the 1998/1999 sequence of virtual-reality and reality-bending themed movies.

Only one of them made it big: The Matrix.

But there were three others, all as good or better as stories, but all lower-budget or at least they look lower budget. And just as Star Wars and Logan’s Run were separated by just a year or two in production but seemed decades apart in technology and aesthetics, The Matrix is the one that looked new and set the standard for what action-adventure-SF movies should look like.

These three others are: Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor, and eXistenz. eXistenz is all David Cronenberg … it wasn’t setting any standards — it was employing slightly newer technology and new tropes to explore his old themes. A world in which that movie inspired countless imitators or at least students of the style would be, in terms of the mentality that inspired it, a fascinating world, but also one that would grow tedious and tiring, ruining the original, for Cronenberg is still “out there,” and to make him mainstream is to signal the final triumph of the staid over creativity.

Roger Ebert became a vocal champion of Dark City, brought to us buy the guy who also made The Crow, Alex Proyas. Proyas borrows from Soderbergh’s Kafka in a way with the quirky performances he gets from, say Kiefer Sutherland. And in contrast to “similar” movies Dark City truly feels claustrophobic and small. And that’s another difference between it and The Matrix, for in The Matrix, to the extent that we deal with world of the late 1990s or early 2000-ish range, electronics are everywhere, and while Keanu/Neo is a bit shocked that someone can hack into his computer, and he calls the “police” fascists, there is no real feeling that this level of surveillance, while creepy, really seeps into the psychological makeup of the characters. It is something you live with and work around; it better fits certain standard “geek mentalities” than the others, which seem as if from a time and from film makers who believe in privacy and the personal, private sphere, and for whom breaking those boundaries can cause severe damage. Paranoia, insanity, persecution complexes. Little ticks, quirks, you name it.

Dark City shares one or two “similarities” with The Matrix that the others do not, even though it is the one least involved in cyberpunk, virtual reality themes. What it has is the “rebooting” (see: deja vu in The Matrix) and/or controlling of environment, and the feeling of a cabal, some powerful group behind things. The Matrix employs Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as types of symbols and at times metaphors; Dark City has its own clues, such as “Shell Beach,” but its style is more 1940s, perhaps 30s or earlier, Art Deco not slick, glass, late modernism. It’s Edward Hopper painting a diner and Edward Hopper longingly portraying a lone house within a flat landscape — a sort of Shell Beach.

Finally there is The Thirteenth Floor, a mere footnote in some regards, something almost forgotten and which might have been forgotten by now were it not for The Matrix. And The Thirteenth Floor goes in a direction that would have been possible for Matrix Revolutions … and spoilers follow.

In a way the story revolves around computer programmers who create a convincing virtual reality world. But mixing this now with noir, within this virtual world a crime happens and it must be solved, and as in The Matrix, if you die in the matrix, you die in the real world. That sort of thing. And there is the matter of characters learning that they’re in a simulation. But what happens when you return to the “top level” and discover that you’re in yet another simulation?

This was a possible solution for The Matrix trilogy when, at the end of the 2nd, Keanu/Neo collapses and goes into a coma after affecting the Sentinels in the “real world,” using his “powers” as if he were Neo The Chosen One, aka Superman, inside The Matrix. The answer in the 3rd movie, if there is one, which there isn’t really, hinges upon, perhaps, part of him still being in the the matrix, such that he’s affecting the machines not directly, mediated by physical forces between him and the machines, but through the interconnection of the machines with the computer mainframe, which is connected, still, to Neo, who affects the matrix. Or something like that. It just “happens” and makes little sense, and once he awakens in the 3rd movie it is forgotten. He’s simply The One and the directors/writers/creators slap more and more messiah imagery on him. There is crucifixion, he becomes blind (perhaps like Homer, perhaps like some saint or martyr), and so on. He even has potential resurrection.

Questions not really addressed (and if they’re not addressed in the movie[s] they don’t matter, for other comics, animations, essays, and the like, even if they are technically “canon” are not part of the movie experience) involve to what extent “Neo,” the ‘human’ mind if not the body, was a computer construct — Colonel Sanders indicates that Neo is the end of a “process” … we are at least led to believe that if not Neo someone else would have risen to fulfill the same function and/or purpose. Clearly the Agents and similar AIs who functioned within the Matrix had no specific knowledge as to The One’s, Neo’s, identity before he “went public.” But whether or not the higher level AIs did … who knows.

The Thirteenth Floor “solution” doesn’t necessarily make sense for the world of The Matrix. We have an AI vs. human setup, we have a complete if mostly borrowed and adapted “mythology,” and so on. The Thirteenth Floor centers around 1) an event [something happens to set the plot in motion, and since it’s noir-ish, it’s a crime], and 2) a conceit [about layers of virtual reality]. In exploring that conceit, that high concept, it’s perfectly fine if an infinite regress of sorts — likely not infinite, but potentially arbitrary and long — results. Who knows how many layers of simulation there are? In the world of The Matrix we can’t really have that.

If it had turned out that Neo’s controlling of the Sentinels actually signalled that all those who thought they had been “freed” were just shuttled off to a new matrix, it would have provided a great twist and delicious albeit depressing irony in a way, but it would have then made us question: so, what is “reality”? At some point you get out of those computer simulations. For The Matrix this was important since the plot rested upon the conflict between humans and AIs … each layer of simulation is just a delaying tactic, especially as long as the AIs know about the layers of simulation and aren’t being deceived, just like the humans. In the Thirteenth Floor it’s a different matter — the uncertainty, not certainty and resolution, is important.

And that’s how it connects with eXistenz, where we do have several nested and increasingly bizarre layers of simulation, all connected through the nesting but linked through visual, sensual “symbols” of sorts, keys and locks and doors leading between them. And what this and The Thirteenth Floor have in common is an ethical concern — when you know at “your” level you’re all human but that within the simulation all but you and a few others are simulated “people,” they aren’t real beings, and you don’t seem to have obligations regarding them (ihnen gegenüber). In The Matrix it’s pointed out that most are simulations of real humans, but Agents can take anyone over, so basically you can’t trust anyone whom you don’t know to be “free,” but because most everyone is a human mind stuck in a simulation, you basically commit violence only as self defense. It is slightly complicated in the 2nd movie, when the Oracle and others with whom the protagonists interact are shown to be programs, just not programs of the necessarily evil, Agent variety. But over in The Thirteenth Floor, what happens if the simulations are realistic enough and you start caring for the sims, or, you find that your world is a simulation? What about those you care about? What is their ontological status? Over in eXistenz this becomes an issue when, up in “the real world” characters commit murder … and end up hoping that they can jump up another level, that they can “get out of it.”

In any case, I’ve rambled far too long about these movies, perhaps as a way to avoid doing dissertation work.

The “Philosophy Chapter” consists of several sub-essays, some with real arguments, some more introductory in nature. The most introductory one just deals with the role and existence of analogy in philosophy around the time of Kant. One of my sources (have the book around here somewhere) dedicates a whole paragraph to Kant as the lone representative of the Enlightenment and of philosophers between the Middle Ages and Wittgenstein. One paragraph.

This book, therefore, seems to indicate that between Scholasticism — and perhaps some Renaissance (and) Humanism — and Wittgenstein there wasn’t much role for analogy in philosophy, and furthermore, to the extent that it was considered, it was as a negative.

I can redeem this author, though, but saying that what he, the author, really means is that analogy was generally seen as unreliable in philosophy (Kant) and there was no new “theory of” analogy, talk about it and what it could do, even if it was used. The Scholastics had things to say, and Wittgenstein had things to say about analogy, but between them, there was nothing new worth talking about. That’s a potentially defensible position, but, I hope to show, wrong.

The Renaissance/Humanist perspective on analogy was more encompassing than the Scholastic tradition, but the Scholastics might have been more ‘unified,’ whereas with the Renaissance folks we’ve got a few eclectic authors here and there … perhaps that’s it. Though then again Foucault, in The Order of Things, argues that he has lots of evidence of analogy and terms for similarity, and that analogy is one of four main types of similarity in use in this Age of Resemblance, before the Age of Representation, represented primarily by the Baroque.

And Kant doesn’t like analogy much, furthermore he’s a long time after those Renaissance writers, and that’s that, right? Well, not quite, Mr. Wittenstein Fan — you can’t forget Hamann and you can’t forget Herder, contemporaries of Kant who both liked similarity, and analogy. Ah, says our Wittgensteinian, perhaps, they didn’t really have anything new to say, plus, they’re not “really” philosophers of note. I might just have to give in to this argument … but fear not, for it’s unimportant for me, for I’m not trying to argue — right now, at least — that analogy was highly important at this time, just that it has more presence than is usually acknowledged. And so Hamann and Herder serve as evidence. And Kant is not so unequivocal on the matter … he critiques analogy but also talks about important analogies and uses analogy.

It’s hard to avoid analogy … it’s practically impossible to avoid metaphor in human speech, and a large percentage of metaphors are analogical in nature, or at least at the cognitive level of interpretation. Finding similarities between the metaphor and that to which it refers. But this is not philosophy, but language/linguistics. But at the same time, we have similes, whose meaning is also usually by way of analogy, if in an abbreviated form. If no one can really avoid similes and metaphors in their speech and writing — they can avoid allegory and symbol, I suppose — then that implies Kant and his contemporaries can’t, either, and so the presence of analogies in speech is not that important.

Ah, but explicit analogies in argument, that’s a different matter. And meta-analogy, talking about analogy and/or its uses, that would qualify, especially if it is brought up in certain contexts a great deal and less so elsewhere, which is, in a sense, part of my argument — that analogy plays a great role in aesthetics, less so elsewhere in philosophy.

Back to my “history,” though. I suppose I need to talk about Foucault — not because I have to but because not talking about him is silly when it’s so easy to talk about him … he’s free pages, paragraphs, arguments. But there’s a gap between Foucault’s interest and Kant, between the Renaissance — even late — and the late Enlightenment. It’s worse that “Renaissance” is a period but not a particular period or style of “philosophy” as we know it. And what comes in between? The early British empiricists along with Leibniz. Forget the French Enlightenment philosophers … precisely the type, actually, to disdain analogy, one might argue. But the empiricists have to deal with it — I know Hume does — and Leibniz does in a particular way, one related to his rationalism (of sorts) and dualism. He, for example uses analogy as the binding mechanism, the glue, that makes the sensuous world and the intelligible world not so much a whole but comprehensible together. If the two are separate, how are they related? By harmony and a type of analogy, a type of deep connection but without a direct connection, for a direct connection would cross the boundary between the two, and that cannot be crossed.

So Leibniz is a bit of a bridge, but clearly Kant is not Leibniz, and Leibniz doesn’t write an aesthetics. In fact, he writes nothing I really know of on poetics or art, and only a few lines on beauty — SPOILER: God can’t really perceive or appreciate beauty.

But that’s okay, for it shows analogy being used in a philosophically sophisticated fashion (not just the facile analogies of the form ‘God is like a father in heave, and we are his children’ sort of crap) … so it shows a continuity of analogy. And Kant also responds to rationalist metaphysics and the Analogies of Being (Baumgarten/Wolf, back to Leibniz, back to the Scholastics).

But Foucault gets interesting, and that’s why I was reading Metaphysics and British Empiricism by Robert L. Armstrong (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970). Foucault is interesting in a way that Foucault didn’t realize. His four sorts of similarity, in which analogy plays the 3rd level, maps nicely to several other structures: 1) Aristotle’s 4 causes, 2) systems, and 3) language.

Aristotle mentions four types of causes: material, efficient, formal and final. When talking about the cause of an action or thing … anything … one has to be clear why type of cause one is talking about. There is, however, as with anything dealing with Aristotle, the question of how to interpret him. Some might see “formal” as relating to Plato’s abstract Forms, existing in an ideal word, not the material-sense-empirical world. That might not be all wrong. The Scholastics saw in the final cause God … or rather, God was the final cause. The first mover, the uncaused effect, etc. But “will,” string toward, is a matter of final causes, and what the will wants is Good, and Good comes from God, etc.

A system is a whole consisting of parts and their relations. We can see here the material, the efficient, and the formal, though the final is missing.

Let me skip ahead. In language, leaving out the concrete level of sound and sounds now, you have the level of words, you have rules for combining them, and you have higher level structures (sentences, clauses, phrases). But above this material, efficient, and formal mapping (see: system) you have a level of meaning, and the meaning, the semantic level is the last “why?” The first three levels as a meaningful endeavor rest upon the 4th, the semantic, existing. When it comes to systems, the reason for a system, its purpose, exists outside of it. Formal causes are problematic — from a materialistic stand point (which I’ll adopt for a moment) they might not really exist at all. But even more complex, depending on how far you go from Aristotle, is that formal and final get a bit confused. And in a materialist view, especially a reductionist one, one might argue that the semantic level is just ones that emerges out of the syntactic, formal level.

In fact, in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem it is basically shown that the syntactic and semantic cannot be entirely separated. Of course, if we’re not careful, we might lose track of to what extent we can map higher level syntax to form and semantics to finality.

It’s not impossible or a great stretch to do so, though. If we take how Hofstadter introduces us to formal systems in Gödel, Escher, Bach, we can see that form and rules for manipulation (efficient causes) are separate enough. Efficient causes would be the rules of manipulation, of combining two or three things. A formal cause is a higher level abstraction, and in those examples by Hofstadter, based on the efficient level, it was possible to see sometimes whether something higher level was “well-formed,” had the right form, regardless of its truth content, its meaning, perhaps.

But back to similarity. Foucault gives us a sort of “system of similarity … with meaning.” We have convention (temporal/spatial overlap), emulation (mirroring), analogy (equivalence of two ratios — sort of the mirroring of two sets of things in conventional relations with a test as to whether they match!) and sympathy, which is more cosmic in scale, a little micro- and macrocosm stuff going on. Harmony of the world, etc. Convention deals with the materiality of objects, emulation with a slightly more distant relation, analogy has syntax of sorts, and sympathy makes it meaningful — it’s both the extension of analogy, according to Foucault, but also what makes it possible to consider convention meaningful or noteworthy in the first place. That is, in a way it is outside the system.

Amstrong’s volume begins with a chapter on “Metaphysics as the Study of Formal Causes.” What we’ve got here in British Empiricism, from Bacon and Newton through to Locke and Hume, is Natural Philosophy, with the new physics in particular, carving out an epistemological space, a claim to knowledge, and what physics gets is the world of material and efficient causes. The final causes still lie with God or at least far beyond the world of science, but what to do with formal causes? Seen as “abstractions,” they are, argues Amstrong at points, given over to the realm of Metaphysics, something beyond physics in a way, and also, perhaps, not quite knowable, at least not in a way reachable via science. While there seems to be a progression from material and efficient to formal, there is a gap there. Some see physics as saying, the material causes are the objects in the world, material objects, and efficient causes are the scientific laws that govern them, relate them. We had an adaption of Aristotle here. But higher level abstractions — even things like “white” or “whiteness” — are not physical properties, per se.

When Kant speaks of metaphysics I think in a way he means some of the things here considered metaphysics by Armstrong’s philosophers. It’s those things beyond the material and natural laws. He accepts the practical use of Newtonian physics, and not just grudgingly … he more or less knew what he was talking about. The world of metaphysics for Kant includes the “thing in itself,” — das Ding an sich — and that’s awfully platonic and formal. Or Formal. And Kant says we can’t quite bridge it. Not at all. Which won’t stop people from trying, he admits. We’ll keep doing metaphysics; it just won’t be a science.

How how this relates to my work is a bit more tenuous, because I end up with two approaches to “form” and formal causes, one seeing Kant as having to deal with the same problems as those empiricists struggling with metaphysics, which puts material and efficient into the realm of science but formal into metaphysics, but also with the 3rd Critique and its interest in teleology and form imitating purpose — purposefulness without purpose, for example. That is to say, we have the question of how form relates to the first two causes, but we also have the question of how form relates to the last cause, the final cause.

And my schema can’t really be united here. See, in a ‘system’ of similarity, analogy does the work of formal causes. It is the higher level structure that carries but is not meaning or meaningful in and of itself. I want to argue that the level of analogy is equivalent to the level of higher level syntax and form — but this makes the most sense in my 3rd content chapter, about poetics, not so much here. For there the argument goes that analogy substitutes for logic/regular-syntax in poetics (relative to rhetoric). But related to the matter of final causes, analogy and formal causes show up — the level of formal causes is expressed by aesthetics and teleology, though actually, teleology would be final, but what Kant is dealing with is teleological judgment, about judging things as having a purpose or final cause. See, of the 4 causes, the first three are causes; the last is purpose. The first three come before, from behind, the last is foward, ahead, in the future. And thus Kant’s 1st Critique is about material and efficient causes, the 2nd is about Freedom and Will and thus about final causes, purpose, and the 3rd is really about formal causes, in between, something hinted at by the first two causes but logically separate and separated, and yet analogous to the fourth, the final cause. And this is where analogy comes in with aesthetics or at least aesthetic judgment. Historically aesthetics branched off from ethics, took its forms and its arguments from ethics — it wasn’t really an independent field of philosophy, there were only two of those before the 18th century: theoretical and practical. But that it does so is also in a way a conscious choice by those like Kant who say, I don’t really know what aesthetics is, but it’s awfully close to this. And so aesthetic and ethical judgments are made analogously, and gaining good taste in one is done by being well educated in the other.

And I’ve reached the point of rambling.

There was no music today. Just reading, a bit of movie watching, too much heat and too little ventilation, a bit of writing here, and a need to relax.

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