Monday, July 26, 2010

Paradigm, Attempt One

     Because my Leave No Trace post made extensive use of the term paradigm, I feel that an attempted full-fledge definition cannot be postponed any longer. As my "About" page indicates, I have appropriated the term from Giorgio Agamben’s chapter “What is a Paradigm?” in his most recently translated work, The Signature of All Things: On Method (the chapter was initially a lecture given at the European Graduate School in 2002; you can find it here. It is somewhat long, but definitely worth the time as an introduction to Agamben’s more recent work and methodology). I will be taking, therefore, most of the following definition from this seminal text.

     Our common understanding of paradigm comes primarily from Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which Kuhn defines the term according to two phases. First, Kuhn defines a paradigm as a disciplinary matrix designating techniques, models, and values a group (of philosophers, scientists, theologians, etc) more or less implicitly adheres to(what we typically call the “paradigm”); second, Kuhn singles out a solitary element within that matrix which unifies it through its status as an example, therefore not only replacing an explicit set of rules or prescriptions, but also ensuring the formulation of a tradition of inquiry.
     Foucault takes up this second aspect of the Kuhnian paradigm, shifts the focus onto discursive formations in general (wherein the paradigm becomes, an “episteme”), and posits the problem, “In the enigma of scientific discourse, what the analysis of the episteme questions is not its right to be a science, but the fact that is exists” (Archeology of Knowledge 192). This facticity is crucial to understanding the paradigm, especially as concerning historical and critical inquiry (the purpose of my work as a scholar). Agamben asserts that Foucault’s paradigm seems to follow Kuhn, insofar as it is “not only an exemplar and model” but also “an exemplum, which allows statements and discursive practices to be gathered into a new intelligible ensemble and in a new problematic context” (“What is a Paradigm?” 18). However, what makes Foucault’s paradigm different from Kuhn is his treatment of it within historical inquiry; for Foucault, “the paradigm is a singular case that is isolated from its context only insofar as, by exhibiting its own singularity, it makes intelligible a new ensemble, whose homogeneity it itself constitutes.”
     Thus Foucault initiates a new understanding of the paradigm, one that radically calls into question the dichotomous opposition between the particular and the general through its radical singularity. And this is where Agamben takes up Foucault’s definition of paradigm and pushes it to its fulfillment. For Agamben’s paradigm can be, primarily, characterized by its absolute singularity, its radical suspension of several binaries of historical knowledge. Agamben’s (and by extension, mine) paradigm is, to take a phrase from Benjamin, a dialectic at a standstill.
     First, the paradigm is an analogical form of knowledge, not inductive/deductive; it accordingly moves from singularity to singularity (31). Second, the paradigm likewise suspends the dichotomy between the general and the particular (and that form of knowledge wherein the general is known through the particular/ the particular known through the general; i.e. deduction/induction) and replaces it with a “bipolar analogical model” insofar as analogies “intervene[] in the dichotomies of logic . . . not to take them up into a higher synthesis but to transform them into a force field traversed by polar tensions, where (as in an electrical-magnetic field) their substantial identities evaporate” (20). These suspensions are, in fact, a singular gesture, one that also entails the paradigm’s suspension of its belonging to the group of which it also serves as an example. That is, the paradigm exposes itself as an exemplar of a historical group (a sort of historical milieu) through its suspended belonging to that group according to its radical singularity (of course, by extension all historical objects are potentially paradigms, given the premise of historiographical discontinuity). The paradigmatic group, however, cannot be presupposed in the paradigms (they are, after all, absolutely singular, or, to borrow an object-oriented ontology term, “operationally closed”); instead, “it is immanent in them” (31).
     What this diagrammatic structure of the paradigm seeks to map is, namely, that implicit paradigmatic core which allows a discursive formation to exist at all; the diagrammatic structure of the paradigm given above is, then, the structure of the paradigm’s communicativity, its pure potential to be communicated. Accordingly, Agamben’s sketch of the paradigm outlines the particular manner a historical inquiry must comport itself to historical “material,” to those paradigms which will illumine previously ignored series of phenomena. Hence, for Agamben the homo sacer (Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life), the Muselmann (Remnants of Auschwitz), the state of exception (The State of Exception), and the anthropological machine (The Open) are all paradigms illuminating not the origin of modernity, but a series of discontinuous connectivity. Likewise, for myself Leave No Trace is a paradigm that, when treated in a specific manner, can be suspended from its belonging to a certain group (anthropocentricism) thereby making that group intelligible in a new light. LNT is, therefore, an absolutely singular historical object that serves as an example of a larger paradigmatic plane, but is nevertheless irreducible to that plane.
     While it has been implicit throughout this post, I will nonetheless make explicit the particular “region” of the paradigm. As a historical object it belongs, properly, to the realm of discourse (I do not use the term “thought” here because I wish to avoid the correlationist fallacy). The paradigm is accordingly a discursive formation (something that is part “thought,” part “lived reality”). So, when writing about LNT, I treated its discursive/expressive formation (as a slogan and proper noun) paradigmatically, i.e. as a singularity allowing the exposure of an under-exposed, “larger” paradigm (for LNT: anthropocentrism). Thus, something like LNT can allow the critic a glimpse at the paradigmatic core, or engine, of a Kuhnian “paradigm” (a set of discourse practices centered on an implicit “example”).

No comments: