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peter white
Jul 15, 2021
In General Discussions
In the discussion period on the third day of the 2021 Zoom conference, Richard Naegle asked me if I could think of a connection between the Anishnaabe myth “Mandamin ', specifically the image “food of wonder”,' and Robert Dommett’s piece on Surveillance Capitalism. (I hope I heard correctly through the intermittent garble of my poor internet connection.) As is often the case I could not come up with much of an answer on the spot and so I will give a fuller response here. What is the “food of wonder” and does it relate to Surveillance Capitalism and the project of the human being subsumed by the machine? Everything, I think, depends on context. To “export” the image “food of wonder”, just like that, without considering the style of consciousness one is applying it to seems problematic to me. For the purpose of this discussion I see four contexts. 1) the ancient Anishnaabe who created the myth 2) contemporary Anishnaabe such as Basil Johnston who recorded the story in his Ojibway Tales 3) psychology as the discipline of interiority and 4) contemporary surveillance capitalism. When I try to think about these things I find it essential to maintain a sense of historical context or, all too soon, one’s thoughts wind up muddled in a heap at the bottom of a slippery slope where everything means everything and all too soon nothing means anything. Ancient Anishnaabe - If we follow Giegerich’s statements about the history of the soul, in the age of mythological thinking where this story has its origin there would be no acts of reflection about the “meaning” of “food of wonder”. The images of myth and many of the objects in the physical world did not have meaning but rather were meaning. (see Dialectics and CEP III) The story and the spirits that filled the world were the “food of wonder”. When Basil Johnston says as he relates the story, “There is another tale entitled “Corn” that is no less striking. But the story is not really about corn or its origins.” and “one of the story’s themes is . . .” he is speaking from a stance of reflection. This is a consciousness that is no longer in the mythological mode of being-in-the-world. And indeed, Giegerich’s argument is that myth is a transition stage between ritual and religious consciousness. Thus for Johnston, the “food of wonder” is the symbolic meaning of this phrase and the images of the story. As I claimed in my paper, the “food of wonder” for psychology as the discipline of interiority is the soul as logical life. What is done via the medium of images in the myth is done by our psychological method when it negates the images of myth as being archetypal “entities” but then negates its negation of those same images by interiorizing them into themselves such that they form the framework for thinking them as both the identity of themselves and the identity of themselves and their opposite. In my paper I said that for psychology, the “food of wonder” in the Anishnaabe story is allegorical of a new logical form of consciousness. What do changes in the logical form of consciousness look like historically? For one instance Giegerich states in The Soul’s Logical Life that psychology is sublated religion and sublated science, which is to say that psychology (as he conceives it) is a form of consciousness that is logically beyond both religion and science.The crucial thing to keep in mind, I think, is that even though the vessel is the human, the change is within soul. To carry this over to the question of technology as a “food of wonder”, the question is whether it is a “food of wonder” for the soul, not people as individuals. Does surveillance capitalism function as a new logical form of consciousness? It is a phenomenon that has a monumental effect on humanity but is it the soul’s “food of wonder”, the birth of itself in a new form? What I see in Dommett’s paper is that surveillance capitalism is a part of the death of the logic of humanism that has dominated Western consciousness since the Renaissance, but the logic of being “human” in other ages and places was not in the style of humanism. To believe that the ancient Egyptian mind whose mythology inspires Dommetts reflections on surveillance capitalism, for instance, lived according to the needs and values of humanism would be the fallacy of retrojecting a style of consciousness from one age into another that did not experience the world in that way. (And Dommett carefully avoids this, sticking strictly to the images of Egyptian myth but never speaking about what the style of ancient Egyptian consciousness was.) Viewed from the standpoint of humanism, surveillance capitalism and “machine-dominance” are murderous knives, killing the humanistic soul; it is indicative of a logical form that humanism cannot fathom and cannot give credence to. But this is not new. One could argue that it was structurally the same for the European paganism that, after millennia of functioning as the logical form or style of consciousness, was forced to give way to Christianity. The better is always the enemy of the good. In this way Dommett’s paper articulates the opposite archetypal moment of the one reflected by the “food of wonder” in the Anishnaabe story where the new is a miraculous and wonderful event. The overall feeling conveyed in Dommett’s paper, by contrast, is one of a horrible fate imposed on blind and/or unwilling victims. Best, Peter
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