Chasm

2019-01-08

I am facing this chasm of thought, a chasm I feel in the time it has taken to type these words, the time it has taken to get here, to the unspooling of an intuition, or whatever you might call this sensation lurking in my guts.

I draw the word chasm from James Bridle’s New Dark Age,1 a word he uses to describe the unknowable reaches and operations of the network in which we live. We find ourselves “utterly enmeshed” in our technology, unable to step back, unable to bracket out the systems around us. They pervade our understanding, direct our instincts, transform our knowledge.

I am fascinated by such questions of technology, and have spent much time engaging with them, but here Bridle’s notion of the chasm interests me most as an epistemological model.

The chasm signifies the tactility of knowledge, a literacy of touch, a reading and thinking in the shadows far from the blinding sun of reason. The primal scene of understanding (at least, the primal scene of correlational or representational theories of mind and knowledge) is undone, sunken, supplanted by the “embrace of unknowing” (Bridle and I have been reading similar authors, it would appear).2

The darkness is both danger and opportunity. The darkness of this technological age means that power can continue to “hide[] its own agency” through “opaque machines and inscrutable code, as well as physical distance and legal constructs.” But it also means that we are required to acknowledge the “radical interconnectedness of things and ourselves,” that interconnectedness of touching and being touched that has always already contaminated the pure bubble of transcendental reason sought after by the reduction.3

The great chasms of the planet’s oceans press upon my mind: blackness, the deep, utter lack of sight. And yet, each contains a rhythm, a rhythm of the sea, the emerging-abiding sway4 of structure, structure without centre, surface indistinguishable from depth, sightlessness giving way to another vision, vision embodied in flesh, in uncertain and incomplete thought, tentatively reaching, feeling, tracing—

Or another image: Michel Serres, in his inversion of Plato, presents us with a universe studded with eyes, the half-lit cave, like Bridle’s network, lacking “single, solid intent,” but fecund, celebratory, endless, beckoning us into self-exceeding, self-renouncing participation.5

Or, finally: a prayer of “unspeakable groanings”;6 a prophecy of fingers interlaced; a divinity like the first tremors of dawn.7


Notes

  1. Bridle, James. New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future. London: Verso, 2018. 

  2. See Philo, Gregory of Nyssa, the Pseudo-Dionysius, and, as cited in Bridle, The Cloud of Unknowing

  3. Something from Husserl. Richard Kearney frequently referred to a passage from Husserl on touch, but I can’t find the reference. 

  4. See Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, trans. by Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 149; and Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 15. 

  5. Serres, Michel. Eyes. Translated by Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. 

  6. Epistle to the Romans, ch. 8, v. 26, Douay-Rheims. 

  7. Dillard, Annie. Holy the Firm. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.