19 Aug 2020

Breeur (1.2) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.1.2, “Contingency, Freedom, and Imagination”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.1

 

1.2

“Contingency, Freedom, and Imagination”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(1.2.1) On the one hand, facts strike us as highly contingent: we often think things could have happened differently (“A small, contingent little detail could have put the entire outcome of history on a different track.”) On the other hand, facts, once occurring, cannot be made otherwise and in that sense are highly necessary. Furthermore, facts are always understood from a particular perspective and distance, which is the freedom, according to Arendt, “‘to say “yes” or “no” [... ] to things as they are given, beyond agreement or disagreement’.” (1.2.2) Insofar as we regard a fact as contingent (that it could have been otherwise), we might feel remorse (about that bad event would could have prevented). We might for instance think, “If only I had not done such and such.” And, insofar as we regard the event as necessary (that it is something that is engraved in the past and cannot be altered) we might feel gratitude about it, perhaps thinking something like, “What great luck I had there!” Both of these feelings are entangled just as the fact’s contingency and necessity are. (This complex composition of facts along with our thoughts and feelings about them provides a basic structure for our actions and the freedom we have with regard to them. In order to act freely, there needs to be options, otherthans, alternatives, etc. that we may choose among. Thus we need to think that facts as they were and are are alterable (are contingent) and we are responsible for how they are altered. And we also need to regard that there are given conditions (necessary in that sense) against which our actions can introduce divergence:) “On the basis of what happens to you and ‘could have been otherwise’ you cherish the desire to do something else – and that desire itself is fed by the insight that what happened cannot be undone” (14). As Arendt notes, our action cannot act in a contextual vacuum; rather, she writes, “In order to make room for one’s own action, something that was there before must be removed or destroyed, and things as they were before are changed.” But, in order to nullify or bypass the necessarily given circumstances, we must imagine this otherwise. Now, such a denial of reality and assertion that it be otherwise is in a sense both an act of the imagination and an act of lying. She writes: “the ability to lie, the deliberate denial of factual truth, and the capacity to change facts, the ability to act, are interconnected; they owe their existence to the same source, imagination.” This involves, on the one hand, nullifying, making nothing of the factually given, and, on the other hand, affirming an alternate nothing. As Breeur explains: “Acting means ignoring something in reality or neutralizing its impact in favor of what does not yet exist and what I would like to change, adapt, replace” (15). (1.2.3) (Given that facts involve our interpretations and efforts to alter them), facts are never simply given to our passive reception but rather “appear within a context as an event, a moment, an object, on the basis of which a set of possibilities is generated” (15). This is similar to Deleuze’s notion of voyance, a sort of clairvoyant seeing of how present circumstances can be suddenly steered down unexpected paths of alternate development. Since every fact involves both the given and the alternate, “A fact or event is therefore a kind of snapshot, a central point in which a minimal distinction is condensed between the real and the possible” (15). The imaginary is what reshapes the real, and thus “A fact therefore never appears objectively and naked, but, like everything that appears, is (to use Sartre’s expression) ‘pregnant with the imaginary’” (15-16). And those with greater powers of the imagination and clairvoyance are more able to alter the progress of events and unfolding of facts.

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

1.2.1

[The Dual Contingency and Necessity of Facts and Our Freedom to Affirm Them in Accordance with a Perspectival View upon Them]

 

1.2.2

[The Dual Attitude Toward Action and Freedom Built Upon Facts’ Contingency/Necessity Ambivalence: Lying by Means of Imagination to Introduce Alternance into Actuality]

 

1.2.3

[Bending the Real with Voyance, Thereby Impregnating It with Imagination]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

1.2.1

[The Dual Contingency and Necessity of Facts and Our Freedom to Affirm Them in Accordance with a Perspectival View upon Them]

 

[On the one hand, facts strike us as highly contingent: we often think things could have happened differently (“A small, contingent little detail could have put the entire outcome of history on a different track.”) On the other hand, facts, once occurring, cannot be made otherwise and in that sense are highly necessary. Furthermore, facts are always understood from a particular perspective and distance, which is the freedom, according to Arendt, “‘to say “yes” or “no” [... ] to things as they are given, beyond agreement or disagreement’.”]

 

[ditto]

Facts in history manifest a remarkable ambivalence between pure contingency and necessity. At the occasion of some event, you cannot get rid of the impression that things could have been otherwise, that things could have gone differently. A small, contingent little detail could have put the entire outcome of history on a different track. On the other hand, what’s done is done. This small detail is overloaded with meaning precisely because it did not derail the fatal consequences of history. Something happens without reason – and what | happened becomes indelible or irreversible. Hence, facts occur to us in a certain place at a certain time. A fact is not just a mechanical or natural “thing.” After all, you do not simply accept or submit yourself to facts passively; rather, you consider facts from a very specific angle and a kind of distance. That distance is freedom – the  freedom, according to Hannah Arendt, “to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ [... ] to things as they are given, beyond agreement or disagreement.”5

(13-14)

5. Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics,” in: Crises of the Republic (San Diego: Harvest, 1972), p.5.

(14)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.2.2

[The Dual Attitude Toward Action and Freedom Built Upon Facts’ Contingency/Necessity Ambivalence: Lying by Means of Imagination to Introduce Alternance into Actuality]

 

[Insofar as we regard a fact as contingent (that it could have been otherwise), we might feel remorse (about that bad event would could have prevented). We might for instance think, “If only I had not done such and such.” And, insofar as we regard the event as necessary (that it is something that is engraved in the past and cannot be altered) we might feel gratitude about it, perhaps thinking something like, “What great luck I had there!” Both of these feelings are entangled just as the fact’s contingency and necessity are. (This complex composition of facts along with our thoughts and feelings about them provides a basic structure for our actions and the freedom we have with regard to them. In order to act freely, there needs to be options, otherthans, alternatives, etc. that we may choose among. Thus we need to think that facts as they were and are are alterable (are contingent) and we are responsible for how they are altered. And we also need to regard that there are given conditions (necessary in that sense) against which our actions can introduce divergence:) “On the basis of what happens to you and ‘could have been otherwise’ you cherish the desire to do something else – and that desire itself is fed by the insight that what happened cannot be undone” (14). As Arendt notes, our action cannot act in a contextual vacuum; rather, she writes, “In order to make room for one’s own action, something that was there before must be removed or destroyed, and things as they were before are changed.” But, in order to nullify or bypass the necessarily given circumstances, we must imagine this otherwise. Now, such a denial of reality and assertion that it be otherwise is in a sense both an act of the imagination and an act of lying. She writes: “the ability to lie, the deliberate denial of factual truth, and the capacity to change facts, the ability to act, are interconnected; they owe their existence to the same source, imagination.” This involves, on the one hand, nullifying, making nothing of the factually given, and, on the other hand, affirming an alternate nothing. As Breeur explains: “Acting means ignoring something in reality or neutralizing its impact in favor of what does not yet exist and what I would like to change, adapt, replace” (15).]

 

[ditto]

This combination of coincidence and necessity can therefore be a source of remorse (“If only I hadn’t...”) or gratitude (“What luck happens to me!”). A fact therefore affects someone within a certain context that is marked by the structure of the action: it does something to you or you do something with it. On the basis of what happens to you and “could have been otherwise” you cherish the desire to do something else – and that desire itself is fed by the insight that what happened cannot be undone. In her text on “lying in politics,” Arendt aptly expresses the affinity between freedom and action as follows:

A characteristic of human action is that it always begins something new, but this does not mean that it is ever permitted to start ab ovo, to create ex nihilo. In order to make room for one’s own action, something that was there before must be removed or destroyed, and things as they were before are changed. Such change would be impossible if we could not mentally remove ourselves from where we are physically located and imagine that things might as well be different from what they actually are. In other words, the ability to lie, the deliberate denial of factual truth, and the capacity to change facts, the ability to act, are interconnected; they owe their existence to the same source, imagination.6

| The ability to take distance and imagine that things could be different from what they are today, these are also the two structural properties of the dynamics of the imagination as such. It is not for nothing that Sartre defined the imaginary as a consciousness in so far as it realizes its freedom.7 The imaginary cannot reductively be “psychologized” into the mental function of forming images; it represents a global attitude towards reality. The power of the imaginary lies in the quasi-magical ability that we have to deny facts – “to say ‘no’” – in favor of a fictional narrative. The imaginary thus affirms itself as a refusal to accept what is happening or as a distance from reality in favor of the possible or the unreal. It is this internal structure of a “double néantisation’’ that, as Arendt suggested, is characteristic of freedom and action. Acting means ignoring something in reality or neutralizing its impact in favor of what does not yet exist and what I would like to change, adapt, replace.

(14-15)

6. “Lying in Politics,” p. 5.

(14)

7. Jean-Paul Sartre, L’imaginaire (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), p. 358.

(15)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.2.3

[Bending the Real with Voyance, Thereby Impregnating It with Imagination]

 

[(Given that facts involve our interpretations and efforts to alter them), facts are never simply given to our passive reception but rather “appear within a context as an event, a moment, an object, on the basis of which a set of possibilities is generated” (15). This is similar to Deleuze’s notion of voyance, a sort of clairvoyant seeing of how present circumstances can be suddenly steered down unexpected paths of alternate development. Since every fact involves both the given and the alternate, “A fact or event is therefore a kind of snapshot, a central point in which a minimal distinction is condensed between the real and the possible” (15). The imaginary is what reshapes the real, and thus “A fact therefore never appears objectively and naked, but, like everything that appears, is (to use Sartre’s expression) ‘pregnant with the imaginary’” (15-16). And those with greater powers of the imagination and clairvoyance are more able to alter the progress of events and unfolding of facts.]

 

[ditto]

I would argue, in line with Sartre’s phenomenological thinking, that facts are never recorded or registered passively. They appear within a context as an event, a moment, an object, on the basis of which a set of possibilities is generated. In this context, Deleuze aptly spoke of “voyance,” a kind of clairvoyant seeing by which, in what is usually understood by our perception, one discovers a specific detail that can push the course of the circumstances into a totally new and unexpected dimension and direction.8 Think of a comedian who quickly and sharply detects and exploits ambiguities in words and unexpectedly “translates” the meaning of statements into a different register. A fact or event is therefore a kind of snapshot, a central point in which a minimal distinction is condensed between the real and the possible. This distinction is based on the imaginary. A fact therefore never appears | objectively and naked, but, like everything that appears, is (to use Sartre’s expression) “pregnant with the imaginary.” This imaginary gives implicit meaning to the real. The richer your imagination, the sharper your clairvoyance, i.e. the more details will have the power to evoke in the world moments where “everything could have been different.” Or, conversely, the power to get some flexibility and contingency into what has happened and is experienced as irreversible.

(15-16)

8. Cf. Corry Shores, “The Primacy of Falsity: Deviant Origins in Deleuze,” Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 81.1 (2019), 81-130.

(15)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

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