A Few Don'ts (And Dos) By A Cultural Phenomenologist

Steven Connor

Up The Wooden Hill

Above all, it ought to be obvious to all that C.P is no kind of Career Path. Children, if you want to grow up to be a professor or a cultural analyst, you had better make sure you stay `in the true', as Foucault puts it. You're going to need theory, method, routine, and clean living. Doing cultural phenomenology is not a matter of making yourself into a cultural phenomenologist, through vigil, the taking of vows, or other forms of intellectual indenture. In fact, doing cultural phenomenology is probably more like going to sleep than it is prudent for me to admit. I actually have in mind here something quite specific: the arresting account offered by Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception of how to go to sleep, as we know, a tricky matter if you see it as a conscious exercise of will:

I lie down in bed, on my left side, with my knees drawn up; I close my eyes and breathe slowly, putting my plans out of my mind. But the power of my will or consciousness stops there. As the faithful, in the Dionysian mysteries, invoke the god by miming scenes from his life, I call up the visitation of sleep by imitating the breathing and posture of the sleeper. The god is there when the faithful can no longer distinguish themselves from the part they are playing, when their body and their consciousness cease to bring in, as an obstacle, their particular opacity, and when they are totally fused in the myth. There is a moment when sleep `comes', settling on this imitation of itself which I have been offering to it, and I succeed in becoming what I was trying to be.

So you invoke sleep by pretending to be a sleeping person, knowing, but of course, pretending not to, that the point at which you start forgetting to pretend to be a sleeper is the point at which sleep will have a chance to enter in. This quotation will doubtless put the tin lid on things for those who find everything I have been saying woozy, irrationalist, irresponsible, reactionary, anti-theoretical, New Ageist apostasy. I am trying to do the sort of conjuring trick that Merleau-Ponty describes, though not exactly in the way he describes it. Needless to say, this that you have been reading is not itself supposed to be cultural phenomenology, or I don't think so. I am trying to counterfeit something into existence, to succeed in becoming what I was trying to be. The point is to suggest that there are intellectual possibilities as well as existential conditions which you can come at just as well sideways or from underneath as frontways and from on top.

Night night all.

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| Steve Connor | English and Humanities | Birkbeck College |