Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Ch 5, "Terra Incognita and 'Incomplete Universe' as Metaphors of the Modern Relationship to the World"

Blumenberg explores how the terra incognita and unfinished universe metaphors shape the modern attitude towards the world. Terra incognita (along with its metaphorical substitutes America and even Africa) refers back to the discovery of unknown and even unsuspected geography early in the modern age and the subsequent exploration of previously uncharted continents. Taking this as the metaphorical model of knowledge meant being prepared to see every advance of knowledge as just a preliminary to making a much greater discovery. This expectation encouraged a disposition to expect and labor for new knowledge, and brought along with it a positive reappraisal of the new and novel, of curiosity, of infinity, and of imagination.

The metaphor of the incomplete universe suggested not only that the world was still evolving, but that it had no fixed end -- so that human beings were free to shape it. The classical conception of the cosmos, with its assumption that all change amounted to the completion of already established forms, proved particularly resilient. Cartesian cosmogony remained wedded to a fixed teleology, which saw the world as it already existed as its end state. Even Kant's conception of a universe in an unending process of change doesn't quite shake free from earlier cosmological ideas -- the worlds in his universe still have a fixed pattern of development and decay, and man plays no active part in it.

Friedrich Schlegel first gives the incomplete universe a pragmatic turn -- an incomplete universe means that life is not futile, that there are tasks for humans to accomplish. Schlegel's insistence on organic metaphor for the incomplete world actually suggests greater resistance to human action than a purely mechanical interpretation.

Schlegel also puts forth the metaphor of "almighty man" as an aggregated force that brings order to the incomplete universe. This raises the question of how the fragmentary forces of individuals are integrated into the task of completing the universe. Modern thought throws up two concepts which answer this question, method and collective. Method is a way of unifying generations of human beings into a single subject of knowledge. Collective is a way of conceptualizing the aggregate of labor that is ready to be deployed to reshape an unfinished world -- and thus, in communist thought, it provides the background assumption of a force that needs an unfinished world to be created by revolution, which liberates society from stasis, in order to be put to use.

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