Reservoir of Support / Luminous Clearing / Incessant Murmur

Minecraft image by Djohaal

This is a very beautiful passage from Alphonso Lingis’s ‘The Elemental Imperative’, regarding Levinas’s separation of sensing from perception:

“The ground, reservoir of support, the light, the luminous clearing, the silence or the incessant murmur of the city, the heat and the damp of the monsoon, the night in which all the contours of the things are engulfed and which is not nothingness but darkness—these surfaceless phenomena, without contours, inobservable from different viewpoints, without boundaries, but also without horizons, are not simply conditions fot the possibility of things, as Husserl defined the field, nor simply the dimensions in which objects are extended, like the infinite space-time dimensions of Kantian pure sensibility, nor are they levels generating things. One comes upon things in light, distributed over the supporting earth; one hears a sound in the slience; one takes hold of a tool in the dark, moves it in the light. But what get apprehended as things also revert to the elemental. As a tool a hammer is a surface of resistance and an axis of force determinate in its involvement with other surfaces, implements and obstacles. But the tool, in being used, reverts to a rhythm in the vigor of the carpenter bathed in the morning sun. The house is a tool-chest, in which implements are arranged in the order most suitable to the specific uses of the inhabitant, a machine for living, as Le Corbusier said, but in being inhabited, it and all its contents sink into the elemental density of a zone of intimacy and retreat from the open roads of the world.”

It’s the first point in Lingis’s paper to hold my attention, although I’m still processing it. There is something very attractive in the idea of conditions that are not simply backgrounds, or conditions of possibility, or conditions of generation, but elemental conditions.

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