Reflections on Reflections

I have posted on this site about Alexander Technique and its relevance to object-oriented ontology. I have also written about the possibility of an object that is entirely present-at-hand. In this post, I will try to begin to bring these two strains together.

We are all familiar with the experience of looking in a mirror and being surprised that the image does not conform to what we thought we should see. Lacan, for one, based much of his work on this encounter. But it was F.M. Alexander who recognized the non-symbolic, realist aspect of the mirror image. At the risk of overtaxing the felicity of word origins, we might even suggest that Alexander’s findings put the specular back into speculative realism.

In Heideggerian terms, Alexander identified his own body as a broken tool. A professional speaker, he found himself getting hoarse whenever he went onstage. This problem led him to investigate his motions in a mirror until he discovered that the attempt to speak caused him to throw his head back and gasp for air. More important perhaps, he could see from the mirror image that he continued to throw his head back at the critical moment, even when he instructed himself not to do so.

We will pause here and analyze this starting point of the Alexander Technique in our own terms. By our account, there is a sharp distinction to be made between the mirror and the actual reflection. A cracked or broken mirror reveals the vorhandenheit of the mirror, but not of the image it reflects. A reflection will respond to a crack in the mirror as faithfully as it will to the motions of what it reflects. The mirror image is entirely present at hand, with nothing withdrawn beforehand.

Of course, the point obtains when compared to its source as well. The face in the mirror does not think or feel sensation. These capacities, with all their puzzlements to the philosopher,  withdraw from the body itself, rather than from the reflection. The mirror image is precisely the surface of the world. It delivers presence and nothing else, without a prior ready-to-hand from which it can be distinguished.

The total presence of the reflection does not for all that put an end to thought, however. Quite the opposite: the mirror image provides a constant against which one can affirm the existence of a variant of correlationism stemming from the will. We know that the reflection is real because, as in Alexander’s case, it can fail to verify the conformity of the world to our thoughts. To the extent that it is not what one imagines, the mirror image, as distinct from the mirror, demonstrates that thought does not exhaust its object.

The stakes of this assertion become clearer when one attempts, as Alexander did, to speak while observing one’s reflection. The image in the mirror speaks but makes no sound, and more to the point, makes no sense. It is simply a series of motions. When investigated in a mirror, speech reveals the unthought image of a speaking body, an assemblage of body motions that include those of the jaws, the lips and so on. More precisely, the mirror image isolates a presentation of speech that remains without a withdrawn dimension.

The question then is: what takes place during speech that does not take place in the reflection? One perceives in the speaking reflection an image without thought. Yet in order to see what the image is doing while one is speaking intelligibly, one must continue to think — to choose the motions that lead to coherent speech. This task involves an intricate series of choices dedicated a specific outcome. It involves exposition.¬†Moreover, one must choose among a vast array of syllables in order to achieve a specific result. Speech is telic, precisely because a difference is to be conveyed.

To the same extent that exposition is goal-oriented, it is also clear that one speaks for the sake of others. The mirror image speaks to no one. It does not even gesture, if taken in the sense of  communication. That which engages in exposition does so from a depth that the mirror image does not possess. The task of speech takes place from some withdrawn remove.

The image of speech, where it has been rendered intelligible, is therefore rendered for others precisely when one loses sight of the act of speaking and attends instead to the connection between exposition and speech. One becomes “for others” to the degree that withdrawal takes place. From this we may conclude that the social world is imaginary. It is not there on the surface of things.

The everyday zuhandenheit of language does not minimize this withdrawal. The production of difference merely becomes habitual, and the withdrawal less obvious accordingly. The exposition of an inner world becomes, so to speak, ordinary. We need not resort to theories of langue and parole to demonstrate this fact. Even the staunchest hard-wired materialist will hold that speech has a dimension internal to the speaker, agency or no, and that it has no such dimension in a mirror image.

When considering actions in which speech is not involved, one has the figure and ground of body and object to contend with, but the situation is the same. The body is in engaged with the world at all times. Even the astronaut is in engaged with a spacesuit. Without universalizing the occurrence of the parallel, we can see that this engagement with the world is inseparable from a task, and again with the production of difference. Indeed, everything we have said regarding speech applies here, except perhaps for our observation about “for otherness.”

If, in our sustained meditation in the glass, one is engaged with the world in a specific way, one withdraws into the task of choosing, such that the mirror image begins to diverge from the interiorized task. The correlation between the body and the world ceases to be noticed under the burden of an exposition of motions. Labor, as we may call it, is therefore also imaginary. Moreover, by this account, which cleaves so closely to the kinesthetic, speech itself falls under the category of labor. Certainly, the whole of Alexander’s contribution testifies to the prevalence of correlationism in every human endeavor.

But we may still go so far as to argue that labor is also for others, so long as we clarify what we mean by otherness. Insofar as one produces difference through engagement, and insofar as this engagement is expository, one labors for something or someone, or both. When I shave, it is for the goal of feeling less than woolly, but it is also for the goal of pleasing my wife. And so it is for all my waking moments. The exposition of a task has an object that is other than that which labors within me. This structure of labor remains the same whether its object is a family member or a pencil.

We have recovered one tenet of Harman’s ontology in our analysis. By identifying the production of difference as a withdrawal for others, we have maintained otherness as flat. The production of difference places all others — whether defined classically as objects and subjects, or simply as objects, as speculative realism is wont — on an equal footing.

We have not, however, extended this production of difference to others in their lateral relations apart from me. On the contrary. From Alexander’s solution to his problem — the technique itself — we are led to conclude that the limits of an object can be varied such that some elements within it are exteriorized and hence relinquished to their own relations. (Our byword for this position is that “the reflexes know what to do.”) Whether these elements produce differences of their own accord is emphatically not our concern. (Which would allow that the reflexes might produce differences independent of thought!)

Two points of departure suggest themselves at this point. It will be necessary to address the question as to why, unlike say, gravity, we never seem to be done with producing difference. We will also want to re-examine Alexander’s solution to the schism between mirror image and thought in light of what we have developed here.

These two lines of inquiry will, I submit, find a common thread in that which organizes exposition: not the foreknowledge of death, which simply cannot be known, but the foreknowledge of life and its ever attendant possibility of an emergency. From this articulation, I hope to demonstrate that a metaphysics derived from the Alexander Technique is capable of overcoming the charge against the technique proper of quietism.

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