My First Statement, 2002

It has taken me 22 years to write these words.[1]

This is a realization. That my life has a kind of build up, a consummation of actions. Actions that have taken place, and are taking place. The two are inseparable because they constantly feed into each other. It’s a dialectic experience. One informs the other as the other informs it. But when I speak of such things, I bring them outside of their immediate quality as actions. It is a dance of understanding, and not. It’s a learning experience. This is a learning experience. These words on the page and the knowledge that exists in the first words written on this page. I say them slowly in my mind. John Dewey acknowledges me.

“[W]e have an experience when the material experienced runs its course to fulfillment. Then and then only is it integrated within and demarcated in the general stream of experience from other experiences… that its close is a consummation and not a cessation. Such an experience is a whole and carries with it its own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency. It is an experience.”[2]

The experience does not end, but more precisely, experiences are consummated – consumed in “the general stream of existence,” and continues to develop and mark what will happen next.[3] But this is not all that experience is. Through my first statement, and now I can call it imperatively a statement, because it is a statement – a statement of my being, of my being in the world and conscious of my experiences and the lived quality of my life (namely the me, here, now, and what I feel, see, hear, smell, and taste – a tinge of cheese and herb from dinner); so through my first statement I call experience into question and being. I cannot necessarily unpack my entire past (all previous, unfolding, and future experiences),[4] but I do not need to – I don’t need to go digging as long as I acknowledge its influence on my life and how it allows me to be present, here, in this space of understanding. These words also allow me to be here, to experience my life here, to be present to myself. This is inherent in my first statement. It is what William James might pronounce as “pure experience” – of being present in the simplest of ways.[5] My statement declares this. That I am living, the fundamental interchange of “pure experience” and Charles Peirce’s “Firstness.”[6] That my age – an ascribed quantitative marker of time can have a lived quality – namely Dewey’s consummation of an experience – that my life goes into fulfillment through every act. So how can I experience myself as I am now? This question is an action, like my first statement. It is an act of trying to experience the quality of my life in this moment and not outside it. This is my belief in James’s “pure experience” – mystery and manners.[7] That every step I take a flame springs from the ground I touched. A trail follows behind me. I can never go back to the past in the same way again. It’s the quality of being an experience (singular in Dewey’s dwelling of it),[8] in that it is transitory, hence the subjective positionality is transformed in memory. So this trail of fire, what is it exactly? I do not know. It has a “firstness” – namely that it dances, that it is hot. It has a “Secondness” – danger, uncertainty, mystery in presence. Does it have a “Thirdness”? Yes, in its “firstness” that I created, I likened memory to fire – because memory does not have a “firstness” in a tangible sense of the definition, but fire does. In the word memory – its “firstness” has been ascribed before its memory came into being. This is confusing. I’m becoming lost in this semantic paradox, so let me regain myself.

I read the first lines beginning this paper. It has a felt quality, a crispness. I do not want to smudge the ink – so I stop fondling the words. This tactileness explains my first statement, namely, that I like to explore the felt quality of my existence – I do this with touch. I touch these pages. I do this through a “firstness” – through the tactile quality of the objects in my life. I do not like the word objects – there is something wrong in it. I feel distant from it – not the word – but the reality of the words’ signifier, what it describes or ascribes, namely, the things and experiences of my life. The act of naming – namely “objectness” – places away experience, but it is the experience I want to get back to.I see leaves outside dance above the ground. Its motion is connected with the forces which set it in motion, and the forces to which it responds to. For now, I will call this force wind. The fallen leaves were once alive – in a state of perpetual change. Still in a state of perpetual change. It will always be in a state of perpetual change, even though we may no longer call it leaf. So let me get back to the experience I have – watching the leaves dance on the ground. But it is not just the act of looking. The wind rushes to carry the sound of its exactness. Rustling. I find it pleasurable. Harmonious. A hint of chance, a dazzle of chaos, an unfolding uniqueness. I will never hear these sounds again. That knowledge has a certain beauty to it – in the idea or contemplation that beauty exists in a transitory state, not as abstract, ideal, pure, but as fleeting, momentary, illusory; ungraspable. It ties us back to our own mortality – in our own beauty of being. That we are creatures of life – in defining life as perpetual change, there is a suddenness to beauty – you are beautiful. Although I can never hear the sounds of the leaves again, the quality of the sound I can – the idea, and its future permutation on another November day. So can you, close your eyes. In a way we are both imagining the quality of its sound through these words, through the nature of words – the signifying practice.[9] Peirce’s “thirdness<.” But we can never have a “thirdness” without a “firstness” or a “secondness.” They co-exist together. In order for you to imagine what my writing describes, you must have had your own experience with leaves. You call upon your observations of the leaves, its colors, shape, physical properties (its “firstness”). You also can account for its forces, namely how it moves, how it reacts under certain conditions, as well as its intrigue, which aroused some curiosity perhaps, enabling you to recall the experience I have been describing (its “secondness”). An experience makes everything tactile, real. So in the rustling of the leaves there is some sense of mystery in their motion, in their sounds – in their declaration of being. It has this quality of mystery because I still see it as new, as changing – as “pure experience” – as an unfolding present. I think this quality of newness gets into James’s “pure experience,” because it is living and reacting on such a primal level.[10]

It’s as if I’m opening my eyes to see again.

Mystery. Can we always explain everything? Would we want to? There is a wavering uncertainty in every word I write – in every thought it contains and tries to expose. It’s the uncertainty of my 22 years of experience. It is not enough. It is also because I am still experiencing this form of mystery. Because I am unsure. I read over the first lines beginning this paper again. It is and is not a beginning.[11] I constantly go back to it. I am conscious of my evaluation, of my declaration – and it is the first time I have written these words. But it does not begin in these words – it has begun before these words have ever been placed on the page. Before the ink has been projected in tiny dot-like particles and infused on the paper. I acknowledge this through my first statement. There is a matter-of-factness to it; the nature of its reality. But I do not want to say nature because nature’s “thirdness” (my usage of the word) is always ambiguous. It’s where I place this nature – its context, in which it speaks. In which it is spoken to. It lies off the page waiting for a reality, waiting for the moment of its signified. It’s waiting for novelty, tiny miniatures that have been reproduced and sold by the thousands. People can read it better as such symbols. They can see without seeing. They can listen without really listening. They can touch without touching. Then, they wait for the next codified collectable. And the word, the symbol, the experience, is lost in a matrix of misplaced mirrors. The American philosophers want to take us back to nature, to our relation to nature, and they do that somewhat successfully. “It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.”[12] Namely, where our relation to things begin to form. But “there is never a beginning, there is never an end… but always circular power returning into itself.”[13] So context is very important – not just to ideas (if there can be such determinancies), but to the reality of experience. Namely that its experience “exists in an inexplicable continuity of this web” of relationships continually evolving, “integrated within and demarcated in the general stream of experience.”[14] In the lived quality of these words, I realize I am betraying this experience. Namely, I have not told you where I am right now, as I am writing this (not the whole of this writing – but as I am writing these words right now, right here on this page, and the ideas which are being consumed). You may find this vulgar, but I am writing this in the bathroom, as I am sitting down on the toilet.[15] There is a real physical quality to this experience, biological function – psychological function. Minding body: Purging, Excreting. There is a complex relationship of “firstness,” “secondness,” and “thirdness.” It is a “pure experience” in its physicality – in its reality. I cannot get away from being human – which incorporates being animal. We do not like to think of these things, but in a lot of ways it’s humbling. (To know that I am a part of a larger context is humbling, it makes me aware that whatever mistakes I make – it is always a process of learning. Nothing is set in stone, and I am only trying to do good, and that whatever will happen to me in the future is an acceptance of this.)[16] A “pure experience” “integrated within and demarcated in the general stream of experience.”

What is it like to be humble? I know the word – the definition, but what is its felt quality? Its “firstness”? I don’t know if I can pinpoint this exactly. I feel it unfolding in front of me as I see a baby fly energetically dance in front of my eyes. I have to hold my breath for fear of swallowing it if I inhale too deeply. I wonder if it can see me, or if I’m just a blur under its random energetic flight. Some things grow in the strangest of places. I wonder if the fly sees this. I wonder if the fly knows I am alive. How can I tell it that I am alive? I cannot tell it, I cannot declare it, I can only act – and in my act I tell it – declare it. Sometimes words have the power of doing, and sometimes it’s a false doing. I’m not talking about hidden assumptions in words – I’m talking about the matter in words. I can smell the fresh ink that forms these lines. I can feel the tears begin to form around my eyes as I hear these words and thoughts echo inside me. These are the physicalities inherent in language. I’m beginning to feel lost again. Every time I do, I go back to my first words in this paper. I want you to go back with me now, and every time you get lost too. I still find these words mysterious. I’m still in awe of it. I’m going outside for some fresh air. You are welcome to come with me if you like, but I would suggest taking a break for yourself. I acknowledge your presence in this paper, and I realize we may both need a little time to experience and be experienced.

There is an understanding that comes out in my first words, that I know what they mean. However, I do not need to state this explicitly, its imbedded in the words written. It’s a beautiful day today. The air is full of knowing, is full of the possibility of knowing, and is full of possibility. And when I say these words, I’m talking about the bodily presence this air has in my life.[17]

On the unconditional experience, my entire paper exists in my first words, the rest is filler


[1] Adaptation of the first statement of this paper is taken from Marguerite Duras’s “Writing” in which she states most eloquently:

“One does not find solitude, one creates it. Solitude is created alone. I have created it. Because I decided that here was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books. It happened this way. I was alone in this house. I shut myself in – of course, I was afraid. And then I began to love it. This house became the house of writing. My books come from this house. From the light reflecting off the pond. It has taken me twenty years to write what I just said.”

Duras, Marguerite. Writing. Trans. By Mark Polizzotti. Massachusetts: Lumen Editions, 1998, pg 4.

[2] Dewey, John. “The Live Creature and Aesthetic Experience,” as it appears on pg 519 in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[3] Dewey, 519

[4] When I describe time, namely my experience and relation to time, I do not feel the linear element involved, but rather a relation to all time experienced however unstable and uncertain it is.

[5] I imagine William James’s “pure experience” as this connotative birth of relations. Namely that the subject/object relationships are fundamentally enmeshed. “If there be such things as feelings at all, then so surely as relations between objects exist in rerum natura, so surely, and more surely, do feelings exist to which these relations are known.” James, William, “The Stream of Thought” pg 171 in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[6] Charles Sanders Peirce reduces experience into three basic relations:

“Firstness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, positively and without reference to anything else… The typical ideas of Firstness are qualities of feelings, or mere appearances.” Peirce’s Firstness describes “the sheer possibility of qualities. That every inquiry brings a situation of a certain quality, and that qualities do appear as absolutes and indefinites.”

“Secondness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, with respect to a second but regardless of any third… The type of idea of Secondness is the experience of effort, prescinded from the idea of a purpose… Generally speaking genuine secondness consists in one thing acting upon another, brute action.” That Secondness describes “sheer brute resistances. Actualities breaking into and interrupting our experiences (‘thatness’).”

“Thirdness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, in bringing a second and third into relation to each other.” Thirdness is a relationship, “signs which convey us into a secondness.”

Peirce, Charles Sanders, “The Categories and the Study of Signs,” as seen on pgs 98 – 100 in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. Adaptation of evaluation of Peirce taken from a Bruce Wilshire lecture on November 4, 2002

[7] Mystery and manners is a reference to Flannery O’Connor. “The mystery he was talking about is the mystery of our position on earth, and the manners are those conventions which, in the hands of the artist, reveal that central mystery.” Pg 124 in O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. Ed by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Noonday Press, 1969.

[8] Dewey discusses an experience in that there is always a singular pervading quality. See “The Live Creature and Aesthetic Experience.”

[9] Stuart Hall describes the relationship between language< as a signifying practice. “The main point is that meaning does not inhere in things, in the world. It is constructed, produced. It is the result of a signifying practice – a practice that produces meaning, that makes things mean.” (italics are that of the author) pg 24 in Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. SAGE Publications, 1997.

[10] In saying primal, I do not mean primitive, but rather use it as description of the essence of things – breaking it down to the most basic and simplest of relations and experiences, namely connecting it back to our own innate nature – that of sensory perception and direct reality of responding.

[11] This feeling embodies Emerson.

“Him Nature solicits with all her placid, all her monitory pictures; him the past instructs; him the future invites… There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of G-d, but always circular power returning into itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he can never find – so entire, so boundless.”

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar,” as it appears on pg 18 in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[12] “Little” Edie Beale in David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Mayer, Grey Gardens (1975), describes a mixed relationship between the performance and reality of the lives documented in this movie.

[13] Emerson, 18

[14] Emerson, 18, Dewey, 519.

[15] Coincidentally, I realize that every time I have edited this paper, I have had to go to the bathroom in this part of the paper. There is something bodily involved. Anyway, this has honestly happened two times already, and I am not joking.

[16] Namely, at this point in my life which I am discussing, is my graduation. That I have not decided where it is I will be or where I will go next. Its daunting. I’m trying to find the meaning of my life so I can make my future possible. But I understand my uncertainty and will have to trust the decisions and mistakes I may make along the way.

[17] Sort of like Black Elk’s first cure in that the north wind was present to the indigenous tribe, but not to us, the readers of the cure, embodied in the definition and symbolic representation of north-windness. This gets at the dialectical experience of signs and symbols which come to represent more than signs and symbols – having a bodily influence in helping the sick boy heal. See “William James, Black Elk, and the Healing Act” pg 38 -39 in Wilshire, Bruce. The Primal Roots of American Philosophy. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.


Bibliography

Dewey, John. “The Live Creature and Aesthetic Experience,” in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Duras, Marguerite. Writing. Trans. By Mark Polizzotti. Massachusetts: Lumen Editions, 1998, pg 4.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar,” in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. SAGE Publications, 1997.
James, William, “The Stream of Thought” in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Maysles, David; Maysles, Albert; Hovde, Ellen; Meyer, Muffie. Grey Gardens, 1975.
O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. Ed by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Noonday Press, 1969.
Peirce, Charles Sanders, “The Categories and the Study of Signs,” in Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Stuhr, John. Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy, 2nd Ed, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Wilshire, Bruce. American Philosophy Class Lecture on November 4, 2002.
Wilshire, Bruce. The Primal Roots of American Philosophy. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

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