Invention of Invention

(Side note: I agree with Mike’s concern last week about feeling like I need a bit more background for this text.  I had a difficult time grounding it in any sense.  Maybe it’s just me – and I’m not trying to make excuses for my superficial post – but I just feel like I’m scratching the surface with Stengers, and I’m missing something really important.  Are there some specific texts that overview Science and Rhetoric?  I would be interested to read something that would help me ‘get’ this.)

This week’s reading was a bit complicated and confusing for me, so I had to read it through the lens of my favorite, confusing-as-hell addiction: Lost.  Like fans of any given television show, I obsess—completely. I should add that this obsession is not limited merely to ‘water-cooler discussions,’ but I have downloaded the Lost podcasts, read the message boards, and have even read the articles (not surprisingly, there are many scholarly ones out there).  We rabid fans are in search of two things – the why and the how (w/h) of the plot. Before Stengers, these are two qualities for which I did not realize I was searching.  In most other shows, we get the w/h.  We know why Jack Bauer is getting his ass kicked for his country.  We know how and why Dexter Morgan is killing his victims.  But on the island, no one knows either, and we are left to fend for ourselves in weekly battle of he-said/she-said.  And this is why I believe Stengers is so applicable to Lost: as shown in every episode, each character is inventing her/his own, new truth by fictionalizing the self and denying who s/he was before the plane crash.

For Stengers, truth and fiction are inseparable, and ultimately these modes invent

“an antidote to the belief that makes us so formidable, the belief that defines truth and fiction in terms of an opposition, in terms of the power that makes the first destroy the second, a belief older than the invention of the modern sciences, but whose invention constituted a ‘recommencement’” (164-5).

Inventions and interest are two crucial terms for Stengers, and she maintains throughout her text that truths are initially invented fictions.  On the island, and arguably for the Sophists as well, one cannot distinguish between what is real (truth) and simply what is flattery (fiction).  They are not in opposition, but instead become so blurred that they are essentially both creations of each other.  The characters on Lost exemplify this creation, as no one truly knows who the other survivors were before the crash.  All we see are the new identities as created through necessity.  Truth and fiction are therefore inventions in which individual interest is taken. Science, as “performed” in labs, is thus the result of an individual’s interest in “making” an idea come true.  People, then, are more ‘interested’ in interest as opposed to truth since the former is what actually unifies:

“It is precisely because interest, as opposed to ‘truth,’ does not claim the power to create unanimity, but lends itself to proliferation and association with other disparate interests, that it can bring together authors for whom the event poses the problem of history” (Stengers 96).

Finally, Stengers claims that there cannot be “a single historical process that is applicable to the history of philosophy, art, and science, for each of these enterprises is defined by a specific relationship with its own past” (41). Therefore, in terms of truth and fiction, we cannot separate them as they develop, nor with Lost can we watch the show without knowing each of the characters’ pre-island pasts.

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