Coleridge on Peristaltic Thought

In ch. 14 of the Biographia Literaria (1817), Sam Coleridge describes the kind of peristaltic movement that for him describes active “IMAGINATION”:

Most of my readers will have observed a small water-insect on the surface of rivulets, which throws a cinque-spotted shadow fringed with prismatic colours on the sunny bottom of the brook; and will have noticed, how the little animal wins its way up against the stream, by alternate pulses of active and passive motion, now resisting the current, and now yielding to it in order to gather strength and a momentary fulcrum for a further propulsion. This is no unapt emblem of the mind’s self-experience in the act of thinking. There are evidently two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and this is not possible without an intermediate faculty, which is at once both active and passive. In philosophical language, we must denominate this intermediate faculty in all its degrees and determinations, the IMAGINATION.

This idea represented Coleridge’s attempt to move beyond conflictual thinking — what his friend John Thelwall called his “theory of Collision of Ideas” — toward something more dialectical — “mutual Propulsions” (Collected Letters 1, 636).

Peristalsis is the sequential rhythmic contraction or undulation of muscles (Gk peri-stelleincontracting around“), especially in the bowel (which we know was a problem for Coleridge due to his intake of constipatory opiates). It is instructive to think how the movement of his bowels might have influenced his thinking (the nexus is there in our idea of digestion as nutritive or cognitive, as psychosomaticists — like Freud and Fliess — and those who suffer food allergies know).

(Re the image of the “cinque-spotted shadow”: Coleridge loves fives, hence his holistic “quinquarticular Dialectic” or “logo-noetic Pentad” — namely prothesis, thesis, antithesis, mesothesis [“the Indifference”] and synthesis, or two polarities and their “co-involution” — exemplified in his “Pentad of Operative Christianity” [Christ the Word, Scripture, Church, Holy Spirit and Preacher] from Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, but also in the Powers of Nature [attraction, repulsion, contraction, dilation and centrality], the Colours [red, yellow, blue, orange/violet, green] and the races. His prime emblem is the “compass of nature.”)

Ephemeroptera (mayfly; from ephemeron, “lasting only a day” + pteron “wing”)

See also chapter 7 of the Biographia, where he uses a similar analogy, that of a kind of reculer pour mieux sauter (lit. withdraw to better leap), to describe how writers can best connect with their readers:

The reader should be carried forward, not merely, or chiefly, by the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution; but by the pleasurable activity of mind, excited by the attractions of the journey itself. Like the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians made the emblem of intellectual power; or like the path of sound through the air; at every step he pauses, and half recedes, and, from the retrogressive movement, collects the force which again carries him onward.

(MEM echoes this passage from Coleridge at “DRAGONS, DIGESTION, KNOWLEDGE FARMS: Peristalsis” [Faces of Sound 18 Apr. 2009].)

— — —

S[amuel] T[aylor] Coleridge, Biographia Literaria: or, Biographical Sketches of MY LITERARY Life and OPINIONS (New York: Leavitt, Lord and Co., 1834).

For Coleridge’s meta-science, see Trevor Hartley Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (Cambridge, England: CUP, 1981) [esp. 114-20].


Heuretics: Gregory Ulmer’s Anti-Method Method


= an intervention in and inversion of the writing process

  1. denaturalizes the content → form/thinking → writing relationship of expository academic writing
  2. inverts this relationship: form → content/writing → thinking

hermeneutics reading via theory (the use of theory for the interpretation of existing texts), cf. literary studies

heuretics writing via theory (the use of theory for the invention of new texts), cf. writing studies (3)

The heuretic question: “Based on a given theory, how might another text be composed?” (5)

heretic (contrarian or critical) an ANTI- + heuristic (algorithmic or creative) METHOD

It embodies the move post Modernism (though foreshadowed by heavily intertextual Modernists like Eliot and paratextual ones like Olson) by which

  1. critics become creators, e.g., Derrida — and Ulmer (creators have likewise become critics, e.g., the Surrealists and the L=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poets), and
  2. writing becomes reading and/or rewriting (writers and readers give way to reader-writers).

For his anti-method, Ulmer begins with discourses on method (now known as manifestos), which share a common set of elements:

  1. a Contrast [the “vs”]: the new method is opposed to an old one;
  2. an Analogy [the “cf.”]: it is practised as a heuristic by analogy with an existing practice;
  3. a Theory [the “via”]: it literalises a theory;
  4. a Target [the “→”]: it is applied to an existing field; and
  5. a tale [the “as”] it is “dramatised” in a particular form or genre (8-9).[2]

“CATTts,” while rigorous, are seldom exciting. Then again, some of the avant garde’s most interesting results have been generated by tedious or mechanical methods, e.g., aleatory art and Oulipo. The excitement lies in the “tale” that dramatizes the method. As Ulmer observes, every method — from dialectics to surrealism — “must itself be represented in some form or genre” (Heuretics 9). And “CATTts” can be generated in reverse: by choosing the “tale” first and, then, imagining the process that generated them (Heuretics 10).

We might think of heuretics as involving a wilful misreading of a theory to generate new methods, an “error” that is productive of truth. Ulmer also suggests that, as he does with Descartes’ discourse on method, we can wilfully misapply, i.e., reverse, someone else’s method to generate an antimethod (13-14).

(It is a method that is both metamethod, a method for methods, and antimethod, a method that reverse another method and acknowledges that it is one method among many.)

Heuretics was designed by Ulmer as a response to the new episteme of electronic media (multi-, hyper-, social media) and hypertextuality; this generates electracy, the kind of “literacy” necessary to exploit their full communicative potential.[3]

orality → literacy → electracy[4]

For Ulmer, learning is a matter of invention rather than verification, and it is a radicalisation of writing practice, a grammatology (i.e., a methodology extrapolated from the history of writing and mnemonic practices).

N.B. Heuretics is a method in keeping with Walter Ong’s idea that elements of the codex persist in the epoch of screens; McKenzie Wark would argue that the “codework” of electronic literacy goes beyond hypertext, i.e., it’s no longer purely textual.[5]

[1] See Gregory L. Ulmer, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994).

  1. hermeneutic: concerning interpretation (fr. hermēneutikos, fr. hermēneuein “interpret”)
  2. heuretic: concerning invention or discovery (fr. heuretes “inventor”)
  3. heuristic: proceeding to a solution by trial and error or algorithmically; enabling someone to discover something for themselves (fr. heuriskein “find”)
  4. heretic: holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted (fr. hairetikos “able to choose,” fr. haireisthai “choose”)

[2] See Ulmer, “The Euretics of Alice’s Valise,” Journal of Architectural Education 45.1 (Nov. 1991): 8 (3-10).

[3] Portmanteau: “electronic” + “literacy,” from G. L. Ulmer, Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video (New York: Routledge, 1989).

[4] G. L. Ulmer, “Electracy and Pedagogy,” online supplement to Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, 2003), 2007,, 14 Aug. 2008.

[5] McKenzie Wark, “From Hypertext to Codework,” Contemporary Poetics, ed. Louis Armand (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2007) 280 (279-85); available online at Hypermedia Joyce Studies.

Giorgio Agamben and Wallace Stevens

In his talk “What is a Paradigm?” (European Graduate School, Aug. 2002), Giorgio Agamben asserts that Wallace Stevens’ “Description Without Place” (The Sewanee Review 53.4 [Autumn 1945]: 559-65 [from JSTOR]) thematizes his idea of the paradigm as an exemplary figure or form — and, metaphysically, as a phenomenon, something that “shows itself”:

It is possible that to seem — it is to be,
As the sun is something seeming and it is.

The sun is an example. What it seems
It is and in such seeming all things are.

Thus things are like a seeming of the sun
Or like a seeming of the moon or night
Or sleep. [original typography restored]

Elsewhere and more famously, Stevens writes something similar: “Let be be finale of seem” (“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” [The Dial 73 (July 1922)]).

Agamben traces the idea back thru the paradigms of

  1. Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1962]): a. the scientific paradigm, e.g., hypothetico-deductive method (“what the members of a certain scientific community have in common, that is to say, the whole of techniques, patents and values shared by the members of the community”); b. the model/example, i.e., a paradigm case (“a single element of a whole . . . which act[s] as a common model or an example”); and
  2. Kant (Critique of Judgment [1790]): the universal assent that marks aesthetic judgment (“a universal rule which cannot be stated”); and elsewhere,
  3. Aristotle (Prior Analytics 69a: 16-19 [350 BCE]): the analogy of part to part (as against induction: part to whole, or deduction: whole to part), and
  4. Plato (Timaeus [c.360 BCE]): the Form; nonetheless, he is really indebted to
  5. Foucault (The Order of Things [1966]): the episteme.

(He very much has the classical etymology of the word in mind: it is from Late Latin paradigma “pattern, example,” from the Greek paradeigma “pattern, model,” from paradeiknynai “exhibit, represent,” literally “show side by side,” from para- “beside” + deiknynai “to show.”)

Thus, for Agamben, the paradigm is “a hypothesis treated and exposed as such . . . It is a presupposition whose intelligibility is no more presupposed but exposed, so that it allows us to reach an unpresupposed principle.” Thus, it is “something which is what it seems. In it being and seeming are undecidable.”

He uses the example of Foucault’s panopticon, which “a concrete, singular, historical phenomenon,” but at the same time “a model of functioning which can be generalized”:

the panopticon functions as a paradigm, as an example which defines the intelligibility of the set to which it belongs [i.e., the panopticon means panopticism] and at the same time which it constitutes [i.e, the panopticon creates panopticism]. Foucault always works in this way. There is always a concrete phenomenon — the confession, the juridical inquiry, etc. — which functions as a paradigm, because it will decide a whole problematic context which it both constitutes and makes intelligible.

And adds:

This is what distinguishes Foucault’s work from the work of a historian. It has often been observed that Foucault as a historian has shown the superiority of contexts created through metaphors [e.g., the panopticon] to the context created by chronological or geographical caesuras, that is to say, by metonymical contexts [e.g., the Classical episteme (cf. Steiner on The Order of Things)].

For him, an example is the reverse of his well-known exception (the fullest discussion of the logic of the exception is in Homo Sacer in the section called “The Paradox of Sovereignty” [12ff.]):

If we define the exception as an inclusive exclusion, in which something is included by means of its exclusion, the example functions as an exclusive inclusion.

(To misapply Badiou, the example represents the set, but in doing so no longer belongs to it; the exception belongs to the set by not being represented in it [Homo Sacer 21].)

See Homo Sacer 20:

Take the case of the grammatical example . . . : the paradox here is that a single utterance in no way distinguished from others of its kind is isolated from them precisely insofar as it belongs to them. If the syntagm “I love you” is uttered as an example of a performative speech act, then this syntagm both cannot be understood as in a normal context and yet still must be treated as a real utterance in order for it to be taken as an example. What the example shows is its belonging to a class, but for this very reason the example steps out of its class in the very moment in which it exhibits and delimits it. . . . If one now asks if the rule applies to the example, the answer is not easy, since the rule applies to the example only as to a normal case and obviously not as to an example. The example is thus excluded from the normal case not because it does not belong to it but, on the contrary, because it exhibits its own belonging to it. The example is truly a paradigm in the etymological sense: it is what is “shown beside,” and a class can contain everything except its own paradigm.

He discusses paradigms in The Coming Community and Potentialities (the best explication of the idea is in Leland De la Durantaye’s Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction [225].)

— — —

Alain Badiou also cites the poem in “Democracy, Politics and Philosophy” (2006; see also Badiou’s “Drawing,” Lacanian Ink 28 (2006): 42-48 and Slavoj Zizek, “Excursions into Philosophy“).

William Carlos Williams responds to it in “A Place (Any Place) to Transcend All Places” (The Kenyon Review 8.1 [Winter 1946]: 55-58 [from JSTOR]).

Mime-esis: Benjamin and Beyond

Nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.

—Walter Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty,” Reflections (333)

For Benjamin, mimesis is adaptive: it is how we interact with things in the world via acculturation, affinity and reciprocity. (For Adorno, on the other hand, it is assimilatory: it is how we conform with the culture industry’s images of us.) It is the Ur-drive of creativity. It combines semblance [Schein] and play [Spiel], to both re-present and re-produce something, i.e., to make it appear and to make it emotionally and sensorially real.


Mimesis is from Gk mimesis (μίμησις) “imitation,” from mimeisthai (μιμεîσθαι) “to imitate,” which original meaning persists in our words “mime,” “mimic” and, less directly, “image” and related words like “imagine” and “emulate” (via L. imitari), Richard Dawkins’ “meme,” the plant mimosa, because the leaves of some species (including the common Sensitive Plant) fold when touched, seeming to mimic animal behaviour.

Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Marriage (1434)

Though a reductio ad absurdum of orders of representation is possible, in practice, representation can be reduced to two orders . . .

Mimicry (presentation)—mimesis (representation [first-order])—metamimesis (representation of a representation [second-order])

  • mimicry:
    • “the action, practice, or art of mimicking or closely imitating … the manner, gesture, speech, or mode of actions and persons, or the superficial characteristics of a thing” (atextuality)
    • identical similarity to the other
    • empathy
    • pure intention, a.k.a. extension (to-and-fro)
    • examples: echolalia and -praxia
    • cf. cryptomnesia
  • mimesis:
    • “a figure of speech, whereby the words or actions of another are imitated” (OED), “figure of speech” being the operative phrase (textuality/mediation)
    • nonidentical similarity to the other
    • observation
    • singly mediated intention (to-and-fro through a medium)
    • examples: aleatory art, automatism, documentary photography, photorealism, trompe l’œil, etc.
    • cf. unironic plagiarism
  • metamimesis:
    • artworks that represent or include other artworks (intertextuality/intermediation), or comment on authorship or representation, those where the medium is explicitly part of the message (metatextuality/metamediation)
    • nonidentical similarity to another similarity
    • irony
    • doubly mediated intention (to-and-fro through a medium and another representation or with a representation)
    • examples: allegory, double portrait (like The Arnolfini Marriage), ecphrasis (art describing other art), parody, pastiche (cut-and-paste), self-referential art (like The Treachery of Images), etc.
    • cf. ironic plagiarism

Rene Magritte, La Trahison des Images [The Treachery of Images] (1928-29) [see Michel Foucault, This is not a Pipe (1983)]

It could be argued that all art that is metamimetic because it follows certain representational procedures, i.e., mediating technologies and techniques, that are part of the representation.

N.B. These forms of mimesis are relatively other-directed and involve resemblance of some sort; in nature, mimesis is mainly self-directed, i.e., organisms can defend themselves by dissembling or crypsis (though there is aggressive mimesis), which takes three forms:

  1. camouflage: an organism mimics an object in its environment to conceal itself, e.g., a moth camouflages itself against, i.e., has evolved a similar colouration to, the tree-bark it inhabits;
  2. mimesis: a species mimics a specific object or organism or part of one, but one to which the dupe is indifferent, e.g., a stick-insect “imitates,” i.e., has evolved to resemble, a twig;
  3. mimicry: an organism mimics another organism that is unpalatable or threatening to the dupe, e.g., a palatable butterfly mimics an unpalatable one.

Shklovsky’s theory of priem ostranenie (“defamiliarisation”; cf. Brecht’s alienation effect [Verfremdungseffekt]) as the essence of art, might well be the equivalent in literature of aggressive mimicry in nature, e.g., a predator mimics a harmless object or organism, e.g., a snapping turtle’s tongue is disguised as a worm to lure fish.


Talk of mimesis, as the word suggests, goes back to the mimetic theories of the Greeks (surprise!) . . .

Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle (of ethos, logos and pathos, moving clockwise) reinterpreted

  • Plato: in Book X of the Republic, Plato describes mimesis metaphysically—and pejoratively—in terms of Socrates’ metaphor of the three beds: one bed exists as an idea made by God (the Platonic Idea/ideal); one is made by the carpenter in imitation of God’s Idea; one is made by the artist in imitation of the carpenter’s. The artist never gets at truth (the Idea of the bed). Mimesis is thus deceptive, which for Plato indicates that human beings are essentially ignorant beings. In Book III, he also uses the term to describe the way a “poet” impersonates the person speaking in direct speech. (Note that Plato’s primary theory of poetry is not mimetic but expressive: of the furor poeticus for which the poet should be exiled from the polis [see Ion and Republic II].)
  • Aristotle: in the Poetics, Aristotle describes mimesis as the capacity to copy and to beautify nature, for example, in making images (iconopoeia) and making plots (dramaturgy)—the latter involving two orders of representation: of life in the text and of the text in the performance. It beautifies—or universalizes—nature by seeking out and/or capturing its telos (the “end” or “good,” a.k.a. the “fourth” or “final cause”). Mimesis thus produces fiction, which for Aristotle indicates that human beings are essentially mimetic beings. (Note that Aristotle’s theory of tragedy as cathartic mimesis is expressive too.)

Both Plato and Aristotle also distinguish mimesis (imitation: showing or representation) and diegesis (narration: telling or report). They don’t see diegesis as mimetic because there is a narrator more or less explicitly framing and commenting the action. For Plato, tragic and comic poetry are mimetic, lyric (dithyramb) is diegetic, epic is both; for Aristotle, poetry (art) with an authorial narrator or persona is diegetic, otherwise it’s mimetic.


But to return to Benjamin: besides the ontogenetic (developmental) aspect of  mimesis, which is most apparent in mimetic play, there is its phylogenetic (evolutionary) aspect, which goes back to the magical correspondences that could be produced to control natural processes for propitiatory or prophetic ends (such correspondences survive in astrology).

The most suggestive kind of correspondence is “non-sensuous similarity”: a kind of textual—and, perhaps, even metatextual—similarity “not only between the spoken and the signified but also between the written and the signified, and equally between the spoken and the written” (Reflections 335). Onomatopoeia (Gk. “the making of a name or word” in imitation of a sound associated with the thing being named) is the most obvious example of such similarity, but there are others like spells, mantras, systems of divination (omens, sortilege, augury, textual—like bibliomancy—or semiotic—like tasseomancy), etc.

Language, i.e., the human word that communicates things, takes over from magic, i.e., the divine Word that names them (see “On Language as Such and on the Languages of Man,” Reflections 324, 327). It, then, “has thus become . . . an archive of non-sensuous similarities, of non-sensuous correspondences,” a reservoir of the traces left by divine language in the postlapsarian world (Reflections 335).

Cf. Baudelaire’s “Correspondances” (from Fleurs du Mal [1857]):

Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let sometimes emerge confused words;
Man crosses it through forests of symbols
Which watch him with intimate eyes. (23)


Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton: PUP, 1953.

Baudelaire, Charles. Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire. Trans. Geoffrey Wagner. New York: Grove Press, 1974.

Benjamin, Walter. “Doctrine of the Similar [Die Lehre von Ahnlichkeit].” 1933. Trans. Knut Tarnowski. New German Critique 17 (Spring 1979): 65-69. (See Gesammelte Schriften 2.1 [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1977] 204-10.)

—. “On the Mimetic Faculty [Über das mimetische Vermögen].” 1934. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Peter Demetz. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. 333-36. (See Gesammelte Schriften 2.1 [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1977] 98-99.)

Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” October 28, Discipleship: A Special Issue on Psychoanalysis (Spring 1984) 125-33. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. 85-92. [in short, in full].

Foucault, Michel (with René Magritte). This is not a Pipe. Illus. René Magritte. Ed. and trans. James Harkness. Berkeley; Los Angeles: U California P, 1982.

Puetz, Michelle. “mimesis [sic].” The University of Chicago: Theories of Media: Keywords Glossary. Winter 2002.

Taussig, Michael.  Mimesis and Alterity.  New York: Routledge, 1993.

DO Mess with Mr(s) In-Between

Metaxy (μεταξύ, “between”) is defined in Plato’s Symposium by Socrates’ teacher Diotima (Διοτίμα, “honoured by God”) of Mantinea as the “in-between” or “middle ground” (Plato’s Symposium, trans. Albert A. Anderson [Agora, 2003] 28-29; see Symposium 201d-212b and R. G. Bury’s The Symposium of Plato (Perseus) for annotation and a gloss of the text and characters).

Józef Simmler, “Portrait of Jadwiga Łuszczewska (Diotima)” (1855)

For her, the In-Between is the place of Eros, Love, who in Greek theogony is the child of Poverty (Penia), i.e., lack or need, and Plenty (Poros), i.e., resource or means (lit. passage). He is a daimōn (δαίμων, “spirit, tutelary divinity,” i.e., genius L): a semi-divine entity, and an intermediary between the divine Gods and human beings (for the Neoplatonists, the term described the place of human beings between the Gods and animals, for Eric Voegelin, between two poles of experience: finite and infinite, or immanent and transcendent [see Order and History]).

The Alchemical Androgyne

More interesting is its role in her style of dialectic, as described by Luce Irigaray in “Sorcerer Love: A Reading of Plato, Symposium, Diotima’s Speech” (An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill [1993; London: Continuum, 2004] 20-30):

[I]t doesn’t use opposition to make the first term pass into the second in order to achieve a synthesis of the two, as Hegel does.

Hegel’s Dialectic of Thesis→Antithesis→Synthesis

(as against Diotima’s Dialectic of Thesis↔Metaxy↔Antithesis)

From the outset, she establishes an intermediary that will never be abandoned as a means or a path. Her method, then, is not a propaedeutic of [preliminary to] the destruction or the deconstruction of two terms in order to establish a synthesis that is neither one nor the other. She presents, uncovers, unveils the insistence of a third term that is already there and that permits progression: from poverty to wealth, from ignorance to wisdom, from mortality to immortality. Which, for her, always comes to a greater perfection of and in love. (20-21)

This third term, then, is Eros, love or desire. Love loves; he is the lover, not the beloved (or, strictly speaking, he—or she or s/he—loves).

We need not read the Diotiman dialectic of desire as Plato presents it: as teleological (desire for consummation with another) or othering (desire for an-other for the self), as in the following representation of domesticating desire à la the Hegelian (and later Sartrean) master-slave dialectic.

Need (i.e., Poverty/Penia) is not consummated and thereby extinguished by tapping into a resource or finding a means to its end (i.e., Plenty/Poros). Instead, for Diotima (and Irigaray) desire goes both ways. It is neither telelogical nor othering. Poverty (the negative) and Plenty (the positive) are two poles between which Love mediates.

(These diagrams are from Simone Roberts’s excellent “Irigaray’s Eastern Turn: The Tantra of An Ethics of Sexual Difference,” Rhizomes 9 [Fall 2004].)

In sum,

between knowledge and reality, there is an intermediary that allows for the encounter and the transmutation or transvaluation between the two. . . . The mediator is never abolished. . . . Everything is always in movement, in a state of becoming. And the mediator of all this is, among other things, or exemplarily, love. Never fulfilled, always becoming. (21)

For Irigaray, “Love is a philosopher and a philosophy”—and, rather idealistically and predictably, alas,

Philosophy is not a formal learning, fixed and rigid, abstracted from all feeling. It is a quest for love, love of beauty, love of wisdom [lit. philo-sophia], which is one of beautiful things. (24)


[t]he philosopher is . . . a sort of barefoot waif who goes out under the stars seeking an encounter with reality, the embrace, the knowledge or perhaps a shared birth [connaissance Fr. “knowledge,” i.e., co-naissance], of whatever benevolence, beauty or wisdom might be found there. (24)

He or she doesn’t want to possess truth or beauty (like a beloved, i.e., an othered lover), but remains in search of it (as a lover, i.e., a lover for their own sake). Philosophy is “a perpetual journey, a perpetual transvaluation, a permanent becoming” (27).

Thus, when Diotima examines Socrates, “she teaches the renunciation of already established truths” rather than “positing authoritative, already established truths” (22).


N.B. Why is the in-between important? See

  1. Homi Bhabha on “Culture’s In-Between” (and see Jacques Audinet on the in-betweenness of “mestizo zones“);
  2. Hans-Georg Gadamer on “the locus of hermeneutics [in the] in-between” (and a gloss by Nick Davey);
  3. Michael Inwood on das Zwischen (the Between) in Heidegger (or example, in Being and Time [1927], in Parvis Emad’s dreadful translations of Contributions to Philosophy [1936-38] and Mindfulness [1938-39], and in Parmenides [1942-43]).

Zoom out; zoom in . . . nomothetic, idiographic.

In “History and Natural Science” (1894), the neo-Kantian Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915) proposes a distinction between the study of

the general in the form of the natural law [“nomothetic” sciences] or the particular in the historically determined form [“idiographic” sciences]. They consider in one part the ever-enduring form, in the other part the unique content, determined within itself, of an actual happening. The one comprises sciences of law, the other sciences of events; the former teaches what always is, the latter what once was. (Theory and Psychology 8.1 [1998]: 13 [5-22; subscription required], orig. “Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft,” in Praeludien, vol. 2 [Tübingen, 1915] 136-60)

Generalize; specify.


The nomothetic approach to knowledge draws on our tendency to generalize, and is expressed in the natural sciences. It describes the effort to derive laws that explain objective phenomena. (“Nomothetic” f. Gk νομοθετικός, from νομοθέτης nomothetēs “lawgiver,” from νόμος nomos “law” and the root θη- thē- “posit, place, lay down,” thus “legislative [lit. law-giving].”)

For example, nomothetic psychology studies what we share with others, i.e., the quantifiable properties of the cohort.

It is a Platonic (otherworldly, supersensible, Realist) approach, applying ideas to things. Plato the philosopher-king legislates.

It can go wrong, hence the nomothetic fallacy: the belief that naming a problem (or group or phenomenon) effectively solves it (or captures its essence).


The idiographic approach to knowledge draws on our tendency to specify, and is expressed in the social sciences (or humanities). It describes the effort to understand the meaning of contingent, accidental, and often subjective phenomena. (“Idiographic” f. Gk ιδιος-γραφιχος, from ídios “personal, peculiar, particular” + graphikós “written, drawn,” thus “describing the particular.”)

For example, idiographic psychology wants to discover what makes each of us unique, i.e., the distinctive qualities of the individual. Aristotle the scientist discovers.

It is an Aristotelian (worldly, sensory, naturalist) approach, finding ideas in things. (This Platonic/Aristotelian distinction is something of a hasty generalization, of course: with his inductive method, Aristotle is also a generalizer—and the mentor of natural science. But he does start from things rather than ideas.)

See Earl R. Babbie, “Idiographic and Nomothetic Explanation,” The Practice of Social Research, 12th ed. (Cengage Learning, 2009) 21-22.

The Thirteenth Category of Reason

From Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “The Thirteenth Category of Reason,” Memories of the Future [1927], trans. Joanne Turnbull (NYRB Classics, 2009) 125-26 (125-32; see my Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future), an example of Russian early modern neo-Kantianism à la Bely, Bulgakov, et al., an excerpt about an old—and, as it turns out, thanatophatic—gravedigger who apparently occasions the phantasmagoric miscellany that is Memories:

[H]e is clearly out of his head and lives inside an apperceptive tangle whose knots Kant himself could not untie. For you see, all of those who are off (I won’t look for another definition) or, rather, out of their heads, evicted, so to speak, from all twelve Kantian categories of reason, must naturally seek refuge in a thirteenth category, a sort of logical lean-to slouched against objective obligatory thinking. Given that this thirteenth category of reason is where we entertain, in essence, all our figments and alogisms, the old gravedigger may be useful to my projected cycle of “fanatastic” stories.

So then, I propose a smoke, and he reaches up a sweaty hand for a cigarette; I squat down, light to light—and the thirteenth category of reason throws wide for me its secret door.

The categories of Kant, viz., “the coloured spectacles of the mind” through which we see the world, as Bertrand Russell put it:

  1. Quantity: Unity, Plurality, Totality
  2. Quality: Reality, Negation, Limitation
  3. Relation: Inherence and Subsistence (substance and accident), Causality and Dependence (cause and effect), Community (reciprocity)
  4. Modality: Possibility, Existence, Necessity

Russell also said: “we must know that everybody has spectacles of the same kind and that the colour of the spectacles never changes. Kant did not deign to tell us how he knew this.” Krzhizhanovsky either didn’t believe we all saw likewise or believed there was something we caught in true colour out of the corner of our eye.

For some, thirteen is a lucky number . . .

“La Mort,” a.k.a. sparagmos, Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει [Panta chōrei kai ouden menei], i.e. “nothing endures but change” (Heraclitus)