A light flashed for me, things clicked into place. I asked what Foucault meant when he said the Chinese taxonomy is unthinkable. That we could speak it and write it out, but not think it?
I know what “unthinkable” means here. Reading Foucault in the context of Lakoff/Johnson clarifies it. (Now that I see it, it’s obvious. Isn’t that the way of things?)
I’ll provide a more thorough account later, but for now I can say that the Chinese taxonomy’s unthinkability is due to it being inconsistent with the cognitive unconscious, which functions as a kind of transmission band for the mapping of the sensorimotor domain onto the abstract thought/self-awareness domain(s). Foucault writes:
- "The monstrous quality that runs through Borges’s enumeration consists, on the contrary, in the fact that the common ground on which such meetings are possible has itself been destroyed. What is impossible is not the propinquity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propinquity would be possible." (Foucault, The Order of Things, Location 329)
These metaphors, “common ground,” “site of the possibility of propinquity,” expose the spatial character of our thinking. . . . Without a consistent set of spatial metaphors, we cannot think.
. . .
(Later: Some clarification, but still with big supporting sections missing. . . . Sections provided by Lakoff/Johnson in Philosophy in The Flesh.) And I’m working on something longer, with more illustrative quotes from Foucault. Not so sure I can condense the L/J material, though.
I conclude from the Lakoff/Johnson analysis that the core, or framework of our thinking, the whatever-it-is that we move around and modify in our heads/minds when we are thinking, the very means by which we think is comprised of the spatial ‘metaphors’ that constitute the cognitive unconscious. Lacking that framework of spatial metaphors, we would be unable to think. . . . (The representations that comprise human thought are composed for the most part of the mappings from the sensorimotor domain to the abstract thought/self-awareness domains which constitute the cognitive unconscious. Just how this is so is laid out in detail in Philosophy in The Flesh, with plausible consistent theory, some empirical research evidence, and an outline of an extended research program for gathering additional evidence.)
[This, it seems to me, does leave a residue of mental processing in humans that might constitute a kind of proto-thinking, as engaged in perhaps also by animals which have not made the mapping from the sensorimotor domain to the abstraction/self-awareness domain leap (in evolution). That mental processing would be no more than proto-conscious. . . . It also leaves open the issue of what is involved in the speaking and writing out of the Chinese taxonomy, what is involved that is not thinking. Perhaps a more mechanical, formal processing than is (conscious?) thinking.]
The rules of language use, of how to construct sentences and lists, apparently allow us verbally and textually to create taxonomies that we are incapable of thinking through because those rules have more coverage than do the concepts making up the cognitive unconscious. (I am capable of thinking that sentence, as are you, because the metaphor, “coverage,” links and holds apart the rules and the concepts. Without the spatial metaphor of “coverage,” or some alternative such as “inclusion,” we would be unable to think that thought.)
The Chinese taxonomy is spatially inconsistent, thus unthinkable. Foucault, starting from this intuition —it is only an intuition for him because he doesn’t have the use of L/J’s systematic model of a cognitive unconscious made up of spatial “metaphors” as providing the means of thinking— from this intuition, and his analysis of Classical thought as depending upon a “tabula,” he elicits the systems of spatial metaphors that constitute the conditions of possibility of knowledge for each of the three epistemes he describes.
BTW, the space of knowledge for the Renaissance episteme is defined by “Paracelsian circles” while the space of knowledge for the Classical episteme is defined by “Cartesian order.” In contrast, the Modern space of knowledge is characterized by “the analogies that connect distinct organic structures to one another.“ (loc 5115) This, Foucault writes, is “History . . . [as] . . . “the fundamental mode of being of empiricities, upon the basis of which they are affirmed, posited, arranged, and distributed in the space of knowledge for the use of such disciplines or sciences as may arise. . . . History, from the nineteenth century, defines the birthplace of the empirical, that from which, prior to all established chronology, . . . derives its own being.” Loc 5123