Daniel Mizrahi

Lies and Method


ISSUE 7 | LIES | AUG 2011

The easiest way to think of method, and perhaps the most obvious way, is as a technique or practice which allows the achievement of sure knowledge, of cogent argument, or of divine thinking. Method at first glance seems to be our thought’s attempt at surety and concision when it participates in its highest ideological displays. As such, by method we are speaking of an idea which looks remarkably different in different cases: I suspect that Spinoza’s counts, when he speaks of the geometric order which is nature’s and by which nature is shown, and Gadamer’s too, when he speaks of a coherent openness to tradition and understanding (a coherent openness I understand is called the ‘hermeneutic experience’). This purported surety and this diagnosed constancy serve to hide whatever heart a method may have. One too common way of refusing thought its best method is to consider method in tandem with some already understood prior characteristics it must have. Here, we do not begin with already understood characteristics of method, but rather with method’s refusal to be bound to characteristics we already understand.

The instability of even the surest method displays itself in the method's constantly required defense; the method is enacted in some sequence of arguments, to be sure, and yet they are interspersed with questions that are to be finally answered with some obvious surety that the argument can go on. This obviousness is the obviousness of method, and allows us to be sure that the arguments can continue (in other words, for a little while longer, the method requires no more defense; the reader and the teacher have been brought to trust that they can continue thinking together). The method is unstable so far as every single time it begins to inform an argument, it is required to defend whatever transition occurred between even the closest of statements; the method is defended so long as it allows itself to be questioned, in the highest cases asking such questions of itself, especially those questions whose responses bring listeners and teachers back to method’s obvious ability to continue.

The obliviousness of even the most prescient method displays itself in the method's needing to be written as both introduction and argument; the method may call itself logic, but we cannot find a hint of logic in any of the great introductions. We do well to recall our confusion whenever we begin reading an author, and how difficult it is to reread a work’s introduction without continually recalling the path of the argument to follow, especially those works which challenge orthodox notions of methodology (not counting Nietzsche’s prefaces, which are closer to obituaries for his prior texts). We search for a defense of such an introduction in vain: method proves itself in what transformation is enacted in the phenomena with which it deals, and if that transformation cows our perception and makes any but such a transformed understanding impossible, we acknowledge that yes, the prescience of method is defended. The obliviousness of method is the impossibility that a method knows a thing until it begins to know, until the arguments are written which touch on the closest of phenomena to our understanding. When an argument reaches the substance of the objects of our perception, when an argument states its conception of justice or the order of our political selves, when an argument defines what it is to breathe, and when we begin to breathe in its way and not our own - it is then that we are first able to understand the necessity of that method which previously defended itself by its appeal to logic. It is not that logic is invented when the argument finally reaches those close phenomena; rather, logic is first seen in the intercourse between those arguments and that introduction. Either alone is simply nonsense; the prescience of method is discovered when, flipping back to the introduction, we find it has always required whatever arguments happened to come.

The struggle between instability (out of which doubt) and obviousness happens while method is in the act of arguing.  The struggle between prescience and obliviousness is essential to method’s achieving whatever topical scope is proper to the work in question. These two struggles may work to describe method’s practice and technique. There is a third struggle, which concerns not simply method’s practice and technique, but rather concerns the possibility that thought may be methodological at all, and so the possibility that thought may at times require moments without methodology, that thought may require periods of rest. This struggle is between method’s deftness and the stalemate into which method sometimes enters.

The stalemate to which even the most deft of methodological thinkers comes cannot be avoided; it comes when anyone who thinks reflects on his teaching and its standpoint, at which point any method is avoided for some period of learning and reflection, a time when the thinker retreats into some activity prior to and informing method proper. A full discussion of teaching and reflection is neither topical nor possible when our concern is for method. Our topic is method; we will limit our discussion of teaching to a discussion of the teaching a thoughtful method may receive. In this spirit, we remark that all teachers who wrote, or writers who thought, paused between the books they wrote, and as often as not discovered some byway which made up the substance of their next book. We may go further and say that we suspect some thinkers of thoughts which lie, and thereafter their method becomes suspect (there will be more on this later; for now, I hope we agree that a suspect thinker, if he thinks, deserves all the more careful a reading). We can go so far as to acknowledge that a thinker, thinking only one thought, thinks through only one method no matter how many or few writings arrive bearing his name; yet this method can never be shown to continue with uninterrupted deftness so far as it relies on a bit of time for breathing again that prior mystery by which the thinker replenishes his thinking. At these times the method is in a stalemate, and no deftness or cunning will revive its thinking. Yet at times other than the stalemate it was only deftness which characterized the method, and especially deftness in application, deftness in the struggle between instability and obviousness, prescience and obliviousness; along the narrow paths of a great method, there is always the risk that the method may forget itself, devolve into trivialities and the untopical and the idolatrous. This risk gave method practice in the art of deftness; the consideration of this risk becomes so close to method’s deftness that separating the two becomes impossible. Method is closer to the risk that it may become trivial than it is to any success it may have, and when method comes ever closer to that risk, deftness becomes ever more the substance of whatever method is. All these abilities, its very deftness, the method has prepared for in the stalemate; yet its deftness is active and the furthest from stalemate, it is the narcotic and the high of war. To avoid stalemate or deftness is to avoid both; to avoid method at all is to resign oneself to courting whatever unworthy thought occurs when one is in repose; to avoid repose is to avoid the nourishment that allows thoughtful method to be deft when deftness is required. At the proper times method is required if thought is to maintain its precision and its love for the outside world; at the proper times method must be in stalemate and thinking must lie in repose for method to be nourished. That we see mystery in method’s function and that we see opposition and contradiction in method’s beginnings and ends is essential to the proper use of method. This proper use is neither constant nor consistent nor stable; this proper use is not knowledgeable nor technical nor practical. The proper use in method does not properly lie in any region where method is enacted; the propriety of method rests in the passage of thought from its consideration of method’s stalemate towards an applied methodology.

The passage into method is not thought’s only passage from repose into application. That this passage is not alone demands that we consider whether some thinker’s thought may essentially lie; though perhaps the lie originates in some other passage thought takes to application, the passage of method to applied methodology may yet be intertwined with this lie. We take care to distinguish lies from errors: here, we are not speaking of errors, which persist even as a result of truthful thought, though at some degree of separation which mirrors the respective degrees of separation between thinking proper, the thoughtful passage of method’s stalemate into applied methodology, and arguments themselves: errors are argumentative mistakes in calculating addition, whereas thought’s lie may inhabit method’s thoughtful passage as a lie which strengthens method’s way of defining arithmetic. Can we speak of method’s passage from stalemate (considered by thought in repose), to application (out of which any error may arise without touching method’s truthfulness or lack thereof), and speak as if method has already been taught by some lie of thinking?  We remain unsure how a method shows itself and we remain unsure by whose eyes a method may be recognized; though a method may require lies in its technique, its practice, or its performance, we must remain unsure that lies actually contribute to the heart of method.

Can it be, then, that to begin with both lies and method is to avoid method in the first place? Is it the case that to begin with any stable idea and couple it to method can only interrogate the particulars of method’s function rather than its essence, which is the passage of thought from stalemate to application? Does a beginning which supposes that we know any characteristic of a method without already having passed into method’s application devolve into a basically falsifying beginning, one which resigns us to an interrogation only of written arguments and never of method in its fullness? We are unsure of method, of its basic characteristics. Our unsurety lies in method's intransigence against our interrogation with respect to instability or obviousness, obliviousness or prescience, deftness or stalemate. An interrogation which begins with any of these qualities and method sometimes slips into an analysis of some other quality and method, and sometimes slips into an analysis ignorant of method at all. We are unsure of method precisely because method itself interrogates these qualities; to begin with any one of them as if it is essential to method without allowing method’s passage to take its own way invites method to cast doubt on any but its very own arguments, questions, introductions, and transformations. When we disallow method from doubting itself, we disallow ourselves from seeing the fullness of method; when we suppose that to interrogate method can begin with the surety that it has essential characteristics, we disallow method from doubting itself and its own essence. Method can show these qualities and characteristics quite well, but only under the guiding hand of some thinker whose method it is. An example of one such quality, prescience, which we must not at the outset couple to method but which has its place in the interrogation of method, will serve to  make a similar argument about beginning by coupling method to any sure characteristics. To begin here with say, 'prescience and method' will not end with either prescience or method given its due; they will only come together after some essential transformation of closer phenomena has taken place in the reader, by means of which method allows prescience to take its place among the closer phenomena already analyzed. In this way prescience is like truth, which depends for its close relationship with method upon the intricacies of analysis method has already performed on, say, the poetry of a text, the gestures of a human, or the rhetoric of a god. To begin with truth and method, we suspect, is to forgo all of oneself that loves reading, humanity, and the divine, and has developed itself on the basis of the precision and attention to the smallest of details that characterizes such love. Far from being sure at the outset that any phenomenon is essential to method, we must allow method’s passage to bring up its essential characteristics of its own accord. Perhaps we can honestly say: we have to take care to start simply and with the small.

Lies may very well be different, and another warning may be necessary. Again, though this next paragraph concerns applied methodology, it does not concern the results of such application, namely arguments. Therefore we are still not speaking of errors, but rather, for example, of the way in which disparate methodological rules are applied in a way which either may not be incoherent or may be suspected of incoherence. There remain degrees of separation between 1) thinking, and 2) method’s thoughtful passage from stalemate to deft application, a thoughtfulness which includes essentially all three notions of passage, stalemate, and application, and 3) arguments, which are allowed to err or not regardless of some lie in method’s passage. We are concerned with method’s thoughtful passage, and we do not therefore say that if a method begins to lie method is thereby robbed of its basic instability. Not only does the slightest accusation of a lie drive method into the questioning stance which pauses all arguments for the sake of finding some supporting stance (this occurs especially when the method accuses itself, from itself); moreover, lying is at the heart of this questioning stance. Method must sometimes lie in order to properly frame an incisive questioning of itself. Neither imprecision nor naivete will suffice to phrase method’s periodic doubt of itself in the most incisive way; method must speak and then begin to believe the most bald-faced lies simply to trust again that from the deepest depths in which method seemingly is concerned with only the irrelevant, it can rise again to a noble buttressing of the passage at hand. We do not mean, when we say this, to accuse method of thereby participating in some ignoble behavior, however, as the method does not trust that it is lying; its own suspicion of itself and the transformation of that suspicion into a basic tenet in which it trusts is such that all trust in the superfluousness of any questioning stance, though such trust remains, will not on its own support the continuation of argument. Lying is at the heart of such instability as blood is at the heart of the body; it is by the flow of lies into and out of instability that method knows to speed itself towards questioning or slow itself into the argument; without the lie instability may twitch and spasm, but method has stopped beating, and will never come to question itself or begin to come to its defense.

Therefore, neither do we say that lies rob method of the defense it undertakes when unstable questioning has begun; on the contrary, not only do lies leave the instability intact which demands the method's questioning, lies are the only means against which that defense can take place. The method asks: and is this a lie? and am I a lie?, and is answered with either the demand for continued defense or some trust that the argument can continue. Lies are that against which the defense tests itself and so that against which method strengthens itself; just as it becomes difficult to distinguish between an enemy and a friend in the highest conflicts, so does it become difficult to tell whether lies demand defense or defense demands the lie. Either way, the incitement towards the questioning and the questioning itself that method may undergo demands, at the beginning and through the end, that the lie continue to be the most believable, continue to be the most trustworthy, continue to be the most accusatory, so that when method finally defends itself and we finally find ourselves again affirming the obviousness of method, it can be sure no lie has escaped to find a home in that obviousness. Then we say that even such obviousness has some relationship with lies, if only that it is built upon that long, questioning defense which requires the lie, and that it is again confronted with the instability whose blood is the lie.

Could a method be oblivious without the lie? Could a method introduce itself without already knowing the shape of some phenomena to be discussed, artlessly claim that some analysis must take place before these phenomena are ever understood, without the employment by some thinker of the very basic lie that he has not already thought through the entirety of his work? Could a method be prescient without the lie? Could a method and its arguments be so intertwined, without a crack in the edifice, if the thinker did not steel himself on the lie that he will continue as a whole man through the grime and chaos and frustration which follows every word, every sentence, every paragraph put to paper? In response to these questions I ask the reader to remember that Thrasymachus blushed and was broken within the first ten pages of the Republic and yet continued in various forms until he became the very face of a tyrant, and Socrates wondered, continuously and fully and perplexingly, and nevertheless lived only a single life.  I ask the reader to wonder at the singularity of a life like Socrates, full of the most disparate questions yet always asked in one voice and with one face, and to wonder if such a life is possible without being born of the lie that Socrates will die as Socrates and as no one else.  How could he have known?

Stalemate and deftness: here is where we have to say that we cannot begin with “lies and method”: not because to affirm that lies are essential to method robs method of qualities which we suspect method has, but because to affirm that lies are essential to method attributes to method qualities which disallow method from coming to a stalemate or coming to deftness. Would it matter whether such an affirmation robbed method of these qualities or not? We cannot say lies and method not because we must allow method to partake of stalemate and deftness, but because we disallow ourselves from giving too short shrift to that strengthening mystery which may or may not similarly prevent us from discussing method at all. Just as we do not begin with “prescience or method” for fear of finding nothing but someone else's teacher, finding nothing but method’s surety and ignorance of method’s doubting and questioning stance, so we do not begin with “lies and method” for fear of finding ourselves as 'first' teacher, for fear of finding in method only whatever is after its stalemate, and finding only the decreasingly deft and increasingly barren maneuvering of a method that has been disallowed from nourishing itself. We do not begin with “lies and method” for fear that method never returns to stalemate to confront the possibility that thought may have lied and thereafter inhabited method’s passage. When we begin with precise notions of prescience and from there formulate some notion of method, we find only what we want to find, and find only the qualities in method which show it at its most successful. When we begin with precise notions of lies and from there formulate some way of properly practicing method, we unnecessarily condemn method to live only on the lie on which thought may have habituated itself for today’s writing, and thereby condemn method to live only on that lie to which thought has habituated itself and from which thought cannot arrive, when denied its repose.  Then: we disallow method from entering stalemate and recuperating itself, we disallow its practice of its deftness, and so we disallow method from continuing thoughtfulness. Then: we allow method only the bland thinking that remains satisfied, and never the thinking that grows out of some lie and perhaps, but perhaps not, into another.

So can we begin by asking: lies or method? We ask this not to court another line of questioning in which we wonder whether we can bring lies and method together at the beginning, but to wonder whether there must be catastrophe between our perusal of any method and our cultivation of our own lies. Though method’s practice may demand lies, does method’s passage into practice, as passage, confront the notion that the thinker lies as a notion catastrophic for method? We ask this and we ask: if we as thinkers have learned to lie in our habitual and ill-begun practice of method, is it possible to afterwards take up method as passage from the repose of thought to an applied methodology, or do we remain in the rarified air of stalemate and mystery? If we without lies question method in order to begin its proper passage, must we steel ourselves to remain before method’s questionable nature occurs to us, lest our thought—apart from method—begins to lie?