Silo, pensamiento y obra literaria. Conferencia.


SILO, Book Presentations, My Thinking and Literary Works Grand Palace Theatre. Santiago, Chile. 23 May 1991 I wish to thank Planeta Publishers and the many friends who have invited me to speak today about some of my writings recently published as a collection. And, of course, I want to thank all of you who are present today. In talks given in a number of countries I have dealt with each of these books as they have been published. Today, however, I will try to give an overview of the ideas that form the basis of all of these works. I hope that it will not be too boring. We should mention some of the characteristics of each one of the four volumes of which we are speaking since they are not uniform in style or subject matter As we will see, the interests that motivated these works are diverse and the forms of expression vary—from the poetic prose of Humanize the Earth, to the short stories of Guided Experiences, to the exegesis of Universal Root Myths, and to the essays of Contributions to Thought. Pausing briefly on each of these works, I will say that the first, Humanize the Earth, is a triptych comprised of three books written successively in 1972, 1981 and 1988. I am referring to works that circulated separately under the titles The Inner Look, The Internal Landscape, and The Human Landscape. Humanize the Earth is divided into the three books mentioned, and each is in turn divided into chapters and the chapters into numbered paragraphs. In general, the discourse is meant to serve as an appeal, formalized by the imperative sentences that give the text a certain hardness. To discharge the resulting tension, however, there appear declarative sentences, which allow readers to compare what is being said with their own experiences. But this somewhat polemical work presents a major difficulty owing to the deliberately forced use made of the Spanish language; so, with that device an atmosphere is achieved according to the emotions I wanted to transmit, but this creates problems of meaning, and therefore of a full understanding, as became apparent with the translation into diverse languages. Ultimately, Humanize the Earth is a work of thought, Ultimately, treated in the style of poetic prose, dealing with human life in its most general aspects. It makes use of repositioning the point of view, from a personal interiority into the interpersonal and social urging the overcoming of the meaninglessness of life; proposing activity and militancy supporting the humanization of the world. The second volume, entitled Guided Experiences, was written in 1980. It is a collection of short stories written in the first person; however, it should be clarified that this “first person” is not the author, as is so often the case, but in fact the reader. This effect is achieved by making the setting of each story a frame for readers to fill with themselves and their own contents. To assist the text, asterisks appear indicating pauses that help to mentally introduce images that turn the passive observer into an actor and co-author of each one of these descriptions. In literary works, theatre, films, and television, the reader or spectator can identify more or less completely with the characters, but always recognizes, either at the time or later, the differences between the actor who appears “in” the scene and the observer who is located “outside”, and who is none other than him or herself. In the Guided Experiences, the opposite occurs: The main character is the observer, agent and recipient of the actions and emotions. In addition, the notes to the book provide elements sufficient to enable any person with a minimum of literary ability to construct new tales that can form the basis of aesthetic pleasure or, give parameters for reflection on life situations that require a change in behavior or an immediate response which, however, is not defined. Unlike Humanize the Earth, which dealt in poetic prose with the general situations of life, encouraging and exhorting people in similarly general ways, the Guided Experiences use the technique of the short story to help the reader give order and orient the actions he or she may decide to take in particular situations of daily life. The third volume, Universal Root Myths, was written in 1990. It does not deal with individuals images as in the Guided Experiences, but compares and comments upon those collective images the most ancient that cultures have fashioned into myths. It is a work of exegesis, of interpretation of foreign texts which, in part, appear reelaborated trying to fill the gaps in the originals and overcome the difficulties of translation on which they were based. In the writing an attempt was made to isolate those myths which have maintained a certain permanence in their central argument even though the names and secondary attributes may have changed. These myths, which I call “root myths,” also have a “universal” character, not simply because of their geographical range but also because of how they have been adopted by other peoples. Considering the double function that we attribute to the image as a translation of vital tensions and also as giving impulse to behavior tending to discharge those tensions, the collective image fashioned into myth allows us to approach an understanding of its psychosocial base. In this way, Universal Root Myths leads us towards an understanding of the factors of cohesion and orientation of human groups irrespective that the myths in question possess a religious dimension or simply act as strong social desacralized beliefs. Two essays, “Psychology of the Image” written in 1988 and “Historiological Discussions” written in 1989, together make up a fourth volume entitled Contributions to Thought. This book presents, in a very succinct way, theoretical issues that are for us very important, regarding the structure of human life and the historicity in which that structure develops. The comments made so far should now make it possible to try to present an overall picture of the ideas that form the foundation of these various works, but I should note once again that it is in Contributions to Thought that some of these ideas are presented with the greatest precision. Let us begin with some considerations regarding ideologies and systems of thought. Our conception does not begin by positing generalities but rather by studying the particularities of human life the particularities of existence; the particularities of the personal register of thinking, feeling, and acting. This starting point makes our thinking incompatible with any system that begins from an Idea, from the Material, from the Unconscious, from the Will. etc.. Because any truth that claims to speak about humankind, about society, about history, must begin with questions about the person making those statements; otherwise, in speaking about humankind, we forget about it, and we replace or postpone it as if we wanted to leave the human being aside because its profundities make us uneasy, because its daily weaknesses and eventual death throw us into the arms of the absurd. In that sense, the various theories about the human being have perhaps served to lull us, to distract our gaze from that concrete human being who suffers, enjoys, creates, and fails; that being who surrounds us and who is in fact us; that child who from birth will tend to be objectified; that aged person whose youthful hopes have been dashed. We learn nothing from any ideology that presents itself as reality itself or pretends not to be an ideology, displacing the truth that exposes it as just one more human construct. The fact that the human being may or may not find God, may or may not advance in knowledge and mastery of nature, may or may not achieve a social organization in keeping with human dignity, always places one term of the equation in its own register. And whether accepting or rejecting a particular conception, however logical or outlandish it may be, it will always be itself who in play, precisely, accepting or rejecting. Let us speak, then, of human life. When I observe myself, not from a physiological point of view but from an existential one, I find myself immersed in a world that is given, a world neither constructed nor chosen by me. I find myself in a situation with respect to phenomena that, beginning with my own body, are inescapable. The body as fundamental constituent of my existence is also a phenomenon that is homogeneous with the natural world in which it acts and that also acts upon it. But the natural character of the body has important differences for me from all other phenomena in that: (1) I have an immediate register of my body; (2) my register of external phenomena is mediated by my body; and (3) some of my body’s operations are accessible to my immediate intention. But it happens that the world presents itself to me not simply as a conglomerate of natural objects, but also as something articulated by other human beings, and with the objects and signs produced or modified by them. The intention I observe in myself is a fundamental element for the interpretation of the behavior of others, and just as I constitute the social world by an understanding of intentions, so am I constituted by it. Of course, we are talking about intentions that are manifested in some bodily action. It is through the corporal expressions or through perceiving the situation in which I encounter another that I am able to understand their meanings, their intentions. Furthermore, natural and human objects appear to me as linked to pleasure or pain, and I try to place myself in front of them modifying my situation. In this way, I am not closed to the natural world and other human beings, but, precisely, what most characterizes me is the “opening”. My consciousness has been configured intersubjectively: It employs codes of reasoning, emotional models, patterns of action that I register as “mine” but that I also recognize in others. And, of course, my body is open to the world in that I both perceive it and act upon it. The natural world, unlike the human world, appears to me as devoid of intention. Of course, I can imagine that the rocks, plants, and stars possess intention, but I find no way to achieve an effective dialogue with them. Even animals, in which at times I glimpse the spark of intelligence, appear to me as impenetrable and only changing slowly from within their own natures. I see insect societies that are totally structured, higher mammals that employ rudimentary technologies, but still only replicate such codes in a slow process of genetic modification, as though each animal born was always the first representative of its respective species. And when I see the benefits derived from those plants and animals that have been modified and domesticated by humanity, I see human intention opening its way and humanizing the world. For me it seems insufficient to define the human being in terms of sociability because this does not distinguish human beings from many other species. Nor is capacity for work a distinguishing characteristic when compared to that of more powerful animals; Not even language defines the essence of what is human, for we know of numerous animals that make use of various codes and forms of communication. Instead, each new human being, finds itself in a world that has been modified by others, and is constituted by that world of intentions, I discover the human capacity of accumulation and incorporation into the temporal; I discover its historical-social dimension not simply the social dimension. With these things, we can attempt a definition saying: “””Humans are historical beings, ” whose mode of social action transforms their own nature.” If we accept this definition, we will also have to accept that this is a being that can, intentionally, transform its own physical constitution. And indeed, that is happening. It began with the use of instruments that, placed before the body as external “prostheses,” allowed them to extend their reach, to perfect their senses, and to increase their strength and the quality of their work. Though not naturally equipped with the ability to function in aerial or aquatic environments, they have nonetheless created the means to move through these media, and have even begun to migrate from their natural environment, the planet Earth. Today, moreover, human beings have begun to penetrate into the interior of their own bodies, transplanting organs, intervening in their brain chemistry, practicing in vitro fertilization, and manipulating their genes. If the idea of “nature” was meant to signify something fixed and unchanging, this idea is now inadequate even when applied to what is most object-like about the human being, that is, the body. And of what is termed “natural morality” or a “natural right” or “natural institutions” we find that in fact, that all of this is socio-historical. and nothing of this exists through nature. Hand in hand with this concept of human nature, has been operating another that speaks about the “passivity” of the consciousness. This ideology considered the human being as an entity that functions in response to stimuli from the natural world. What began as crude sensualism little by little has been displaced by historicist currents that, at their core, have preserved the same idea about passivity. And even when they emphasize the activity and transformation of the world over the interpretation of their events, they still conceive of its activity as resulting from conditions external to the consciousness. But those old prejudices concerning human nature and the passivity of consciousness appear today transformed into neo-evolutionary theories, with criteria such as natural selection that establishes itself through the struggle for the survival of the fittest. This zoological conception, in its most recent version now transposed into the human world, attempts to overcome the previous dialectics of race or class with a dialectic established following natural economic laws which self-regulate all social activity. Thus, once again, the concrete human being is submerged and objectified. We are mentioning those conceptual schemes that, in order to explain the human being, have begun from theoretical generalities and maintained the existence of a human nature and a passive consciousness. In contrast, we maintain the need to begin from human particularity; we maintain that the human being is a socio-historical and non-natural phenomenon and affirm the activity of the consciousness in transforming the world in accordance with its intention. We see human life in a situation, and the human body as an immediately perceived natural object, which is immediately subject to numerous dictates of the individual’s intention. The following questions therefore arise: First, how is it that the consciousness is active, that is, how is it that it can operate intentionally on the body and, through the body, transform the world? Secondly, How is it that the human constition is socio-historical? These questions must be answered from particular existence, so as not to fall into theoretical generalities from which is derived a system of interpretation. Thus, to answer the first question will require us to apprehend through immediate evidence how intention acts upon the body, and in response to the second, we must begin from evidence of temporality and intersubjectivity in the human being, rather than from general laws of history and society. Let us look at the first point. In order to extend my arm, open my hand, and pick up an object, I need to receive information about the position of my arm and hand. I do this thanks to kinesthetic and coenesthetic perceptions that is, perceptions from my intrabody. I am equipped with sensors that accomplish these specialized tasks in the same way that my external senses do through their tactile, auditory sensory organs etc. I also gather visual data about the distance from my body to the object. That is, before extending my arm, I have assimilated complex information in what might be called a “structure of perception,” and not a summation of separate perceptions. Thus, as I prepare to pick up the object, I select information discarding that which is not relevant. To direct the structure of perception making it correspond with the intention of taking the object, it is not sufficient to explain that I am passively perceiving. This is even clearer to me as I begin the movement and, adjusting my movements in response to feedback from the data that my senses are sending me. The action of putting my arm into motion and readjusting its trajectory cannot be explained simply in terms of perception. To avoid confusing the various registers in this experiment, I decide to close my eyes and locate myself in front of the object, carrying out operations with my arm and hand. Once again I register the internal sensations; but, lacking sight, my calculation of distance becomes awkward. If I mistake the position of the object and represent or imagine it in a place different from where it actually is, surely my hand will not encounter it. That is, my hand will go instead in the direction that has been “drawn” by my visual image. I experience the same thing with the other external senses that bring information on phenomena, and to which also correspond images that are apparently “copies” of the perception. Thus, I have gustatory and olfactory images, etc., as well as images corresponding to internal senses such as position, movement, pain, acidity, internal pressure, etc. But, keeping with the theme, I discover that it is images that impart activity to the body and that, while they do reproduce perception, they have great mobility, fluctuating and transforming both voluntarily and involuntarily. Here I should note that in the view of naive Psychology, images were seen as passive, serving only as the basis for memory; therefore, to the extent that images diverged from the dictatorship of perception they fell into the category of meaningless ravings. In those days an entire pedagogy was based on the cruel repetition of memorized texts and minimizing creativity and comprehension, because as we have said, consciousness was seen as being passive. But let’s continue. It is evident that I also have perception of the image, which enables me to distinguish one image from another, just as I distinguish among diverse perceptions. Or can I not recall images from memory, or represent things previously imagined? Let’s see. If I work now with open eyes and perform the action of picking up the object, I fail to perceive the action of the image as it is superimposed on the perception. But if I imagine the object in a false position even though I am still seeing it in its true position, my hand will tend to move towards the imagined object, not toward the one I see. It is, then, the image that determines my action toward the object and not simple perception. This will be replicated with the example of the short reflex arc, which bypasses the cerebral cortex, terminating at the level of the spinal cord, and produces a response even before the stimulus can be analyzed. However, if by this we wish to say that there are automatic responses that require no conscious activity, then of course one can list a multitude of such involuntary, natural operations common to both the human body and those of many animals. But they explain nothing regarding the problem of the image. Regarding images that are superimposed on perception we can add this, we can add that this is what happens in all cases even though we cannot always see it. We should bear in mind that the mere fact of visually imagining the movement of my arm does not make my arm move. My arm will move when firing an image towards the intrabody that corresponds to the internal perceptions of their own level. What happens with the visual image is that it delineates the path along which my arm will have to move. Such statements are confirmed in dreams when the sleeper, despite the great proliferation of images, remains with the body still. And it is clear that the landscape of representation is internalized, so that the images go towards the intrabody and not towards the muscle layers. In dreams the external senses tend to withdraw, as do the paths traced by the images. And so if we were to cite the agitation that occurs in “nightmares” or sonambulism, we would say that from the level of deep sleep one passes to the level of active semi-sleep; the external senses are actived and images begin to be externalized, setting the body in motion. We will not go into the theme of the space of representation, nor of the translation, distortion, and transformation of impulses that are further developed in the essay “Psychology of the Image.” With what we have seen so far we can move on to other ideas, such as those of copresence, the temporal structure of consciousness, the look, and the landscape. Let us suppose that one day I go into my room, and I perceive the window, I recognize it, it is familiar to me. I have a new perception of it, but also at work are earlier perceptions converted into images that are retained in me. However I notice that in one corner of the windowpane there is a crack… “That wasn’t there before,” I say to myself, after comparing the new perception with what I retain from previous perceptions. In addition, I experience a sort of surprise. The “window” of former acts has remained in me, but not passively like a photograph but actively as is characteristic of images. That which I have retained is acting with what I now perceive, even though its formation belongs to the past. This is a past that is always with me, always present. Before I entered my room I took it for granted, I took it for granted, that the window would be there in perfect condition; it is not something that I was thinking, but something I simply took for granted. The window in particular was not present in my thoughts at that moment, rather, it was copresent, it was within the horizon of objects contained in my room. It is thanks to copresence, where the retention is made present and superimposed on perception, that consciousness infers more than it perceives. In this phenomenon we find the most elementary functioning of belief. In our example, it’s as though I told myself, “I thought that the window was in perfect condition.” If when I entered my room there appeared phenomena belonging to a different field of objects, for example, an airplane engine or a hippopotamus such a surreal situation would be incredible, not because those objects do not exist, but because their appearance would be outside the field of the copresence corresponding to my retentions. Now, I had gone to my room guided by an intention, guided by images of getting a pen. As I walked, perhaps forgetting my objective, the images of what I was going to do in the immediate future acted copresently. The future for the consciousness was updated, was present. Unfortunately, I found the windowpane broken, and my intentions were modified by the need to resolve other urgencies. Now, at any present instant of my consciousness I can observe the intersection, the intersection of three different times, of retentions and futurizations that act copresently and in structure. The present instant is constituted in my consciousness as an active temporal field of the three different times. Seen in this way, things are very different from events in calendar time, in which today is not touched by yesterday or by tomorrow. In the calendar and the clock “now” is clearly differentiated from “no longer” and “not yet,” and, in addition, events are ordered one after another in a linear succession. And I simply cannot pretend that this is a structure. but a grouping within a total series which I call “calendar”. but we will return to this when we consider the subject of historicity and temporality. For now, let’s continue with what we said before about the way that consciousness infers more than it perceives; about the way things from the past, as retention, superimpose themselves on current perception. In every glance I launch toward an object I see things in a distorted way. We are not saying this in the sense proper to modern physics, which clearly shows our inability to detect the atom or wavelengths above or below our thresholds of perception; this we are saying with reference to the superimposition of images of retentions and futurizations made on perceptions. Thus, when I witness a beautiful sunrise in the country, the natural landscape that I observe is not determined in itself but rather I determine it, I constitute it according to an aesthetic ideal that I hold because of its contrast with city life, and perhaps because of someone that accompanies me and because of the suggestion that this light awakens in me, like a hope for an open future. And that special peace that I experience gives me the illusion that I am contemplating passively, when in reality I am actively superimposing many contents on the simple natural object. And this is true not only for this example but for any look that I launch towards reality. We have said in “Historiological Discussions,” that the natural destiny of the body is the world, and it is sufficient to observe its constitution to confirm this. Its senses and its apparatuses of nutrition, locomotion, reproduction, etc. are naturally shaped to be in the world. In addition, the image launches its transformative charge through the body; it does so not to produce a copy of the world, to be a reflection of the given situation but the opposite to modify that previously given situation. In this way, objects are limitations or amplifications of corporal possibilities, and other people’s bodies appear as multiplications of those possibilities, to the extent that they are governed by intentions that I recognize as similar to those that govern my own body. Why do human beings need to transform the world and transform themselves? Because of the situation of finitude and temporo-spatial limitation in which they find themselves and which they register as physical pain and mental suffering. Thus overcoming pain is not simply an animal response, it is a temporal configuration in which the future is primary and becomes a fundamental impulse of life, even though it may not be felt with urgency at any given moment. Therefore, apart from any immediate, reflex, and natural response, the deferred response to avoid pain is prompted by psychological suffering in the face of danger, and it is represented either as a future possibility or current fact in which pain is present in other human beings. Overcoming pain appears, then, as a basic project that guides action. It is what has made possible communication among diverse bodies and intentions in what we call “social constitution.” Social constitution is as historical as human life; it configures human life. Its transformation is continuous, but in a way that is different from that of nature, where changes do not occur due to intention. Social organization continues and expands, but this cannot occur solely through the presence of social objects which, even though they are carriers of human intentions, are unable to continue expanding of their own accord. Continuity is given by generations of human beings, which do not stand “one beside the other” but instead continually interact and transform one another. These generations, which allow continuity and development, are dynamic structures, they are social time in motion, without which society would fall into a natural state and lose its character of society. It happens, in addition, that in every historical moment there coexist several generations at various temporal levels, with differing retentions and futurizations that configure landscapes of differing situations and beliefs. The body, the body, and the behavior of children and the elderly demonstrate for the active generations, an awareness of that what is coming and that which has been. In turn, for the extremes of this triple relationship, one can also determine locations of extreme temporality. But this structure never stays still, because while the active generations grow old and the elderly die, children are transforming and beginning to occupy active positions. Meanwhile, new births continually reconstitute society. When in the abstract we “stop” this unceasing flow, we can speak of an “historical moment,” in which all the members who are standing on the same social stage can be considered as contemporaries, living “at the same time”. But we observe that they are not contemporaries in their interior temporality, with respect to their landscapes of formation with respect to their current situations, and future projects. In reality, the generational dialectic arises between the closest “layers” trying to occupy the central activity, the social present, according to their own interests and beliefs. It is the internal social temporality which explains structurally the historical development, in which different generational accumulations interact and not the linear succession of phenomena placed one besides the other as in calendar time, as explained to us by naive historiography. Constituted socially within a historical world in which I am configuring my landscape, I interpret that toward which I direct my look. This is my personal landscape, but there is also a collective landscape that responds in this moment to large human groups. As discussed before, several generations coexist in one present moment. In one moment, to illustrate crudely, there are those who were born before the transistor and others born in the computer age. Numerous configurations differ in both experiences, not only in their ways of doing things, but also in their ways of thinking and feeling… and what in social relationships and in the mode of production functioned at the time, may cease to function slowly or sometimes, abruptly. Some were expecting one result in the future and that future arrived, but things did not turn out as expected. Neither earlier actions, sensibility, nor ideology coincide with the new landscape that is gradually imposing itself socially. To conclude this outline of the ideas contained in these books that are published today, I will note that the human being because of its opening and freedom to choose among situations, to defer responses and to imagine their future, is also able to negate itself, to negate aspects of its body, to negate itself completely as in suicide, or to negate others. This freedom has allowed a few to illegitimately appropriate the social whole. That is, to deny freedom and intentionality to others, reducing them to prostheses, to instruments of their own intentions. Therein lies the essence of discrimination and its methodology physical, economic, racial, and religious violence. Violence can be established and perpetuated thanks to the control of the apparatus of social regulation and control, that is, the State. Consequently, the social organization requires an advanced type of coordination safe from any concentration of power, whether private or of the state. But it is usual that State apparatus is confused with social reality, and so we should make it clear that since it is society and not the State that is the producer of goods, the ownership of the means of production should, coherently, be social. Necessarily, those who have diminished the humanity of others have thereby given rise to new pain and suffering, reintroducing into the heart of society that age-old struggle against natural adversity, but now as a struggle between those who want to “naturalize” others, society, and History and those who are oppressed and need to humanize themselves in humanizing the world. Therefore to humanize is to forsake objectification in order to affirm the intentionality of every human being and the primacy of the future over the present situation. It is the representation of a possible and better future that allows the transformation of the present and makes possible all revolution and all change. Consequently the pressure of oppressive conditions is not in itself sufficient to mobilize the change, but it is necessary to know that such change is possible and that it depends on human actions. This struggle is not one between mechanical forces; it is not a natural reflex; it is a struggle between human intentions. And this is precisely what allows us to speak of oppressors and the oppressed, of the just and the unjust, of heroes and cowards. It is the only thing that allows the meaningful practice of social solidarity and a commitment to the liberation of the discriminated, whether they are the majority or a minority. Finally, as to the meaning of human actions, we do not believe that they are a meaningless convulsion, a “useless passion,” an endeavor ending in the dissolution of the absurd. We think that valid actions are those that end in others, and in the direction of their freedom. Nor do we believe that the destiny of humanity is fixed by prior causes that invalidate all possible effort, but that intention, becoming more conscious in people, opens the way towards a universal human nation. Nothing more, thank you very much. A production of the Center of Studies Punta de Vacas Park – 2012

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