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Certain ideas are axiomatic to navigating and defining existence. As necessary markers they are generally considered to be unproblematic in their everyday use and understanding. This is rightly so, because any unbridled and ceaseless challenge to their obvious necessity would result in a constantly stalled experience of existence. One other such experiential necessity, and perhaps even the most important one at the level of the everyday, is that of the Edge. All concepts of difference, from the ethereal to the material, from the ideal to the empirical, from words to things, from desires to actions, from past to present to future, demand some form of border in order to differentiate each from each, this from that.
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Book cover: original photographs by Ricardo Gomez Angel (on unsplash.com), digitally altered by Ondina Press
THE MIRRORED EDGE
THE EXHAUSTED EDGE
THE HUNGRY EDGE
THE OTHER EDGE
THE PRESENT EDGE
THE INFINITE EDGE
Edges is the third book in a series that covers a period of twenty-five or so years of academic writing by the author. Some of the essays in this series have previously appeared as book chapters in other scholars' publications, while several have appeared as articles in numerous American, Australasian, Middle Eastern, and European academic journals. Other essays originated as conference papers, and several as invited responses to keynote and conference speakers; a few have been re-drafted from guest lectures given by the author. The last in the series, Screens, is a scaled-down version of the author's doctoral thesis in which he initially developed his early ideas concerning the philosophy of geometry. Other elements from the thesis also appear throughout the rest of the series.
The themes included in the entire series range from philosophy to geometry, from aesthetics to cultural studies, and from science to fine arts. Many have either as a central or as a cursory element the role that geometry, and by extension, the image, play in the production and construction of meaning in both the sciences and the humanities. Others touch on the truth claims made by various disciplines, while a few seek to examine in an oblique fashion the porous nature of what many disciplines consider their boundaries. The role and mercurial nature of specific metaphors is also a recurring theme in many of the essays.
In most cases, the texts have been wholly or partially trimmed of their original academic format in the hope of making their contents more appealing to a wider audience.
Among his countless other attributions, the messenger Hermes (Mercury) is also the god of transitions and boundaries. The second youngest of all the gods, he is the only one who can travel through the three realms of existence: Olympus, Earth, and Hades. As the god of borders, (literally and figuratively), and the carrier of souls to the underworld, he can breach the divide between the material and spiritual dominions. On one occasion he dons the famed cap of invisibility, enabling him to cross enemy lines undetected and slay a formidable foe of his father, Zeus. Hermes' multi-faceted, mercurial personality, alloyed to his love of trickery, inventiveness, deceitfulness, and confidentiality earned him the sobriquet, the god of contradictions. An apt appellation, for the symbol of this fleetest of all ancient divinities is the unhurried tortoise. An irony further enhanced by the fact that this amphibian creature can exist both inside and outside its own skeletal boundary, at one and the same time. It therefore seems an ideal image to portray the one force that can violate all borders yet leave them intact: the incalculable speed of simultaneity, the duration of which, as the Greeks well knew, is best imagined divinely, best left to the Gods.
Certain ideas are axiomatic to navigating and defining existence. As necessary markers they are generally considered to be unproblematic in their everyday use and understanding. This is rightly so, because any unbridled and ceaseless challenge to their obvious necessity would result in a constantly stalled experience of existence. This danger is no more graphically illustrated than in the Centipede's Dilemma:
A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg comes after which?"
Which threw her mind in such a pitch,
She lay bewildered in the ditch
Considering how to run.
As aptly indicated, abilities that become automatic often cease to function in an effortless manner when brought back to the conscious level. This is also true of certain formative ideas that govern the comprehension of existence. As the renowned scientist, Arthur Eddington, once amusingly said: I know perfectly well what time is until I try to explain it to someone else.
One other such experiential necessity, and perhaps even the most important one at the level of the everyday, is that of the Edge. All concepts of difference, from the ethereal to the material, from the ideal to the empirical, from words to things, from desires to actions, from past to present to future, demand some form of border in order to differentiate each from each, this from that. Acting to both define and separate, when these edges are challenged or even erased, then the resounding clash often generates an unavoidable sense of uncertainty and instability. It is therefore not overly ridiculous to say that the assuredness of our existence is edge-dependant. Indeed, as some continental scholars have noted, the very production of meaning can be understood as the play of differences, as generated by and inhabiting the spaces between what are initially deemed to be differences. Hence, no edge then no difference - no difference then no meaning. Equally, no difference then no edge – no meaning then no difference.
With such a weight of responsibility placed on what will count as an edge it comes as no surprise that there is a counter range of concepts that suggest edges are inherently unstable in any fixed, absolute manner. Ideas such as interface, porosity, seepage, schizophrenia, inter-connectivity, net-working, to name but a few, set a challenge to the bastion of conceiving the edge as inviolate. In a more hysterical vein, the horrors-of-horrors for those whose philosophical fare favours determinism is that edges, to paraphrase Humpty-Dumpty, may mean what we choose them to mean, neither more nor less. With that flexibility in mind, the following essays will discuss in one or two ways this spectre of relativity as it incessantly attaches itself to the necessary yet ever elusive concept of the edge, and its corollary, the act of edging.
At its most prosaic level, the question of what is an edge is a relatively easy one to answer when we are only meaning to determine, say, the particular boundaries of this or that inanimate object (putting aside for another occasion the revelations of Quantum Physics concerning the uncertainty principle). However, when speaking about something as significant as culture for instance, then what constitutes an edge becomes a matter of some importance and conjecture. Certainly, whatever we decide represents the edge of a culture is always going to be a volatile and contested matter, for to mark where one culture ends and another begins has enormous political ramifications, as does not to mark it; (this also applies to defining the conceptual and physical limits of subjectivity, identity, etc.).
Furthermore, as the term edge has in everyday language a strong material sense about it, it therefore seems at first blush to be inappropriate when used in conjunction with the ethereal and subjective character of culture. Equally, however, the concept of culture does not of itself exclude the material. Quite obviously culture has a material face; although the entire question of a culture’s edge would perhaps be redundant if all there was to culture was its materiality. It is therefore important to keep in mind that giving an edge to something like culture is not simply a matter of ascribing some physical boundary to visible activities. It also involves ephemeral elements that underpin customs, beliefs, rites, and habits, and so on: elements that are, ironically, often already considered to be universally transcendent, and therefore over and above all cultures.
Regrettably, this ghost of humanism is a persistent force in western culture's attempts at defining its own and other cultures' domains. In its most virulent form it relegates diverse cultures to being merely different versions of the same, relegates them to being patches on a single cloak of many colours. In other words, difference is defined as variations on a theme, one based on a range of characteristics-qualities-attributes-desires-values that are presumed to be shared by all humans throughout time. Clearly, in this reductive model the power to declare what are these universal human traits rests with whatever culture is in the ascendant on the global stage.
It follows that this schema lends itself to formulating a hierarchy based on the degree to which these characteristics are adhered to (and applied) by this or that culture. Furthermore, to retain coherency, this view establishes culture as something that comes after early wandering hominids decided to coalesce into larger, stationary groups. Conversely, the idea of culture being simultaneous with the initial emergence of hominids is clearly not theoretically plausible in this viewpoint
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