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Facing nature: the infinite in the flesh

Victorin-Vangerud, Robert Daniel (2006) Facing nature: the infinite in the flesh. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores the relation between two interpretations of chora, drawn from a reading of Plato's Timaeus. The first I label the elemental chora. The second, I call the social chora. The first chapter addresses the elements in Ionian philosophy, with an eye toward the political and social backdrop of the important cosmological notion of isonomia, law of equals. Here social and elemental are continuous. Chapter two looks at the next phase of Presocratic thought, Elea, specifically Parmenides and his influence on later thought, then turns to Heidegger's reading of Parmenides' through the key word of aletheia. Finally, I offer a reading of Parmenides through a different key word - trust. The third chapter examines Plato's cosmology in the Timaeus, focusing on the way the beginning of this dialogue inflects the dialogue in a political/social direction, putting the social chora in tension with the elemental chora that the body of the Timaeus' discusses. In the fourth chapter, which examines the Phaedrus, this tension is inverted, since this dialogue on writing and justice set in what proves to be the mesmerizing and erotic elemental milieu of the world outside the walls of the polis. The second half of the dissertation turns to some modern thinkers within the phenomenological tradition or its wake who write about elementals. Chapter five examines Gaston Bachelard's reveries on imagination which dream the natural world of fire, air, water, and earth from the standpoint of what he calls material and dynamic imagination, concepts that imply a strong sense of embodiment. Chapter six treats Levinas' description of the elemental and fixes it in a stark relation to the human. I will suggest some possible points of contact between the elemental and the social in Levinas. Chapter seven turns to John Sallis' analysis of the imagination as the means of access proper to the elemental in ways that differ from Bachelard. He position the earth as a fundamental other. I will suggest that in the end his position inherits Heidegger's lack of emphasis on embodied and needy humanity. Alphonso Lingis offers his own unique reading of the elemental in a more Levinasian and Merleau-Pontian vein, speaking of the directives the world, both human and natural, puts to us, and returning to a philosophy of substance that puts the body in the picture. Chapter eight uses his thought to focus the issue of the dissertation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): McDonald, Paul
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