Paul Ricœur’s The Course of Recognition

Ricœur, Paul. The course of recognition. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005.

The act of recognizing is an act of judging, one based on concepts of good and bad, true and false. Here one gets into the muddy waters of Perceptual judgment and preferential judgment, though NO will not discuss such trite matters as that. As when one recognizes an emotion, the sudden physiognomic sensations of Goosebumps and standing hair, a judgment is made: I recognize that emotion as fear in the context of a bear running at me, and I recognize the same physiognomic sensations as anger when I’ve just discovered an adultery among my kin. The judgments of recognition become a mirror for our conceptual being.

Antic of rabbit-pulling aside, when recognizing the “other”, as in another person that through numerous surface-testing can become something like you but not you, one is faced with the immediate dilemma of the Master/Slave dialectic that Hegel propositioned us with: Because the lived experience of the other is always inaccessible to me, my recognition for the other is based upon a hierarchical structure that either determines my being through the other (he is my slave) or at the resistance of that other (he is my master).

What we aim for in this respect is mutual recognition. NO does not believe in such an ideal except through the belief and process in obtaining that ideal. Let’s say it exists. What we’re searching for is self-esteem, self-affirmation, which should actually be referred to as “social-esteem” or “social-affirmation”. Through validation by the other of our own existence we can conceive of a working identity formation for ourselves. I, who am I? All I know of myself is in relation to the other, he is my slave, I am his master–there is my definition. The ownership of slaves is the only thing that separates a master from “a madman who only believes he is a master”. The madness is in the neurotic automation of self-esteem, the refusal to make it “social-esteem”.

Here’s where love comes in. Glorious, unadulterated, romantic love, to be specific.

Love…erotic relations, friendship and family ties constitute strong emotional attachment among a small number of people. What is at issue here is a prejudicial degree of reciprocal recognition, where “subjects” mutually confirm each other with regard to their concrete needs and thereby recognize each other as needy creatures – Paul Riceour, Course of Recognition

A precept of love is the “neediness” of that love, the narcissism in requesting the mutual recognition of love, and the mutual agreement to reinforce each other’s being with others rather than being by others–the sufficient reproduction of social-esteem.

With Riceour, love is never a simple concept, though it is simply an emotion that is not reducible to the physiognomic impulses that it creates. Recognition through love becomes a recognition of the neediness of the other in relationship to the neediness of oneself. “I will grant you social esteem, and you will grant the same to me” is the mutual recognition that eventually unfolds within this system that Riceour refers to, which can only be breeded through love (agape), that of gift-giving. In the act of giving, one is determining a postulate of the other as a recognized being, granting recognition to him or her, not on the basis of an obligation or subjection, but because that person is a human being. Indeed, one might extend this formal, philosophical dimension of gift-giving into a tradition that has survived simply for its utilization of recognition in gender practices–that of dating, where a man begins with the gift of flowers, putting the female ‘other’ under the pretenses of gratitude. Indeed, it seems the entirety of the date is the tension of expected gratitude through the giving of another gift. It begins with the roses, and the audacity that the roses represent into inculcating the subject, in this case the feminine other, into a course of recognition that is intended to end with the agenda of the male.

If Riceour’s argument seems less salient when adapted into that of a date, perhaps
that is because the cynicism of such open-ended love, the agape which with the man supposedly feels when giving the roses, is always present within the female. A suspicion is immediately conjured within the female upon the presence of the roses, and there is a danger of the female rejecting those flowers for their inherent implications. The suspicion that occurs when receiving roses, that the roses might indeed symbolize for her the Trojan horse without the horse, pushed gratitude into a function of self-suspicion for being unable to obtain “mutual recognition” with the man in the act of gift-giving. In other words, there is the voice of suspicion that says: “he is trying to trick you with those roses”, and another voice that comes immediately after, which says: “you are tricking yourself “, and encourages the subject to “play along’ if only to prove that she is capable of trust. This later voice is understood as gratitude.

Riceour describes the main problem with agape, is “the lack of concern about any gift in return in the effusion of the gift in the realm of agape” (221). There is a type of agape then, that loves too much, “the overflowing heart”, as Riceour describes it, which does not base its method of gift-giving on the expectation of receiving a gift further in the future. In agape, selfishness and inequivalence become foreign concepts, agape “knows nothing of comparison and calculation”, therefore, with an inability to calculate the suggested “I.O.U.”s in every gift-giving procedure, the subject of agape is a helpless as Dostoyevski’s Idiot.

The struggle of Mutual recognition is sought within the peaceful experiences of mutual recognition, in its symbolic mediations, therefore it must begin at the level of the family. In order to avoid the struggle of the idiot, the logical order of reciprocity must be inculcated at birth, before the ‘cynicism’ of receiving a gift (that it could be a Trojan horse) can be suggested to the subject. A ritual of gift-giving must begin within a “festive character” of exchange. This is a society of love, in which gift-giving becomes a ceremonial tradition of gift-exchange, much like Christmas–except Christmas is every day.

Besides the fact that this imaginary order of recurring gift-exchange side-steps monetary symbolism as an already occurring symbolic order based on mutual recognition (where the amount of labor is supposedly equal to the amount paid), Riceour’s use of the term love and agape have, in this analysis, already taken several forms. There is the love with cynicism, and the love without it.  The recognition of love, in this case, seems to observe love as something more than a social phenomenon, but a state of being itself. How can that be? One might say that love is an emotion, a judgment call made by the associative mind when certain physiognomic impulses rise through a subject. My heart begins to beat fast when I look into her eyes, I get Goosebumps, I feel light-headed. Of course, I could be feeling the exact same feelings for completely different reasons, and in such cases those impulses would be taken for another emotion entirely. Let’s say I felt light-headed, got goosebumps, and my heart began to beat faster, for a reason that is not at all apparent to me. I’m standing in a forest. To my left is the Goddess Artemis bathing with her maids, and to my right is a frightening grizzly bear coming towards me with a hungry deportment. The emotion I feel at that moment is entirely a process of perceptual judgment dictating my preferential judgment. I perceive Diana, therefore I judge the impulses within me, and recognize love.

The intention of this parable is, naturally, to discover the process of recognition as a misrecognition in itself. In this forest, there is the possibility that I heard the bear, or somehow felt its presence, then felt the physiognomic impulses, then saw Diana, and felt love. I therefore misrecognize the impulses caused by fear to actually be love. How does this relate to Riceour? Because the fact remains that those physiognomic impulses were caused by something, whether it was the presence of Diana, the charging of the bear, a familiar smell, or a spider crawling up my leg, but the concept I choose to recognize it as, can be whatever I prefer it to be, or whatever is immediately perceived. The basic point is that fundamentally, an emotional judgment goes thus: “I feel something, why not love?” The recognition of love can in this sense be no more than a makeshift emotion, because the notion of feeling something must be explained through a concept, and at times, any concept will do.

So what is at stake in this somewhat overkilled investigation of emotion? Precisely in that concept “I feel something, why not love?” Suppose the logical system of exchange turns into one of a “festive order” based on agape and gift giving. I recognize the ‘other’ by presenting the other with something I call a gift. Within this system, I am reenacting a “ceremonial” “tradition”, in which my “gift” is given on the level or a symbolic order of reciprocity, in which I expect a certain amount of “gratitude” from the other in the form of an appropriate “gift”, which can be exchanged at an appropriate time, one not so far along that I have become bitter, yet not so soon that I might interpret it as a sign of obligation. I recognize the basis for these exchanges to be “love”, rather than selfishness. As the exchange goes on, chances are that at some point I would get tired of waiting for gift, and find it easier to eliminate the time difference between giving and receiving through suggestively eliminating the amount of time it takes to give back a gift. Also, I would take similarly suggestive steps to accept gifts based on the circumstances of the “other” who gives them to me, and since I don’t know “the other” as well as I’d like to, I would have to implement some sort of symbolic system to quantify the level of my gifts with their gifts, just to make sure I could appropriate a significant enough level of “gratitude” by the other so as to continue the “festive” process based on “agape”. Of course, this system of “gift-exchange” we know as “The Market”, it’s mutual recognition met through the buying and selling of objects and the labor market where labor is exchanged for a certain amount of profit, while still maintaining the recognition of truthful power relations. Though such a system as that proposed can’t possibly be a true agape, since agape does not recognize “selfishness” and “inequivalence”, the basis of the Market. Agape does, however, recognize “gratitude” and “festivity”, and therefore, “gift-exchange” can certainly exist within the mindset of agape.

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