Constellations of Awakening

posting by Jana

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I've just finished a season of presenting at conferences about the Cosmic Person as a way of re-conceiving the legal subject or person at law. I argue for law to take greater account of the human being in context as opposed to the highly abstracted ideal of the rational, autonomous individual that's been very influential in Western culture. The effect of the rational autonomous individual as the chief 'player' at law has been to privilege the 'individual life project' in legal decision-making. It's time, I argue, to value the project of life - interdependent, connected, and emergent - by remembering ourselves as part of the whole community of life on Earth not apart from or above it. 

At some point over the next few weeks I intend to sit down with my notes from all three conferences: The Green Institute's 'Everything is Connected', the Australian Earth Laws Alliance 'Inspiring Earth Ethics: Linking Values and Action', and Law, Literature and the Humanities Association of Australasia's 'Dissents and Dispositions'.  So many new connections, such a flurry of new ideas. And I look forward to the keynotes and so on being uploaded to those websites so I can review the highlights (you might want to check them out, too). 

The title of this post relates to a notion I picked up at the last conference, 'Dissents and Dispositions.' In a presentation on old and new materialism, Professor Chris Tomlins of UC Berkley Law included the phrase 'constellations of awakening.' It refers to critical theorist Walter Benjamin's proposal that 'ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars.' From the Oxford Reference:

Walter Benjamin famously proposed in the ‘Epistemo-Critical Prologue’ to Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1928), translated as The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1977), that ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars. That is to say, ideas are no more present in the world than constellations actually exist in the heavens, but like constellations they enable us to perceive relations between objects. It also means ideas are not the same as concepts, nor can they be construed as the laws of concepts. Ideas do not give rise to knowledge about phenomena and phenomena cannot be used to measure their validity. This is not to say the constellation is purely subjective or all in our heads. The stars in the night sky are where they are regardless of how we look at them and there is something in how they are positioned above us that suggests the image we construct of them. But having said that, the names we use for constellations are embedded in history, tradition and myth. So the constellation is simultaneously subjective and objective in nature. It is not, however, a system, and this is its true significance for Benjamin, who rejects the notion that philosophy can be thought of as systemic, as though it were mathematical or scientific instead of discursive. Benjamin developed this notion further in his account of the arcades in 19th-century Paris. Theodor Adorno adopts and adapts constellation in his account of negative dialectics, transforming it into a model. The notion of constellation allows for a depiction of the relation between ideas that gives individual ideas their autonomy but does not thereby plunge them into a state of isolated anomie.

So the constellation is simultaneously subjective and objective in nature. That's of interest to me as a way to wonder about the ideas I carry around and how they relate to one another. The mixture of objective and subjective that cannot be collapsed or fully picked apart: there is an invitation in this for me to hold lightly my ideas and the system of meaning I think they create for me. What I hold as truth is always a mix of the observable and the perceived...with all the filters and biases perception entails. 

If you had to pick out a particular star of 'truth' from amongst your constellations of awakening today, what would it be?