Miami River, Divination Zone 03
Greg Ulmer on The Metaphysical Zone
When we isolate the Miami River as a zone, we are raising it to the status of an idea, or even of a category. As the Greeks assimilated literacy, the term eidos evolved from its original usage in Homer--"what one sees," "appearance," "shape"--to the abstract forms ("suprasensible reality, eternal, beyond the merely sensible") (Peters, 46-47). In Plato's metaphysics (his theory of what there is in the world, what is real) a set of eide evolved--the Good, the Beautiful, the One. At first there seemed to be an eidos for each class of things (ethical eide, mathematical eide). Then a hierarchy emerged, with certain final forms (Aristotle called them "categories") that did not mix among themselves, such as Existence, the Same, the Different, Rest, Motion (49).
What we are doing is generating an electrate mode of reasoning by means of an extended analogy with literacy. The Miami River has a "shape" that is an electrate eidos. In the same way that a concept is a general notion that embraces all the attributes common to the individual members making up a given class, so a zone (an electrate concept) embraces those entities found within its shape or boundaries. Obviously a concept and a zone reflect different metaphysics. In fact, since "metaphysics" is historically a product of literacy, including everything to do with the epistemology of questioning what something "is," it is inaccurate to say that a zone has a metaphysics. Still, a zone operates categorically, and we are learning how to reason zonally by extension from Western metaphysics. It is not a criticism of our zone to say it is "still" metaphysical, since that is saying little more than that we are using it as a classification system. Or rather, the epistemology authorizing our consultations is a syncretism, partly literate, partly oral, drawing the modes of knowledge of the previous conflicting apparatuses (literacy and orality) into a new syncretic modality.
On the side of Western expertise, we are able to think about the Miami River by means of a concept such as Justice, including its evolution over several millenia, with definitions accumulating from Plato to Rawls. A dictionary is a commonplace book, storing alphabetically (that is by means of a system intrinsic to literacy) all the concepts that have been generated in the Western tradition. A quick reference produces the following generalizations about Justice: "1. the quality of conforming to principles of reason, to generally accepted standards of right and wrong, and to the stated terms of laws, rules, agreements, etc, in matters affecting persons who could be wronged or unduly favored. 2. righteousness or lawfulness, as of a claim. 3. the administering of deserved punishment or reward. 4. the maintenance or administration of what is just according to law: a court of justice. 5. decision regarding the treatment of individuals or the disposition of cases, as in a court: to administer justice. 6. a judge or magistrate. 7. to bring to justice, to cause to come before a court for trial or to receive punishment for one's misdeeds. 8. do justice, a. to treat justly or fairly; b to appreciate properly."
What do we find in a zone such as the Miami River that corresponds to the properties of a concept? Here our model is creole divination (secondary divination, we might say, borrowing Walter Ong's description of electracy as "secondary orality"). Barthes's soothsayer analogy for treating the text as a zone alluded to augury, which historically became the official method for making administrative decisions during the pagan phase of the Roman empire. If we were operating exclusively by means of scientific reason we would consult, perhaps, by applying the category of justice to events on the river, to examine in what ways particular empirical cases would fall under the definitions available to us. Such reasoning might leads us to something like "tragedy"--something like ANTIGONE--as an example of what happens when the rule of administrative law comes into conflict with the rule of ethical principles. Augury reverses the direction of consultation, however, so that the zone becomes the standard of measure by which other events and conditions may be understood.
Besides tracing the history of ornithomancy among the pagan Germans, Tibetans (for whom bird divination was known as Bya-rog-kyi-skad-brtag-pa, and which relied on the crow),and Aztecs, who used the method to pick the location for Mexico City, the handbooks on divination list the birds and meanings most commonly used in such systems ( "If you hear a crow cawing on your righthand side, be very cautious in all you do that day"). Our consulting works this analogy at two levels: first, our zone consists of the Miami River and the movements, positions, identity, and "cries" of its denizens--Haitians, coast guard, Italian taxi drivers, and the like. Second, the form (shape, eidos) of our practice adapts some of the features of divination specific to the Carribean basin, specifically aspects of Santeria and Vodun ritual. We may also find useful parallels with the notion of the augur as "bird watcher," if we think of our interface metaphor of tourism.