Does Whitehead ask us to be Intuitionists?

There is so much I could say about The Intuitionist. This text generated so many ideas for me related to the things we have been talking about, perhaps more than the other fiction books we have read thus far.

One thing I kept coming back to was the “thing theory” of elevators in this text. For most of us, we get into elevators without really thinking about it. We can easily take these machines for granted. Until, that is, they stop working. Only then are we confronted with the inherent “thingness” of this steel box that moves us up and down through buildings. Not only are we forced to recognize the absurdity of the fact that we are trusting in a box pulled by a cable to get us where we are trying to go, but in some cases as with the free-falling elevator conspiracy in the novel, it becomes clear that our blind trust in objects can cause injury or even death. The text seems to be very invested in this idea, as Intuitionism itself is “about communicating with the elevator on a nonmaterial basis,” asking the inspector to “Separate the elevator from elevatorness” (62).

There were various moments in the text when the “thingness” of the text itself was made apparent to me as a reader. The asterisks breaking up sections, for example, seemed to be interspersed in strange places, as with the use of ellipses. Even as early as page 3 there is an ellipsis that breaks the flow of the narrative off into a digression: “You want to say to yourself, how can people live like this, but then we are all dealt differently and you have to play what you’re dealt. Back home, we … He gave 125 Walker a clean bill. Lots on his mind, lots on his mind.” There was also the repetition of phrases about Lila Mae’s ignorance, with random interjections of “She doesn’t know yet.” These gestured consistently to the narrator’s foreknowledge of what is going to happen in this text, simultaneously forcing the reader to remember that this story is a manipulated one.

Perhaps this book’s self-referentiality as an object is getting to a similar point as the symbolism of the elevator. In Theoretical Elevators, James Fulton writes: “We conform to objects, we capitulate to them. We need to reverse this order… We must tend to our objects and treat them as newborn babes. Our elevators are weak. They tend to get colds easily, they are forgetful…” (38). Just as with Fulton’s prescription about elevators, Whitehead seems to prescribe something similar about our relationship to books as objects. Instead of allowing ourselves to check out and be carried along for the ride in this story, the text is disjointed and fragmented, requiring great care from the reader in order to piece things together. We must tend to this story to understand it. In some ways, I suppose you could say we must be intuitionists toward this story, rather than empiricists. Our impulse through our generalized academic training is to prod and poke, searching out meaning, attempting to solve the puzzle. I find Whitehead’s resistance against this impulse to be particularly meaningful to our overall discussions about how we interact with texts in our own processes of reading.

One thought on “Does Whitehead ask us to be Intuitionists?

  1. I love this emphasis you put on the idea of us having to be intuitionists with the texts, and to tend to objects and care for them. I definitely feel this now more in retrospect considering I tried to be an empiricist with the text and was getting a little frustrated at times when things weren’t clear and linear. Flusser would probably be salty.

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