Saturday, May 23, 2009

Quote of the Day 4

Once again, instead of New Me or Old Me, let's have some Repeated Me:

"I think the way to split the difference between logical positivism and mysticism is to eschew the common presupposition between them--the idea that language is supposed to "capture" anything, that there is a gap or distance in need of being spanned. ...

"Language neither does nor does not capture experience. Language isn't in the capturing business. Language is not a pirate. Language is a tool that we use to deal with reality, with our experience. If we make this turn fully from language-as-a-mirror/pirate to language-as-a-tool, if we fully get rid of representationalism, I think we will want to get rid of the idea of a "pre-intellectual experience." What we will have instead are non-intellectual experiences, like kicking a rock, seeing a sunset, being eaten by a tiger, dropping some acid. It's not that our language fails in capturing our experience of smoking peyote, it's that language sometimes finds it difficult to deal with it. The experience of having a tough time of putting something into words isn't a measure of language's failure or success, it's simply a measure of difficulty, of the struggle to find an analogue that makes sense in the analogues upon analogues upon analogues that make up civilization's knowledge."

--Language, SOM, and the Pathos of Distance


  1. I found one of my post-it notes attributed to Pirsig that read "The fundamental nature of reality is outside of language." Just wanted to let you know that your site has helped me understand more fully many of those difficult issues. I feel that all I have to offer is platitudes, but at least I can encourage you.

    1. I can't remember anymore whether I was ever attracted, in particular, to Pirsig's mystic-like tendencies, of which asserting that reality is irretrievably outside language's grasp is included. I doubt it. I had made the turn toward tolerating religious and mystic-y language as just how this person happens to express themselves early on, I think. I think what attracted me was Pirsig's synoptic vision of philosophical history, his pragmatic, experimental attitude toward philosophical systems (embodied in the menu-argument at the beginning of Lila) and his bold attempt to write his own system.

      So when I began to turn toward Richard Rorty and his aggressive attacks on representationalism, it was an easy decision to let those kinds of locutions, as you've offered, go.

      As I've begun studying the history of Romanticism, however, I've changed the way I view them a little. Almost all the Romantics, German, English, and American, make noises like, "what I want to say cannot be captured in language." It played a role for them. Reading them and trying to discern where their real power lays has led me to think that the first step we need to take with attractive figures who nevertheless say things we wouldn't be caught dead saying is: what is this doing for the thinker? What does it enable? Something conceptual? Poetic? Psychological? That's a good question to put to Pirsig.

  2. good question indeed. I'd like to be a fly on the wall for that answer. I suspect Poetic. (but I'm biased) Kahlil Gibran wrote "We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words." Would "We" be one of those words? (considering all the attention it has been getting lately from you) And why would Carlin have that line in the forward to one of his books? Is it a kind of irony considering his famous seven words? an open invitation for each of us to consider? or something ineffable? I actually find comfort in the language employed by yourself and your peers. (only seven words...that could end your career)
    To experience something in your life and then hear different academic descriptions echo and expand on those thoughts seems to lend a form of legitimacy to otherwise confused provincial rhetoric. (Another platitude, I guess.)

    1. Ah, yes, but us academics need never fear, because we'd never finally agree on which seven words, let alone "we" being one of them to constitute an "agreement." Though that hasn't, as perhaps Carlin's ghost might point out, stopped a fucker from getting killed over it.


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