"For if we seek to define a language to describe states of interiority that are purely private, how are we ever to reach a consensus as to their use? External criteria are necessarily missing for objects of pure interiority," writes the author of lexipenia, a wordpress blog often about thought, language, and music.
I wrote yesterday of how Wen Xin wrote about the necessity of interiority to the creation of literature. According to the argument above (arguably a skeptical view - of a skepticism refuted by this argument), interiority is not properly meaningful: it is suggested that we cannot empathise with others if we lack the same experiences. It is considered a victory of thought to uncover this "crack" in our understanding.
But surely we are not just breaking things apart for the sake of it. Such a crack may be meaningful if it leads us back to the co in communication, which points out our disability to comprehend sometimes due to lack of proper experience.
The lexipenia author concedes. In his words, the skepticism "is hence a deflection of the real issue: knowledge of others is imperfect, if measured against these criteria (which conceptually will always fail to fit), and this imperfection places an ethical demand on us to respond appropriately." He writes that the ethical duty is to first admit the separateness of our minds. Philosophy brackets off the aesthetic (and empathetic?) as not knowable, sticking to different areas of knowledge (to sort of sum up what he writes), while literature deals with "acknowledgement", its world not being "one of certainty, but one that in some ways is more like the real world – appealing to the whole sensibility, the whole mess of uncertainty – than philosophy alone can be."
Inner, aesthetic experiences are said to be masked from 'meaning', the author continues. Literature, then, is nonsensical, a mere gesture. Good art will inspire us to allow its claim over us to defy our separateness and speak nonsense in response to and support of something that is shared. The critic is one who shares an individual response. "Should the best criticism not come from this desire to speak, faced with the enigmatic power of artworks?"
This thinking is conducive to much of Gadamer's in Truth and Method where he argues that the emphasis on science in the humanities ought not mean that we abstract ourselves out of the picture (a physical impossibility, let us remember, and akin to the curse of Prometheus, bringing technological promises for a future reachable by mind more than in practice). What is more, this thinking supports the common sense of those unschooled in modern philosophy.
I admired how the lexipenia author cited Adorno's bit on the ghastliness of an applause as appropriate response to artwork at the end of his blog piece. It is an age since I read that work, but in a flash reminded me of why I used to love to read Walter Benjamin: I remember turning in a paper influenced by the style and form of Illuminations. I thought, anything is possible in how we respond to ideas, scholasticism need not be so rigid and soulless.
I think what took me away from those writers (Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin, ah and Habermas who seemed different to me back then, and those constituting "Theory") were all the full stops in what they wrote. Storytelling is dead. Culture is dead. Etc.
For a person who wants to create as much as think, such ideas are untenable. I even think that I went out in search of storytelling and culture in defiance of what they wrote. My conclusion is that a man finds what he looks for. Some seek not the interior life. I often think of that wonderful anecdote of the scholar-official whose philosophical school fell out of favour and who retreated to the mountains as many were wont to do in China over the centuries, and whose hut a fellow official came upon, exclaiming: old school-mate, how can you live here in such impoverished circumstances, your windows are not even covered! To which the scholar-official in retreat replied: if you would only come in you would see that in this way, from my desk I have a perfectly unobstructed portrait of that mountain view.
It quickly becomes a form of tyranny to renounce the personal level of engagement. We remember that Gadamer was so sorry that he had not published Truth and Method earlier, to argue against false objectivity in a timely fashion. He did not call interiority nonsense, but an inescapable element of our reality. He writes that there is no such thing as a point outside of history from which the identity of a problem can be conceived, and that the overcoming of all prejudices is itself a prejudice.
He agrees that experience can never be a science (which seems to be a major argument against interiority). He also writes that experience and suffering teach human limitation. This works against progressive scienticism because experience does not ever lead to a point where experience has ceased and a higher level of knowledge is reached (as per Hegel) rather it leads to a new openness to experience, leading the experienced person to "be". Experience challenges dogmatism and is an ongoing process.
It is a false dialectical experience to claim to transcend the own conditionedness in knowing an other. People who think they know better cannot even ask the right questions. Doxa, opinion, often suppresses questions, which are, in the tradition of dialectics, to be asked anew, with the goal to work out the common meaning - which I italicise to return to the empathetic responsibility mentioned earlier.
In hermeneutics there is a desire as there is in skepticism albeit in a different way to go beyond the question, to the horizon of the question, and go behind what is said.
A conversation presupposes a common language, something that is shared, that can be placed in the centre. In conversation, both sides will end up transformed: "a genuine conversation is never the one we wanted to conduct." Not participating, the person who just repeats what is said will change the meaning of what is said: which I take to imply the ramifications of thinking that one is obtaining knowledge while abstracting themselves out of the picture.
So instead of a final goal of knowledge, we are left with an ongoing series of interpretative processes, an uninterrupted listening. In this context there is such a thing as truth, which does not reside in the individual words but in discourse. The word (onoma) may be a source of seduction and confusion, so Plato called us to rise above language: through the insight of unity and commonalities, it is possible to rise above the names of things, which means that the truth of things is not contained in the name itself. We may speak, too, in this context, of concept formation emerging through a result of accidents and relations (again I reference 文心雕龍). Also along these lines (of the carved dragon) is the Aristotelean development of thought wherein the logical ideal of the ordered arrangement of concepts takes precedence over the living metaphoricity of langauge, on which all natural concept formation depends (here I supplement my understanding of Truth and Method, ideas from which I am otherwise trying to represent in this majority of this blog post). This kind of order is not the same as the science abstracted from the linguistic nature of our experience of the world that attempts to become certain about entities by methodologically organizing its knowledge of the world, condemning as heresy all knowledge that does not allow this kind of certainty and can't serve the growing domination of being.
What is more, science cannot replace the topica of thinking and speech as forwarded by Vico, which is the art of finding arguments and developing a sense of what is convincing instinctively and extempore.
The shift in ontological definition based in the scientific model of epistemology, discrediting all possibilities of knowing outside this new methodology as "fiction", precludes the possibility of the "encounter" - this scientific view thus considers interiority, conversation, and discourse as potentially nonsensical.
Interestingly, the scientific method is based on a model of philology wherein the book of nature is to be deciphered. Except the classical tradition of words was discontinued, and the new tradition no longer presupposed the hermeneutical task. What is lost? The word of tradition that really does encounter us as if concerned with us,
and the questioner then becoming the one who is questioned. But in the
developmental historical consciousness, not even this dialogue is
permitted, nor the normative claim to literary history in which the canon was used as a model, passing on that of worth. Expression is grasped while the truth of what is said is ignored. Understanding is lost, where it is a process of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated (a person but tries to understand, being open to the text's alterity).
Working out the hermeneutical situation means acquiring the right horizon of inquiry - not overvaluing that which happens to be nearest to one. We need different ways of knowing aside from the technical knowledge that serves particular ends because of the complications of applying law to imperfect human reality. Moral knowledge embraces a means and end different from technical knowledge. Sympathy is not nonsense but another form of understanding and the capacity for moral judgment, which, like the interior life, is only gained if it is sought, in this case, the seeking of that which is right. To make a choice, one needs a standard of excellence. Tradition depends on being made conscious and carried on. Here we are speaking of the hermeneutical tradtion.
To understand the meaning and significance of a text, the interpreter must not try to disregard himself but relate the text to his (concrete) situation, while being careful not to over hastily assimilate the subject to his own expectations of meaning. His own interiority is necessary to that of the text, in a process of uninterrupted listening and encounters, of getting behind the horizon of the question (what looks like objectivity and facts may in reality depend on the legitimacy of the questions asked), of engaging and being open to being changed. Interiority is a beginning point that is raised to a higher universality that overcomes not only our own particularity but also that of the other. However it does not end there, but rather leads to "being" and openness to this ongoing process that operates quite differently than science, despite the shared philological beginning - yet heteroglossic heremeneutics makes us wary of calling something "nonsense" while science is quick to classify all it cannot master as fiction.