David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Month: May 2007 (page 2 of 2)

Thomas Hardy and the Emotion-Sensation Connection

Hardy suffered from synaesthesia, though being Hardy he saw the days of the week in rather less Technicolor hues than others with the same condition: “Monday was colourless, and Tuesday a little less colourless”, while Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were slightly differing shades of blue.


Now, was it that he saw those particular objective colors, or that his concepts of those colors were given to more muted names than ours? Or were the concepts right, but his judgments biased in a depressive manner? Seven, can you help?

Wittgenstein’s Confession

In 1936, Wittgenstein took it upon himself to prepare a confession to which he would subject his closest acquaintances. I say “subject” because…well, read on.

For both Rowland Hutt and Fania Pascal, listening to the confession was an uncomfortable experience. In Hutt’s case, the discomfort was simply embarrassment at having to sit in a Lyons cafe while opposite him sat Wittgenstein reciting his sins in a loud and clear voice. Fania Pascal, on the other hand, was exasperated by the whole thing. Wittgenstein had phoned at an inconvenient moment to ask whether he could come and see her. When she asked if it was urgent she was told firmly that it was, and could not wait. ‘If ever a thing could wait,’ she thought, facing him across the table, ‘it is a confession of this kind and made in this manner.’ The stiff and remote way in which he delivered his confession made it impossible for her to react with sympathy. At one point she cried out: ‘What is it? You want to be perfect?’ ‘Of course I want to be perfect,’ he thundered.

In the same year in which he made his confessions, Wittgenstein astounded the villagers of Otterthal by appearing at their doorsteps to apologize personally to the children whom he had physically hurt. He visited at least four of these children (and possibly more), begging their pardon for his ill-conduct towards them. Some of them responded generously…but at the home of Mr Piribauer, who had instigated the action against Wittgenstein, he received a less generous response. There he made his apologies to Piribauer’s daughter Hermine, who bore a deep-seated grudge against him for the times he had pulled her by the ears and by the hair in such a violent fashion that, on occasion, her ears had bled and her hair had come out. To Wittgenstein’s plea for pardon, the girl responded only with a disdainful, ‘Ja, ja.’

In reflecting upon the effects of his confession he wrote:

Last year with God’s help I pulled myself together and made a confession. This brought me into more settled waters, into a better relation with people, and to a greater seriousness. But now it is as though I had spent all that, and I am not far from where I was before. I am cowardly beyond measure. If I do not correct this, I shall again drift entirely into those waters through which I was moving then.

(Ray Monk, Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, 370-372)

Gadamer on Hegel and Language

What [Hegel] calls dialectic and what Plato calls dialectic depends, in fact, on subordinating language to the “statement.” The concept of the statement, dialectically accentuated to the point of contradiction, however, is antithetical to the nature of hermeneutical experience and the verbal nature of human experience of the world. In fact, Hegel’s dialectic also follows the speculative spirit of language, but according to Hegel’s self-understanding he is trying to take a hint from the way language playfully determines thought and to raise it by the mediation of the dialectic in the totality of known knowledge, to the self-consciousness of the concept. In this respect his dialectic remains within the dimension of statements and does not attain the dimension of the linguistic experience of the world….

Language itself, however, has something speculative about it in a quite different sense–not only in the sense Hegel intends, as an instinctive prefiguring of logical reflection–but, rather, as the realization of meaning, as the event of speech, of mediation, of coming to an understanding. Such a realization is speculative in that the finite possibilities of the word are oriented toward the sense intended as toward the infinite. A person who has something to say seeks and finds the words to make himself intelligible to the other person. This does not mean that he makes “statements.”

Truth and Method, III.5.3B

Though he may not have intended it as such, I think Gadamer here pins down the gap between Hegel’s instrumental use of language and Wittgenstein’s privileging of it. Gadamer is talking about Hegel’s notoriously obscure Preface to the Phenomenology and the focus on “speculative propositions.” Hegel distinguishes speculative propositions from the Kantian model of subject-predicate (i.e., object-property) in that the predicate does not limit the subject, but instead explicates the concept inherent to the subject. I won’t say more about speculative propositions as such. Instead, focus on the role of language in the process, which is purely instrumental in generating conceptual and dialectical content. The concept, though it may be disguised, logically precedes the subject, which logically precedes any descriptions given to it. Language does not perform any role over and above the underlying concept, nor does it elaborate on it. It only shows the way back to a revealing of the concept.

What Gadamer says, in effect, is that this underestimates language and overestimates concepts. He mentions “intelligibility” as a task that language can serve from which concepts (and the “statements” in which they are expressed) are excluded. Ignore Gadamer’s double-use of the word “speculative,” and think of language’s role as one of negotiation quite independent of conceptual baggage: an autonomous meaning generator.

This is not an uncommon move in deconstruction, but it’s rarer in hermeneutics because one must still “close the circle,” as it were, and constitute some gestalt of meaning. Gadamer does this at great length, and I believe Wittgenstein does too, though far more obliquely, in his idea of rule-following. Hegel, however, never takes that first step. His intersubjectivity remains one of concepts and not one of language.

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