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Re: [xmca] understanding understanding
Larry and Martin,
Larry, thanks for the article on Gadamer. I assumed it was Martin since it
seemed to articulate well with what he's been up to.
Martin, thanks for engaging with some thoughts that were a little off and a
little rambling. I fear what follows is also a bit rambling, but hopefully
also a bit less "off."
My comments about a bourgeois notion of aesthetics were a response to the
sense that I was getting upon reading the first few pages. There I got the
sense that the experience of immersion is immediate AND unmediated (as
opposed to immediate and mediated). And just to be clear on my point, this
immediate experience of immersion can be a "detached" experience, as in the
bourgeois experience of art in which one is immersed in the moment of
detachment. That is immersion just the same - wouldn't you agree? To see an
object of "art" and laugh at it along with the artist is what it sounded
like Gadamer was interested in in the first few pages. This playful sense
of the aesthetic seems to me to describe a very bourgeois appreciation of
art (although there are various forms of folk art that are equally
playful). Seeing art as "playful" and not to be taken too seriously (but
serious nonetheless in its ability to pull you into its non-seriousness),
that is, imho, a very bourgeois thing.
And the ability to immediately experience the sublime and the playful in a
work of art entails a moment of recognition - as being the type of person
who is "able" to see and experience it as such. Thus, by seeing, one also
takes a "stance" with regard to what is seen, and thus suggests a relation
between self and object-as-art. A moment of distinction, to be sure, but
also a moment of recognition, where one is consummated by discourse and
imagined others as a particular type of (valued) person.
But, I think, Gadamer makes up for this later in the paper (or at least
Grondin does) when he turns to a notion of festival and ritual. Festival
and ritual entail a different type of moment of recognition - certainly one
that is most typically less bourgeois. But they equally require various
forms of mediated immediacy such that the bourgeois appreciator of art may
or may not be able to be pulled in - depending on how s/he SEES the event -
and that gets into the semiotics of the aesthetic, a "poetics of seeing"
that depends on the individual's knowledge and experience as well as their
relation to the various groups that matter to them.
So if the move is to "flatten" the categories of "high art," "festival,"
and "ritual," I'm all for it. But it wasn't clear that this was what was at
stake in the piece.
My point was simply that immediacy is mediated. The immediate experience of
a work of art as being playful in all its immediateness is mediated (i.e.
as soon as it is seen, it is experienced not as having been seen, but
rather it is experienced as essence, as if its essential qualities were
always already there and not simply a matter of one person's experience*).
The other side of my point is that one of the great mediators is a kind of
self-recognition - who one sees oneself as some type of person (bourgeois
or not). In other words, one's relations to various social identities (as
tokens of various types), and the degree to which one desires to be
recognized as one or the other type. (and I take this to be a central point
of Bourdieu's Distinction).
As for the question of the military man's experience, I was leaning in the
direction of a mediated immediate experience of "those people" as heathen.
Immediate because immediately upon seeing the event, it is seen as such.
Mediated because it depends on lots of preconditions for that kind of
seeing to happen - most notably a personal identification with "the
military" as right and true and just, but also a foreknowledge of the
nature of the event and of the political agenda behind it. So I guess I'm
pushing against a too simple notion of self-as-object here. I think that
the self is made an object in this event, but only implicitly so. That's a
complication that you don't get in Hegel's Master-Slave dialectic, but I
think that this kind of complex mediation is something that can be read
into the sections that follow on the unhappy consciousness and such - and
which get to a mediation of self via a community, a discourse perhaps? Not
sure if Andy will object to me reading too much into Hegel.
What are the Vygotsky writings that articulate what you were describing of
struggle and oppositionality in development of self-awareness?
I'm also curious to hear what you make of my reading of the military man's
experience vis a vis Hegel and recognition.
* As a side note, Korzybski's General Semantics pushes us in this direction
- of recognizing that what appear to us to be an object's essential
qualities turn out to be not what we think they are. this is where GS
argues that we should define everything by extension rather than by
intension. Aside from the practical impossibility of doing this (which some
of the more savvy GS authors note), there is a more substantial problem.
Meaningful life necessarily involves things-as-essence. This is what
meaning is. To remove all understanding of things-as-essence would be to
kill meaningful life. I think that there are some writers who grasp this
problem, but it is seldom understood that this is a central contradiction
(many practitioners simply assume that becoming more rational and
scientific will make us happier and healthier and, as K used to say, less
On Sat, Mar 31, 2012 at 8:42 PM, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
> I think it is Larry you should be thanking for posting the article on
> Gadamer. But since you link back to questions I was asking about
> self-as-subject and self-as-object, I'll send a quick response to your
> As I recall, Bourdieu in Distinction was taking a shot at a bourgeois
> aesthetics of detached, disinterested appreciation - which he diagnosed in
> Kant's treatment of beauty, for example. So an ethics of immersion and
> participation strikes me as a move forward, though I grant you there's
> still a pretty big difference between being engrossed in a painting in a
> gallery and being engrossed in a sing-song while quaffing ale and munching
> In both cases, though, there's a kind of appreciation in which rather than
> there being a clear and distinct object of perception there is instead a
> sense of moving through the object - if that is still the right word - of a
> flow and movement as though through a landscape, across a terrain. Various
> literary critics have said the same about the reading of a book.
> As you say, in general the self does not stand out in such an experience.
> Would you say that self-as-object starts to appear largely in occasions
> like that of your imaginary military man at the rally of the Mothers? That
> seems to be in line with Vygotsky's account of self-awareness manifesting
> as oppositionality in early childhood. But that's not so much recognition
> as struggle. Which reading of Hegel would you wish to make?
> On Mar 31, 2012, at 1:21 AM, Greg Thompson wrote:
> > Martin,
> > Thanks for pointing out this very nice (and relatively short!) piece.
> > I wholly agree with Gadamer's position (as described by Grondin) and find
> > it a very appealing approach with one major caveat. First the appealing
> > parts, and second the caveat.
> > Gadamer's notion of the ability of art to "pull in" its audience
> > articulates very nicely with a Latourian notion of actants (see bottom of
> > p. 44 for lovely language about being "engrossed" and "pulled in" -
> > our whole being is at stake").
> > And yes indeed, as Gadamer notes, the true experience of the play is
> > drawn into" the opposite of which is "not taking part" (cf. Durkheim's
> > "anomie", but also consider Dewey's notions of the ideal balance between
> > "goofing off" and "drudgery" that is further developed by Rathunde and
> > Cziksentmihalyi in the notion of "serious play").
> > Also, a lovely idea about the "temporality" of the experience of art:
> > play of art will never be conceptually grasped; we may only participate
> > it to the extent that we allow ourselves to be moved by its magic."
> > Gadamer nicely points to the way in which a persons self is taken up into
> > the act of experiencing the art. This is an important move. As is the
> > away from epistemology and the desire for control via knowing - without
> > much appreciation of the activity of knowing.
> > Generally, I am in complete agreement with Gadamer's take, and I'm
> > particularly fond of the blending together of play in art, festival, and
> > ritual. I would add that I think Goffman's notion of interaction ritual
> > (drawing on Durkheim's social ontology of subjectivity) accomplishes
> > perhaps all of the work that Gadamer (via Grondin) is doing in this
> > But I can't help but be concerned about this deeply bourgeois notion of
> > "the aesthetic" (rightly picked apart by Bourdieu and others). I'd rather
> > bring it back down to earth, and return to what we might call the art of
> > everyday life, a somewhat "crasser" notion of what is at work in play
> > art). (I think that Grondin addresses this concern, to some degree,
> > the end of his essay, but "art" seems to remain as something that
> > "gets" in one way or another).
> > Social psychologist Jon Haidt has done some interesting work on what
> > happens in the brain when one's hero (e.g., political hero, whether
> > Obama or George W. Bush) has been accused of doing something wrong, and
> > then one finds one's hero vindicated. What he finds is that the
> > areas of the brain "light up" (i.e. are active) when the vindication
> > occurs. This is surely a banal insight - I discovered long ago the notion
> > of a "feel good" thought - you know the thought that you are thinking and
> > then manage to forget the content but remember the "feel" of it? And
> > have been speaking of this for hundreds if not thousands of years.
> > And this is a point that Levi-Strauss made long ago in his suggestion
> > we seek out structure, we desire it aesthetically. We seek patterns in
> > world and when we find them, we feel good. An aesthetic impulse. This is,
> > perhaps, most effectively argued in The Sorcerer and His Magic where he
> > presents three cases in which the truth of the events becomes secondary
> > the meaningful structures by which they are interpreted. Better to
> > the system of meaning and deny what "really" happened rather than accept
> > what "really" happened and deny the reality of the structures of meaning
> > that provide one with a life-world. This simple contradiction between
> > structure and event is at the core of what L-S was up to in his very long
> > life. The contradiction happens whenever, as it inevitably will, the
> > of the world exceed the explanatory power of the structures of meaning by
> > which we understand those events.
> > What I think L-S was missing was a notion of recognition. That is to say,
> > that it is not aesthetic impulse alone but rather that it is an impulse
> > be consummated in a way that 1) asserts the agency of the self (and a
> > particular kind, an agency in social worlds) and 2) asserts the value of
> > the self. So when "the facts" cause us to challenge the system of meaning
> > that gives our self meaning and through which we attain powerful forms of
> > social agency, it is better to deny the facts rather than become
> > meaningless, or worse without a system withing which to know how to act.
> > either case, un-ruled, anomic. When we hear the exculpatory evidence of
> > Barack O'Bama or George Bush, it is not just that a view of the world has
> > been confirmed. Rather, it is that *we* ourselves (as "Democrats" or
> > "Republicans") have been confirmed! The aesthetic impulse by itself would
> > do little if it weren't for a self that breathes life into it and which
> > breathes life into.
> > This is where I think Gadamer falls short as well. Gadamer is right to
> > point out that there is an experience of the event that is prior to
> > objectifications of the event and of the self (a kind of "absorption"
> > (samadhi?) into the interaction/activity/play/festival/ritual). This
> > phenomenological moment of pre-objectified (apparent) immediacy is right
> > on. It is true that one can be pulled into such moments and this "pulling
> > in" is a critical feature of human life (Goffman speaks of "engrossables"
> > and of "involvement" in interaction). But there is also an object that
> > matters in the event. We could speak of numerous play/festival/ritual
> > events that wouldn't have these engrossing effects on participants
> > precisely because of the nature of the object qua "self" that is entering
> > into the event (aka the "subject").
> > I once saw a lovely talk by an anthropologist who was speaking of the
> > collective effervescence in a rally for the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
> > Argentina and is in protest of the military men who are considered to be
> > responsible for the disappearance of their children. Every year there is
> > major gathering that takes on a festival like quality. At the lead-up to
> > the main event, the whole crowd jumps up and down shouting (in Spanish)
> > you're not jumping, you're a military man [i.e. the bad guys]." The
> > anthropologist and the audience of anthropologists (at the University of
> > Chicago) all insisted that this collective effervescence was all
> > encompassing and that everyone present was pulled into the moment of
> > jumping up and down (and the anthropologist presenting had some wonderful
> > video of the event in which it did indeed seem that everyone was jumping
> > and down). But I couldn't help but ask "what if you are a military man?
> > Would you be jumping just the same? or would you be cursing these
> > who are (perhaps to your mind) acting like animals?"
> > Sure, the self-as-object may not be objectified in this moment, for there
> > is an immediacy to the experience - we (apparently) perceive the world
> > it is," not "as it is *to us*." So, in responding to Gadamer, there is no
> > need to go back to an overly objectified notion of the self as subject.
> > at the same time, that the self-as-subject is consequential in the
> > of experience, and in making the experience of absorption "immediately"
> > available in the first place, this is something that should not be left
> > lest we imagine that the bourgeois experience of walking into an art
> > gallery and being "taken in" by the art is an experience that is somehow
> > universal.
> > All I'm saying here is that it would seem to me that the
> > matters, more than a little, in the moment of absorption.
> > Maybe Gadamer has built this somewhere into his structures of meaning and
> > perhaps I missed it (maybe it was even in the aforementioned text). Happy
> > to have someone set the record straight.
> > Best,
> > -greg
> > On Thu, Mar 29, 2012 at 10:43 PM, Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> >> Martin,
> >> thanks for this link to the International Journal for Dialogical
> >> In the same spirit of exploring the notion of *understanding
> >> I'm sending a link to a scholar [Jean Grondin] who has engaged deeply
> >> Gadamer's writings. It is only an 8 page document but introduces
> >> ideas in a seriously playful *way*
> >> The article is a fascinating interpretation of the centrality of play,
> >> festival, and ritual in our ways of becoming human.
> >> Larry
> >> PS Greg,
> >> The article also engages with the modern sense of self as preoccupied
> >> self-control
> >> On Sun, Mar 25, 2012 at 10:35 AM, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
> >>> Hi Larry,
> >>> Seems that this may be a helpful resource: The International Journal
> >>> Dialogical Science.
> >>> <http://ijds.lemoyne.edu/>
> >>> Martin
> >>> On Mar 25, 2012, at 9:55 AM, Larry Purss wrote:
> >>>> Martin,
> >>>> thank you for your last clarification on Reddy's notions of the
> >> relation
> >>> of
> >>>> 2nd person and 3rd person "ways of knowing". Further on this topic of
> >>>> "ways of knowing" I want to share a provocative quote from Joel
> >>> Weinsheimer
> >>>> in his book *Philosophical Hermeneutics and Literary Theory*. He is
> >>>> exploring Gadamer's notion that theory and validity do NOT *contain*
> >>>> understanding. This quote also may contribute to the discussion of
> >>>> technology. Martin, I also remember you recommending that we read
> >>> Hayden
> >>>> White's insights. In the spirit of understanding understanding, Joel
> >> is
> >>>> attempting to highlight Gadamer's distinction between *theory* &
> >>>> *philosophy*
> >>>> Greg,
> >>>> I'm also sharing this quote because of the theme you were exploring
> >> about
> >>>> *the will to power* and the notion of *owning* that seems to be an
> >>>> archetypal theme.
> >>>> Gadamer's hermeneutic philosophy concludes that what is universal to
> >>>> interpretation, if there is anythng universal at all, is not a canon
> >>>> interpretive REGULATIONS.....
> >>>> It is, after all, primarily in industry, or more generally in
> >> technology,
> >>>> that theories find practical applications. Even if students of
> >>> literature
> >>>> are repulsed by the notion of an interpretation industry, many still
> >>>> cherish the notion that the IDEAL interpretation is that which is the
> >>>> product of and is legitimated by applied theory and this suggests that
> >>>> interpretation ideally consists of CONTROLLED production, of
> >> subjectively
> >>>> REGULATED creation. Insofar as the ery purpose of literary or any
> >> other
> >>>> theory is to GOVERN practice, Gadamer is quite right to state, '
> >>>> theory is a tool of construction by means of which we gather
> >> experiences
> >>> in
> >>>> a unified way and make it possible to dominate them'. Offering
> >> dominion
> >>>> over literary experience, interpretation CONTROLLED by applied theory
> >> is
> >>> a
> >>>> function of the WILL TO POWER". [page 30]
> >>>> Larry
> >>>> "
> >>>> __________________________________________
> >>>> _____
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> >>>> firstname.lastname@example.org
> >>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
> >>> __________________________________________
> >>> _____
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> >> _____
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> > --
> > Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> > Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar
> > Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition
> > Department of Communication
> > University of California, San Diego
> > http://ucsd.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
> > __________________________________________
> > _____
> > xmca mailing list
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> xmca mailing list
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar
Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
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