Re: [xmca] Forgiveness as Mediated Emotion

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Nov 12 2006 - 10:39:38 PST

That is a REALLY complicated set of ideas, David, with many threads braided

Re "decontextualization." There are clearly occasions to use this term.
Carry my laptop from home to work and that external
memory.communicativetool keeps what I do
at home connected to what I do at work. The child says momma when the mom is
home or at the store or when the child is at schol and the mom is home, etc.
But every engagement with the tools/symbols is part of a making sense in new
circumstances.... which is why your use of re-contextualizing is relevant.
Again, so much work to be done to establsh what we can take for granted
jointly, what we must bracket and investigate.

I am very sceptical about unmediated emotions, especially beyond a very
young age. I know the claims for universal emotions and a good deal about
their empirical basis in certain forms of psychological theory/practice. But
the work of Wierzbicka urges us to be very wary of clamins about unmediated
emotion. I have sent you a copy of one recent paper off-list that is
interesting on its own grounds, and has relevant refs.

Concerning romantic love. By coincidence my daughter is writing about the
cultural-historical changes in the use of the term ordinarily translated as
"love" in Madagascar. Its a ferociously
difficult topic upon which she has gracioiusly allowed to act as commentator
-- part of what limits my ability to converse here!

And linking all this to the discussion on forgiveness REALLY complicates
matters. Lots about.
But local demands DEMAND that I put the matter in the back of my mind, to
bring out in the interstices of familial and local community obligations
(with their own pleasures, to be sure)
that will see this computer disconnected if I do not attend to them!)

I hope others will pick up these worthwhile threads.

On 11/12/06, Kellogg <> wrote:
> Dear Mike:
> I want to start a new thread on this, because I think I took the previous
> thread in the wrong direction when I changed the subject line to
> "Forgiveness as Recontextualization". I was struck by your remark that
> psychological processes could not be decontextualized, and I too hastily
> argued that recontextualization presupposes decontextualization.
> It now occurs to me that this is not necessarily true. When a child says
> "I play ski" or when a Korean poet writes that "the moon follows Sun-hi like
> a balloon", we take a vehicle directly from one domain to another (from
> "transportation" to "play" or from "sky" to "fairground") without any
> transitional limbo that I can see.
> Instead, I want to argue that forgiveness is one of many mediated
> emotions. Other examples would include romantic love, a sense of justice,
> acquired tastes, tragedy, humor, and what Koreans call "jeong", the
> mutuality that arises between friends, lovers, colleagues, and any people
> whose ties are transformed through experience so that they can no longer be
> simply described in terms of attraction or repulsion.
> I believe they are mediated in a way that is not merely analogous but in
> fact identical to the way that more intellectual higher psychological
> processes are mediated. That is, they begin with a perceptually based
> process that we share with animals (just as eidetic memory, reactive
> attention, and perceptual judgments are shared with animals; even a dog can
> compare two piles of doggie treats and see which is larger.)
> They are then transformed, first by interaction with other people, then by
> tools which allow us to interact with the environment and so master our own
> reactions, and finally by symbols, which permit self-regulation (and calling
> this step "decontextualization" is really beside the point).
> Of course, when I say "first", "then" and "finally", I am being
> ridiculously abstract; in fact interaction with other people almost always
> presupposes symbols, and symbols in turn require tools. Yet I believe that
> this ridiculous level of abstraction contains at least an ontogenetic germ
> of truth; the child's first interactions with other people do not take place
> primarily through tools, and the child must necessarily master symbols
> through the use of tools.
> So romantic love is built up on the basis of a sexual desire shared with
> animals, but it has to be built up with tools (houses, clothes and beds seem
> to play a key role here) and signs (romantic proposals have become a minor
> literary genre). A sense of justice takes place first and foremost by
> interacting directly on the playground with other children, and then through
> controlling one's environment, initially through teacher violence and later
> through rules (Piaget's marbles). Acquired tastes such as cooking and wine
> tasting clearly have a biochemical basis in eating and drinking, but equally
> clearly require mediation through socio-cultural artifacts to be worthy of
> the name "acquired" tastes. With "jeong", that mediation really can only
> take place through the Korean language (which is why "jeong" is not
> translatable).
> I apologize if this all seems elementary to you; it isn't to me, and I'm
> afraid I need it written down before I tackle Derrida. About week ago, I got
> the essay "On Forgiveness", which Wolff-Michael Roth recommended and I read
> it this morning on the subway. Instead of "deconstructing" Derrida, which is
> a little like trying to dissect an amoeba, I want to stand well away from
> him, lay out some clear examples and establish a MATERIALIST alternative.
> I think that one of the problems with Jaan Valsiner's extremely generous
> reply to my rather presumptuous and poorly expressed remarks on his article
> is that I didn't do this; I didn't make it very clear what the word
> "materialist" means to me, and why I do think that the distinction between
> "inter-personal" and "intra-personal" matters and that grammar and discourse
> are linked but nevertheless distinct systems.
> (Essentially, I think that pragmatic "sense" is the concrete material
> reality of language, and semantic "meaning" is an ephemeral and ideal
> abstraction, absurdly over-valued by linguists and idealist philosphers like
> Derrida. As Widdowson says, it is not texts that communicate. People
> communicate with texts, but they do so in more or less the same way they
> communicate with grunts, gestures, and car horns. That is why communication
> without language is possible, but language without communication is not.
> Since that is true, communication and language, sense and meaning, are not
> somehow mutually constitutive; one is primary and determining and the other
> secondary and derivative.)
> Derrida argues that forgiveness consists of two components which are both
> heterogenous (and to some extent interpenetrated) and irreducible to each
> other. So far so good; sounds rather more elegant than my coarse formulation
> "linked but distinct". For Derrida, those two components are the
> unconditional and the conditional.
> Now, conditional forgiveness is more or less the sort that we all know
> about. First the Count wrongs the Countess. Then (and this is where I will
> bring in mediation) the situation changes in some way so that Countess has
> the power to punish the Count. At this point, the Count recognizes that he
> has done some wrong, and admits it. Further, the Count makes a promise
> (notice how much this has to do with what Searle would call performatives!)
> not to repeat the wrong. In the light of this, the Countess refrains from
> punishment and offers forgiveness. ("Piu docile sono, e dico di si....")
> But Derrida finds this type of forgiveness disgusting and degrading. And
> in many of the examples he offers it certainly is: the "forgiveness" offered
> by Desmond Tutu in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the butchers
> of apartheid, the amnesty offered to Nazis by De Gaulle, Pompidou and
> Mitterand in exchange for their help in crushing communism, Bouteflika's
> "national reconciliation" in Algeria, and the "pardon" offered by Clinton to
> his corrupt cronies (but pardoxically NOT the "droit de grace" of the
> absolute monarch; Derrida cannot resist the wonderful aporia of a legally
> enshrined exception to the law).
> Derrida's criticism is not, or not simply, that conditional forgiveness is
> self-interested and presumputous; his criticism is also that it is
> conditional; it requires mediation, such as words or gestures of repentence,
> promises, and finally the explicit performative, "I forgive you". Against
> this he argues (as Wolff-Michael said), that only the unforgiveable can be
> "truly" forgiven.
> In other words, only when forgiveness is absolutely unconditional (when it
> does not require repentance, or promises of compensation, or guarantees
> against recidivism, or even explicit performance) that we can "truly" call
> it forgiveness. This is why he associates it with madness and disassociates
> it with Abrahamic forgiveness (Christian forgiveness, which is clearly
> transactional in nature).
> It is very easy to see that these two types of "forgiveness" are not
> mutually constitutive for Derrida, or if they are, then it is only in an
> uninteresting abstract sense. Derrida is always on the side of madness, and
> against Globalatinsation of a Pauline contract of absolution in exchange for
> repentance and mended ways. Conditional forgiveness is not pure, he says
> "nor is its concept" (and in this he betrays his debt to Kant). I think
> Derrida is very often seen as being a kind of "on the one hand, and on the
> other" sort of person when it comes to political questions; he really isn't;
> he is always against rationalism in any form.
> Like me, Derrida often has a foil for his arguments, and the problem I
> have with his writing is that I usually end up sympathizing with the foil
> rather than with Derrida (I disagree with Wolf-Michael; I find him much
> clearer and less precious in English than in French, but it is recognizeably
> the same Derrida). So I took away from both "Grammatologie" and "L'ecriture
> et la differance" a renewed respect for Rousseau.
> This essay is certainly no exception. Here the foil is a writer called
> Jankelevich who argues that there are (at least) two preconditions which
> must be satisfied for forgiveness to take place.
> First of all, it must be humanly possible for the one who is wronged to
> forgive, and this is why murder and particularly mass murder is inherently
> unforgiveable. No one can usurp the right of forgiveness that belongs to the
> dead; the possibility of forgiveness must necessarily die with them.
> Secondly, it must ALSO be possible for the one who is wronged to PUNISH.
> That is, forgiveness must be a choice, and not the only option; it must
> require the exercise of free volition. Here Derrida makes a distinction
> which I do not accept between punishment and vengeance; when considered as
> alternatives to forgiveness, I do not see how the punishment differs from
> revenge.
> There are a number of things that appeal strongly to me about this
> position, a position which Derrida finds so uncongenial. First of all, there
> is a very clear link to a lower emotional reaction, the "fight or flight"
> reactions that we share with animals. Revenge might be the enactment of fear
> and rage. But revenge must be mediated by other people, language, and
> abstract rules to become justice and it must be explicitly eschewed to
> become forgiveness.
> Secondly, there is a very clear role for mediation; it is by tools and
> signs that the wronging person lays out the case for forgiveness to the
> person who has been wronged, and that forgiveness can only be enacted
> interpersonally by the parties concerned, through the use of signs and
> symbols.
> Thirdly, and most importantly, there must be a revolutionary
> transformation of the power status of the wronged person; they must be
> elevated to a position of power over the person who wrongs in order for
> forgiveness to become possible.
> And this is where I really can't forgive Derrida. Yes, I know he loves
> paradoxes and word play, and so do I. But some paradoxes reflect real
> problems and real dilemmas between real people, and others are merely
> callous word play.
> I think that Ana was quite right to point out that Derrida's remarks on
> "We only ever speak one language/We only ever speak one language" were
> merely word play (and Derrida actually confirms this when he restates the
> paradox adding the word "idiom" to language). And I think he is doing the
> same thing when he says we only ever "forgive" the "unforgiveable", because
> I think the "forgive" part of "unforgiveable" really just means something
> like "overlook".
> But there's a REAL paradox that involves a real problem between real
> people here that he is ignoring. It is this: in order to be wronged, you
> must have no power. But in order to forgive, you must have power. That is
> why forgiveness is rare, but that does not make it madness or purely ideal.
> On the contrary, it is precisely that which makes it, first and foremost,
> material and real.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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