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Re: [xmca] understanding understanding

I think it's come up here before, but I'd remind us about Dewey's Art and Experience, which was definitely making a move to try to redefine esthetic experience in a less elitist way, to ground it in a universal aspect of human experience, to merge the high-art experience and the craft-practice experience, and generally I'd say to "democratize" esthetics.

In response to some of what Greg wrote here recently, it also struck me that perhaps there is something rather bourgeois about all this personal identity and "I'm the kind of person who does, feels X" reflexivity. Perhaps even a late modern cast to it. It seems to turn connoisseurship into something a bit more decadent, self-centered, pre-occupied with the ego, as opposed to the "ecstatic" tradition (as in ritual and festival, Bakhtin's carnivalesque, Victor Turner's liminality/communitas, Czikszentmihaly's flow), where the esthetic experience takes us "out of our Selves", into the music, the work, the unreflective experience. I think that tradition, however, is predicated more on active esthetic production as the norm, rather than the more consumerist approach we have devolved into under late capitalism.

All this is probably further complicated by the different timescales of esthetic experience. When you perform a piece of music, or a dance, the timescale of action leaves no room for reflection. But when you compose a piece of music, or choreograph a dance, it does. It is certainly a cliche of modernism that the artist, in the downtime between bouts of production or inspiration, turns inwards and broods about the Self. Artist as narcissist. And now we have the art-consumer as narcissist. My idea of the esthetic experience is that it blows us past the ego, blows "us" away, and catalyzes a mode of Being prior to the ego-object divide.



Jay Lemke
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
Adjunct Full Professor, Department of Communication
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506

New Website: www.jaylemke.com 

Professor (Adjunct status 2011-2012)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Professor Emeritus
City University of New York

On Mar 31, 2012, at 8:42 PM, Martin Packer wrote:

> Greg,
> 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 message.
> 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 mutton.
> 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?
> Martin
> 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" - "where
>> our whole being is at stake").
>> And yes indeed, as Gadamer notes, the true experience of the play is "being
>> 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: "The
>> play of art will never be conceptually grasped; we may only participate in
>> 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 move
>> 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 piece.
>> 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 (and
>> art). (I think that Grondin addresses this concern, to some degree, toward
>> the end of his essay, but "art" seems to remain as something that everyone
>> "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 Barack
>> 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 "pleasure"
>> 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 poets
>> 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 that
>> we seek out structure, we desire it aesthetically. We seek patterns in the
>> 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 to
>> the meaningful structures by which they are interpreted. Better to justify
>> 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 events
>> 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 to
>> 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. In
>> 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 it
>> 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 in
>> 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 a
>> 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) "if
>> 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 up
>> 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 "heathen"
>> 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 "as
>> 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. But
>> at the same time, that the self-as-subject is consequential in the ordering
>> of experience, and in making the experience of absorption "immediately"
>> available in the first place, this is something that should not be left out
>> 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 subject-as-object
>> 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 <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:
>>> Martin,
>>> thanks for this link to the International Journal for Dialogical Sciences.
>>> In the same spirit of exploring the notion of *understanding understanding*
>>> I'm sending a link to a scholar [Jean Grondin] who has engaged deeply with
>>> Gadamer's writings.  It is only an 8 page document but introduces Gadamer's
>>> ideas in a seriously playful *way*
>>> http://mapageweb.umontreal.ca/grondinj/pdf/play_festival_ritual_gadam.pdf
>>> 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 with
>>> self-control
>>> On Sun, Mar 25, 2012 at 10:35 AM, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:
>>>> Hi Larry,
>>>> Seems that this may be a helpful resource: The International Journal for
>>>> 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 of
>>>>> 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, ' Modern
>>>>> 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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>> -- 
>> 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
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