My Photo

Categories

Roll Call

Become a Fan

« I'm not saying Republicans prefer tokenism to diversity... | Main | Why is Scott finding it difficult to finish grading?* »

Sunday, 13 December 2009

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c2df453ef0120a74b64e0970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Interpretation is and should be an exercise in totalitarianism.":

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Luther Blissett

I suppose I'm a pragmatist on this subject. I don't care what intentions or ideas someone has. What matters are the real effects of one's behaviors.

Hamlet pretends to be mad. He acts mad, but his intentions and ideas are ironic -- he's not really mad. Except that by doing mad things, there is, in effect, no difference between being and seeming mad.

It might seem unfair to hold someone responsible for the effects of language outside of one's intentions. But that's the tragic nature of existence: you cannot control the effects of your actions. You tried to do good by meddling in someone's life, and they stabbed you through the arras. Tough noogie.

That's why, in the Jakobson communication model, meaning is only a small part of the total communicative act. There's what I hope to accomplish through communication -- but 90% of the situation is not determined by my conscious behavior. I can tell people to "Fuck off" even if I don't really mean it -- but I can't complain when they act as if I told them to Fuck off.

Karl Steel

This has been said hundreds of times before, BUT: given that language, history, psyche, etc., are not created sui generis by every speaker/writer, intention can never be all there is: we think and act and are in circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that also enable us to think and act and be meaningfully among others. There's more than can be said, sure, but this already muddles intention beyond all recovery for strong intentionalists. We are always already in the deponent mode. Duh.

Except that by doing mad things, there is, in effect, no difference between being and seeming mad.
Except that the play plays with this idea by doubling Hamlet, here as elsewhere. Laertes is Hamlet w/out the philosophical anomie (or thoughtfulness) that keeps Hamlet from revenging his father's death; Ophelia is Hamlet if Hamlet had really been driven mad by his father's death. The difference between being and seeming mad in Hamlet is, precisely, suicide.

Ahistoricality

As an historian, I'm pretty much automatically a contextual pragmatist when it comes to interpretation, except that nothing I interpret can be clarified in anything like an immediate exchange. And this is where the 'totalitarian' notion of interpretation -- Goldstein's or Ricouer's -- breaks down for me: even in an active, ongoing conversation, not everything said will be interpreted immediately: status differences, for example, may discourage clarifying intent; the listener may alter their interpretation after further reflection; new evidence may arise that the speaker's real and stated intentions differed; other interpretive authorities may intervene to say "no, only I have the authority to say that and mean it."

It's a presumption of transparency of meaning, of unity of thought and action, which is belied by our experiences every day, and could only be invoked, frankly, in an instrumental fashion, because nobody really lives like that.

Modulo Myself

Here is where Goldstein's trouble starts: Faulkner's intent is obvious here, but his motivations are suspect; and because his motivations are suspect, it would be interpretively irresponsible for a reader to give Faulkner the benefit of the doubt.

I always thought it extremely fucking obvious that the five millions words he has devoted to the topic exist to attack the responsible interpretation of right-wing doublespeak and bad faith as such. I mean, he's really into being a bigot who gets to endlessly cry about how unfair it is to be called a bigot, right? It's not very complicated.


SEK

I always thought it extremely fucking obvious that the five millions words he has devoted to the topic exist to attack the responsible interpretation of right-wing doublespeak and bad faith as such.

That's sort of why I've kept on him, actually: he's twisting a perfectly defensible theoretical approach---and I would know, as it's mine---into something so dogmatic and inflexible that he either has to 1) attribute conscious motivation to unconscious thought-processes, or 2) claim that the transition from thought to language is transparent and uncomplex. Seriously, take a look at his mode of argumentation:

Similarly, let’s say that Stacy McCain had no racist intent when he wrote the statement under review. Frey, by way of declaring Stacy’s statement racist, is necessarily arguing one of two things: 1) that Stacy failed in his intent to avoid racism, because the statement he produced IS racist; or 2) that the statement was racist because it proceeded from racist intent. In the first instance, to argue this you must believe that a statement can be racist in and of itself, without any racist intent attached to it. And that’s not linguistically possible, because someone has to produce those racist signs. If it isn’t Stacy, then who is responsible for making the statement a “racist” statement? The answer, of course, is those who claim to hear in it racism — those who signify it thus. And Stacy is not responsible for their signification. That is to say, we are no longer dealing with Stacy’s statement at all.

The bit I emphasized burns with stupidity: he creates a false dilemma by ignoring the obvious fact that the codification of non-linguistic thought into language is a not a series of tubes in which dump trucks leave the former and arrive at the latter as they left, but a Mad Max version of the Jersey Turnpike in which you're lucky to locate your destination, much less arrive at it intact. Gah. If I had a half-functioning brain, I'd be all over this.

happyfeet

I had a non-linguistic thought once but I couldn't tell you what it was.

Luther Blissett

Not to sidetrack this into an argument about *Hamlet*, but . . .

Laertes is a double of Hamlet -- but he's also a sign that, for Shakespeare, it's not simply a conflict between though and action, which, as Margreta de Grazia argues, is not a conflict seen in the play until Coleridge. Sure, Laertes jumps right into action, but that very leap is quickly guided by Claudius and manipulated. So Hamlet's concerns are not meaningfully criticized by the foil of Laertes. And while madness drives Ophelia to suicide, Hamlet is clearly *not* mad when he first contemplates suicide in his first soliloquy. He's simply melancholy, a victim of acedia, etc. He's no more mad than, say, Brutus. Fortinbras is the only character simply to act throughout the play, but despite Hamlet's admiration, I don't think he's held up as a symbol of Renaissance humanity. He's more like a king out of *Beowulf*, destroying others for the sake of personal glory. He becomes King of Denmark, but not because of anything he does. If, in fact, he had acted as he intended (simply to pass through Denmark to Poland), he'd not have won. That's the key irony of this and all tragedies: intentions are meaningless, and words and actions reverberate far beyond one's control.

Karl Steel

Luther, okay, and a clever wrapup to that graph.

(and I'll agree that Laertes is Hamlet's double/Ophelia is Hamlet's double/Fortinbras is Hamlet's double, but [complications]: I never made any claims that Hamlet is "simply" anything. As for F., I'd say he's at once a symbol of Renaissance humanity AND a critique of that concept of humanity. I'll leave your reading of Beowulf alone except to say it's mostly not mine.)

And, Scott, yes, the stupid, it burns, for your reasons, for Luther's, for aHistoricality, and, heck, even for Happyfeet's (if we recall that 'thought' and 'intention' are being rethought more corporeally through cognitive science and phenomenology, although I honestly don't see the relevance of that point to this discussion), and for mine, since JG's counterargument about Robert Stacy McCain relies, I guess, on the notion that every utterance needs to be analyzed without regard for historical or social context: intent is conscious in that moment, or it just ain't there.

As for probable intents of RSM, well, even if we bracket everything off and just look IF we look at his "personal" context (suspending for the moment the fact that's no such thing), he's a neo-Confederate and opponent of interracial dating and admired by white supremacists for the latter stance, even while other right-wing writers defend him by arguing, in essence, that antisemitism is impossible when nearly everyone's antisemitic, which I'm sure was greatly comforting to Polish Jews. Sorry to go Godwin, but, you know.

thor

I've often wondered why with El Jeffe's slippery slope of intentionalism he begins and ends with de Saussure's signification process, well, outside of making his totalitarian theory-swirl friendly and digestible enough for bug-eyed PW retards. And if you've ever witnessed the fanged pork belly pig he keeps on a leash, speaking of Darleen, a.k.a. Duuh-dar, attempt to chime in alongside Jeff during a language theory debate, you know all too well what I'm talking about.

The way I was taught views of singular intent and the expansion of intent was from comparing Husserl's original phenomenology versus Hirsch's probabilities. If I recall it seems we started out intent with Descartes and Kantian consciousness. Which further discounts totalitarian intent - PW being the perfect example - for when you have one whose Kantian consciousness lacks a singular clue engaging audience that has even less posited between the brackets, you end up with a choking coding/decoding fog on authorial intent. Besides, I'm a Marxist, for I've read Terry Eagleton state that an author's intent is a text in itself which can be translated and debated like any other.

Speaking of consciousness and horseshit, if you follow SEK's link to PW you'll find Jeff linking to RSM at post #176. Read the end of RSM's unearthly excuse-larded piece, if you can.

"There are people who are, we might say, unconscious Marxists. They have been schooled in a particular worldview, taught to view the world through a prism of oppression, exploitation and alienation.

Baptized by immersion in such beliefs (which are nowadays widely promulgated in our educational institutions) these people are incapable of thinking outside the schematic system of categories that has been instilled in their minds. Confronted with a phenomenon that does not fit their schema -- e.g., a poor person who opposes socialism, a lesbian who rejects the dogma of the gay-rights movement -- these people must either ignore the obtrusive phenomenon, rationalize it, or attack and destroy it.

These unconscious Marxists are everywhere, including in the comment fields of conservative blogs. Wise men should not allow such ignorant trolls to go unrebuked."

Here the sad little man soils the white bed sheets he wears on his head. It takes no genius to extend his logic and announce that Robert Stacy McCain is so thoroughly schooled in a racist worldview that he's an unconscious racist. And he should be rebuked!

thor

engaging an audience

P.T. Smith

I had a non-linguistic thought once but I couldn't tell you what it was.

Am I the only one who really likes HappyFeet sometimes?

Fritz

Speaking as a political scientist (whose main field of study is something entirely different), while all of this is very interesting (and I have to admit that I'm a little bit at sea), it bears almost no resembelance to how we, that is, political scientists, think about socialziation or public opinion.

And since the latest iteration of this discussion (at least between JeffG and Patterico) began with a conversation about how Rush Limbaugh's statement "I hope he fails" would effect Republicans' electoral chances, I'm beginning to wonder, what is the cash value of all of this?

Richard Pennyfarthing

We live in a really dumb society, so dumb things are really important, Fritz.

SEK

Am I the only one who really likes HappyFeet sometimes?

No.

And since the latest iteration of this discussion (at least between JeffG and Patterico) began with a conversation about how Rush Limbaugh's statement "I hope he fails" would effect Republicans' electoral chances, I'm beginning to wonder, what is the cash value of all of this?

Um, they pay me to teach, and they pay in cash, therefore ... I'm at a loss. As I noted in the first bit, my only dog in this hunt is the fact that my own interpretive model is closer to Goldstein's than Frey's, at least until Jeff starts describing it in self-interested terms. What I mean is: Jeff's whole theoretical construct isn't a theory of how language works, it's a theory of how, to use his term, Jeff can be a linguistic totalitarian. If someone accepts his theory and Jeff decides that you intended a statement to mean X, because that was your intent, and because if it wasn't, you were speaking in language, then Jeff is always correct both about what he said and what he says you said.

In short, he's playing the part of the earnest, beleaguered, but wholly unselfconscious sophist. His theories work logically, yes, but they only work logically, so once you're dealing with actual human speakers and speech, it ceases to be applicable.

(I need to get back to grading, so let me note this for later: in linguistic terms, Jeff's a prescriptivist who sells himself as a descriptivist. I'll expound on that shortly, then respond to the other comments.)

Richard Pennyfarthing

"In short, he's playing the part of the earnest, beleaguered, but wholly unselfconscious sophist. "

It's a rare thing for someone to become an embarrassment to their religion, political party, academic discipline and fighting style in a single day, but I believe Jeff has done it.

Paul T. Lazaro

"That is not what I meant to say at all..."

Jeff Alfred Prufrock

McWyrm

Just out of curiosity - I'm almost completely unschooled in such matters but ...

Regarding the intention of speakers and the possibility of clarification, why is simple competence or basic fallibility never discussed? I can quite easily say things that I don't mean - in spoken and particularly in written language - by the simple act of mis-speaking. I don't see how intention rectifies this.

Is this just a trivial case that doesn't bare consideration? This is a sincere, if possibly ignorant, question.

Fritz

in linguistic terms, Jeff's a prescriptivist who sells himself as a descriptivist. I'll expound on that shortly, then respond to the other comments.

While the Patterico/JeffG battle has devolved into bitter recrimination and ever more hysterical accusations, some of us are still waiting for the promised expounding.

The comments to this entry are closed.