Friday, April 14, 2006

So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. -Isaiah

I'm not sure what one can say when one seems to have nothing which can be said. The difficulty, if not impossibility, of expressing or reducing thoughts and experiences to language, especially to words, is increasingly the subject of my contemplation. Many of the meaningful thoughts and non-spoken/written reflections I have seem to overflow in abundance beyond the capacity of language.

Paul Ricoeur has provided me with some helpful tools understanding this aspect of a "worded" existence, so to say. Language has everyday uses: I tell you that I see a bird flying. Basically, someone is saying something about something to someone. But what does it mean for me to tell you that my heart is a soaring bird? Or that I am a dead bird on a cold day? Or that someone is cold? My heart is not literally a bird or really soaring, I am not really dead, an a person may not be experiencing bodily temperature fluctuation. But in transgressing the bounds of language, in stretching it and in a way misusing it we open our world of communication and understanding to new possibilities. Someone is still saying something about something to someone, but in many instances we break the rules of the dictionary to really say something about our experiences. This non-dictionary saying is often meant to shock and surprise others—leading others to (hopefully), a new view of the mystery of reality or at least further contemplation together of the realities most meaningful experiences. In other words, it explodes the established meaning in order to say something new.

Is this just me rambling on about foolish philosophy garbage? Maybe... but what does it mean that the kingdom of God is like a man going on a journey... or that the kingdom of God is in the midst of us... or that just as we are all like sheep, so also is the Lamb of God. Our goal is to understand these things, each other, and ourselves, but when we simply attempt to capture meaning, tame it, and put it in a dictionary, we kill it, and take away the "real" meaning altogether. Our hope for meaning is that we can move beyond meaning.

Does this mean that I'm excused from writing papers? Unfortunately, no. Just because communication is always hard work doesn't mean that we can escape from it... -M


Kidgit said...

"Oh Captain my captain!"

"I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way."

M&Y said...

Interesting quote, although sometimes an irritating movie... Williams movies can be so formulaic, don't you think?...

But this sort of gets at another concern. Are we talking only (only?) about perspective? I wonder if we ascribe what we are talking about to an epistemological question of knowing does it, in a way, create a false sense of distance between us and how we know? Quick and dirty, is it ever possible for us to look at things in a different way--I mean really? Can we say that we can exchange one way of looking at something for another? Aren't we always the one who is looking at the thing, and true difference is never really possible? One might avoid this by saying that we alter ourselves, and are re-made in the process.

But then, the big question is: does the thing being observed change through observance? Because I knew Yvana before we were maried, and I encountered her as a friend, does she ontologically change, in herself, from friend to wife after we are married? Can those possibilities exist before they are possibilities?

This probably is rank to most people of what many have termed "postmodernism," I suppose. But it dosen't have to be. I'm just talking about how our activity of understanding might (really) change the thing understood.

What do you think?

Kidgit said...

I think when we talk about changing perspective we have to remember that neither the thing has changed nor the way we have perceived it. Instead, we ourselves have changed. In that transformation we can do nothing but see things in a way that we couldn't before.
And hey! This is not a Robin Williams vehicile, it's an Ethan Hawke vehicle, and it's very true to form for his movies. The only exception I can find in his films is his movie Assualt on Precinct 13. Ick. What a waste of time...

M&Y said...

I suppose I should explain my original concern, and what has been driving me these past several months. What I'm taling about is less general than perspective, although I have heard the argument that everything is mediated by perspective, which is difficult to argue against. I'm primarily concerned about the use of language to express what is beyond language, such as religious experiences. I might provide an example. When Kuyper first attended a Moody revival meeting, he described it as a profound encounter with the divine; a powerful display of the Spirit working in society. Later, he recanted that statement, claiming that the emotionalist methodology Moody employed did not match with how he believed God had called Christians to influence culture. What interests me most is his remark uttered immediately following the Moody meeting: "My cup runneth over." His experience of the divine at that particular moment was beyond what words could say at that time. Later, he found words for it, but re-described it in negative terms. Certainly, his perspective had changed. But how? Was he not wise enough to recognize the false nature of the Moody experience? Although he didn't, what if he would have, like many others, experienced another re-interpretation of the event which confirmed his original interpretation of it?

The enigma which itches me the most, like a bloodthursty tick, is what the role words have in this play. Was it not a God-moment in that it effected the way he lived, the way he felt? Are we to privelage the power of reason, language, and mental distance as less fallen than the power of emotion? Or habitual living? There is a lot of fear nowadays concerning dulaism, of the importance for seeing the person as a psychosematic unity. My fear is that we might be condoning a dualist understanding through the backdoor of perspective. Can we divorce ourselves from our perspective? If either yes or no, is it possible for us, ourselves, to willingly change our own perspective, recognize it as such, and leave it at the level of a "perspective" floating disembodied in the ether between the self and the world?

This, to me, is rank with the concept of a Cartesian self. To say that a personal perspective, our language describing, interpreting, and re-interpreting the world, is entirely self-existent and effects nothing outside ourselves is a hasty retreat into cogito, ergo sum.

What happens if we instead say "perspective," self-language, somehow matters outside our own heads? We might then begin to worry when we think lustfully about others or describe each other as fools, for reasons aside from a simple divine command theory. We might realise we are actually doing violence to people when we think and feel violent about them, perspective notwithstanding...
In other words, are you the only one who is effected by your own perspective? Does your perspective only change you, or does it change what you percieve?

Something completely different, but maybe not-
The only reason I mentioned the Robin Williams thing was because Poets Society followed the normal Williams schlock: Guy arrives as shy outsider, guy endears himself to community through sickly sentimental and contrived ways of opening their eyes to the beauty of existence, guy gets into trouble which threatens status of community membership (usually at the instigation of authority figures), but guy is vindicated in dramatic theatrical contrived manner which demonstrates his profound effect on community. Anything which follows this basic plot [aka Good Morning Vietnam, Jack, Dead Poets, Patch Adams...] I consider a classic Robin Williams vehicle, although it finds its basic inspiration, cinematographic at least, in Carey Grant's "People Will Talk," but I believe Williams popularized the role for modern audiences.

Responses? -m

M&Y said...

You know kid,

I think I'm going a bit loopy with deadlines approaching... take what I say with a grain of salt. I'm just as confused as everyone else.

But really, what do you think about Robin Williams?

Kidgit said...

Given that I should be responding to all of this on my own blog (which I don't have) we'll just leave it at until I can fully comprehend what you're saying I think you're right. Once I'm finally up on your big words and all...then we can talk :) You're right about the Robin Williams thing. But I still love that movie!

"Sucking all the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone."

Oh, and I think Robin Williams is one of the most amazing comics to ever come to screen. Granted, not one of the cleanest but one of the most gifted. And having finally seen Good Will Hunting I think he's a pretty darn good actor. Not counting that unfortunate movie "Father's Day" But come on, who could play Peter Pan better than Williams?

M&Y said...

Ok, I give you the Peter Pan observation. Nobody could play that character like Williams, but I claim that it is because he is simply playing himself! I have not seen him in Goodwill Hunting or One Hour Photo, so I won't comment on them. BUT, the only real genius and talent he seems to show is in supporting roles, especially in cartoon voiceovers: Aladin and Robots come to mind where he is uncontestably brilliant. He's not a quality leading man unless he is playing a role typecast to fit him. Gifted? Maybe, but only in very limited circumstances. I think that disqualifies him from greatness or genius.