>response to James pt. 2

>Since I’m having problems with my posts going through at James’ blog, I thought I’d post my latest comment here. This is a continuation of a discussion James and I are having about interpretation. I posted my first rather lengthy response here to which james responded here. The following is my latest.

Weird. I don’t know why your comment went into moderation.

No biggie.

I don’t really believe that’s possible. I think every form of communication we have carries with it a certain diffusive quality.

You don’t believe that’s possible, and yet you think “every form of communication we have carries with it a certain diffusive quality?”

I think you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. These types of statements are precisely what I was referring to when I posted ‘I don’t think it’s at all a contradiction to say something is “unambigously ambiguous” for example’. If you don’t believe that’s possible, then how is it that you can believe in the essential “diffusive quality” of every form of communication? In other words, how is it that you can interpret, unambiguously, that every form of communication has a “certain diffusive quality?”

Or how do you reconcile this purported diffusive quality with degrees of diffusiveness? For example, how is it that you would reconcile, if I were to interpret your statement:

“We have to use words with agreed-upon definitions in order to have a sensible conversation.”

as meaning:

“What you seem to be saying is that ‘The buddha is three pounds of flax.'”

as being less relevant than if I were to interpet that statement as meaning:

“What you seem to be saying is that ‘There needs to be a consensus, or a set of conventions we agree upon for an act of communication to succeed.'”

Sure, you hinted at one criteria (in fact, your statement is one such criteria)–but how is that supposed to mediate this relevancy? And how would the criteria work for an author interpreting his own work as she is creating it (this being close to my idea of what might possibly be the “perfect” communicative act where there really isn’t an ambiguity in what’s being said or expressed)?

See, I think that you’re making a claim about the limits of communicative acts (i.e. “texts”) and I’m making a claim about the limits of human knowledge and skill in interpretation. The two different claims say as much, if not more, about our individual backgrounds than they say about the things-in-and-of-itself (to borrow from the Kantian noumena) we are interpreting. It’s likely you’re approaching things from a Western lit crit perspective, whereas it’s likely I’m approaching things from a buddhist epistemological perspective. Your box doesn’t make it as likely to accept certain things that my box does, and vice versa.

For you, there’s probably little to be said about the critic’s actual skill in interpreting. This is a perfectly resonant strategy to have given a Western lit crit box where the author (e.g. critic) is necessarily placed sur rasure because il n’ya pas de hors-texte; or the author, she be dead; or even if she’s alive, then what she meant didn’t matter much.

No author, only text.

Close-reading for critical distance.

Those outside the Western lit crit box are left to, as cognitive scientist Mark Turner states, “be obliged to begin by persuading critics that readers and writers exist, that mental events occur, and that neither individuals nor minds are in general reducible to external discourse.”

“The Death of the Author as a specific product of the Western critical mindset” (as Jog so eloquently stated it) also doesn’t have to be an accepted premise in a non-Western lit crit box, which means that the recovery of authorial intention and the critical tools and theories of the “non-Western critical mindset” may just be able to do things with texts that isn’t quite possible (or probable) from the Western lit crit box.

For example, Chinese literary theory and criticsm (where there’s a relatively unbroken line of criticism spanning almost three millenea) can be looked at as the search for the reconstruction of authorial intent. This isn’t a box that can necessarily be approached from a Western lit crit perspective where all acts of communication have a diffusive quality because that’s already dismissive of the whole theoretical foundation of another culture’s rich literary critical history.

And no James–I don’t think these are positions that you explicitly take. I’ve read enough of your comments/posts at other blogs (and your own blog) to know that you seem very intelligent and have insightful things to say. And I don’t think that a so-called “non-Western lit crit” viewpoint or a comparative lingusitic viewpoint are any better or worse than a “Western lit crit” viewpoint.

I’ve already stated elsewhere that I’m much more interested in how statements we make implicitly show what Edward Said calls structures of attitude and reference (another box I like to dwell in you might say) and that there are certain ways we talk about texts that readers (in certain boxes) can interpret as being indicative of particular critical stances just because of the author/critics’s attitude [relation] towards the texts they are interpreting and the types of things they reference while interpreting them.

I think we’ll continue to disagree, which is fine. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to work through and clarify (more for myself) some of my own thoughts in relation to your own.


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