1.20.2002

[5,6]The anthropologist's dilemma has been likened to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle as it pertains to the study of subatomic particles. The instruments needed to study these particles affects the behavior of the particles. Geertz has that cool story in his study of Balinese Cockfighting where he gained admission into the cockfights by running from the police with everyone else. I'm not convinced and I think the problem is actually two-fold. You have the problem of studying another culture without changing the behavior of those you observe by your presence. Then you must communicate findings back to your home culture in a way that could be understood. The deeper argument of Geertz is that no human cultures are thoroughly incommensurable. There is always the experience of the human body that forms a link. At best, the effect is occasionally to denaturalize a behavior or predilection in the home culture. For example, we tend to think of politics as a natural way to organize collective life and decision-making. We see misreadings of what Aristotle meant when he described humans as "political animals" in support of the naturalness of politics. Anthropological evidence of humans resolving conflict and coming to consensus in non-political ways has the important effect of historicizing politics. It came into being at a point in time and there could be a point in time when it ceases to be. Other cultures allow us to at least entertain alternatives that would be unimaginable if we were to think of cultural boundaries as impermeable. This contextualizing or localization of knowledge is not an effect when we think about inter-species communication and/or understanding.
Section 6 is tough. I don't know what commentary you are looking at, but there is Hacker's concordance and Feyerabend's treatment, and several others. I think about Erich Heller's distinction between systematic and poetic philosophy. Systematic philosophers like Aristotle or Kant can be conquered, he said. Poetic philosophers like Plato and, for us, Wittgenstein, are mountains without peaks. We need all the help we can get. Let me try to work from 5 through 6 and see if I cannot do better than I have in the past.
In 5, what we really want according to Wittgenstein, is a clear view of the way language works. However, Augustines' "general notion of the meaning of a word surrounds the working of language with a haze which makes clear vision impossible." We see a child learning to talk. This is not to be confused with an explanation for how language works. Conflating the example with a more general implication, taking the part for the whole, ends in conceptual confusion or haze that defeats the desire for a clear view. The technique of teaching a language is between these adults and the child. This relationship is different from the relationship of the philosopher (or whomever is charged with the responsibility of explaining language) to language. This is a problem and a distinction of perceptual vantages. It will be a mistake, however, to see the explainer of language as somehow succeeding in stepping outside of language. The perceptual vantages of both the teacher of language and the philosopher of language are similarly immanent -- "in" language -- but their relation to the whole are distinctive.
I tend to make a big deal about the immanence of perceptual vantages in Wittgenstein because of my abiding interest in theorizing. Wittgenstein proclaimed that he hated theory, he had no use for it. But what he was criticizing was the pretense of the theorist to have achieved some sort of transcendent, epic perspective outside of language. Wittgenstein shows us what theorizing from a perspective of immanence -- inside the city -- would produce. This is the subject matter of the book I am writing.
On to 6. What makes this darn remark so difficult is that it appears to entail a change of perspective -- a modulation on the part of Wittgenstein as he moves to distinguish the technique of teaching a language and the desired clear view of how language works. Who is speaking here? Is Wittgenstein presenting himself as an omniscence standing outside the text looking down, or does his voice emerge from within the text? (I struggle with this location of voice because the direction changes, like an echo or the effect of one who can "throw" her voice.)
What Wittgenstein is doing here (let me be bold) is showing the effect of neceesary movement within language. We move from particular, a local context engendered by this instance of ostensive teaching of words, to the broader view of seeing this teaching technique as part of a larger constellation of linguistic activities. We start with the context engendered by this particular example of ostensive teaching of the word "Slab." The word is taught by the teacher by making a connection of word to object by saying and pointing. Does this create a mental picture for the child? It may. "Uttering a word is like striking a note in the keyboard of the imagination." We are to understand that this is not a necessary effect, but in this instance the child has learned because when she or he says "Slab" it is accompanied by an image. Although this image may indicate learning, understanding is revealed by an appropriate behavior. This is the difference, I think, between "training" and "understanding." The teacher knows the child has understood because the child responds appropriately to the command "Slab," by either pointing to the slab or picking it up. "With different training the same ostensive teaching of these words would have effected quite a different understanding." That is to say, the approprate understanding behavior would be different. Say "slab" and the child sits down on the slab.
Next we are told to modulate the perspective. We move from the specific context-engendering of this ostensive teaching to a wider view of this creative activity as part of a larger mechanism. Wittgenstein does not make some claim about language as synonomous with this mechanism used to illustrate an understanding of the rod and lever as brake. He is only showing a perspective that is broader than that of the child. We can see an array of ostensive teachings and possible understandings where the child sees only one. "I set the brake up by connecting up rod and lever." The ostensive teaching has occurred before this statement is made. I used the rod and lever appropriately in this context. By using them to set the break I showed I understood in this particular ostensive teaching. Another ostensive teaching context may have led me to display my understanding appropriately by wielding them as a weapon.
The tendency is to say something more general about the relation of language to the mechanism, as if language is like this steam engine. To say this, however, implies an Archimedean position outside of language that enables us to see it as a whole -- in the same way we can see a steam engine as a whole. Well, Wittgenstein says, that position is not available to us. The desire for such a position, though understandable, has led to a lot of distortions that obfuscate rather than yield a clear view to language. What can we see from the inside?
Sorry this is so long and tedious. When I get tied up in a remark I work in this soliloquy form. Up until now, I have been the only one who has to suffer through reading it.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home