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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: Ontology and Intentionality
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 796.  Monday, 15 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sunday, 14 Nov 1993 16:21:06 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Shakespeare, Ontology, History, and Subway Schedules
 
(2)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Nov 93 11:55:20 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0749  Re: Ontology, Shakespeare, and History
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 14 Nov 1993 16:21:06 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Shakespeare, Ontology, History, and Subway Schedules
 
O.K., Nancy wants someone to start a discussion of intention and function. We
can use the words "use" and "utilize" to get started. When you use something,
you use it for the intention that it was made: hammer pounding in a nail. When
you utilize something, you utilize it in an unintended manner: screwriver
pounding a nail.
 
If you use a playscript to mount a play, you're using it as originally
intended. If you utilize the playscript to write about early modern culture,
you are utilizing it.
 
And so we have to distinguish among many intentions when we consider the many
functions. I utilize a piece of slate as a paperweight. Using Aristotle's
method, can we distinguish among intentions? Will intended to write; he also
intended to stage a play; and he intended to make money, etc.
 
Bill Godshalk
 
P.S. Al, could you translate Kristeva into English? Reading the passages you
quote from her, I thought I was back in THE MERRY WIVES, listening to Dr. Caius.
Or, maybe I felt like Isabella trying to make sense of Angelo - the prenzy
Angelo.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Nov 93 11:55:20 SAST-2
Subject: 4.0749  Re: Ontology, Shakespeare, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0749  Re: Ontology, Shakespeare, and History
 
> And David Schalkwyk, I knew I was opening up a can of worms by using the
> Sherlock Holmes allusion to the whole philosophic debate over references to
> fictional worlds, etc. How do present promises related to a possible future
> reality? Are both parts subsumed under intentionality? The speaker intends to
> dine and intends that there shall be a dinner, just a playwright intends to
> write a play, and intends that the play will have certain meanings.  That's
> the best I can do. What's your answer?
 
To Bill Godshalk (my apologies for turning your name into mine last
time!)
 
When I asked how promising to have dinner with someone is related to the world
in which we have dinner I was not trying to put you on a spot about a theory of
fictional reference.  Rather, the question was meant to suggest that there is
no ontological difference between uses of language that we employ
unproblematically every day (hoping, expecting, promising, predicting, and so
on) and fiction (another use that we employ unproblematically every day).  In
other words, the ontological problem of fictional reference is not a *special*
problem; in fact it may be a psuedo-problem.
 
As far as intentionality is concerned, I think that a number of writers,
including Wittgenstein and Derrida, have argued pretty persuasively that
intentionality (at least if it is conceived as a series of mental operations)
is no answer.  As the American philosopher Hilary Putnam puts it, "Meanings
just ain't in the head".  (This is just about the only area on which analytical
philosophy and deconstruction agree.)
 
My own (Wittgensteinian) approach to the problem of history and fiction
suggests that we must begin at a conceptual level.  A promise or expectation
and its fulfilment meet in language, Wittgenstein argues, and if this is so
then fiction and history also meet in language. (Or, as Derrida puts it, the
absence of the signatory and the referent is structurally necessary for
language to work.  This is not to deny that the world exists or that texts
refer to the world or that people write books, but rather that language must in
principle be able to work in the absence of all these things: the wish that I
make is in essence readable without the existence of the thing to which it
refers and without my presence).  I therefore agree with Nancy Miller that our
concern with fiction and/in history should begin with the way in which concepts
are used or taken for granted.  In my first post to the list about a month ago
I tried to explain the differences between historicists and non-historicists
via the way in which things in the world are used as samples or rules of
representation for the use of those words or, in other words, for concepts.
Because different things may be appropriated in this way (or the same things
differently - I was talking about forms of human behaviour) concepts may change
across time even though the things or events from which they arise may stay the
same.  At this most basic level, then, when we read a text we need to
understand the concepts it employs historically, otherwise the text will simply
be a projection of our own habits and expectations.  For Wittgenstein the rules
for the use of concepts and their relationships with each other (what he calls
"grammar") require a base agreement among all people who share the language and
culture.  These are things ("judgments") people have to agree *in* before they
can form opinions *about* which they might disagree (_Philosophical
Investigations_ 241-2).  This might explain how one can (and must assume) a
certain kind of (conceptual or "grammatical" in Wittgenstein's sense) agreement
while insisting that there would be a diversity of opinions about positions
reflected in a litarary text.  Of course many literary texts put pressure on
the very concepts *in* which people are supposed to agree, and which
Wittgenstein suggests express what we call "esences".  It is this very
"grammatical" investigation of "essences" via a reappropriation of forms of
human behaviour embodied on a stage that makes Shakespeare's work so
interesting both in historical terms and "for us".  The two should not be
separated.  There is much more to say and I realise that this is hasty and
unclear, but I've overstayed my welcome already.
 
Yours
 
David Schalkwyk
University of Cape Town
 

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