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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: November ::
Re: Politics
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0799.  Saturday, 9 November 1996.

(1)     From:   Jeff Myers <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Nov 1996 13:43:51 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0794  Re: Politics

(2)     From:   Thomas Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Nov 1996 17:23:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0789  Re: Politics

(3)     From:   Norm Holland <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Nov 96 17:18:38 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0794  Re: Politics


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeff Myers <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Nov 1996 13:43:51 GMT
Subject: 7.0794  Re: Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0794  Re: Politics

>And it is interesting that Shakespeare again and again shows the tragic
>consequences of denying fact.

Or the comic consequences.  I'm thinking of Petruchio and Kate's encounter with
Old Vincentio.  Or is this even denying a fact?  Are age and sex facts?  Or are
they data?  Or should I have said gender? Or are they both social constructs?
I.e., I mean age and sex (or gender); or should I have meant facts and data?
And are the consequences comic or tragic?  Or can we distinguish between the
two?

Somebody stop me before it's too late!

Jeff Myers

p.s.--Too late.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Nov 1996 17:23:55 -0500
Subject: 7.0789  Re: Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0789  Re: Politics

Well, we seem to be getting somewhere. Let's see if we can get further.

Gabriel Egan will now take his stand on the following proposition, as phrased
by me, but agreed to by him: that "facts" can only ever exist in relation to
some framework of knowledge that constitutes them, and not otherwise, that is
that they have -no- independent existence.

At this point it may be useful to introduce a distinction along the lines that
Bill Godshalk cites from William Ingram. I was going to put the same thing a
slightly different way.  To every act of knowing, there are two parties, the
consciousness that knows and the object ("obiectum") that appears before that
consciousness (this need not be a material thing, but more of that later).
These are not, of course, equally active parties, and thought always takes
place within thought. Yet this does not mean that the activity of knowing is
not in important ways determined by the object of knowledge. Just because the
object is epistemologically inert (though not inert in other ways) does not
mean it does not objectively determine the adequacy of the knowledge that is
proposed about it. Facts are made (facta), but they cannot be just made up
however one chooses. And though one's assumptions about the object can indeed
frame what can be known about it, this does not mean that some knowledges are
more responsive to the objective and determining "real" character of the object
than others.

To take a simple example: the modern microbiological theory of the extinct
disease smallpox is clearly superior to the older miasmal theory in responding
to the objective "factual" character of the disease. We know this because
smallpox no longer exists. Its objective character as a toxic response to
infection by a microbe has been established through observation of actual cases
and microbial study. Casting spells and sacrificing goats did not eradicate it.

If this dispute is only over whether or not to call the determinations on our
knowledge that its object exercises its "factual" character, then it has been
trivial, and I apologize. But if Gabriel Egan wishes to claim that such
objective determinations do not exist at all, then he must, at the very least,
give serious thought to giving up his commitment to such Marxist concepts as
"class war" (except as some sort of radical existential intuition, from God
knows where). Marxism, if I understand it, is a set of historical claims and
insights founded on a confidence in the objective and determining character of
material conditions. Anything less than that is what Marx would have called an
"idealism".

Since being and thought reside always in the same place, in ourselves, the
difficulties in their inter-relations can be great. That is why modern
scientific disciplines insist on such rigorous protocols. In the humanities,
the problems are immensely compounded, for the objects of knowledge are
themselves artifacts of knowledge, marked by earlier thought, the traces of
which we still may share. But in the face of these immense difficulties, the
right response is not to give up the game altogether in confusion or despair.
Just because "real" history and historical knowledge are not the same (whoever
thought they were?) is no reason to deny any link between them. Just because
thought takes place within the realm of thought (whoever thought otherwise?) is
no reason altogether to dissever thought from the "real".

In literary study, the difficulty is even further compounded by the
increasingly mediated and meditated character of the materials. But even here,
the "real" may rear its ugly head. This is one reason why I am interested in
linguistics -- because it can note things about the matter out of which poetry
is made that illuminate for me the manner in which it is made and hence the
meanings made in it.  And on this latter point, I note with pleasure that Mr.
Egan and I seem to have reached agreement about a fact, though he may now
contest it (well, -anything- is "contestable"; skepticism can never be finally
refuted, but it's hardly a wise position for a Marxist to adopt). Mr. Egan
writes:

> To say 'my child was eaten by a woolly mammoth' is to exchange a
> narrative, so your claim is that
> "all known human societies practise language".

But in fact languages can form many sentences that are -not- narrative in this
way ("Fish like water"; "Good morning, Mr. Bishop").  And certain aphasias can
destroy a speaker's ability to form narrative sentences -- thereby grossly
impeding his/her ability to function socially. And yet the governing assumption
here is that narrative sentences are more or less a definitively constitutive
part of linguistic expression. (It -need- not be so in all symbolic systems.
Mathematics and logic have no narrative dimension.)  I think this is true:
human langauges do -in fact- display an innate ability to construct narratives,
even of such a basic kind as "I visited my mother yesterday, but now I'm back".
It would appear that Mr. Egan thinks so too. I am glad.

I've taken to talking too much about this. The Internet format threatens to
impose on us the contemporary straitjacket of the "sound-bite". But the point
is important, I think.

Cheers,
Tom

P.S. Nor do I think it necessary to stand outside politics in order to have a
vision of it, or of human need within it. Neither did Martin Luther King.
Neither did Marx. But someone else can attempt a definition of politics,
please.

Tom Bishop
Associate Professor of English
Case Western Reserve University

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norm Holland <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Nov 96 17:18:38 EST
Subject: 7.0794  Re: Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0794  Re: Politics

Here I go tangling with my friend Bill Godshalk again.  About facts and data--

The psychologists tell us that even the most rudimentary data of our senses,
such as shapes or colors, have already gone thru a good deal of brain
processing, hence, interpretation.  This does not mean that there are no data
(or no facts), simply that they are always embedded in interpretation.  As
Hilary Putnam and George Lakoff point out, There is no god's-eye view.  Only
our own human perceptions of things (which, of course does not imply that the
things "don't exist"--exactly the opposite, in fact).

In the example given, the entry in a parish register, what is written is
already interpreted, secretary hand interpreted, the letters interpreted, the
language rendered as English or Latin as the case may be and so on.  There is a
_datum_, to be sure, but it has been arrived at by certain processes of
interpretation.

Likewise the fact.  If one infers from the datum "John u. Mary," that Mary is
the spouse of John, that is a fact (in the terms of our discussion).  The
distinction between datum and fact, then, is in the kinds of interpretation
each is involved in.  Commonly, we distinguish low-level interpretations from
high-level interpretations, and it would make good usage sense to speak of data
as involving low-level interpretations and facts as involving higher-level
interpretations. But both have the same ontological and epistemoligcal status.
Their difference is one of degree, not kind.

Or so it seems to this reader-response critic and amateur psychologist.

                                              --Best, Norm Holland
 

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