Theoretical Doodle: Truth and Method (I)

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Last week’s post was a bit incohesive, my apologies. To compensate, here’s this blog’s first two-partner.
Today we’re going to talk about Truth and Method, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s major work.[1] In this work Gadamer, a German philosopher, is mighty concerned with hermeneutics.

Origins

What is hermeneutics? Put bluntly, it is the art (or science?) of interpretation. Originally hermeneutics was a method for deciphering sacred texts. In medieval Europe, this meant exegesis, the interpretation of Biblical stories.

Not until the 15th century, with the advent of humanism, did hermeneutics develop into something more. Through the work of humanists and nominalists, a step was taken away from biblical interpretation and towards secular texts.

Modern Hermeneutics

In the 18th and 19th century, several philosophers developed a tradition that we call modern hermeneutics.

Schleiermacher began by questioning understanding. He claimed that there was no super-historical reason, but that every text could only be understood in relation to its own historical period of production. Thus, every problem of interpretation was a problem of understanding. You had to find the correct context of a text to understand and interpret it correctly.
Dilthey followed by further developing a certain method for text interpretation. He stated that texts are media for the understanding of experiences of others.
Heidegger radically altered hermeneutics by stating that understanding is a crucial component in human existence. He formulated an ontological approach, that considered understanding as a real sharing in the experience of the author.

Gadamer

Gadamer, Heidegger’s student, developed his theory further. He begins with Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle. To simplify Gadamer’s argument: When you read a text, you have a certain fore-meaning, the whole of assumptions and images you have about a subject. While reading a text, certain new insights are projected back upon your fore-meaning, altering it. This altered fore-meaning is then again projected upon the text, resulting in a better understanding. Gadamer calls it a “dialectic of question and answer”: taking a fore-meaning as the thesis, the text produces a conflicting anti-thesis, which then leads to a synthesis, leading to new questions, a new anti-thesis (or answer) and a new synthesis.

That’s all for this time, ’cause my time is precious. Anyway, next time there’ll be more about fore-meaning and such. Until then.


[1] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (1960; London & New York, 2004).

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Historical Doodle: Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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OK, so… I kinda forgot Wednesday was coming up. I’m at work and I don’t have my fancy books with me so my planned post is a no-go at the moment. I’ll have to postpone that.
I explored Google Books on the boss’s time for a while, and found this cool biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I read the introduction and the last chapter[1] – damn you, limited previews! – and I think I’m putting this one on my to-read list.

Who was Eleanor?

[Eleanor of Aquitaine] had inherited many of the characteristics of her forebears, and was energetic, intelligent, sophisticated, headstrong and perhaps lacking in self-discipline. She possessed great vitality and, according to William of Newburgh, a lively mind.[2]

Doesn’t that sound as one hell of a woman? She appeared to have been quite the looker as well: “in youth, she was described as perpulchra – more than beautiful.”[3] Fun fact: although everyone seemed to agree she was pretty, no-one bothered to leave a proper description of Eleanor. [4]
Another fun fact: “[Eleanor] was christened Aliénore, a pun on the Latin alia-Aenor, ‘the other Eleanor’, to differentiate her from her mother […]”.[5]

Anyway, this woman for all accounts and purposes was quite remarkable, being a key figure in the creation of the so-called Angevin empire. Fun fact: this is a completely anachronistic name, born from the whims of historians and their occasional “naming frenzies.” Can’t study something properly if it doesn’t have an awesome name, see?
How remarkable was Eleanor? Well, how about she had political power, which was quite the exception in male-dominated feudal times.
I think we have time for one more:

On 1 April 1204, Eleanor ‘passed from the world as a candle in the sconce goeth out when the wind striketh it’. She was eighty-two and her death went virtually unremarked in the chaos surrounding the collapse of the Angevin empire.[6]

Elton John, you unoriginal, thieving bastard! Also, please don’t sue me.
That’s it. I’ll get back to Eleanor some other time.
Jeez, this post has turned out longer than I expected. That’s what you call procrastination, I guess.


[1] Fun thing about history, skipping to the end is fine, ’cause you kinda already know how it ends. Also, this post is a rush-job, so forgive any weird grammatical phenomena.
[2] Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (New York, 2001), 18.
[3] Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine, 18.
[4] Ibidem.
[5] Ibidem, 10.
[6] Ibidem, 352.

Literary Doodle: A Wild Sheep Chase

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The instant I entered the sheep house, all two hundred sheep turned in my direction. Half the sheep stood, the other half lay on the hay spread over their pen floors. Their eyes were an unnatural blue, looking like tiny wellsprings flowing from the sides of their faces. They shone like glass eyes which reflected light from straight on. They all stared at me. Not one budged. A few continued munching away on the grass in their mouth, but there was no other sound. A few, their heads protruding from their pens, had stopped drinking water and had frozen in place, fixing their eyes on me. They seemed to think as a group. Had my standing in the entrance momentarily interrupted their unified thinking? Everything stopped, all judgement on hold.[1]

I don’t know, but often this is what it feels like to just walk into a room. This phenomenon gets worse in public places – except on the Underground, where everyone tries their best not to notice anything but their stop, but that’s a story for a different time. Hell; I’m guilty of this myself. Oh, who’s that? I don’t know that person. Do I…? No… Should I…? Nah…
This way you’ll get to do the introductions after three hours of awkwardly avoiding each other’s gazes. It’s great fun. Trust me, I’ve got a degree.

Also, don’t rub your eyes after chopping chili peppers. You’re gonna have a bad time.


[1] Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase (1982; London, 2003), 219.

Literary Doodle: The House of the Spirits

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This is what I’ve been reading for the past week. Just a quick doodle; I’m back at work and I’m swamped! Ciao.

She was one of those people who was born for the greatness of a single love, for exaggerated hatred, for apocalyptic vengeance, and for the most sublime forms of heroism but she was unable to shape her fate to the dimensions of her amorous vocation, so it was lived out as something flat and gray trapped between her mother’s sickroom walls, wretched tenements, and the tortured confessions with which this large, opulent, hot-blooded woman made for maternity, abundance, action, and ardor- was consuming herself.[1]

It’s an oddly yummy book.


[1] Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits (1982; New York, 1985), 224.

Historical Doodle: A Literary Walking Tour

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Last week I didn’t post anything, because I was kinda in Paris. Good times. We had a Lonely Planet and everything. Fun fact: we went on a literary walking tour. No the whole thing, but we carefully selected a few wonderful sites – Hemingway’s first address in Paris, the Fitzgerald’s house, Hemingway’s last address in Paris… This literary walking tour turned out to be the crappiest tour in that Lonely Planet. Houses were either torn down (we expect), dilapidated, or just, y’know, standing there. It turns out I’m not the kind of history-buff that gets excited about regular houses. “This is a street walked down to get his groceries” apparently doesn’t do much for me either. I guess I need pretty words for embellishment. Or maybe I’m just not that much into houses. Pff… I’m ranting. ANYWAY, the tour was disappointing. Well, Gertrude Stein’s house had a plaque, so I guess that was cool.

Besides that, the city was, is, and will be, beautiful. Shoutout to baron Haussmann, yo. It wasn’t the last time I visited Paris and it won’t be the last.

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.[1]


[1]Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition (1964; New York, 2009) 236.

Literary Doodle: Tuck Everlasting

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The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.[1]

The last week of work before my summer vacation. So here’s just a little bit of summer full of foreshadowing to get me in the mood. I can’t wait; relaxing and reading. Hell, I might even get some of my own writing done – it’s been quite a while. God, that does sound like the diary of a working stiff. It’s sad when the only time writing gets done is on vacation. I guess it’s been hectic, though that’s not really an excuse, is it?

For now, back to work.


[1] Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting (1975; New York, 2010), 3.

Historical Doodle: Technics and Civilization

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Lewis Mumford’s work Technics and Civilization is a flawed work, but a joy to read. Especially this paragraph about the invention of the clock as the herald of the industrial age:

The clock […] is a piece of power-machinery whose “product” is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science. There is relatively little foundation for this belief in common human experience: throughout the year the days are of uneven duration, and not merely does the relation between day and night steadily change, but a slight journey from East to West alters astronomical time by a certain number of minutes. In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer span of days, time is measured not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it.

Here it takes a nostalgic turn, followed by a nauseating juxtaposition of mechanical and organic time that makes more sense if you take into account that Mumford was a staunch moralist and that Technics and Civilization was originally supposed to be a cultural critique:

The shepherd measures from the time the ewes lambed; the farmer measures back to the day of sowing or forward to the harvest: if growth has its own duration and regularities, behind it are not simply matter and motion but the facts of development: in short, history. And while mechanical time is strung out in a succession of mathematically isolated instants, organic time–what Bergson calls duration–is cumulative in its effects. Though mechanical time can, in a sense, be speeded up or run backward, like the hands of a clock or the images of a moving picture, organic time moves in only one direction–through the cycle of birth, growth, development, decay, and death–and the past that is already dead remains present in the future that has still to be born.[1]

As Rosalind Williams notes, “[Mumford’s] tripartite scheme, his personification of life as an historical agent, and his organic moralism lead Mumford into all sorts of confusion about historical change.”[2] In spite of its flaws, it remains a classic and an influential book in the history of technology.


[1] Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934; Chicago, 2010), 15-6.
[2] http://rosalindwilliams.com/historiography/classics-revisited-lewis-mumfords-technics-and-civilization/ (Visited on August 6th 2012). Note: a very interesting critique on Technics and Civilization, worth a read.

Historical Doodle: Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution

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In her work, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution, Lynn Hunt pinpoints one of the achievements of the French Revolution as the “institution of a dramatically new political culture.”[1] It created a new language based on a sense of republican French-ness. This new language was collective in nature[2]; it had the purpose of unifying the people, it used France as a common identity. The French Revolution made the people aware of their status as actors and their ability to implement change. As Georg Lukács argues, “the French Revolution, the revolutionary wars and the rise and fall of Napoleon […] for the first time made history a mass experience […].”[3] In short, the revolutionary rhetoric was about unification. It sought to standardize and make the whole country into one France.[4]


[1] Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1984), 15. Cf. Timothy Tackett, Becoming A Revolutionary: The Deputies of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789-1790) (Princeton, 1996), 307. Despite differences between social groups and strains of ideology, I would argue that they had this universalizing rhetoric in common.
[2] Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class, 213-5.
[3] Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel (Lincoln, 1962[1937]), 23.
[4] From: Pieter Verschuren, ‘Communication and Revolution: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century France.’

Literary Doodle: A Rain of Women

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yesterday, which was Friday, was dark and rainy, and I kept saying, stay sober, man, don’t fall to pieces, and I walked out the door and out onto the landlord’s lawn and ducked just in time to avoid a football thrown by a future S.C. quarterback, 1975 – 1975?, and I thought, jesus, we are not too far from 1984 I remember when I read that book, I thought, well, 1984, that’s ten million miles to China, and here it was almost here, and I was almost dead, getting ready, chewing on the pulpy gig, getting ready to spit it out. dark and rainy – a death closet, a dark stinking death closet: Los Angeles, Calif., late afternoon, friday, China 8 miles away, rice with eyes, vomiting dogs of mourning – dark and rainy, ah shit! – and I remembered when I was a kid, I thought, I’d like to live to see the year 2,000, I thought that would be the magic thing, with my old man beating hell out of me everyday I wanted to live to be 80 and see the year 2,000; now with everything beating hell out of me I no longer have that desire […].[1]


[1] Charles Bukowski, ‘A Rain of Women’, in: Charles Bukowski, Tales of Ordinary Madness (London, 2008), 147.

Literary Doodle: Angel Dust Apocalypse

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This book was a good find in a second-hand book store. A solid collection of short stories. Not all stories are equally strong, but I think there are a couple of nice gems in there.

I
vibrate in the minds of millions.
We want proof.
An island washed clean by my birth. My afterbirth scars the air. The land itself becomes sacred and heavy with reminders of my birthday.
As tribute the witnesses shed what had turned black inside, scream, and their cells promise to bear no children.
The.people think I am an end, but they remain as long as I do. Last thoughts move from the electric to the sub-atomic and grow dense at my center when they collide.[1]


[1] Jeremy Robert Johnson, ‘Last Thoughts Drifting Down’, in: Jeremy Robert Johnson, Angel Dust Apocalypse (Portland, 2005), 120.