Monday, June 18, 2012

Five Questions from CANT

Aaron McNally has five questions for me over at the CANT journal blog.

Here’s a snip:

“I think we, to some degree, all agree that there are logical (or at least arbitrary) forms that our thinking must submit to in order to be expressed. Thought is messy, and language is a set of controls to form that into something that others might be able to receive. Because of the social nature of language and the private nature of thought, it is difficult for us in daily life to remain consistent in what we say, for each new saying creates at least a slightly different message. One of the ways the word arts, and poetry in particular, can find power (or interest or energy or value) is by playing with, or investigating, this relationship between thought and language. There is profit to be found in wandering through these veils. Cue Whitman: ‘Do I contradict myself?’”

Also included at no extra charge are action shots from a conversation I had with him and Jon Barrett last Friday. I can’t imagine what I was saying to go along with some of these expressions. Perhaps we should have a caption contest.


At 6/27/2012 11:22 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

"Because of the social nature of language and the private nature of thought, it is difficult for us in daily life to remain consistent..."

This social/private divide is a huge assumption, considering 1) "thought" (private?) can only be expressed in our minds as "language." And 2)the "social" has "private" as one of its components. And, further 3) "thought" as an action is also very much "social," not just "private."

At 6/27/2012 12:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I agree with parts of all three of your points, and I don't subscribe to the assumption that thought is outside of language. Even so, at the very least, when one is thinking, one doesn't subscribe to the close grammar that successful communication necessitates. But rather, as E.M. Forster said, "How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?"

On different days, in different uses of language, how one chooses (or doesn't choose) to say changes, at least subtly, what one means (to those receiving the communication).

I don't think this position is a huge assumption. It might not be absolutely agreed upon, but it's also fairly thoroughly discussed through 20th century philosophy. (If my memory is serving me?)

At 6/28/2012 9:40 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


I wonder how much this has to do with writing v. speech? In a long conversation between two learned friends, there are often times when one apologizes to the other for not articulating something quite right, but the other says, "No, that's OK, I know what you mean..."
In writing, it's a little different...but that difference can be tremendous...

At 6/28/2012 9:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That's absolutely part of it. Happens all the time. And who's to really know if, when the other says, "I know what you mean," that person really does?

At 6/29/2012 9:19 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

True, but at least the speaker has the opportunity to say, "I think what you are saying is this..." and the other can say, "Yes, close, but not quite...what I really mean is..." and so forth. A living conversation, a Socratic conversation between open-minded people works better than just reading a text. Derrida hated Plato and was so anxious to make writing more important than speech... Obscurity for obscurity's sake is tolerated more in writing than it is in person, when just having a conversation. I think the Socratic ideal, for art, for everything, is to get to that level of understanding which we find in a friendly conversation. Post-modern, Langpo 'obscurity' (Derrida as one of its fathers?) reacts against Plato...


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