Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Articulating Positions (Updated)

photo of the moments of a work process in motionIn the throes of writing over the weekend, but I wanted to put up a quick pointer to a post from Carl at Dead Voles, who is reflecting on the conversation Daniel and I had here, over the meaning of some of the terms I used when trying to contrast Lukács and Marx. I’ve been thinking back over this discussion myself – not least because the discussion connects up with a more general frustration I often feel about my own work with Marx, which often leaves me feeling a bit helpless to say anything, until I’ve outlined a good chunk of everything. I’m conscious that the nature of this kind of theory asks quite a lot from readers’ patience, I struggle a great deal over how to minimise this problem when I write, and I’m always somewhat sympathetic to others’ frustrations over why I can’t say what I mean more concisely. In any event, Carl’s post manages to transpose what I often experience as a personal frustration, onto the more general terrain of the difficulties of communication across two broad approaches to philosophy:

The conversation between N. Pepperell and Daniel strikes me as a classic sort of contrast between two very different ways of thinking about things, which I’ve tried to capture in my title for this post by hijacking Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as a rough analogy. Daniel is an excellent philosopher, and he is oriented toward position. N. Pepperell is also a outstanding philosopher, oriented toward movement. The uncertainty principle tells us that we can know either position or movement, but not both.

This is a lovely framing for Carl’s analysis, which I’m almost tempted to quote here in full – instead, I’ll point readers to the original.

Carl’s observations reminded me of another recent discussion of the issue of communicating across broad approaches to philosophy – the conversation sparked by Roman Altshuler’s Do Continental Philosophers Have Arguments?, to which I responded in this post. The focus wasn’t quite the same (I was concentrating on the issue of “embedding”, rather than “refutation”, as a form of critique), but there are still interesting points of contact between the two sets of reflections.

Just a quick update that Daniel has responded over at Dead Voles, clarifying that, while I might have been worried about taxing his patience with my roundabout way of backing into his questions, this was the sort of interaction he had been seeking out:

As a good Wittgensteinian/Hegelian, I’m not inclined to view my remarks this way. As I was careful to say repeatedly, I’ve not read much Marx. I find him hard to read. So, my questions were all asked from, as it were, a very high altitude (or a great distance away, as through a telescope) — they were meant to help me get Pepperell’s/Marx’s project better in view. And I think they more or less served their purpose; they got Pepperell to talk about the sorts of things I’d wanted to hear her talk about in this context (mainly, denying that Marx/Pepperell are trying to carry projects of various sorts that I think are DOA, but which I’d suspected Marx/Pepperell were still trying to make work). Pepperell kept “running criss-cross over the countryside” to make clear what she/Marx was up to, and this was what I was wanting to be done. Rereading my comments, I can see that I wasn’t as clear about this as I’d intended to be: I was self-consciously “derailing” the thread, asking questions that a remark in the post had brought to my mind, but which weren’t questions about the post per se. My apologies for not making this clearer, Pepperell. I’ve been quite happy with how our little back-and-forth has gone.

Daniel’s full response outlines a nice argument on the need to understand a concept by seeing how the concept is put to use – I recommend folks visit the original to see this argument in full, but I can’t resist reproducing the final bit:

To generalize, you can’t have a proper view of any part of anything until you have the whole affair in proper view. But there’s no need for this to cause anxiety; it’s just good ol’ hermeneutics. False, partial, abstract views need not be merely false, merely partial, merely abstract; they can just as well be on the way to understanding what’s what.

I’ve frontpaged Daniel’s blog here before, but for those who don’t yet know it, you can find his writings over at SOH-Dan.

Now I really must ground myself until I have my paper written… 😉

[Note: photo from Andy Bennet, Barry Shank, Jason Toynbee (red.): The Popular Music Studies Reader (Routledge, London 2006), s. s. 231-238, via Excerpter]

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