Both Object and Means of Interpretation

Cavell notes that in Part IV of The Claim of Reason PI had shifted for him from object of interpretation to means of interpretation.  I mention this because of my growing sense of how much of the blog has been devoted to trying to say something about the importance of PI, to reveal something of what and how it is central in my life, and I am chagrined by the error of each trial.  Nonetheless, I continue, even as I fail to satisfy myself in treating PI as an object of interpretation, —I continue unabashedly to use it as a means, even as my primary mean, of interpretation.  That impresses me now as mysterious.  Is it because I am convinced by the rightness of PI beyond my ability to articulate that rightness?  But how should I understand that inarticulate conviction?  Can it be trusted?  Or is it rather that my conviction of its rightness is itself justified for me by my repetitiously endured inability to articulate that rightness, as if being able to articulate it would demote PI from its position as standard for me, so that success would be a form of self-defeat?  Or is it rather because my conviction is that PI requires itself to withstand all of its own judgments, understands itself both as supplying and suffering its own terms of criticism, making itself simultaneously object and source of philosophical criticism?  Or is it rather because only what shows itself as a faithful means of interpretation is surely worth the difficulty of interpreting?

7 responses

  1. I have similar worries and concerns. The worry is only apparent to me when I am pressed about Wittgenstein. Why is he so right? What makes you invest so much in his work? I can only say he is right. If you can’t see that, I don’t know what else to say. I end up using the same examples and games Wittgenstein uses in PI to help support PI. Somehow this seems reasonable to do with Wittgenstein. You use his own work to show how right his work is. This seems, at best, worrisome, and at worst, irrational. I’m not sure what to think.

  2. I guess this is part of the mystery of radiant objects: We know how bright they are, since we live by their light, but we can only truly appreciate their brilliance by looking at the objects they illuminate for us.

  3. I’m wondering about “right.” Right in what respects, in what ways, for what? Right in its depictions of the impulse to philosophy? In its responses to those impulses? Right because it provides moments of peace? Right because it disquiets our peace?

    • I’m not entirely sure how to answer; I’m not exactly sure what you are asking. (My fault, not yours.)

      ‘Rightness’: What I had in mind was both propriety and mastery, the remarkable ability of Wittgenstein to choose and to hit his target(s). But as I said, I can’t detail that rightness, spell it out, in ways that satisfy me. All the things you mention, the depictions of the impulse to philosophy and the responses to those impulses, the provision of moments of peace and of disquiet, seem to me to be among the things or sorts of things I have in mind.

      But I am probably talking right past what you want to know.

  4. Or is it rather because my conviction is that PI requires itself to withstand all of its own judgments, understands itself both as supplying and suffering its own terms of criticism, making itself simultaneously object and source of philosophical criticism?

    I would guess that’s the main reason why. PI (as an object of interpretation) is slippery. How does one pin it down if it’s always going after itself? For me: your description of PI as one’s soul ingathering/dispersing/ingathering etc. is the best I’ve ever heard.

    I also appreciate Rupert Read’s description (pp. 152-3) of PI as therapeutic aikido. A constant re-directing (for the sake of neutralizing) one’s inclination toward unreality.

    To play off the dispersing/ingathering description: I look at PI as a prompter for positive disintegration.

    You worry that perhaps,
    […B]eing able to articulate it would demote PI from its position as standard for me, so that success would be a form of self-defeat[…]
    And I think I hear that. I mean, countless artworks are aids to positive disintegration. If that’s what PI is, if it’s one out of many, then what separates it from the rest? Is it simply better at nudging that process along? If that’s the case, then PI is certainly demoted — qualitatively, if not quantitatively. But what makes PI qualitatively special is that it identifies (and treats) our subjugation to language as the cause of, the real power behind, one’s inability to reintegrate on the higher levels, to find one’s self. I believe that puts a demotion firewall around PI.

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