Saturday, March 28, 2020

Informal Exchange On Phenomenology, Narrative As Reification And The Idea Of Theme In Literature


‪What you say here accords with what I’ve read and what I understand ph to mean. And yours is a nice, terse account of it. My abiding problem is that I don’t really get it, its utility, how it has an insight beyond what we commonly do in engaging experience. I see a flower. I don’t immediately bring in what I understand of botany—nothing much as it happens. I look at it as it appears to me and for as long as I like, take in as much as I want to about it, its colour, its elaborate delicacy, its fragrance, and then later in my repose it or a field of them may dance before my inward eye. Isn’t art the “science” of how the world we live in appears to us? What does ph have to tell us about engaging the appearing world that we didn’t know already or that’s different from what art reflects and illuminates, I wonder. I’m not suggesting there’s no answer to these questions, just that I’m having a hell of a time understanding one. I’m talking to a few people about the same issue. And from them,  not you, I’m getting a lot of verbiage that doesn’t make much sense to me.‬


‪I've never read more than a few pages and it seemed incomprehensible.  I took my examples from an article and my general sense likewise.  ‬

‪Your doggedness in wanting to know what's going on is pretty admirable. ‬

‪ Maybe because I had to slog through Derrida, and such I have lost patience.  I would get angry lecturing on Derrida because every other word was an equivocation that even I could see through.  I ended up thinking that it was a lousy and perverse kind of poetry, a kind of intellectual fiction building out concepts rather than characters.  ‬

‪Freud too.  His ego, id and superego are personifications so that the ego is caught between the demands of the id and superego like people in a play.  This is what some intellectuals do.  ‬

‪A great literary theorist said that Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit is a novel with Spirit (Geist) as the hero in which the hero comes to be aware of himself at the end but having had to go through many stages.  A kind of non-divine divine comedy.  I look at these systems (Freud, Marx, etc) as our epic poems. ‬

‪And now you might see why I don't like "themes," for students take them to be the reality behind the characters and I don't think there is any.  The characters, fictional though they be are the reality seen through a temperament as Zola said.  (The theme idea came out of nowhere, I had never seen the connection between it and other interpretive methods, but it is the best, if one must, because of its modesty and it is not a story itself but the (alleged) thread that ties the parts together, and there I just think it's the plot, but since stories have pervasive concerns (but not "a" theme) and theme and concern kind of mingle, it's way better than the systems with their own drama that takes over the story, just as the cultural people make the social narrative (left, right, classes, etc.) take over each story of individuals.  Grrr. ‬


‪Such a great, rich note, thanks for it.‬

‪I agree ph seems incomprehensible, and I’d add what is comprehensible seems incoherent to me insofar as it seeks to say something new.‬

‪My doggedness has a good and bad side. It also informed my lawyering. Good in being stubborn and wanting to wrestle things down and bad in not knowing when enough is enough.‬

‪Derrida is another guy. My experience reading him was different than my few brief excursions into Heidegger. I thought with Derrida that I was understanding him till I inevitably reached a point where I felt like I was drowning in words or had overeaten the word salad such that it lost all taste for me.‬

‪Aren’t Freud’s id, ego and superego reifications? And aren’t narratives that are meant as true accounts but are indifferent to contrary evidence  (for example, George Zimmerman shooting Trayvon Martin fits within the historic American pattern of white men killing young black men—pace Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “They want our bodies”) reifications as well? They’re as opposed to narratives meant to be fictions. That’s one thing about reification, it purports to be the truth. ‬

‪As for themes, I’ve always thought in our disagreement about this, you seem to exclude a middle. Why can’t a story evince an idea without losing the discrete, concrete reality of the characters and the particulars of the story? The presence of the idea might be self conscious for some writers and arise simply organically for others. ‬

‪We have different views for example, about Huckleberry Finn. I think in it there’s a pervasive theme about social formation that makes a lot of the story pull together. And if I was writing a paper about the novel I’d explore and expand that. It needn’t be universally accepted to provide a rich perspective on the novel. Yet, and this is my point, it may be my favourite novel because anytime I look at any page of it—it’s one of the very few books I’ve reread— I simply fall in love with Huck as a character, with his sensibility, and am full of amazed wonder at how Twain etched in such a wonderful young boy. Theme and character here, theme and plot or story, needn’t and don’t exclude each other.‬

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