Always Missing Something




There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

[Alfred North Whitehead]
Dialogues, prologue




Reading, viewing and listening involve constant focus-changing, as we sometimes swoop in on a stray particular and sometimes pull back to pan the whole.

Some readings or viewings approach a work head-on, while others sidle shyly up to it. Some cling to its gradual unfolding as a process in time, while others aim for a snapshot or spatial fix. Some slice it sideways, while others peer up at it from ground level.

None of these approaches is correct. There is no correctness or incorrectness about it.

At their most useful, critical concepts are what allow us access to works of art, not what block them off from us. They are ways of getting a handle on them.

A critical concept [...] is a way of trying to do things with [the work of art], some of which work and some of which do not. At its best, it picks out certain features of the work so that we can situate it within a significant context [...] different concepts will disclose different features.

Theorists are pluralists in this respect: there could be no set of concepts which opened up the work for us in its entirety.

[Terry Eagleton]
After Theory, p.93-5

Image: Momus' 'Unreliable Tour Guide'. See here.




Derrida argues [...] that something must always escape in the reading of a text, no matter how subtle or resourceful that reading.

Any commentary that aims to speak the truth of a text will find itself outflanked or outwitted by a supplementary logic which defeats the best efforts of criticism.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 116




The Epimenides paradox. Named after Epimenides of Knossos (c. 600 BC), a possibly mythological Cretan seer, who wrote in a light-hearted poem or song that ‘Cretans are always liars’ – false if true, true if false. It seems that this only started to look like a real problem when examined retrospectively by later Greek writers.

What this paradox [...] illuminates is that any enclosed, self-referring system the left hemisphere comes up with, if taken strictly on its own terms, self-explodes: there is a member of the system that cannot be accommodated by the system.

However much rationalistic systems give the illusion of completeness – and they can be very hard to escape for those who cannot see their weaknesses – they do in fact conceal within themselves the clue of thread that leads out of the maze.

There is always an escape route from the hall of mirrors, if one looks hard enough.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 138-40, 207




'Hermeneutical injustice'

Hermeneutical injustice occurs when someone's experiences are not well understood—by themselves or by others—because these experiences do not fit any concepts known to them (or known to others), due to the historic exclusion of some groups of people from activities, such as scholarship and journalism, that shape which concepts become well known.

To understand this kind of injustice, it is useful to consider a concrete example. In the 1970s, the label "sexual harassment" was introduced to describe something that many people, especially women, had experienced since time immemorial. 

Imagine the year is 1960, before the label was introduced. Consider a woman who experiences sexual harassment in this year. She may have difficulty putting her experience into words. The difficulty that she faces is no accident. It is due (in part) to women's exclusion from full participation in the shaping of the English language. 

Now imagine it is 1980. The woman may now better understand what has happened to her. However, she may struggle to explain this experience to someone else, because the concept of sexual harassment is not yet well known. 

The difficulty she faces is, again, no accident. It is due (in part) to women's exclusion from equal participation in the institutions and industries devoted to making sense of, describing, and explaining human experiences — such as journalism, publishing, and academia. Miranda Fricker argues that women's unequal participation in the shaping of the categories through which we all understand the world makes some women's lives less intelligible, whether to themselves or to others. What is true of women here is also true of other marginalized groups.




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Entertaining Ideas
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Solid Ground
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Walk a Straight Line
Testing new opinions and courting new impressions
Boxed Off
Don't Commit to It
Hold it still 
Shades of gray
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity
The Dangers of Dogmatism
Postmodern Soup
Solid Ground 
Arrows pointing at Arrows
Short Cuts