For the last week, I’ve been reading Richard Bernstein’s Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis.
Bernstein’s discussion of Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shift, specifically the difficulties that arise in conversation between representatives of incommensurable frameworks, has been valuable.
I’ve had an unusually high number of painful conversations in the last four years, and I’m getting a clearer picture of why this is happening. Inter-paradigmatic conversations are intrinsically intellectually demanding and anxiety-provoking, even for those who love them. I am becoming increasingly aware that my taste for this kind of conversation is not only uncommon, but perverse. It has occurred to me that the sort of reaction I get when I attempt to engage people in these conversations is a natural self-defense of society, similar to a body’s response to a disease.
I can be buddies with nearly anyone, as long as I am polite enough not to try to establish a friendship with him. The catch is, if I sense that someone could be my friend but nonetheless insists on remaining a buddy, I don’t want to associate with him at all.
I’ve been fixated on the doctrine of “the death of the author” since Wednesday. Something about it offends me deeply. It’s burst into a full-blown problem. I have managed to clarify it enough that maybe I’ll get some relief from it.
Here is what I’ve come up with: Refusing to try to understand the author and his intent as fully as possible, and making this refusal a principle, is to formally seal oneself within one’s own paradigmatic horizons.
If this were limited only to the act of reading it would be detestable enough, but I think here reading signifies far more than reading – and extends inevitably to listening – the receptive element of relationship.
For me, relationship itself is reconciliation of paradigms – the enclosing of author and reader, speaker-listener and listener-speaker, within a shared horizon that encompasses both participants. Without this receptivity to the being of another, love is impossible.
What usually happens in relationships (and in conversations) is a sort of “parallel play” where one listener collages an image of the other (or of the other’s idea) out of whatever psychic clippings he has on hand, and tries as hard as possible to ignore the discrepancies between his image and the actuality of the other.
This appears at first glance to be a gentle approximation assembled roughly due to limited time and access to data. Unfortunately, I’ve been stupid enough to test this appearance. What I’ve found is that it is very similar in structure to another of my bête noire concepts, “responsible freedom” – that illusory “freedom” that survives as long as you don’t exercise that freedom as if it were your right. Similarly, these approximate friend-images depend on polite falsifications – “masks”. (One of the more horrible suspicions I’ve entertained is that all freedom is to some degree “responsible freedom, and that all love is to some degree mask.)
What this means is if you are too different from another person, and this person feels dependent on his paradigm for his own sense of security, self-esteem, mastery or purpose, that person is likely to falsify his image of you in order to protect his paradigm. Press more, and he will attack you – with his image of you, sometimes with unexpected ferocity.
This is what I call “spiritual injustice”. Spiritual justice is the will to understand each person from his own perspective; spiritual injustice is the willingness to misrepresent a person to make him fit within one’s own perspective.
Seen from this angle, the doctrine of “the author is dead” is nothing more than making a virtue of systematic spiritual injustice.
This is why the doctrine of “the author is dead” is personally offensive to me: To declare the author dead is tantamount to saying “I do not want to know you.” Without the sincere desire to know the other – however incompletely realized in practice – there is no friendship, and no possibility of love. Weirdly, in my experience it’s most unjust people who see themselves as most “loving”.
Politically “the author is dead” is also dangerous. Consider the spirit that dominates the world right now – Two paradigms: theocratism (the marriage of a dominant machiavellianism and a submissive religiostic fundamentalism) and liberalism (in the commonly used sense) distort one another’s images into strawmen.
Getting back to Bernstein’s book, my hope is that by studying the phenomenon of paradigm shift I can have more justice toward injustice. I believe this is the supreme structure of virtue: the ouroboros. When justice has justice for injustice it is most sublimely just; when love loves the loveless it is the most sublime love; when the rational understands the irrational; beauty sees the beauty in hideousness, etc.
A very tentative hypothesis: Understanding the term “ontological hermeneutics” might require a conversion experience – living through at least once the process of an invisible background becoming a foreground against a new background. Until then, hermeneutics remains an “external” or “Apollinian” study of perspective focusing mostly on effects of context on opinion.
What most people call “Christianity” might very well be a spiritual injustice perpetrated against Christ – and the perpetual process of overcoming that injustice. By that I mean overcoming the injustices against Christ who spoke the parables, fed the hungry and healed the sick at least as much as I mean overcoming the injustice of killing the Christ on the cross. Only Christ can have justice for Christ.