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Monday, April 15, 2013

Literary, epistemological, ideological

My theses on exceptionalism are dividing up into these categories.

Literary: an examination of the fundamentally poetic and literary qualities of this discourse.

Epistemological: how to we know they are valid, true?

Ideological: What is their imaginative relation to reality itself?


Thomas said...

W.V.O. Quine used to distinguish between the "ontology" and the "ideology" of a theory. Of the latter, he said he was giving a "good sense to a bad word". A theory's ontology is the set of objects that it applies to. A theory's ideology determines the ideas that can be expressed in it. Two theories can have the same ontology but different ideologies.

I imagine you could have two theories that both apply to all (and only) "Spanish poems". But one of them might be exceptionalist and the other not (or there might be two different exceptionalisms). The difference would amount to what ideas (about the same poems) they allowed you to express.

Jonathan said...

Could you explain that to me? Maybe tell me where in Quine to find it? I might be out of my philosophical depth.

Thomas said...

Quine makes the distinction in his "Notes on the Theory of Reference" (reprinted in From a Logical Point of View, pp. 130ff.).

I guess my question is whether exceptionalism sometimes excludes or includes cultural objects for consideration, that non-exceptionalist approaches don't. (Or even whether different exceptionalisms include and exclude different objects.)

Quine use the following sentence as an example:

"the real number x is a whole number"

He says that two theories of real numbers (which share the same ontology, namely, all the real numbers) may differ in that one of them can express this idea and another can't.


"The poet NN has duende"

One theory of Spanish poetry might include NN (a Spanish poet) in the ontology but be unable to express this idea, while another might be able to. (The first might have to resort to something relativistic like: "The poet NN is said to have duende".)

But exceptionalism might also play out at the level of "reality itself", not just what we can imagine about it. So a poet might simply not count as "really" Spanish, or a particular style of poetry or music might be excluded. That would constitute an "ontological" difference between the theories.

Jonathan said...

My point is that questions (or answers to questions) like "What makes American poetry American?' or "what is the vital dwelling place of the Spaniards?" are not susceptible to validation outside the narratives that they presuppose.

Yet theories of exceptionalism have real effects in the world, even if they are based on aspirational fictions. The ontological effect happens when people start to act as though the fictional narrative were true.

Thomas said...

Yes, you get me thinking about Pound's remark about "American Chemistry". Exceptionalism produces a list (national) "masterpieces" that do not measure up against a more universal standard.

So the system of literature in which Don Quixote is a great book is very different under a theory of Spanish exceptionalism than under a cosmopolitan theory of world literature (or even a theory of European exceptionalism). The ontology is just different (but only after the effects of the national narrative take place).

Jonathan said...

Right. The Spaniards do talk about the inferiority of Spanish science. The difference is that DQ represents Spain within "universal" literature.

Jonathan said...

I'd also say that concepts of universal literature are just as literary and invented, culturally constructed, with no ontological standing at all.

Thomas said...

I agree with that last point. To say that a theory has an ontology is only to say that posits a set of objects, that it assumes certain kinds of thing exist. Two theories then may differ in their ontological assumptions, and yet be equally constructed. I was just trying to come up with a non-exceptionalist theory of literature.