Thursday, 23 March 2017

self-possession in talk

Last night I saw the Rheingans Sisters in concert. I admired their music. I also admired their sisterliness. I thought: how admirable to be able to love and hate each other as robustly as this! And found myself imagining their robustness to be a function of a lifetime of counter-dependent individuation. Imagining they had to fight for themselves, to continue to manage their relationship and identity and strife, in the midst of their sisterly love.

All of that may have been my fantasy. Yet it prompted a thought about self-possession, thought and conversation I'd like to share. Here's the scenario:
I have a thought. I share it. You understand my words a particular way. I don't notice that you have supplied but a reading of them, but one parsing of their intent and their implications. I start taking myself to have had just the thought you understand me to have had. The conversation that follows rather presupposes this on both sides. Perhaps somewhere along the line I start to feel baffled and lost.
I think this can happen rather a lot. The determinacy of thought does sometimes and somewhat precede its outer expression, but often gets achieved through progressive finessing along the way. And one can easily collapse into someone else's finessing, or into the dead metaphors and tropes that pervade one's culture, and thereby lose the immanent intent of one's drift.

'Immanent... drift': I have in mind the notion that whilst one hasn't thought out in advance just what one meant by what one said, what such words do mean in one's mouth are yet aptly thought of as a part function of the other things one might naturally say in the ambit of this and related discussion when one's interlocutor gives one the space to mentally breath. I'm thinking not at all about what we might wishfully like our words to mean - no overly charitable unaccountability this - but rather about what they do mean, where what they do mean is a function of what else one is disposed to say.

I felt for a moment like saying: '...disposed to say absent a controlling other and absent a hypnotic disposition'. Yet that is my question here. Are the determinacy of my thought's content and my degree of self-possession quite so obviously separate matters? To what extent is the true content of my thought to be understood as aptly indicable only by the least forceful of my interlocutors? Or might my capacity to weather the rough and tumble of conversation, my self-possession, itself be a determinant of my thought's determinacy?

My thought, in short, is that my self-possession and the determinacy of my thought are not two different things. Underlying this is a Heideggerian idea concerning Discourse: that we are thinkers to the extent that we can partake in discussion. That, sure, we can take refuge away from actual conversation and think cleanly and clearly in the privacy of our own studies; thus J S Mill called solitude 'the cradle of thought'. Yet this psychological possibility, I'm suggesting, should not be thought to give the lie to an ontological necessity which is its paradoxical condition of possibility: namely that such private conversation is still only as good as the public conversation in which it could find its realisation.

Why does this matter? It matters to the extent that, if it is right, it shows that we do wrong to hive matters cognitive and matters dynamic off from one another. It strongly suggests that the development of my personality is not entirely separable from the development of my ideas. It ontologically elevates matters personological to a place in the philosophy of mind. It undermines the self-arrogated independence of cognitive science from matters psychoanalytic. Naturally we can think of all sorts of exceptions, real and apparent, to my thesis. We might for example bring to mind the boorishly over-confident person who is unshakeable in his drift. Yet for him we might well wonder whether his apparently determinate ideas really are quite so, since he hardly seems able to attend to the subtleties of our critique, to listen to what our questions regarding his thought mean in our mouths, and so he hardly seems able to render his own thought determinately accountable. Maybe our sense of his cogency was partly a function of our cowedness. Or we might bring to mind the fragile genius. Yet here, and this was all along my point, this genius must be able to stand up in some or other test, in correspondence at least if not in badinage.