Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Inverted World

2 posts down, you'll see that the internets have declared my blog to be all but unreadable. This is fine. Still, I've decided to express an opinion on jargon.

The continental tradition has built up a reputation for impossible jargon and vulgar relativism. They're the postmodernists, and if you write something like they do, your blog's reading level will be College (Postgrad). Incomprehensible and completely impractical, it seems. Nothing about it accords with common sense. Another pretty common accusation is that the jargon is used just so that the author can fool the readers into thinking the author is smarter than he really is.

There are a few things here. First, the tyranny of common sense. The insistence that philosophical jargon is bizarre and counter-intuitive amounts to the insistence that all thinking be common thinking. In any other area, however, the common is the mediocre. Pennies are common. Michael Crichton novels are common. On the other side, the excellent is the uncommon. Common sense is always mediocre, while uncommon sense at least as the opportunity to become excellent, or path-breaking, or truly creative.

The second thing is the insistence that thinking be practical. That we must study reality in order to know how to interact with it in the best way - morality, knowledge, politics, etc. However, this subordinates all thinking to a factory-like process. Thought becomes a product that enters the market place, and is consumed like a bottle of coke. The problem is that the commodification or instrumentalization of any human effort - like thinking - immediately forces thinking to become a popular product. Any sort of individuality is stripped away from it. To insist that thinking be practical is to miss the basic nature of thinking, which, at its best, actually lies prior to the theory/praxis distinction. It's not a product, it's a way of being in the world. In the jargon, its an ethos, a particular way of "dwelling."

So thinking should neither be common nor "practical." I think this is partly why Hegel called philosophy "the inverted world" - everything appears upside down. And this, to me, is the great merit of the entire project - to be able to turn one's world on its head.

To turn one's world on its head, to create concepts or find distinctions, to think in an uncommon way, one needs tools adequate for the job. The tools are the words, and sometimes the words are difficult. It is entirely worth the effort, though. It's a strangely exhilarating experience to reflect on the temporal structure of the moment of decision, but such reflection can only take place when one has a particular vocabulary and is willing to leave behind common sense.

One should always be able to step back into the "real world," of course, and discuss matters with friends and family that have no particular interest in the jargon. At this point, if one wishes to avoid the inane repetition of common sense, all one can do is fall back on the ethos one has developed through thinking. It's a bit like having a new common sense, a new default way of looking at things. This can be expressed without the jargon, and hopefully some communication can take place.

1 comment:

Jamie A. Grant said...

To use the common jargon: "Cool."