File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2000/bhaskar.0001, message 20


Subject: Re: BHA: Adorno on style
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 18:47:23 -0500


Hi Mervyn--

> No, I don't believe that hallucination doesn't involve thoughts. But
> Adorno makes it clear that he is talking about genuinely original
> thinking in philosophy, science etc, and this doesn't proceed by
> hallucination, so far as I know; even the 'non-rational', 'transcendent'
> moment - the 'flash of inspiration' etc - seems to me the opposite of
> hallucinatory. I.e. hallucinatory thinking is not to be *identified*
> with the critical thinking Adorno has in mind.
>
> There is no relevant 'snippet' or 'Intro' that I know of. Hallucination?

Actually I'd like to question this a bit--not to be flip!  It's just a
specific aspect: I'm thinking about the role of imagination--of imagery
itself--in science and theory.  Although RB doesn't expand upon the point,
on several occasions he (rightly, in my view) states that images, metaphors,
icons etc lie at the heart of scientific theories, and cannot be wished away
(as empiricism tries to do) as a mere psychological aid.  (Those of you who
know my affection for Peirce will hear that drumbeat in the background....)
With this in mind, I'm not sure it's terribly important where the images
come from.  For example, I remember once hearing how the scientist who
proposed that benzene consisted of a chemical ring came up with that notion
through a dream he had while dozing in front of his fireplace.  Something
like, six little dancing sparks joining into a circle.  Who knows, maybe
hallucination *can* be a font of insight.  But it may be that the
"non-rational" flash of inspiration consists in the introduction of such
images, such that innovative thinking (even in philosophy and science)
proceeds not logically, not illogically, but analogically.

But I don't think this entails "a distance from the continuity of the
familiar," or if it does, the manner in which it does so must be specified
much more, er, clearly--because the process of analogy is one of
understanding the unfamiliar by means of something more *familiar*.  Thus it
is very far from being opposed to and negating the familiar.  One might even
wonder if Adorno's notion of "the familiar" is an unstratified, monovalent
one.  (Of course there is never a "perfect" analogy, since after all the two
objects are not the same thing; sometimes two or more analogies are needed,
as in the old "light consists of particles" and "light consists of waves"
problem.)

On the other hand, there is no question that "thought is always thickly
mediated by experience," a point that DCR fully accepts (as you know).  The
idea that there can be "a pure, clear thought," a value- or theory-neutral
language, belongs to positivism.  But the mediation of thought by experience
should again drive us toward understanding thought, including philosophical
thought, as inherently and necessarily enmeshed with the familiar.  From
this perspective, the notion that thought can negate/oppose the familiar
sounds positivist.

So in rebuttal to Adorno, I'm tempted to say, "Dream on!"  (Sorry, I
couldn't resist.  ;-g  )

Anyway, I don't think anyone in this discussion has proposed that RB produce
"pure, clear thought" in the positivist sense.  Or at least that hasn't been
my intention.  Actually I'm not sure what "pure, clear thought" would look
like--since it cannot exist, even in principle, it's hard to think it!  But
the imagistic leaps seem thin, not adequately fleshed out (so to speak).
Which is *not* to say that they aren't there.  In addition, the "gaps" to
which you referred originally are sometimes rather serious.  For example, RB
speaks in various places of the "social cube," but he does a very poor job
(in my humble opinion) of explaining why that image is appropriate and
viable, why the faces that he proposes are the correct ones, what dynamics
it illuminates, or where the heck the ideology "intersection" fits in.
(Frankly I've never been able to make head or tale of that diagram.)  In
this situation, RB simply fails not only to be persuasive, but I think fails
to even *try* to persuade.  He doesn't give an argument, simply a bunch of
assertions.  As a result I've never been persuaded by this particular
analysis.  (I've offered a different CR conceptualization of the social in
an article, but I won't get into that.)  Creative leaps are wonderful but
still have to be defended.  I think that to expect explanations of such key
matters (and telling "why this makes sense" is not the same as "explicitly
showing all the steps") is scarcely to succumb to a liberal notion of
universal communicability, nor does it in any way sabotage thought--quite
the contrary, since it assumes that the reader will exercise critical
intelligence (rather than expecting the reader to "believe it because I say
it!", which is anti-critical).  But this is now old ground.

As for the "intro" that I referred to, I don't recall, maybe it was a book
review you wrote for Alethia that you later posted here.  Whatever it was, I
remember thinking the style was very good.  Hey, take the compliment and
run.

Cheers, T.

---
Tobin Nellhaus
nellhaus-AT-mail.com
"Faith requires us to be materialists without flinching": C.S. Peirce




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