- freely available
Religions 2017, 8(7), 125; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8070125
“I am not a religious man, but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.”—Ludwig Wittgenstein (Rhees 1984, p. 94).
“It was a typical day at the shrine around what many believe is the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem’s Old City. A Greek Orthodox choir sang inside a room facing the baroque structure. But the voices were drowned out when chanting Armenian priests and monks circling the shrine raised theirs. ‘Sometimes they punch each other,’ Farah Atallah, a church guard wearing a fez, observed with a shrug.”—“The New York Times,” 7 April, 2016
2. “Thus Should Have Been Our Travels:/Serious, Engravable.”
- The eye drops, weighted, through the lines
- the burrin made, the lines that move apart
- like ripples above sand,
- dispersing storms, God’s spreading fingerprint,
- and painfully, finally, that ignite
- in watery prismatic white-and-blue.
- Why couldn’t we have seen
- this old Nativity while we were at it?
- —the dark ajar, the rocks breaking with light,
- an undisturbed, unbreathing flame,
- colorless, sparkless, freely fed on straw,
- and, lulled within, a family with pets,
- —and looked and looked our infant sight away.
- The Nativity is the scene of the Incarnation, that moment when
- the Word is made flesh; Christmas morning, that moment when
- the divine takes human form and so becomes present in the world.
- This is specifically here, as Bishop imagines it, a scene of revelation.
- That wonderful phrase, “the dark ajar”—as if the shadow were a
- door and you could enter it; “the rocks breaking with light”—that
- which is solid opening. What emerges is a flame, a sign of spirit.
- But notice how in this light, the sacred is secularized. What
- Bishop finds there is not the holy family but “a family with pets.”
- There is nostalgia here, in this poem, poignant and powerful; that
- is, a nostalgia not so much for the holy as for the family once
- constituted by their relation to the holy, the family with pets but also
- the family that gathered around the book to look at them—a family
- gathered through religious practice, who might then have “looked
- and looked our infant sight away.” In that, looking expresses a kind
- of primal longing for community and for human connection—a
- longing expressed through looking, importantly for Bishop, which
- is really what the poet is doing in “The Map,” I think, in the way
- that she invites us into her act of looking in that poem. Here Bishop’s
- nostalgia is sad but also resigned. This Nativity is a scene that can
- be remembered and looked at from afar but not entered into,
- as the belief system that it comes out of and refers to can be looked
- at from afar but not entered into.22
- Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
- Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
- Showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
- Where weeds hang from the simple blue to green.
- Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under…?
- In light of the title “The Map,” imagine that you are looking at a map: “it” (let’s say the area representing land) is shaded green. At land’s end (perhaps differently shaded), there—are those shadows, or shallows? See them alternately as such.
- Now, given the ambiguity of the first line (“Land lies in water”), imagine that you are looking at actual land in water with those same characteristics and possibilities.
- Now toggle back and forth in imagination if you will (if you can) between seeing that topography with those characteristics now as real, now as mapped.
- Re-read the “it” that is “shadowed green,” first as (real or represented) green land and then green water—and then as shading (cross-hatching, say) on a map.
- Now toggle between seeing real or represented land-in-water and seeing the land as “lifting the sea from under.”
- See the shading in line two as shadows cast (say) by a coastal cliff, then as dusky shallows of surf hugging the coast; now alternate those images first as mapped, then as real.
3. Aspect Perception: Continuous, Changing, Blindness to
3.1. Seeing-as: Wittgenstein’s “investigation of the [philosophical] ‘foundations’” (PI, II § 372)
- I very often draw your attention to certain differences, e.g.,
- in these [university] classes I tried to show you Infinity is
- not so mysterious as it looks. What I’m doing is also per-
- suasion. If someone says ‘There is not a difference,’ and I
- say ‘There is a difference’ I am persuading, I am saying
- ‘I don’t want you to look at it like that.’”29
- Two uses of the word “see” [sehen]. The one: “What do you
- see there?”—I see this (and then a description, a drawing, a
- copy). The other: “I see a likeness [Ahnlichkeit] in these two
- faces”—let the man to whom I tell this be seeing the faces as
- clearly as I do myself. What is important is the categorical
- difference between the two “objects” of sight.
- it can also be called the expression of thought.—If you are
- looking at the object, you need not think of it; but if you
- are having the visual experience expressed by [an] excla-
- mation [registering one’s seeing-as], you are also thinking
- of what you see.//Hence the flashing of an aspect on us
- seems half visual experience, half thought”.
3.2. Seeing-as: “The fat old guide made eyes” (l. 44)
- Suspension (See/consider/think/imagine N first as X, now as Y): Large Bad Picture: “it’s hard to say what brought them [ships] there, commerce or contemplation” (l. 32); The Armadillo: “it’s hard/to tell them [fire balloons] from the stars—/planets, that is—the tinted ones” (ll. 12–14); Paris, 7 a.m.: “It is like introspection/to stare inside [the courtyard], or retrospection” (ll. 13–14); The Monument: “It may be solid, may be hollow” (l. 70), and “It is the beginning of a painting,/ a piece of sculpture, or poem, or monument” (ll. 76–77); From the Country to the City: “shining wires seem to be flying sidewise./Are they birds?” (l. 22); The Gentleman of Shalott: “But he’s in doubt/as to which side’s in or out” (ll. 24–25); Arrival at Santos: “and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains” (l. 3).
- Recorded Realization (See how what was seen/heard as X is Y): In the Waiting Room: “Suddenly, from inside,/came an oh! of pain/—Aunt Consuelo’s voice—…/What took me/completely by surprise/ was that it was me:/ my voice, in my mouth;” Crusoe in England: “The folds of lava, running out to sea/ would hiss. I’d turn. And then they’d prove/ to be more turtles;” The Bight: “how sheer the water is/…Absorbing, rather than being absorbed;” Songs for a Colored Singer: “and what curious flower or fruit/ will grow from that conspiring root?//Fruit or flower? It is a face./Yes, a face.”
- Meditation or Wonder: (See/contemplate a divided X as unified, a unified Y as divided): In the Waiting Room: “What similarities—/boots, hands, the family voice…/held us all together/or made us all just one?” Poem: “His barn backed on that meadow. There it is,/titanium white, one dab.”
- Contrariness, Contradiction (seeming or real), or Confusion: (See X as alter-X): “ticking loud on one stalled second;” The Bight: “The birds are outsize;” Twelfth Morning; or What You Will: “He’s [the horse is] bigger than the house. The force of/ personality, or is perspective dozing?” Crusoe in England: “I’d think that if they [volcanoes] were the size/I thought volcanoes should be, then I had/become a giant;” “I’d dream of things/like slitting a baby’s throat, mistaking it/for a baby goat;” A Summer’s Dream: “The giant with the stammer/was the landlady’s son;” At the Fishhouses: “up the long ramp/descending into the water;” The Bight: “awful but cheerful;” Arrival at Santos: “a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brilliant rag./So that’s the flag” (ll. 14–15).
4. “Why Couldn’t We Have Seen?”
- For there exists a great divide between those, on the one side,
- who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less
- or more coherent, in terms of which they understand, think and
- feel—a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which
- alone all that they are and say has significance—and, on the other
- hand, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even
- contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for
- some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or
- aesthetic principle.
- gifts and achievements are one thing, and his beliefs, and
- consequently his interpretation of his own achievement,
- another;…consequently his ideals have led him, and those
- whom his genius for persuasion has taken in, into a systematic
- misinterpretation of what he and others were doing or should be
- After twenty years I am unable to exhaust the line ‘And looked
- and looked our infant sight away,’ and I suspect that its secret
- has very much to do with the secret of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry.
- Looking, or attention, will absorb the object [along] with its
4.1. “…‘and’ and ‘and’.”
- The broken, randomly spliced rhythm, the discreteness of its
- sentences, as well as the words “often” and “always,” suggest the
- episodic quality of the moments chronicled in the illustrations.
- They tell a story, apparently senseless, and in no particular order,
- which the poem later calls the story of “God’s spreading fingerprint.”55
- Anyway, that’s one way of looking at it.
- Not the only way, though.
4.2. “When dwelt upon, they all resolve themselves.”
- Sometimes, when we perceive things, we notice we are crossing
- back and forth between an inner world and a world out there, as
- if in a peculiar way perceptions resembled gifts exchanged back
- and forth between persons. Such mental activity is both inside
- and outside at the same moment, while we the perceivers stand
- between. Surely, if perceptions are neither active nor passive, they
- must acquire a grammatical form for their expression, a middle
- voice of some kind.”
- It was somewhere near there
- I saw what frightened me most of all:
- A holy grave, not looking particularly holy.
4.3. “Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it!”
- looked at it long enough to memorize it,
- our years apart. How strange. And it’s still loved,
- or its memory is (it must have changed a lot).
- Our visions coincided—“visions” is
- too serious a word—our looks, two looks:
- art “copying from life,” and life itself,
- life and the memory of it so compressed
- they’ve turned into each other. Which is which?
5. “—And Looked and Looked Our Infant Sight Away”
5.1. “And at St. Peter’s…And at Volubilis…And in the brothels…”
- Everything only connected by “and” and “and.”
- Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges
- of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)
- Open the heavy book. Why couldn’t we have seen
- this old Nativity while we were at it?
- —the dark ajar, the rocks breaking with light,
- an undisturbed, unbreathing flame,
- colorless, sparkless, freely fed on straw,
- and, lulled within, a family with pets,
- —and looked and looked our infant sight away?
- This set down
- This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?
- There was a Birth, certainly,
- We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
- But had thought they were different; this Birth was
- Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
- “Open the book” (l. 66) as a reluctant self-direction—reluctant, because skeptical of discovery; self-direction (or whatever), because she does still feel nostalgic for something.
- “The gilt rubs off the edges” (l. 66) as the modernist’s ironic self-reminder of the weighty cost (guilt) of such belief.
- “Open the heavy book” (l. 68) as aggravated insistence: heavy, in the sense of burdensome (connected with the earlier “the eye drops, weighted” (l. 26)). Seeing such things cannot be sustained: they either defeat vision by dissipating in a “watery, prismatic white-and-blue” haze (l. 31); or, being senseless, they finally deserve being mischievously transformed into the speaker’s witty “family with pets.”
- The list of images—the dark ajar, the unbreathing flame, the straw, like the counterpart list of images in section 1, of lines, burrin, ripples above sand, God’s spreading fingerprint—hear these as if she is trying (unsuccessfully) to will seeing a religious aspect, but effecting instead merely
- Little more than a colorful haze (l. 31) or a charming, new aspect on an iconic scene (“family with pets”). After which, hear
- “—and looked and looked our infant sight away” (l. 74) as self-interruption from that failure, and as wishful thinking that echoes (Bromwich again) “her wishfully innocent question”: wishfully, because the speaker is not childishly innocent; question, because she still desires what she has been unable to enter into.
5.2. “...a page made up/of several scenes arranged”
- I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition
- of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not
- which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating,
- “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance
- was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it
- was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor
- could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the
- torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a
- command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon.”74
- [T]here are no direct and positive things that man can do
- to get in touch with the immeasurable, for this must be
- immensely beyond anything that man can grasp with his
- mind or accomplish with his hands or his instruments.
- What man can do is to give his full attention and energies
- to bring clarity and order into the totality of the field of
- What makes a subject difficult to understand—if it is significant,
- important—is not that some special instruction about abstruse
- things is necessary to understand it. Rather it is the contrast between
- the understanding of the subject and what most people want to
- see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become
- the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not
- a difficulty of the intellect, but of the will.
- We are faced further with the fact that the Word of God in his
- sensible human nature is at first, like other men, an infant, who
- does not speak (infans is Latin for nonspeaker). A long-standing
- heritage of profound meditation on this theme of the “unspeaking
- Word,” the Verbum Infans, runs from Augustine and other patristic
- sources through the medieval theologians and a nativity sermon
- by Lancelot Andrewes in the year 1611 to T. S. Eliot’s lines in
- Gerontion, “The word within a word, unable to speak a word,/
- swaddled with darkness.” When the Word does speak, the words of
- the Word, the sayings of Jesus, themselves become the core of the
- good news, the Gospel, part of the Bible—which is as a whole the word
- of God already. Acceptance of God’s kingdom, which these sayings
- of Jesus announce, is dependent upon hearing, directly or indirectly:
- “Fides ex auditu”—Faith comes through hearing—Paul declares (Rom. 10:17).
Conflicts of Interest
|BB||Blue and Brown Books|
|CR||(Stanley Cavell) The Claim of Reason|
|CV||Culture and Value|
|LC||Lectures and Conversations|
|PI||Philosophical Investigations (rev. 4th ed.)|
|RPP||Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1|
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Emphasis added. (cf. Hollander (1988)). For excellent recent theorizing on many issues relevant to such criticism, see (Altieri 2015), only after this paper was finished did I come across (Altieri 2013). See also (Warner 2016). Yet another such theorist-critic is David Bromwich; see for example, (Bromwich 1989, p. 268): emphasis added: “[T]he best aphorisms there are on interpretation itself as a perspective come from the [Philosophical] Investigations…Criticism resembles the making of a picture by seeing something as something else.”
“The rhetoric/poetry opposition...is clearly a case of modernist paradox: a binary opposition that covers complexity with a façade of simple clarity.”
“The medieval trivium is a much sounder approach to the study of language and gives a much more adequate framework for the philosophy of language than its all-too-fashionable neglect might lead one to suppose.”
“Thinking the poem implies such things as taking the poem as an occasion for thought; thinking through the poem; being aware of one’s thoughts as one reads the poem; looking for some logic in the poem; allowing the poem to trigger certain lines of thought; looking in the poem for what Coleridge called its ‘implicit metaphysic;’ asking if what one is experiencing is Heidegger’s ‘what is called thinking;’ thinking about whether the poem is getting one to think” (Fletcher 1991, pp. 11–12). Hacker (1990) reminds us that “[t]he verb ‘to think’ is multi-faceted, being connected with opining (‘I think we ought to…’), believing (‘I think she is in the garden’), conceiving, imagining, fancying, and envisaging.”…reflecting, musing, meditating…as well as to deliberating, speculating, reasoning, and inferring.” For a good discussion of Wittgenstein on the concept of thinking, see (Hertzberg 2007). See also (Ellis 1981). cf. (RPP, II, 216): “If one also includes working thoughtfully, without any talking in our consideration, one sees that our concept ‘thinking’ is a widely ramified one.” cf. Hacker, Meaning and Mind, p. 154, on the “adverbial” aspect of thought.
cf. LC, 8: “What belongs to a language game is a whole culture.”
What I mean here is hinted at in (Roberts 2013, p. 56): “Riddles for the Anglo-Saxons were not any old word-game or puzzling question; they were rituals, poems, a canon of questions about the world and ways of seeing that world.” See also Altieri (2015, p. 131) who is interested in how the art work “points toward future uses rather than ideas of capturing some abiding core of wisdom.” The contemporary Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (2016, p. 22) is downright Bishopian when he explains that “My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs.”
Bishop to Stevenson, 5 December 1964, emphasis added.
51: I mean “fundamental models” in the way Wittgenstein speaks of Freud in LC, 51: “What he [Freud] has done is to propound a new myth. The attractiveness of the suggestion, for instance, that all anxiety is a repetition of the anxiety of birth trauma, is just the attractiveness of a mythology. ‘It is all the outcome of something that happened long ago.’ Almost like referring to a totem.”
E.g., Aristotle’s On Interpretation, Poetics, Rhetoric, or Ferdinand de Saussure’s Cours Linguistique. cf. (Sloane and Jost 2012).
“To characterize such works as I have done is to insist that all medieval arts were conceived and perceived essentially as rhetoric, whether they took the form of poems or paintings or buildings or music.”
This comment characterizes an important aspect of what has been called Wittgenstein’s “linguistic Kantianism” or “transcendental lingualism.” The rough idea here is that he looks to derive non-foundational conditions for the possibility of phenomena not in Kantian categories but as founded in a this-worldly pragmatics of language, experience, and action; cf. (Hacker 2013, p. 13): “The a priori nature of things is fixed by the sense-determining rules for the use of expressions signifying things. To suppose that things, their properties and relations, have an a priori nature in any other sense, is to fall victim to an illusion.” In my judgment Charles Altieri (Reckoning with the Imagination, 64 passim), otherwise so brilliant on rhetorical exemplification, misleadingly overstates Wittgenstein’s commitment to binary “oppositions” like “knowledge” and “understanding.”
Analytically distinguishable, grammar and rhetoric holistically interpenetrate in practice, and both emphasize the following: (i) the contingency of our world and the priority of the possibilities of words and texts over de-contextualized conceptual problems; (ii) the values, commitments and purposes of specific speakers and audience-readers as these show up not only in ordinary language used in standard (specialized or non-specialized) ways, but in ordinary, non-standard efforts (such as poetry, criticism, philosophy) beyond immediate information and other pressing needs; (iii) respect for the perspectivalism that belongs to words and texts in following established concepts and grammatical rules, but also in projecting them anew in novel ways; (iv) posing words and deeds as two sides of the same phenomenon; and (v) bringing language to use to find functional answers to new questions and problems. cf. (a) (Garver and Lee 1994, p. 62): “Wittgenstein…includes logic and rhetoric in what he calls ‘grammar’;” and 63 on rhetoric: “it is more useful to think of rhetoric as the general study of aptness and inaptness in the use of various sorts of expressions in various sorts of circumstances. Thus rhetoric is not a matter of pure form but has to do with the relation of language to the world (that is, to life) through the relation of linguistic expressions to the specific circumstances in which their use makes sense. A remark of (Wittgenstein 1980) in his Last Writings might serve as a motto for rhetoric in this broad sense: ‘Words have meaning only in the stream of life’.” (b) Nowadays it is still overlooked that such robust possibilities for discovery and reflection were commonly part of poetry and criticism from the ancients up through the eighteenth century, when even an empirically-minded philosopher like David Hume could write that “in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the finer arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment; and a false relish may frequently be corrected by argument and reflection.” (On Hume’s method as rhetorical, see Crane 1967). By Hume’s time it had become awkward to speak this way, since his epistemic Enlightenment orientation to atomistic sensations and ideas, and the faculty psychology built with them, resisted blending or even analogizing discrete concepts like “image” and “idea,” “fact” and “value,” “poetry” and “rhetoric,” “thinking” and “feeling” and “imagining.” With the various linguistic and other turns over the last two centuries, however, it is once again a commonplace that thinkers across intellectual disciplines blur genres, ideas and methods at will, and that once self-contained bodies of knowledge increasingly locate their grounding “environmentally” in practical action in situated words and deeds. Depending on the circumstances, moreover, a contextual or operational approach elevates whatever virtues it finds it needs at the time: clarity and Wittgensteinian “perspicuity” certainly, but defined to fit the language game that is being played.
Many authors might be cited for support and clarification of terms like “existential,” “pragmatic,” “operational,” “linguistic” and “contextualist;” for two interesting but neglected authors, see (Pepper 1942, pp. 232–33): “The [most basic] contextualistic categories are derived from what we may call the total given event,” that is, an act within its contexts. Since contexts change, what a given act is said to be will change: “acts or events are all intrinsically complex, composed of interconnected activities with continuously changing patterns” (pp. 232–33). In many philosophic orientations or “pictures,” “one can pretty clearly distinguish categories” (p. 234), but far less easily in a contextualism, where categories may be distinguished for some purposes and assimilated for others; and “Contextualist Criticism” in (Pepper 1945), see also (Garver and Lee 1994, pp. 152–53).
See: (The Elizabeth Bishop Centenary 2010) “The directly identifiable primary source for this poem still exists: the Bulmer Family Bible, given to Bishop’s maternal grandparents as a wedding present in 1871 by Mary Elizabeth Black Hutchinson Gourley, Elizabeth Hutchinson Bulmer’s mother. Its publishing information includes: New Devotional and Practical Pictoral Family Bible, Chicago: The National Publishing Co., 1870.”
See (Warnock 1976, pp. 46–48), where art is a bona fide intellectual instrument—a “showing-forth” and an exemplification.
What Margaret McGowan has said of Montaigne in (McGowan 1974, p. 69), that he was himself a paradoxicalist and a great admirer of Cicero’s Paradoxa, applies to Bishop: “[Paradox] involves the reader in the thinking process…it flattered intelligence,…stimulating further speculation. Essentially the paradox is open-ended: it teases the mind by running counter to normal assumptions and expectations; and it rarely seems (on the surface at any rate) to solve anything, but rather invites the reader into the thought, so that he might carry its implications further and make up his mind for himself.” The speaker’s list of her travels is itself a rhetorical paradox: an epideictic display (and so far forth a “praise”) of that which is imputed, before and after, to be un-praiseworthy—what the tradition of paradox calls “rhopological” images of ordinary things.
(Hammer 2017). cf. CV, 64e.
cf. (Ghirri 2016, p. 114) speaking of technological transformations in photography: “Today the inside and the outside are both crossed by ever faster and more frequent visual stimuli, and these new technologies have blown the circuits of representation.”
Like the term language game, Wittgenstein’s many aspect-concepts are intended to elude straightforward definition. For now Stephen Mulhall’s observation may suffice: “When an aspect of a picture [or text] dawns, we recognize that a new kind of description of the perceived figure might be given, and we see it in those terms; when we continuously perceive that aspect, we take the status of the figure as the particular kind of thing…for granted…In this sense, aspects are on a different level to colour and shape [or, say, the sound of words] because the latter describe parts or properties of objects rather than objects considered as a whole;” (Mulhall 1990, pp. 28–29), emphasis added.
The question here is how much (how many specifics) one is to imagine in seeing (say) a “likeness” between two faces, or in seeing a shaded space as (say) “shadows.” I address this below.
cf. Edward Minar (quoting Rush Rhees), “The Philosophical Significance of Meaning-Blindness,” in William Day and (Krebs 2010): “‘seeing something as something’ [is] concerned with the principal theme of the Investigations, which is the relation between language and logic’;” and Norton Batkin (“Aesthetic Analogies,” in Day and Krebs, eds., p. 24): “questions of our capacity [for] ‘noticing [seeing] an aspect’—and topics of experience and interpretation—are central concerns of aesthetics and criticism.”
By far the best recent account of how these two concepts cross is (Altieri 2009, pp. 420–41): Altieri identifies “how artists and writers emphasize sheer self-reflexive mastery of the medium as the vehicle for a whole variety of purposes” (p. 425).
Lectures and Conversations, p. 27. I use the idea of “persuasion” purposely, as does Wittgenstein regarding changing another’s mind about fundamental issues: cf. OC, pp. 611–612:”When two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic. I said I would ‘combat’ the other man—but wouldn’t I give him reasons? Certainly; but how far do they go? At the end of reasons comes persuasion.” See also related essays by Demos (1932) and Rescher (2011).
cf. (Kemp 2016, p. 21): “This picking out and exaggerating equates to traditional rhetoric, which involves the effective demonstration of the true or plausible.” See also See also Charles Altieri, Reckoning, p. 134, on treating the example as having to take the place of the concept. And (Stafford 1999).
cf. PI, II §254: “The concept of an aspect is related to the concept of imagination. In other words, the concept ‘Now I see it as…’ is related to ‘Now I am imagining that’.”
PI, II §216: “Only someone conversant with the shapes of the two animals can ‘see the duck-rabbit aspect’.” Thus Wittgenstein’s solution to the paradox is not an inner event but rather the outward criteria we use—a larger framework of practices and our mastery of techniques we tap whenever we undertake pictures or words. Warnock, Imagination, p. 46, puts this in Kantian terms: “in so far as an object is seen to have a specifiable purpose outside itself, as a tool has a specific purpose or function…, the judgment of that object cannot be a purely aesthetic judgment…Its [aesthetic] purpose must, if it is considered as an aesthetic object, be internal to itself.”
In the present case the internal relation may be one of similarity of expression or any number of things—analogy of how parts are related to other parts, analogy of functions, of ratios of more and less, of scale, of strength, and so on. Such relations are (what Aristotle and others in the rhetorical tradition meant by, and what are now often called) “formal topics” useful for heurisis and ingenium (discovery/invention). They are also similar to what Heidegger in the philosophical tradition calls “formal indications;” see (Mulhall 2015).
Minar, p. 185. These barriers can be those of character and will: see part 5 below.
Wittgenstein eschews any physiological or psychological explanations, for example, that one’s eyes are moving in certain patterns, or that some “inner organization” of the visual impression changes mentally, noting that “[o]ur problem is not a causal but a conceptual one” (PI, II § 214e; and PI, II § 183; 338; 365, 366, 371). Stephen Mulhall treats this matter in (Mulhall 1990; 2001).
Wittgenstein applies the concept of “interpretation” less capaciously than others do; for him the more that our understanding a problem or situation involves hesitation, dispute, choice among alternative solutions, sticking-points, confusion or uncertainty, the need to persuade self and others regarding what is at issue, the more it involves “interpretation.” In the absence of these, we just “see” or “take” the situation for what it is; see (PI, II § 216, 261, 267, 334); and (Mulhall 1990, pp. 28–29): “When an aspect dawns, we recognize that a new kind of description [is being] given, and we see it in those terms; when we continuously perceive that aspect, we take the status of the figure as the particular kind of thing…for granted.”
cf. RPP, 1, 504; OC, p. 94.
(Mulhall 2001, p. 159) points out three characteristics of the aspect-sighted: first, in seeing a representative picture they do not see it “in terms of an arrangement of marks” in need of decoding or interpretation, but rather already just get what it depicts or is of. Second, they grasp what the picture depicts, and refer to it much as they do to other representations of rabbits or ducks. And third, they respond to the picture-objects in much the way that one might respond to the real objects themselves. For example, we might characterize the picture-rabbit as cute, or as alertly questioning, or by tickling its tiny little picture-nose.
cf. (Pippin 2011, p. 25): “[W]hile Hegel certainly accepts that the physiological components of perception are distinguishable from the norm-following or interpretive elements, he also insists that the physiological and normative aspects are inseparable in perception itself. (As in Heidegger’s phenomenology, there are not two stages to perception, as if a perception of a white rectangular solid is then ‘interpreted as’ a refrigerator. What we see is a refrigerator.).”
See (Mulhall 2001, pp. 157–58): “Wittgenstein’s detailed, ramifying discussion of the various phenomena…embodies a set of reminders about our relation to pictures, photographs, and drawings which together form the necessary background against which the seemingly paradoxical experience of aspect-dawning can be seen as entirely unsurprising.”
The secondary literature on concepts of seeing-as and how they relate to experiencing the meaning is large and ever growing larger. I have benefitted especially from Stephen Mulhall, On Being-in-the-World, and Inheritance and Originality: also Mary Warnock, Imagination, and (Verdi 2010). (a) Mary Warnock and others have rightly argued that Wittgenstein’s concern with aspects involves (in a restricted sense) “interpretive” dimension to our words—specifically, the notion that words frame situations one way or another, continuously but often tacitly. But it is crucial to add that Wittgenstein guards his own analysis against any infinite regress of “interpretations.” (cf. PI, II, §§ 161, 163, 167, 261, 267, 334.) “Experiencing the meaning” of words correlates with our “seeing an aspect” of how we habitually understand them, and does not refer to any and all modes of interpreting ambiguous or polyvalent language. This applies a fortiori to literary criticism, many of whose “Wittgensteinian” expounders interested in the matter are often flat wrong: for an example see (Yu 2013). On the other hand it should be equally clear that I disagree with Walter Glannon’s conclusion in “What Literary Theory Misses in Wittgenstein,” Philosophy and Literature: “Like a graft rejected by an incompatible host, Wittgenstein has little in common with literary theory.” For an unusually shrewd and balanced review of some of the tendencies of literary and philosophic critics to reductivisms of various kinds, see John Holbo, Rev. of (Gibson and Huemer 2005): “Aesthetic (literary, poetic, artistic) receptions and appreciations of Wittgenstein…have tended to be aesthetically marred by philosophical weakness.”
Moreover, this is itself two-fold, for there is the additional paradox of our calling this change “a change of meaning”—even though no context of use exists in this thought experiment for us to mean the word in.
In the rhetorical tradition comportment aligns with classical notions of decorum and Renaissance treatments of sprezzatura—concepts about what is a fitting and appropriate selection and arrangement of almost anything: grammar, substance, style, arrangement, genre, text, decoration.
We don’t normally call “seeing a fork” “seeing a fork-as-a-fork” because, in normal circumstances, we do not experience change of aspect, hence feel no need for such a remark. But that’s not the same as saying that normal circumstances might not have been or might become other than they are, nor that we can’t now provide new circumstances for it—as in, say, a middle-school diorama of nineteenth century German farm life: we see a fork placed therein as a pitchfork—until, that is, we lift it out of its setting and say, “Look at this pitchfork—I mean, look at this fork as a fork; it belonged to my great-grandmother’s silver service. See N. K. Verbin, “Religious Beliefs and Aspect Seeing,” Religious Studies 36: 14: Like seeing, aspect seeing, both the continuous seeing of an aspect and the dawning of an aspect, forces itself on us. There is no inferring, no weighing of evidence, no concluding involved, but a spontaneous relation to the aspect.”
Aristotle talks of metaphorical seeing-as as a riddle: Rhet., 3.2 140b, 3.10 140ab, 3.11, 1412a.
This is the reason that “shadows cast by a coastal cliff,” or “shallows of surf hugging the coast” are not what is being seen-as: these added details may or may not be acceptably imagined in context, but they are external, not internal, to what we are saying is seen-as.
cf. OC, p. 105: “All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life.” (Schalkwyk 2004, p. 135): “It is one of the fundamental tasks of the rule, or the concept, to reduce difference to sameness or identity…in our conceptual world we keep seeing the same, because concepts are not for use on one occasion. But such perception is crucially situated or aspect-related: we see the same only because we are at home in a particular conceptual world.”
The terms are my own but are intended to link up, at least loosely, not only with Berlin’s binary but with the various matrices and lists found in McKeon, Watson, and Pepper.
cf. Hammer: “Our travels, our experience in the world, our experience of geography, and our experience as geography, should have been, ought to be, serious. It ought to add up to something. It ought to be engravable, something that might be bound in book form. The image of a book with illustrations in a complete concordance holds up an idea that word and image, perhaps word and flesh or representation and experience, might be bound together in a coherent unity, might be shown to exist in concordance or in some kind of correspondence.”
In his useful essay on Bishop in the English tradition of the meditative lyric (Wilson 2017): asks “why should Christian readers and scholars so frequently repair to Bishop as a subject of enthusiasm and study?” He answers in part by quoting Bishop: “Not, of course, because Bishop was herself a Christian. ‘I have never been religious in any formal way and I am not a believer,’ she wrote to Anne Stevenson in 1964.”
The distinction I want here, between speaker and implied author, fluctuates, depending on which way of looking the reader is employing. As I argue, both modes of looking are active throughout the poem: the speaker chiefly aligns herself with the skeptical, discriminative mode; but the implied author deploys grammatical and rhetorical resources—especially middle voice verbs and expressions, allusion, double-voicing and repetition among others—to exemplify an alternative possibility.
For an excellent account of how the infamous “leap of faith” in Kierkegaard is less a leap than a step, see (Ferreira 1991).
cf. (Bohm 1980, p. 3): “…this sort of ability of man to separate himself from his environment and to divide and apportion things…is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful…However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives…then [he] ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and…experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existing fragments.”
It’s no wonder Hammer, Bromwich and others understand Bishop to regard skeptically any religious claims to wholeness: for support simply consider the speaker’s amused irony in echoing others’ (presumably certain Christians’) paranoid “plotting, probably;” also her attributed slight to such believers in the internal rhyme “squatting/plotting” (ll. 6–7).
In his early Notebooks, 1914–1918, p. 28, ed., G. H. von Wright and G. E. M. Anscombe, Wittgenstein made the following remark: “puzzle pictures and the seeing of situations.”
Otis Lee quoted in (Pepper 1945, p. 55) emphasis added.
(Fletcher 2004, p. 165): Typical verbs enacting a middle voice include suppose, know, believe, ponder, hold, lose and loose, attach, wish, promise. cf. Hammer, Yale Open Course. Available online: http://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-310/lecture-25: “This [Bishop’s] poetics is ultimately a poetry of shifting perspectives and local perceptions. The question that it immediately poses is, well, how do we put these perceptions and these points of view together? The, I think, exciting but also difficult textures of Bishop’s great landscape poems, ‘Florida,’ ‘Cape Breton,’ ‘At the Fishhouses,’ ‘A Cold Spring,’ and others, all pose this very clearly to us, this problem. You might see the grains of sand that the sandpiper searches through in that little poem “Sandpiper” as, again, exemplary of this problem in Bishop—that is, how do we hold onto, organize, and find coherence in a world of discrete and shifting phenomena?”
I count at least nineteen adjectives or past and present participles serving a middle function in section 2 alone: entering, touching, leaping, crisscrossing, glistened, playing, splitting, rotting, dripping, informing, balanced, naked, giggling, asking, looking, carved, yellowed, half-filled, amused.
Such an account is as artificial and forced as saying that we isolate visual or aural sensa in order to infer that they’re words. As Husserl and Heidegger remind us, we don’t abstractly receive, for example, some complex of aural sensations—we just hear a motorcycle approaching.
About Whitman, Fletcher generalizes that “the important aspect of the verb is the way it expresses a relation to experienced change. The verb, as ‘aspect,’ expresses continuation. When Whitman uses the verb ‘to find’ twice, it points to the deepest effect of the middle voice: recognition of interiority. Whitman uses this effect of voice and aspect continuously, and he identifies it with what he typically calls ‘thought’ or ‘a thought’;” (Fletcher 2004, pp. 167–68).
We might easily have extended our earlier assemblage of instances of seeing-as by adding passages from “Poem.” Watch how, in the poet’s view, the painting toggles between “this little painting” on the one hand, and, on the other, “(a sketch for a larger one?),” “[a] sketch done in an hour, ‘in one breath’” (ll. 4, 37). Consider the imaginative suspension of “a thin church steeple…or is it?” (ll. 14–15) and “A specklike bird is flying to the left. Or is it a flyspeck looking like a bird?” (ll. 26–27); and her recorded realization of “some tiny cows,/two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows” (ll. 16–17); “Up closer, a wild iris, white and yellow,/ fresh-squiggled from the tube” (ll. 20–21); and “a half inch of blue sky” (l. 23); and the deeply poignant contraries in “the yet-to-be-dismantled elms” (l. 64). And there are other instances.
For a helpful overview see (Nussbaum 1986).
So Saul converted after a limit-experience on his travels. cf. (Tracy 1996, p. 105): “The concept of limit-situation is a familiar one in…existentialist philosophy and theology…Fundamentally, the concept refers to those human situations wherein a human being ineluctably finds manifest a certain ultimate limit or horizon to his or her existence. The concept itself is mediated by ‘showing’ the implications of certain crucial positive and negative experiential limit-situations. More exactly, limit-situations refer to two basic kinds of existential situation: either those ‘boundary’ situations of guilt, anxiety, sickness, and the recognition of death as one’s own destiny, or those situations called ‘ecstatic experiences’- intense joy, love, reassurance, creation. All genuine limit-situations refer to those human limits (limit-to) as our own as well as recognize, however haltingly, some disclosure of a limit-of our experience. The negative mode of limit-situations can best be described with Karl Jaspers as ‘boundary-situations’.”
Costello, Bonnie. (Bishop 2011, p. 133) agrees: “By the end of this passage [Bishop] has revealed her cultural inheritance as desperately out of touch with contemporary reality.”
In referring to the event that the Biblical illustration symbolically represents, Bishop is referring to what she understands is a historically past event, certainly. But just how, in what words, are we to describe that event? Hammer responds, “Christmas morning,” and so forth. And that fits. But “Christmas” without further comment is an anachronism; no one at the Nativity was thinking, “Christmas!” or professed “Christian” beliefs. Using it here as short-hand for what is being asked after risks serious conceptual confusion and, worse, the occlusion of genuine grammatical possibilities. For it encourages us to retroject a long history of determinate theological “beliefs” about such matters—one that looks for all the world (rightly or wrongly) like a closed system, as Hammer says—onto what is also, equally plausibly and properly, called the “mystery” or “paradox” or even “riddle” of divine birth. And those terms—mystery, paradox, riddle (like my terms selected from “Poem,” “attending to the given” and “gift”), when treated as capacious rhetorical topics and not fixed concepts, might better catch the spirit of Bishop’s inquiry as I’ve presented it from the beginning.
cf. (Zyskind 1970, pp. 373–95): “Rhetoric has always been an art of reading or posting signs, and its contemporary value in this regard could lie in its insistence on treating some of them as principles which…need to be examined in the large rather than to be passed over immediately into what they signify.”
Wittgenstein, CV, 64e, gives the kind of pragmatic and contextualist account of belief that I am interested in: “It strikes me that a religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference. Hence, although it’s belief, it’s really a way of living, or a way of assessing life. It’s passionately seizing hold of this interpretation. Instruction in a religious faith, therefore, would have to take the form of a portrayal, a description, of that system of reference, while at the same time being an appeal to conscience.”
(Bromwich 2011, p. 130): “Unbelievers different from herself” may suggest that Bromwich takes her to be a believer. She may be, in some sense; but the implied author of this poem does not tip her hand.
The Confessions of St Augustine (Book 8, Chapter 12) translated from the Latin by J.G. Pilkington. In (Schaff 1882) Augustine was of particular importance to Bishop.
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