Tuesday, October 19, 2004

a matter of appropriation

A philosopher’s difficult texts (or theorist’s texts, e.g., Habermas at his most Habermasian, Derrida as most Derridean) are at least a transformative mirror that reflects back to readers anewly parts of the world they bring to the reading, reframed in the text’s readerly influence—maybe this more than getting the difficult author’s intended meaning (though that, too). This point isn’t difficult; I’m not here referring to my own text. But difficulty is a topic in its own right, as George Steiner has explicated for literary reading, and as any curriculum designer knows. Any significant writer appreciates this, too.

In the mix of real conveyance and unwitting mirror, construal of the difficult (or highly literary) “author’s” meaning is a fruitful experience that may have more to do with the reader’s self-interest in thinking newly than with what the author is intending to do. I’ve seen this so often in others’ readings of Habermas (and just wish that others would show me how I may be an instance of this dynamic with Habermas, if I am, please). Psychoanalytic transference belongs as much to the silent text as to the face-to-face session.

Conversely, the exemplary writer likely appropriates her/his way of thinking to an idealized specificity of others, rather than simply representing the way of thinking. Excellent writing is not “I” inserting myself in the world, rather an interpersonal venture of making oneself understood in the authorship of the writing.

So, appropriativity in writing and reading is not about the obscurity of thinking (or some hermetic condition), rather the appropriating is integral to what learning and writing is. This fact makes the hermeneutical interest no mere period concern in the history of thought. Whatever regard one has for explicit hermeneutical foci, the phenomena of bridgework are inescapable, as interpretation in understanding is inescapable.

Writing is an event of appropriation—and very different from the work that leads to it (which is writerly in its own way—probably obscure, if only because shorthand terminology gets heuristic, and heuristics may hybridize among themselves into neologisms that may gain an efficiency analogous to mathematical functions in the conceptual researcher’s inventiveness of exploration).

The original work gets translated. Reading is always translation. Translation is an event of appropriation.