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RE: [mythsoc] Questions concerning language and Postmodernism

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  • Jay Hershberger
    DB: Nor was Barfield a linguist: he was a philosopher of language. His interest was in considering those philosophical questions about language which are
    Message 1 of 10 , Aug 5, 2003
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      DB: Nor was Barfield a linguist: he was a philosopher of language. His
      interest was in considering those philosophical questions about language
      which are outside the boundaries of the field of linguistics. His primary
      tool, as with all philosophers, was not scientific fact, but logic.

      JH: Thank you kindly to everyone for the thoughtful and informative
      responses. Please permit me to ask some of my questions again, for I would
      very much like to get a handle upon what folks are saying about language.

      Are words "ontologically" rooted in the nature of things? Are words human
      symbols that can mean whatever we want them to mean? Did Barfield have an
      opinion about these questions? Is modern literary criticism--especially
      deconstruction--a way to avoid or discount these philosophical questions
      about language?

      It seems to me that since Tolkien was a philologist, might he not have asked
      philosophical questions about the nature of language?

      Looking forward to your responses.

      Cheers,

      Jay Hershberger
      Associate Professor of Music
      Concordia College
      Moorhead, MN
    • David S. Bratman
      Jay, I may have missed earlier messages that made the same recommendations, but if you re interested in Tolkien s approach to the philosophy of the nature of
      Message 2 of 10 , Aug 5, 2003
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        Jay,

        I may have missed earlier messages that made the same recommendations, but
        if you're interested in Tolkien's approach to the philosophy of the nature
        of language, run do not walk in the direction of the nearest copy of
        _Splintered Light_ by Verlyn Flieger, whose second edition was recently
        published. It is the authoritative book on this subject.

        For primary sources, Flieger will point you in the right direction. But
        briefly, Tolkien's clearest statements on these matters are nuggets buried
        in his essay "On Fairy-Stories". For Barfield's views of language, the
        starting point is his book _Poetic Diction_.

        - David Bratman
      • Jay Hershberger
        For primary sources, Flieger will point you in the right direction. But briefly, Tolkien s clearest statements on these matters are nuggets buried in his
        Message 3 of 10 , Aug 5, 2003
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          For primary sources, Flieger will point you in the right direction. But
          briefly, Tolkien's clearest statements on these matters are nuggets buried
          in his essay "On Fairy-Stories". For Barfield's views of language, the
          starting point is his book _Poetic Diction_.

          - David Bratman

          David--

          Many thanks for the suggestions! I will check these volumes out. I confess
          to being like a little kid in a candy shoppe!

          Perhaps the volumes you suggest will seem more like a full course dinner!

          Cheers,

          Jay Hershberger
        • bowring
          ... These are very complex questions to answer. Barfield certainly thinks that language is ontologically rooted in the nature of things, but the real
          Message 4 of 10 , Aug 5, 2003
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            >Are words "ontologically" rooted in the nature of things? Are words human
            >symbols that can mean whatever we want them to mean? Did Barfield have an
            >opinion about these questions? Is modern literary criticism--especially
            >deconstruction--a way to avoid or discount these philosophical questions
            >about language?

            These are very complex questions to answer. Barfield certainly thinks that
            language is "ontologically rooted" in the nature of things, but the real
            question is, "What does Barfield understand by 'the nature of things'"? I
            agree with David Bratman that the place to start is with Poetic Diction.
            Barfield's Saving the Appearances is also very important.

            I would especially point out the "Afterword" of Poetic Diction in which
            Barfield orients the reader to recent thinkers that he found congenial in one
            way or another. There is enough there to keep you busy for a good long while!
            Finally, Barfield's What Coleridge Thought is of fundamental importance.
            Barfield, Coleridge, as well as Lewis and Tolkien, recognize that language
            opens up reality to us, that there are levels of reality and meaning, but that
            language can decay--even to the point of becoming decadent. (Contrast
            Tolkien's portrayal of the moral/spiritual qualities of elvish languages vs.
            the language of the Orcs and you have a good image of the potentialities.)

            You might find helpful, as I do, the first two chapter of John Coulson's
            Newman and the Common Tradition (Oxford University Press,1970). Coulson,
            starting from Coleridge and in contrast to Bentham, articulates the notion of
            "fiduciary language". (Bentham is a useful stand-in for line of thought that
            ultimately yields modern philosophy of language.) Coulson extends this line
            of thought to the role of metaphor and symbol and imagination in thought at
            its deepest levels in his later book, Religon and Imagination (Oxford
            University Press, 1981). While I have certain minor quibbles with Coulson
            here and there, these two books are very rich and will reward their reading
            many times over. They are sadly and unjustly neglected.

            As for modern philosophy of language and literary theory (including its latest
            permutation "cultural studies"), this is a labyrinth that is hard to find you
            way into and even harder to find your way out. Personally, I do not know of a
            reliable guide. Richard Kearney, in his book Modern Movement in European
            Philosophy, gives you a lucid (if you can believe it) introduction to the
            major thinkers, including Derrida. Kearney has a real gift for making things
            clear, but he is overwhelmingly sympathetic to these thinkers and provides
            only description and not evaluation. If you are brave, you might wade into
            Iris Murdoch's Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals or any of several of Stanley
            Rosen's books for astute philosophical criticism of postmodernism--but this is
            all heavy going.

            The bottom line, if you want a place to hang your philosophical hat, is that
            postmodernism (Derrida, Foucault, etc.) is an extremely sophisticated form of
            sophistry (i.e., it has its spiritual ancestry in the Greek Sophists),
            intensified through the lense of Nietzsche.

            And personally, having spent more than a decade mired in this stuff, I'd
            rather read The Hobbit.

            Sorry this was so long (and I tried to keep it short!).
            Best of luck,
            Kevin
          • David S Bratman
            ... _Saving the Appearances_ is a book that will certainly plunge you head-first into the question of what Barfield understands by the nature of things. But
            Message 5 of 10 , Aug 5, 2003
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              At 09:20 PM 8/5/2003 -0400, bowring wrote:

              >These are very complex questions to answer. Barfield certainly thinks that
              >language is "ontologically rooted" in the nature of things, but the real
              >question is, "What does Barfield understand by 'the nature of things'"? I
              >agree with David Bratman that the place to start is with Poetic Diction.
              >Barfield's Saving the Appearances is also very important.

              _Saving the Appearances_ is a book that will certainly plunge you
              head-first into the question of what Barfield understands by "the nature of
              things." But it's not so much directly concerned with language per se.

              - David Bratman
            • bowring
              I found the following passage in the Journals of Alexander Schmemann. Reflecting on the passion in some quarters for courses in Great Ideas of the Western
              Message 6 of 10 , Aug 6, 2003
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                I found the following passage in the Journals of Alexander Schmemann.
                Reflecting on the passion in some quarters for courses in "Great Ideas of the
                Western World" he writes:

                “It would be useful to teach a course entitled ‘Great Western Errors,’
                following approximately this plan: Rousseau and ‘Nature,’ with a capital N;
                The Enlightenment and ‘Reason,’ capital R; Hegel and ‘History,’ capital H;
                Marx and ‘Revolution,’ capital R; and finally, Freud and ‘Sex,’ capital
                S—realizing that the main error of each is precisely the capital letter, which
                transforms these words into an idol, into a tragic pars pro toto.”

                The list can be extended: Postmodernism and "Language" with a capital L. In
                other words, the separation of language from its rootedness in both human
                minds and being--that is, from "participation", in Barfield's terms.

                Kevin
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