Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Right Answer; Wrong Method

“You might well go on extending the list of explanations [for the appearance of the poem on the beach] indefinitely, but you would find, we think, that all explanations fall into two categories. You will either be ascribing these marks to some agent capable of intentions (the living sea, the haunting Wordsworth, etc.), or you will count them as nonintentional effects of a mechanical process (erosion, percolation, etc.).”

I appreciate the thought process Knapp and Michaels employ here, but I think they are too keen on dissection to see a bigger picture. These two creators they consider – “some agent capable of intentions” and some “mechanical process” – are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It too often assumed that human reason is somehow above the very real mechanical nature of our minds. If a blind man presses random buttons that program a robot to perform a task, the robot embodies both options: it has nonintentional, mechanical intentions. When they later claim that “the two cases of your amazement would have two entirely different sources” they are ignoring the very real possibility that their own logical statements are mechanical reactions to their surrounds. And when the authors suggest that this combination of word-shaped marks “isn’t poetry because it isn’t language; that’s what it means to call it an accident,” they seem to ignore the reality of language. Far more than a written system, language extends to body language, which is often entirely unintentional. One often betrays his emotions through body language when his intent is to appear a different way. Language can appear from anything. In the end my views are compatible with Knapp and Michaels’ but I disagree with the methods through which they arrive there.

Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4 (1982): 728

No comments:

Post a Comment