Monday, June 27, 2016

The Owl and Dawn

The Owl and Dawn

Probal Dasgupta


One aspect of the widely acknowledged contemporary crisis, I suggest here, is the exhaustion of Experience, which therefore needs to renew its partnership with Innocence. I unpack this thought in terms of a model of discourse reproduction. In this model, a child is born into her _milieu_, and begins to _recognize_ proximate persons and places in her _landscape_, which the model idealizes as a set of names. Subsequent instruction initiates the child into her _structures_, and she then begins to _acknowledge_ remote persons, places and institutions on her society’s _cloudscape_, which the model idealizes as another set of names. This discourse reproduction model stresses the importance of the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) – a dyadic relation between the child and her Educator E. E renders the cloudscape’s textbooks vivid to the child by intersemiotically translating from the structure’s discourses into the milieu’s discourses that the child can perceive. It is argued here that the narrative is the optimal mode for such intersemiotic translation, and that all cloudscape names count as fictional for semiotic purposes, regardless of the empirically demonstrable historicity of some of the names. In this context, this paper asks how pedagogues are to reconcile the ability of certain established ‘true classics’ to elicit a deep response from everybody with the need to counter cloudscape colonization by highlighting new classics from marginalized cultures. This is articulated as the question of how to steer the work of such reconciliation away from the trap of bureaucratically defensible massive anthologies for all that become pedagogic nightmares. One answer is that the practices of Esperanto literary translation provide a model worth emulating: one tries to attain a balanced basket of classics sourced from as diverse a set of cultures as one can, paying special attention to smaller speech communities to counteract the hegemonic forces of the market. This answer is contextualized by tweaking the discourse reproduction model in order to offer a new characterization of ‘true classics’ that extends the ‘cloudscape’ metaphor. Readers clued into earlier substantivist work on diglossia will recognize some abiding themes expressed in slightly different terminology here.

When I am told that a major philosopher enjoys reading crime fiction, I take it that she enjoyed the suspense. Philosophers are centrally concerned with scrutinizing claims to the effect that this or that statement is true. But the final determination of the status of these truth claims is kept pending. That a particular statement has been put forward as true gives it the status of a candidate proposition, waiting to be confirmed, keeping us in suspense until it is. Confirmation will become available only after due scrutiny removes those impediments of which some Indian philosophers have said that a cognition free of impediments is a valid cognition, a pramā. Till then, we wait.

I’m here to explore some questions connected with suspense, with having to wait. Just how somebody’s doctrine technically characterizes impediments is not my concern. I look first at some impediments affecting the scrutiny of statements about a human individual HI, pronounced ‘hi’. In some accents of English, HI is pronounced ‘your highness’. If HI elicits strong feelings of love or hate among others whose perceptions are influential, their intensity cannot but impede due scrutiny during her lifetime. Does it help the cause if HI dies? Well, if she continues to be adored or despised, the obstruction remains in place, keeping the scrutiny of truth claims in suspense.

What if we wait for even those posthumous associations to weaken? Waiting interminably places you in the predicament dramatized in an Esperanto poem by Edwin De Kock (1982: 6). At such a huge distance, the poem shows, you don’t care, you can’t care what the facts are. For you have no clue who on earth these facts are about. Cluelessness impedes comprehension. You can’t ask if a proposition is true or false when you don’t even understand what it’s saying. Here is De Kock’s poem, followed by my very rough English rendering:

identeco                                           identity

En Ekbatano                             Top banker from Babel,
ĉefbankisto fro Babel,                        based in Ekbatan –
kiu vi estis,                                         who were you,
negocante kun Kuraŝ,                         Itti-Marduk-balatu,
Itti-Marduk-balatu?                            doing business with Kurash?

From what optimal distance should we look at a body of statements about HI if we want to check whether they are true? One influential answer to this question was formulated by Hegel, who wrote: The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering. My label for this answer, crepuscularism, is based on the Latin word crepusculum, ‘twilight’; it serves my purpose as it is crucially ambiguous between dusk, which Hegel had in mind, and dawn. In the present lecture, I offer some reasons for comprehensively revising crepuscularism, shifting our attention from dusk to dawn, reflecting on such a shift’s antecedents and consequences, keeping the essential unclarity of twilight in view.

Consider the interpersonal milieu in which an individual’s biography is situated. Contrast it with the institutional structures whose vicissitudes historians are expected to watch. Now, a child born into society and acquiring her first language – I shall imagine the mainstream philosopher’s typical monolingual child, minimizing the number of wrinkles to consider – is born into her milieu. She learns words and names for her parents or other care-givers, for her play-mates and other companions, for the places and sights and sounds of her immediate environs. Once she has been immersed in her milieu, exposure to her structures follows. Instruction of some kind introduces her to her head of state, her national and international maps, the party her well-wishers urge her to vote for, and other institutional coordinates that she grows into as she adjusts her rationality settings to the norms of others.

Now imagine a boy called Utti, growing up in the Babylonian elite as a son of Itti-Marduk-balatu, the gentleman mentioned in De Kock’s poem. In Utti’s infancy, he encounters his father as part of his milieu. Formal instruction later superimposes Itti-Marduk-balatu’s structural identity on Utti’s initial picture of him. Generalizing from this vignette, as a metonym for the way any child grows into full access to her milieu and her structures, I focus on the names of the persons and places she gets acquainted with. I thus idealize the milieu and the structures as sets of names.

Do the bits of discourse encyclopaedically associated with each name formally appear in this idealization? No, they don’t, but they are the reason for setting it up. To imagine discourse as homogeneous would be a mistake. The personal discourse surrounding names in our milieu is opaque to outsiders who share our language but not our milieu. In contrast, the bits of institutional discourse attached to names in the structures are disseminated among all adults in the community, although the manner of such dissemination is hardly uniform.

We familiarize young children with the personal discourse in our milieu when they learn how to talk. In a literate context, older children are initiated into the institutional discourse of their structures as they learn how to read and write, especially at secondary school. In contexts where formal schooling is rudimentary or missing, children make do with whatever initiations they can get. Deprived of rituals supervised by tribal elders, excluded from serious secondary schools, these adolescents do become citizens of history nonetheless – under conditions imposed by displacement, disenfranchisement and worse.

Why emphasize the messy heterogeneity of the ways in which discourse is associated with milieux and structures? I am making two points. First, the milieu/structure distinction is robust even in non-canonical contexts, and functionally corresponds to the speech/writing binary of a normative childhood. Second, the discourses of experience, or structures, are sustained across generations, but they undergo reconstruction every time, making even the normative process essentially messy. Experience is reconstructed through every fresh generation’s innocence. Young children learn how to talk. They get acquainted with the names and faces in their milieu. Only then do they find that there is a structural discourse to get initiated into. They have to access those structures of yours, which therefore need to have an exterior accessible to young children at a milieu level. Only structures with this property can survive across generations.

Aware of this challenge, some institutions explicitly try to secure flawless transmission. They set up a precaution-laden, perfection-seeking pedagogy. One iconic idealization of such norms of pedagogy and governance appears in Plato’s Republic. Hegel’s elaboration of the notion of the state inherits that enterprise. But philosophers today cannot identify with the Plato-Hegel project – for at least one reason relevant in our context. Why, we wonder, did Plato, who wrote the Meno, also write the Republic? How can we assent to these models that rationally reconstruct institutional pedagogy but ignore the non-formal transmission of the pervasive pre-institutional performative basis of humanity?

It is the cross-generational transmission of this performative basis that underwrites the systematic pedagogies. Explicit teaching systems take a free ride on that tacit transmission, for which language acquisition is our obvious metonym. Wherever we may stand on nature-nurture debates surrounding this transmission, it certainly is a tacit process. Unable to perform an adult reconstruction of our philosophically unintelligible childhood, we fail to find a launching pad for the Hegelian rocket we secretly wish to launch. This is one reason that we refuse to launch it at all.

In other words, many of us have been struggling with the challenge of shifting philosophy from the comprehensive dusk summating all experience into a pre-prehensive dawn that keeps faith with innocence. Before giving innocence primacy in philosophizing, however, our reflexes lead us to expect experience to clean up its act and resolve to make sense of its partnership with innocence. But that would be an oxymoronic expectation. Cleaning up its act is something experience can only do with ample aid from innocence.

Furthermore, in modern times, experience is in crisis. You all have a take of your own on the crisis besetting the state and its incarnations as the school the church the family usually called the ideological state apparatuses yes I know I’m speaking breathlessly but that’s the way your critical discourses are standardly conducted sorry if my mimicry gets under your skin.

I now proceed to inflict on you my own take on the crisis of experience. Experience has been busy learning how to win. Even getting something right is seen in terms of defeating rivals. This assiduous pursuit of victory has left experience incapable of inter-experiential communication or action. More concretely, the obsession with refereeing arrangements that certify victory and defeat has promoted discourses that explicitly privilege propositional claims amenable to technical adjudication – call them proceduralist discourses. Society has come to let proceduralism drive its operative structures. What does this mean for an individual adult facing a whole network of master institutions in her society and wondering whether to accept them?

It means that the decision by a typical educated adult to accept certain bodies of discourse involves her assenting to an intricate set of co-articulated networks of propositional claims. Recall that the cult of victory means that there are competing networks of this type, called Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, or the Republicans and the Democrats. Your typical informed adult is called upon to take sides in such centuries-long twiddledum-twiddledee battles, and to rejoice when ‘her side’ triumphs. In order to root for ‘her team’, she has to accept one bunch of discourses, which involves granting the credibility of many propositional claims she will never have the resources to check.

Once upon a time, your typical informed adult was indeed willing to assume those claims to be credible. Why? Because she believed that the systems of refereeing – for whose sake the whole proceduralist game was put in place, celebrated as rational, separated from emotions and ethical intuitions – would function as fair adjudication systems. The whole point of separating propositional claims from feelings and ethics had been that the procedures would deliver verifiable justice. But even the publicized cases of major cheating were so egregious, ubiquitous and preponderant that that point lost any residual validity long ago. This disappointment made many informed adults stop cheering for the usual teams. They stopped making allowances for the usual persons and institutions. They stopped believing that structures can ever deliver on their tired promises.

My rhetoric makes you think, doesn’t it, that I’m about to attack proceduralism? Defend feeling and ethical intuitions? Advocate some fresh synthesis of cognition and affect? Persuade people to listen to the margins and reverse entrenched patterns of exploitation and domination? A nice wish list, I’m sure. But you can’t uproot proceduralism through proceduralist practices. To propose to defeat the culture of victory would be oxymoronic. I’d like to try a very different tack.

Let’s step back and look again at those objectivity-seeking adjudication systems – which underwrote the whole proceduralist enterprise, you know, of separating publicly inspectable propositional claims from the more subjective type of claim for which adjudication can never be fair. Now, exactly what did the failure of those systems have to do with the culture of victory?

My short answer to this question is: sovereignty. A sovereign system seeks closure (victory and closure are related notions), which left unchecked will freeze into permanence any lies you may have told when a king was alive to avoid offending him, and correspondingly won’t have the resources for correction that openness would have made available. Modern claims about transparency, openness, accountability, however well-meant, always give way to the imperatives of a sovereign system when the chips are down.

I can only unpack my short answer properly if you let me finish setting up my little model. That child Utti (remember him, Itti-Marduk-balatu’s son in Babylon?) is born into his milieu and encounters what my model calls his landscape – a small set of proximate names whose bearers he can recognize, with private encyclopaedia entries attached. Educators later initiate Utti into his cloudscape – a large set of distal names whose bearers he acknowledges, with public encyclopaedia entries attached. Now, I want you to focus on Educator E, call him Eturuk, who has formed a bond with Utti. E serves as the structure’s ambassador, but E belongs to Utti’s milieu. Utti recognizes E personally, while he will only intellectually acknowledge the countless figures to whom E is introducing him. Utti concretely trusts E and others in his landscape, but can only abstractly believe propositions about the faces dotting the cloudscape.

Now, the cloudscape reaches Utti through Babylon’s textbooks. These books are compelled to bend many truths in favour of the state’s greater glory, thanks to the culture of victory. Cutting to the chase, we are living in a world where it is still an exceptional event that forty-two historians from China, Japan and Korea should spend years jointly writing a secondary school modern history textbook that portrays the events neutrally and is usable in all three countries. Their 2005 product, published simultaneously in the three languages, is confined to a niche market, but activists from their three countries have translated the book into Esperanto (Historio por malfermi la estontecon, ‘A history that opens up the future’, Beijing: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 2007). This is an exceptional attempt to clip the wings of national glory in the context of history textbooks. Mainstream opinion everywhere still takes it for granted that cloudscapes shall feature exaggerated formulations maximizing national glory, even if modern fashions require authors to exaggerate less flamboyantly than in classical antiquity.

Now notice that the boy Utti in my model concretely trusts his educator E and will accept E’s judgment as to which historical descriptions Utti should abstractly believe. My point is not that E tells Utti to accept what the textbooks say, and to respect the figures exactly as portrayed. The point is that Utti’s developing intellect functions not in the isolated brain of an individual child called Utti, but interpersonally, in a special dyadic relationship with E’s pedagogy, in what is technically called Utti’s ZPD, his Zone of Proximal Development, which my model sees as a zone of intersemiotic translation. If Eturuk is a gifted teacher, he makes the heroes come to life in Utti’s admiring eyes. Utti grows to admire the nation’s heroes and yet see them as human, with feet of clay that don’t detract from their worth. Utti also learns that the discourse surrounding national heroes is expected to be grandiose, not to be taken literally.

Please focus on this mediation between the structure’s cloudscape and the milieu’s landscape by the gifted teacher in the ZPD where Eturuk the teacher and Utti the student engage in intersemiotic translation. A secondary schoolchild is exposed to truths and falsehoods of one kind at the level of scraps of conversation in the milieu, and to true and false propositions of another order in the structure’s discourses. Thus, no general answer can be given to questions like whether the intersemiotic translation provided by this trustworthy educator E purges the discourse of its lies while making its heroes vivid on the student Utti’s screen. What is at stake is not the truth or falsity of propositions, but vivid perceptibility. As a Bengali poet once wrote, tumi jaa alash haate phele daao kaanaakori mullo nei taar, ‘what you casually throw away is not worth a red cent’.

Recall that my model formalizes landscapes and cloudscapes as sets of names. Effective teaching by Eturuk makes the discourses of his cloudscape vividly available to our Utti through fictional narratives, featuring fictitious names. Thus, in the process of translating from abstract objects of acknowledgement to concrete objects of recognition, the teacher-student dyad in the ZPD imagine persons, prescinding from whether they exist. Adding an imaginary court jester called Birbal to the story of the real emperor Akbar may help certain students to visualize Akbar and his court. But Akbar is an abstract name as well, and belongs to the plane of fiction. Although Akbar did exist, any story we tell about him or other cloudscape figures is imagined. There is no such thing as a real story. The telling makes the tale.

To be sure, this holds of landscape names, too: stories about people you know personally are also narratives woven by the narration. However, when your aunt Shipra spins a yarn about herself, you hear it as her story. It becomes part of your acquaintance with your aunt. This makes the story irreducibly concrete. In contrast, your experience of narrative places a historical cloudscape figure like Akbar and an invented add-on like Birbal on the same abstract plane, accessible through the imagination. A gifted teacher intersemiotically translates from the structure’s discourse into the milieu’s vividness, enhancing the student’s access to the stories. Despite this, Akbar and Birbal remain imaginary, unlike the student’s Aunt Shipra.

When a secondary schoolchild goes through the hoops of higher education, in the highest echelons of inquiry, she finds fellow scientists calling theoretical or empirical hypotheses ‘stories’. She experiences the fact that, indeed, scientific stories have to hold the interest of the audience exactly the way ordinary narratives do. It is not only when Utti’s teacher Eturuk intersemiotically translates from Babylon’s structures into Utti’s milieu that narration is called for. Stories travel well across all discourse boundaries, all genre boundaries. When scientist S – call her Sheela – and her colleagues share a hypothesis packaged as a story, they go into a mutual pedagogic huddle, forming a ZPD. They depend on each other for the intellectual incubation to bear fruit. We expect Sheela and her colleagues to be social and intellectual equals acknowledging each other’s calibre. In contrast, we expect Eturuk and his pupil Utti to be in an asymmetric teacher-student relationship. When we draw a sharp boundary between the equality-laden ZPD’s in Sheela’s research team and the hierarchical ZPD in Babylon, we miss the point that only the items that Eturuk manages to get across to Utti, in at least some preliminary form, are going to count as the set of Babylon’s transmissible discourses. To misquote Tagore slightly, shei shotto jaa bujhibe tumi, ‘only what you understand is true’. Both in Sheela’s team and in the mansion where Eturuk tutors Utti, it is stories that carry the crucial cargo; for the cargo to get across, the stories have to click.

Some works of the imagination click really well. Such songs and films are called hits. Such scientific analyses are called paradigm cases and have given the Kuhnian paradigm its name. Works of art that persistently seem to discriminating judges to really click are called classics. We return to classics and equivalents. Our first order of business now is to ask how this constellation of ideas helps address the crisis of the dusk’s Experience and helps forge a lasting relationship with the dawn’s Innocence. We shall also touch base with the CJK textbook, our acronym for the tri-national history book. Then we are ready for the little matter of classics.

This discussion of intersemiotic translation in a ZPD has stressed the point that stories are the main vehicle of such translation. Stories are not just a format particularly suited for translation at the cloudscape-landscape interface. If we look closely at the way stories work in this context, we begin to grasp how they become a resource for addressing the crisis of Experience. What we grasp, expressed briefly, is that the crisis stems from structures that take themselves too seriously and lapse into sovereigntist solipsism expressible as a triumphalist slogan “there is no game but this game”. A story addresses this malady by pressing the key “there is no play but play”. We can unpack this as follows: “All non-landscape names count as fictional, even the ones labelled as ‘real’; please suspend belief and disbelief in favour of the trust that drives the listener’s attention to the story”.

Every time a story elicits this trust, it creates a sovereignty-free enclave where the structure’s absolutist regime stands suspended. To address the crisis of Experience involves creating many such enclaves and devoting much of their ZPD-pedagogic energy to boundary-crossing ventures. It is in this context that the CJK textbook becomes an enabling resource even though thousands of schools in China, Japan and Korea haven’t carved it on the doors of their history classrooms. Given the fact that CJK exists, history teachers in those countries can personally use it to open windows. Teachers can, in their ZPD dyads with students, take them on a trip or two across cloudscape boundaries, so that the children find out how exciting, how intellectually and morally adventurous such trips can be.

Vapid, unexamined celebration of CJK won’t do, however. We must face the fact that that textbook is a response to the troubled aftermath of Japanese colonization. Facing that fact in terms of our model involves formally acknowledging that one cloudscape can colonize another. This move leads us to inquire: How are we to complete the decolonization of formerly colonized cloudscapes that have not yet overcome the effects of that violence?

This is obviously an unsolved problem in practice. The British and French educational systems to this day tell their children with a straight face that their ancestors administered colonial regimes as a benevolent enterprise whose main purpose was philanthropy and foreign aid, with only minor aberrations. Now, if the reason cultural decolonization is advancing so slowly is that formal imperialism ended only recently, then philosophical inquiry should not waste time on these contingent troubles. My take, however, is that reversing cloudscape colonization is an unsolved problem not just in practice, but in principle.

To see this, consider the fact that we are overwhelmed when we encounter classics like Dante’s Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Goethe’s Faust. Imagine an organization seeking inter-cultural dialogue, like Unesco, trying to compile an equitable global collection of classics that seriously represents all cultures to all students. Such an enterprise will want to take on board both the fact that minority communities do want to see their cultures duly represented and the ability of certain texts, ‘true classics’, to elicit an extraordinary response from all audiences. How can Unesco – or anyone else engaged in this enterprise – respect both the equitable representation imperative and the intrinsic value of true classics?

Some obvious bureaucratic responses are readily available, as are their conceptual equivalents; these only evade the question. But there is at least one site of conceptual, cultural and linguistic labour where an entire community has been concretely responding to this question at a level that seems to me to deserve your attention. I am referring to authors who translate literature into Esperanto, their readers whose interest keeps such publications on the physical or virtual shelves, and the publishers, reviewers and others who mediate between translators and readers.

In order to see clearly what stands out in the production and reception of literary translation into Esperanto, try contrasting it with the state of affairs in English and French. The readership exposed to world literature through English and French does not run into Lord Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz of Poland, or Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi of Finland, or The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách of Hungary. But adult readers in Esperanto count as illiterate if they are unfamiliar with these major nineteenth century classics, translated by iconic Esperanto authors like Grabowski, Setälä and Kalocsay.

What is at stake is not a few token peaks. The ‘east-west series’, whose items are tracked by the world Esperanto association but are published by dozens of publishers working independently of each other, is just official applause for a fraction of the extensive material routinely translated and published. Catalan author Abel Montagut has done a systematic survey and found that the Esperanto translation basket is significantly more equitable in terms of cross-regional representation than the baskets in English or other major translation vehicles.

Of course Esperanto translators have done Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare and other widely acclaimed ‘true classics’. What is the point of trying to persuade the public to look also at literatures associated with smaller speech communities, such as Finnish or Croatian or Slovenian? Does the Esperanto translation enterprise strike any identifiable balance between keeping faith with ‘true classics’ and this inclusivity enterprise? How is Esperanto’s equitable classics basket not a variant of a bureaucratic attempt to force everybody to read far too much?

My answer to this triple question turns on the ZPD formed by Utti’s gifted educator E. When I urge you to take educator E seriously and draw a parallel between teaching and translating, this is a metonym for asking you to watch not just how translations are produced but their dissemination and reception as well. The focus on children is a metonym for a wider emphasis on newcomers, especially ex-marginal new entrants into serious literate discourse and its political penumbra. The Esperanto enterprise works on the basis of actual contact and ZPDs, not politically correct production quotas that somebody has to meet for statistical reasons. Iconic authors also translate on the side, the way Buddhadeva Bose translated Baudelaire, Hölderlin and Rilke into Bangla, and their pedagogy makes an idiographic point that nomothetic rational reconstructions cannot construct a generalized conceptual equivalent for. That is the point, one has to answer the triple question by ostension, not by a verbal replication in some other language.

But you will rightly press me for a more articulate answer to the triple question. How does my little model respond, you will rightly ask, to the conundrum of balancing the intrinsic value of true classics with the inclusivity imperative. A fair question. By way of response, let’s try the following characterization of ‘true classics’. When an author leaps out of the book and stands before the reader as a gifted performer who makes the cloudscape figures extremely vivid, the cloud bursts into rain and drenches the reader, dissolving the boundary separating ground from sky. That kind of book is a true classic.

Establishing as they do a direct connection with the relation of trust that makes ZPDs special places where dusk and dawn can join hands, classics cut some of the red tape of institutions and bypass some of the ill-effects of cloudscape colonization. But love doesn’t wish war away. Classics can’t wish colonization away. The independent need for fair representation of the world’s smaller cultures remains an urgent need. Hence the unending search for unfamiliar classics.

What stops this from morphing into a wooden bureaucratic venture that just gets the numbers right? Well, Esperanto is a language that relays from ZPD to ZPD. Its very architecture, as some of you know, grapples with the question of how the simple constituents of a formal semantic decomposition can or cannot do double duty as the easy elements of a real life learner’s agenda. The actions and responses that drive the traffic in Esperanto are anchored in contexts of pedagogic need. These contexts are situated at liminal sites where newcomers are introduced to cloudscapes through the medium of narrative. Recall, from an earlier juncture of this discussion, that the flexibility of stories provides an escape hatch from the tyranny of a cloudscape’s institutional bureaucracy.

Just as my highlighting CJK was not an invitation to write a South Asian history textbook, this highlighting of the practices in Esperanto literary translation is not a unique validity claim or an exact replicability claim. The strong claim I’m making is that the unaided evening is exhausted as a theoretical itinerary. It needs the dawn as an explicit partner, and we need to understand the ZPD – perhaps intuitively rather than formally, but probably also with a formal component to this understanding – in order to work out optimal forms of such partnership in a variety of contexts. Since not all dawn-partners are children in terms of physical age, those of us who are rooting for this redirection of philosophical energies have many contexts to consider, and many genres of negotiation to grapple with.

But I have to address some loose ends in the little story I’ve been telling. Stories travel well, I’m saying; across discourse boundaries; importing chunks of foreign structure into domestic structure, and the other way round. Fine, but why should narrative be hyped as a hero capable of turning the tide, capable of undermining the credibility of the culture of victory and hegemony? What is it about stories that bears on what I’ve called the crisis of Experience?

If a classic story brings an attentive audience to catharsis, if catharsis puts us in touch with universality, if universality is experience regaining access to innocence, then I can plug all the holes in my narrative, giving you something approaching a connected sequence of propositions, and remove whatever sense of suspense you have left.

But these are wild propositions, which don’t add up to a doctrine that can be defended seriously. By this point you must have gathered that my whole purpose is to shower you with a series of wild propositions and to discourage you from trying to tame them. I do hope that your response to all this is not going to be: “Seriously?”

Hegelian owls were serious. Seriousness has reached a dead end. Adult faith is gone. But the trustingness of an audience listening to stories is not entirely gone. Some friends who know vastly more than I ever hope to learn once told me that a trusting audience imagines truth, justice and equality into reality in the context of listening to fiction. They were thinking specifically of children, which may or may not be a romanticizing move. Please tweak that move in whatever sophisticated direction you prefer. All I’m saying is that perhaps pinning our hopes on the liminal zone afforded by story-telling, the great deflater of rigid systems, is not such a terrible idea after all. Goodbye to the owl of wisdom, our old totem animal. Welcome to philosophy’s new mascot, whoever it is, my candidate is the fiction-laden figure of the hāṭṭimāṭimṭim; please tell stories vividly presenting your mascot candidates, and make sure the best candidate doesn’t win, remember that we are uncelebrating the culture of victory. Where does that leave you? In suspense again! So suspended between experience and innocence, let us all cheer for theory: theory mātā ki jai!


This paper was presented as the Pranab Kumar Sen Memorial Lecture on 26 June 2016 at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. I thank Rama Sen, Manidipa Sen and Madhucchanda Sen for giving me the opportunity to present this text at such a forum. I thank the audience for comments and questions. The usual disclaimers apply.


De Kock, Edwin. 1982. Japaneskoj. Pretoria: Pyramid.
Abstract in Esperanto
La strigo kaj la tagiĝo

Unu aspekto de la vaste agnoskata aktuala krizo en la mondo – mi sugestas en ĉi tiu prelego – estas la fakto, ke la t.n. maturaĝo trovas sin elĉerpita. Ĝi bezonas forĝi novan pakton kun la tagiĝo – kun la t.n. infanaĝo. Ĉi tiun penson mi dismetas en la formo de konkreta modelo pri la reproduktiĝo de la diskursoj trans la generacioj. Laŭ mia modelo, ĉiu infano naskiĝas en sian medieton kaj tie, en sia pejzaĝo, ekkonas konkretajn personojn kaj lokojn; tiujn mia modelo idealigas kiel aron da nomoj. Poste la instruado inicas la infanon en ties mediegajn strukturojn, kie li aŭ ŝi ekagnokas abstraktajn personojn, lokojn kaj instituciojn sur la nubzaĝo de sia socio; tiujn mia modelo idealigas kiel alian aron da nomoj. Mia modelo de la reproduktiĝo de diskursoj substrekas la gravecon de la ZPD (Zono de Proksimula Disvolviĝo) – duopa rilato inter la infano kaj ties edukanto E. E prezentas la diskursojn de la strukturoj videblige al la infano per intermedia tradukado el la strukturaj diskursoj en la medietajn diskursojn vive percepteblaj por la infano. Mi hipotezas, ke la rakontado estas la optimuma modo de tia intermedia tradukado, kaj ke ĉiuj nubzaĝaj nomoj kalkulendas kiel fikciaj por la celoj de la modelo, senkonsidere pri la empirie pruvebla historieco de iuj el la nomoj. Akceptante la ĵus skizitan fonon, la nuna referaĵo demandas, kiel do la pedagogoj kongruigu la kapablon de iuj establitaj ‘veraj klasikaĵoj’ elvoki profundan reagon ĉe ĉiuj kun la neceso diskonigi malpli establitajn klasikaĵojn el malgrandaj kulturoj por malfari la efikojn de la kultura koloniismo de iuj nubzaĝoj kontraŭ aliaj. La demando do estas, kiamaniere forstiri la laboron de tia kongruigo for de la kaptilo de burokratiecaj antologiegoj trudlegigotaj al ĉiuj kaj minacontaj la verajn bezonojn de pedagogio al vivantaj infanoj. Unu respondo estas, ke la praktikoj de la Esperanta beletra traduko konsistigas modelon serioze esplorindan kaj sekvindan: en tiu medio la tradukistoj strebadas krei ekvilibran korbon de klasikaĵoj prenitaj el kiel eble plej diversaj kulturoj, aparte atentante la malgrandajn parolkomunumojn por rezisti la hegemoniajn fortojn de la merkato. Por doni taŭgan teorian kadron al tiu ĉi praktika respondo, mi reagordas la modelon de reproduktiĝo de diskursoj per livero de nova karakterizo de ‘veraj klasikaĵoj’; tiu karakterizo frukte uzas la ‘nubzaĝan’ metaforon. Legantoj konantaj la pli fruan verkaron pri la substancismo kaj la diglosio rekonos iujn konstantajn fadenojn, kiujn mi nun aplikas al iom nova materialo.


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