Better late than...

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 13 Dec 1995 09:38:15 +0900

Dear Friends,

Apologies to those who have sent notes to me and have not received a
prompt reply. It's been one of those weeks when a rush of work swamps
everything else.

The following is the first in what will be a series of catch-up messages.

---------Sheldon Klein writes,

" I think a case can be made that many of the sources you cite
have aspects of secular transformation of earlier
in a non-secular domain."

Mais oui, monsieur. (You've now seen the level of my
French--execrable ;-))

You are, of course, entirely right. The interesting puzzle
historically is sorting out the connections. Having done a B.A.
in philosophy, I read L-S (and Chomsky, too) as a lineal
descendant of Plato, Descartes, Leibniz and Kant--in that all are
involved in a search for truths "above" or "behind," but
always "apart" from the mess of everyday life, which are,
however, necessary to make everyday life intelligible. The
stream continues through Hegel and Marx, where, as I
perceive it (given my education, the reality may, of course, be
different), the Socratic dialogue becomes the dialectic that L-S
himself describes as the heart of his own education. I know
next to nothing about the Kabbalah; a vague memory (derived
perhaps from reading George Steiner?) suggests that there is a
connection which links the Kabbalah to Plato via

Since my philosophical education was heavily focused on
epistemology and philosophy of science, I have tended to
conceive the connections sketched above in terms of the
history of scientific thought. Recently, however, I have
become intriqued by different but complementary histories.

Here my inspiration is Stephen Owen's _Omen of the
World_ a book on the reading of T'ang (Chinese) lyrics. Owen
observes that every form of literature assumes a certain type of
reader with particular reading habits. In reading Wordsworth,
for example, the modern Western reader will attempt to look
"through" the poem in search of a "deeper" meaning
"behind" it. The reader assumed by the T'ang lyric finds
meaning "in" the situation the lyric describes. Reflecting on
Owen's observations, it occurs to me that the Western reader
is someone who because of rapid social change, an
information explosion, encounters with numerous types of
"Others" (1) expects to encounter novelty, (2) to be puzzled by
what it means, and (3) to be fearful of misinterpretation--all of
which drives a push to get "beyond" the surface appearance of
things in an effort to find more solid ground. The T'ang
lyrics' intended reader is a highly educated Mandarin
thoroughly steeped in a traditional body of knowledge. He
expects (1) to encounter variations on what he already knows,
(2) to be able to grasp its import in an easy, intuitive manner,
giving the training that makes him a Mandarin, and, thus, (3)
is confident in interpreting the meaning "in" the scenes and
events the lyric describes.

What are your thoughts about this?


P.S. A private note to Vance Geiger. Vance, you are not forgotten. Comments
on paper are underway. Attempts to send you private e-mail have, however,
been bounced back by pegasus with the message "no such user here."
Please send me a note to which I can reply