Realities, representations and interactions
... an ongoing thread from the Narrative-L discussion group, which began problematising the nature /culture divide, and the binarism itself. Now Tony Jackson on the notion of the real and its accurate representation:
This idea of accurate representation of the actual (and its other versions, of which there are many) and the idea that products of human perception are untrue to “the real” intrigues me. This will get all sloppy with disputable terms but still...
It seems to me that the idea of the impossibility of accurately or truly (or whatever) knowing and/or describing and/or representing the actual is a misbegotten idea. To claim that if human beings are limited to perceiving the real by their natural organs (just to stay with nature for the moment), then we cannot truly perceive the real is beset by a serious logical flaw. In order to make such a blanket judgment it seems there would have to be some existing possible precise and true knowledge of the real in relation to which our own perceptions could be evaluated. But (apart from supernatural entities) no such knowledge can exist. In a similar way if knowledge is to be taken in some specifically human sense (probably entailing some ‘meta’ level), then it follows that there must be a difference between the knower and the known. If this is the case, then the notion of a precise or accurate or “true” understanding or representation of the real would again be an impossibility; because how could one know the real absolutely in its essence and remain apart from that essence? The hypothetical maximum requires no difference between knower and known (I think?!) [more than a few ideas of supernatural existence do their best to have the knower and the known both absolute and identical, which is pretty interesting]. What exactly would an accurate representation of the actual be??
So if the hypothetical knowledge in relation to which our own knowledge could possibly be evaluated on some absolute scale is an impossibility, then we have only the actual kinds of knowledge that actually happen on the third planet from the sun. Human knowledge is hardly somehow absolutely valid, is necessarily limited…of course, but once again to say just this as is often said, is what philosophers would call trivial. Knowledge entails limitation. Human knowledge is limited to our representational capacities, but I don’t see how this can be reasonably taken in itself as some kind of deficiency, because we do have the meta-abilities to think about our representations; and otherwise we must be as relatively adequately evolved for the earthly ecosystem as are other successful adaptations.
Hopefully someone will point out the logical flaws in what I’ve said here.
And here follows my reply, emphasizing the interactional dynamics of representation, it inherent (sometimes implied) dialogical dimension:
Yep, representation never represents the real ding an sich; it always represents my real, the one (in my context, from my viewpoint, with my limitations and my interests and my priorities) I'm promoting. So, barring the omniscient viewpoint or absolute coincidence between representation and object (a desideratum or fantastic by-product of semiotic perspectivism) what remains is the conflict of interpretations, or contest of descriptions if you prefer: Bakthin tells us that any time we bother to open our mouth we are engaging in a dialogue, our discourse a hidden polemic with previous discourses, or descriptions, or representations. So, my reason to open my mouth now after Tony J is both to agree with him and also to polemicise, emphasizing the element of conflict, dialogism and dialogue of perspectives in any act of (or account of) representation.
Peirce, of course, wrote on this subject, as well as Eco (the Dynamic object versus the Immediate Object, meaning vs. the Interpretant, etc.). But both lack, I think, some emphasis on practical interpretive conflicts, and on the reasons why different interpretants, or different representations of an object, are chosen in specific cases: reasons which may be epistemological, ideological, historical, political, scientific, biographical and personal, psychological...
(As a practical example of conflict, take the flame war that ensued in this list, when I pointed out, using abusive language, that if Sue McPherson's abusive language and insults were to be tolerated in this list, then anything goes. Let me point out that before I chose to use offensive language, list members seemed unwilling to complain about McPherson's poisonous whining and abject self-victimising... perhaps because of her "politically correct" (awfully incorrect to my mind) posing as a radical feminist and a man-hater? There's self-representation for you, and psychopathology—both personal and political).