The Osmosis of Understanding

In my recent focus on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, one of the issues that has come up is his use of free indirect discourse. Now, in one sense, this is rooted in the writer’s technique of merging the third and first person perspective. The writer might start with a line like:

Feeling paranoid, he looked around.

The writer would then follow with a line like:

Someone could be following.

In philosophy, this would take the form of a writer writing about another thinker and merging their own thoughts into it. This has led to a popular criticism of Deleuze in that one is never quite sure where the philosopher he is critiquing ends and he begins.

However, what I’m more interested in is free indirect discourse as an oblique approach to passing on information much as a poet does, that is as compared to relaying one’s ideas directly. And it is a common practice among French philosophers. In some cases, it is used out of desire not to control the reader’s thought but rather to influence it. In other words, the idea is not to take an authoritarian approach to relaying one’s beliefs. This is what underlies Barthe’s concept of readerly and writerly writing. Noble enough. On the downside of it, however, is that the obscurity involved can lead to the equally authoritarian notion that the reader, in order to truly get a given thinker’s system, must commit fully to it -take Heidegger for instance. This, too often, leads to a situation or perpetual process of readers making assessments and the original writer stating:

No! You don’t quite understand.

That said, there is a more legitimate aspect (one I think Deleuze is engaged in) in that one might have use indirect discourse to describe that which cannot easily be put into words -the Lacanian Real.

Which brings me to the main point: it seems to me that such an approach would require that meaning be passed along through a kind of osmosis, that while we may not be extracting meaning at a conscious level from a piece of prose, we may be extracting one at a subconscious level. Now put in mind here that there are 2 ways of relaying meaning: denotation and connotation.

So the mission is, should you choose to accept it, to determine whether osmosis can actually play a part in the propagation of understanding. I, myself, believe it can in that I have had the experience of reading books where I didn’t have a clear understanding, only intuitions, only to find out, through secondary literature, that those instincts were more accurate than I initially realized.

Another problem that arises from it is this popular notion that if one talks in an obscure language, they are being more profound than they actually are. It reminds me of a point made in Thus Spake Zarathrustra about poets who will muddy their waters in order to seem deep.

I think it depends on the relationship between the writer and the audience. The osmosis/subconscious approach you’re talking about seems appropriate for a Mentor/student or a Master/subject relationship, which is odd considering you describe it as non-authoritarian. But most of the philosophy I read lately is one academic writing to another. I guess, picturing it this way with the example you gave:

“No, you don’t quite understand…”

One response is ‘I’m sorry, please help me to understand’.

Another response is “Well, maybe you should have worded it more clearly”.

The first assumes that the speaker is wise, and that the listeners goal is to better himself through understanding- Mentor/student. The other assumes that the speaker is cautiously presenting a new idea to a field of equals and critics who require convincing.

Good analytic point, Ussicore.

But you’re right: we need to consider that much of the literature is addressed to other professionals. That’s probably the main problem I’m having with Deleuze’s book.

A similar problem arose with Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The middle part, which he intended for other philosophers, is some tough going.

This too, reminds of Polanyi’s descriptions, (as much as hate giving the impression that he was original in this) that there are ideas which are beyond description. We connote a lot of ideas which we assume are denotational, so lack of clarity comes through that backwater. But there is nothing wrong with trying to figure out what the drift is supposed to mean, as long as we get overall guidance as to which way the conversation is heading. Nietzche himself said that philosophy is more about philosophising then reading it, ot is poetic and expressive. That is, if it’s understood that the basic ideas are sometimes difficult to express directly.

Yeah, obe, it would seem that reading philosophy should be supplementary. Because of this, I have began to question my recent obsession with Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition . It’s beginning to feel like I’m more bogged down in it than anything.

There are times I have to ask why I really need to understand it in the first place.

I’m beginning to think I really need to loosen up, let it flow through me, and philosophize at a level I am comfortable with.