Monday, June 10, 2019

the rediscovery of experience, followed the loss of it, etc. 

Panofsky, again and again, and Auerbach.
When an acquaintance greets me on the street by lifting his hat, what I see from a formal point of view is nothing but the change of certain details within a configuration forming part of the general pattern of color, lines and volumes which constitutes my world of vision. When I identify, as I automatically do, this configuration as an object (gentleman), and the change of detail as an event (hatlifting), I have already overstepped the limits of purely formal perception and entered a first sphere of subject matter or meaning. The meaning thus perceived is of an elementary and easily understandable nature. and we shall call it the factual meaning; it is apprehended by simply identifying certain visible forms with certain objects known to me from practical experience and by identifying the change in their relations with certain action or events.

Now the objects and events thus identified will naturally produce a certain reaction within myself. From the way my acquaintance performs his action I may be able to sense whether he is in a good or bad humor and whether his feelings towards me are indifferent, friendly or hostile. These psychological nuances will invest the gestures of my acquaintance with a further meaning which we shall call expressional. It differs from the factual one in that it is apprehended, not by simple identification, but by "empathy". To understand it, I need a certain sensitivity, but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events. Therefore both the factual and the expressional meaning may be classified together: they constitute the class of primary or natural meanings.
LRB   Stefan Collini reviews Marina Warner on Ian Watt
He liked to quote Erich Auerbach’s assertion that in reading literature we need an ‘empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience’.
Auerbach  Literary Language and Its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages
First there is Vico's theory of historical knowledge. It developed out of his polemic against Descartes' geometrical method and is grounded in the principle that we can only know what we ourselves have made. The history of mankind, or the “world of the nations” (in contrast to the world of nature, which God created), was made by men themselves; accordingly, men themselves can know it. Even the earlier and most remote forms of human thought and action must be present in the potentialities (Vico’s term is modificazioni) of our own human mind, and this is what enables us to understand those early forms. With his theory Vico tried to provide an epistemological foundation for his vision of the beginnings of culture, of the genesis of the first social forms, and of the poetic, ritualistic origins of human thought and expression. Vico’s was probably the first systematic attempt at a theory of historical knowledge. and it offers a clear statement, if not a logical justification, of an important and inescapable fact, namely, that we judge historical phenomena and all human affairs, whether of a private, economic, or political nature, according to our own experience, that we try, in other words, “to find their principles within the modification of our own human mind." Since Vico’s time, it is true, far more rigorous methods of observing and recording human behavior have been devised; but they have neither shaken nor supplanted our empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience (actually this faculty has been very much enriched by the findings of modern science). Indeed, strict scientific methods are not applicable to historical phenomena or to any other phenomena that cannot be subjected to the special conditions required by scientific experimentation. Thus the investigation of historical processes in the broadest sense (we shall presently discuss the scope of the term “historical” as used in the present context) still depends very largely on the investigator’s judgment, that is, on his faculty for “rediscovering” them in his own mind. Historical research, indeed, has an exact side, which perhaps should be termed learned rather than scientific, namely the techniques of finding, transmitting, interpreting (in the more elementary sense), and comparing documents. But where selection, interpretation (in the higher, more general sense), and classification enter into the picture, the historian’s activity is far more comparable to an art than to a modern science. It is an art that works with scholarly material.
Leibniz and Vico.

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