5 feb. 2011

Universality

This is the idea that people's experiences are pretty much comparable with one another's. Differences exist, but not incommensurability in an absolute sense. (Between genders, nations, what have you.)

Now here's the paradox. If you erect difference or particularism into an absolute principle, insisting on incommensurability, then you create a new kind of universalism on a different scale. If women are different from men, the implication is that all women are the same. An enlightened universalism is much more respectful of differences, because it realizes that some women resemble some men more than they do other women. (Obviously the universalism that takes the white middle-class heterosexual male as the measure of all things is not tenable.)

Let's take the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language determines thought. I'm not interested here in weaker versions that show minuscule results, but in the strongest version of that idea. It collapses all speakers of the same language into a single category. What I know from studying poetry is that no two poets think alike in the same language. Jaime Gil de Biedma's Spanish is more like Auden's English than like Lorca's Spanish.

On the other hand, Beckett's French is not at all like his English. Yet his ability to move back and forth also shows us something.

6 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Have you seen this discussion on whether intuitions are valid evidence in philosophy? Unsurprisingly, the question is, whose intuition>

Clarissa dijo...

" If women are different from men, the implication is that all women are the same. An enlightened universalism is much more respectful of differences, because it realizes that some women resemble some men more than they do other women."

-EXACTLY!! I can't tell you how happy I am to read this statement here.

"Jaime Gil de Biedma's Spanish is more like Auden's English than like Lorca's Spanish."

-Again, I couldn't agree more. I never said this out loud because I didn't want to be ridiculed by people who insist that linguistic community reigns supreme, but I always felt this.

Is this a little preview of your new book? If so, I will definitely be reading it.

Jonathan dijo...

A lot of what I write here is a preview of the book, Olga. Especially any post on Zambrano, Lorca, Gamoneda, Valente, San Juan de la Cruz... This post is more of an aside, provoked by my former colleague Roberta Johnson's article in which she shows how María Zambrano has been evoked by "difference feminism" in Spain. I don't think Zambrano would have approved of this necessarily.

Essentialism is kind of insidious, because it creeps into thinking of otherwise brilliant people.

Clarissa dijo...

I have to ask, how did you figure me out so easily? :-)

I tried teaching Maria Zambrano 2 years ago, and I have to confess that it didn't go very well. Students said it was one text that they didn't enjoy at all. I know that the reason was that I wasn't teaching it very well. I will be looking forward to the book now.

Jonathan dijo...

Ukraine - Southern Illinois - Galdós - Yale. You were easy to identify.

Zambrano is hard to teach. You need a certain context. If you are somewhat resistant to her as well, as I am, it is somewhat difficult. In theory I ought to like her work, and I do to some extent, but I often find it hard to take.

Clarissa dijo...

"In theory I ought to like her work, and I do to some extent, but I often find it hard to take."

-This is exactly how I feel too. And I must have allowed this attitude to seep into the way I was teaching.