No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. This is, on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement.
...we are not to attempt to hack off parts like a clumsy butcher...
This post follows upon my earlier post, Center Point Construction: Coleridge, Tezuka, Conrad, and Coppola, and presupposed knowledge of it. I want to discuss the method I employed in making that argument and, in particular, I want to argue that it is possible for the profession to obtain objective knowledge of such matters.
I am aware, of course, that objectivity has taken a beating in the past few decades. Nonetheless I persist. I do not think that objectivity is a matter of unmediated access to the world. That doesn’t exist. Nor do I think that a pure heart and a clean mind are adequate to the job.
Rather objectivity is a matter of proper method, of construction or, to use a word from Latour, of composition. Our picture of the objective world is one we compose. And I offer ring form as one of those conceptual objects that we can compose in an objective manner.
The simplest form of objectivity is simple intersubjective agreement. It was when critics discovered that they could not attain intersubjective agreement on matters of interpretation, of meaning, that we began to question our activity, to theorize the discipline. My suggestion is that we bracket meaning and concentrate on describing form. There is where we can attain intersubjective agreement.
That is what I did in arguing about center point construction in “Kubla Khan”, Tezuka’s Metropolis, Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse Now. I note that in talking of description I am not asserting that description, unlike interpretation, is in some mysterious way, unmediated. Description requires its terminology, such as ring form or center point construction, such as center loading, and so forth. But that terminology is about form, not meaning. These statements are descriptive, not because they are unmediated, but, in effect, because that is all that they do: describe. One would, of course, like to know how it is that the mind constructs such things, and why the mind takes pleasure in them. Description will not provide answers to those questions. But I see little hope of constructing answers if we do not start with good descriptions.
Before getting down to it, though, I want to show that I really mean it when I say that I am not presupposing that description is equivalent to having unmediated access to our object texts. Let’s sharpen our knives on Stanley fish.