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More Hot-Water Musings - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
More Hot-Water Musings
After I conceived of my "practical theory" book that I will almost certainly never write -- I have several other books to write first -- I started musing, less irreverently, on the benefits that such a project might have. What are the lessons that we can learn from theory? The first thing that crossed my mind is that the right mixture of psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, and the philosophy of language a la Wittgenstein can demonstrate the paradoxes of intention. If someone asks you why you did what you just did, you usually feel compelled to answer. Frequently, though, the first answer and then the second and then the third are all unsatisfying. The questioning, whether from outside or within, proceeds until a decent response is finally ready. And then you declare, "That's what I was really doing." But every answer to the question in this series is what is known in theory circles as a "back formation." Describing your intention after the fact involves a backward glance that can't help but focus, not only on the state of mind that preceded the action you are trying to explain, but also the outcome of that action itself. As a result, your judgment will always be colored, no matter how hard you try to imagine your way back into a time before you did what you did. What that means in practical terms is that retroactive statements about intentions exist in a different realm than the intentions that they purport to explicate. Even if you have a clear sense of intention prior to doing something, the description of that sense that you provide later on, looking back, will never be pure. Typically, when something turns out favorably, you say, "I intended to do that," and, conversely, when it turns out unfavorably, you say, "I didn't mean for that to happen." In either case, though, the knowledge of how everything turned out cannot be boxed up in a closet somewhere. It's always there. And that's where theory comes in. The theoretical brew I delineated above puts all sorts of handy tools at your disposal for reflecting on the complexity of this relationship between intention and retrospection.

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idlerat From: idlerat Date: July 15th, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This is true for other things besides intention. Like feelings. I've been in psychoanalytic therapy for years, and I have the hardest time answering questions about how I feel or felt. Now, in the Wittgenstein mode, I'd say that many or most feelings don't exist without context. That's not necessarily retrospective, except when you ask someone how they feel. And then, I think, for a complex emotion like guilt or envy, feelings are about on a parr with intentions. And, like intentions, they're supposed to be primary.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 15th, 2005 10:25 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Right. I would never say that intention doesn't exist or that feelings are only felt retroactively. But the attempt to describe, in response to a query, what you were doing or feeling results, not in a simple and accurate account, but in a multiplication of folds. The intention that existed prior to the act is doubled by the intention that is, in retrospect, imagined to have animated it. And that retroactively described intention is, in turn, trebled by the intention that animates the description itself. Context is key. I've been reading the Philosophical Investigations again, off and on. I always think of you when I read Wittgenstein.
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