Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How I Interpret Phenomenologically

Phenomenological interpretation of the sort that I practice is an attempt to submerge in the lived position of what I interpret.  The interest grounding the phenomenological interpretation is not in coming to agree or disagree with what is interpreted, but in rendering the position itself inhabitable by the reader in the way it was inhabited by the author.  Each attainment of this inhabited space is tentative, and we can introduce more material from the author to continue to adjust it - even to track differences over time.  With this inhabited standpoint, we may switch to a critical interpretation which will positively assess its limits, perhaps through imaginative variations that shatter the view (make it impossible to maintain).
Phenomenological interpretation clearly assumes somethings external to it, namely, that the position is able to be inhabited by the interpreter, and that if this position is uninhabitable that it must be rejected as even a possible standpoint.  This could be due to the author's poor description rendering the entry into the position impossible or, at an unfortunate extreme, the recognition of a form of experience that is otherwise than human (or rational).
Of course, there will be a circularity in using this interpretation technique to establish what 'humans' are determinatively, but it can serve regulatively in relating ourselves to those who it is possible for us to relate to.  But this circularity itself plays a role in the process of addressing the command 'know thyself' because it more and more clarifies what is involved in the universal human experience (in the limits of the interpretive process) and what is learned.  This being said, phenomenological interpretation has its sweet spot in texts that express elements of universal human condition (all texts due, to some degree).  This could be a text in any style, be it a poem, a work of philosophy or fiction.  Some genres are easier for reconstructing the lived experience, and some are harder.  Some may be open to multiple standpoints that are blurred together (either antinomic or complementary), and which may need to be separated.
As I practice phenomenological interpretation more I find greater confidence in an ability to inhabit the standpoint of an author and then emerge into the text of any number of other authors who had also led me to inhabit the same standpoint.  This enhances my interpretation of these other philosophers as well, since I find new routes to inhabiting their own standpoint.  Additionally, when moving between authors in dispute, I can find where terms are functioning differently for each within the same conversation by comparing where I can submerge myself in one author and emerge in the other.  Also, reading a tradition that has inherited its terms with an understanding of how to submerge myself in both reveals how one generation takes up another, and inherits what was thought in it, without exactly preserving the standpoint.
Biographically speaking, my reading technique is originally motivated by a rejection of contention and dispute as adequate ways of advancing understanding.  Ideally, when a dispute emerges, I think it is crucial that the conversation be allowed to completely settle the dispute before giving any arguments for what is to be done or understood.
We need to be able to communicate with each other better than we do, and even when people seem very difficult to understand, and it seems like a burden to understand them, we should be practiced, patient and gracious enough in our understanding - liberal enough with our understanding - to try to resolve our disputes at their foundation.  This requires each to work on understanding themselves as a means of discovering this foundation.
As a way of closing this out, I want to consider the significance of the name 'phenomenological interpretation.'  A year ago I was happy to call this sort of interpretation 'philosophical', and now I have decided to refer to it as 'phenomenological'.  There is a sense in which I have not settled on an understanding of 'philosophy' and 'phenomenology,' and that putting them in connection with the task of a technique or program for reading does violence to them.
For 'philosophical' interpretation, I was trying to emphasize the friendship aspect of the manner in which I interpret, which at the same time seems to require that one does their own work; that one gives themselves entirely to the interpretation.  'Phenomenological' interpretation here places emphasis on the way in which taking on a different position can alter the way that things appear - not always by adding new hypotheses, but exactly by removing them and clarifying the view in order to get to a description of more and more 'pure' phenomenon. (The use of the term 'pure' here, which must - form me - involve the removal of 'empirical' content, must seem strange.  It does to me as well, but there is a sense that all empirical content brings with it a specificity that is specifying and has the character of a hypothesis, and so paradoxically, in an analysis of experience to get to its structure, there is something of a struggle exactly against the material that is provided.  This seems to be why the form of experience is described in 'formal' language.  Understanding 'formal' language is itself an interesting task.)

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