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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I'll read your response as long as it's not just a series of definitions for your private lexicon.-- Charles Reece in this comments-thread.

Clover refuses to call identification with the Final Girl feminist, because of the many reductive psychoanalytic assumptions that have been a hallmark of feminist film theory: she is “a male surrogate in things oedipal, a homoerotic stand-in, the audience incorporate; to the extent she ‘means’ girl at all, it is only for purposes of signifying phallic lack, and even that meaning is nullified in the final scenes [where she picks up a ‘phallic tool’ and inserts it into the killer].” -- Charles Reece quoting Carol Clover here.
I refuted the particulars of Reece's accusation of my so-called "private lexicon" in the above comments-thread.  However, I didn't explore the irony that the same guy who was criticizing me for being in a "private language bubble" and claiming that he only utilized "common definitions unless specifying a definition."  I would assume that Reece's own bubble allows for such private-lexicon wonders as the "homoerotic stand-in" and "phallic lack" seen above-- to say nothing of elsewhere applying "Jeremy Bentham's panopticon" to a fictional situation that does not literally reproduce anything like a panopticon.

The point here is that Reece's claim above, like most of those who abjure anything but "common definitions," are practically meaningless in the world of literary criticism, which really does require a "private language bubble" of terms and specifications-- though obviously not in the negative sense Reece gives the "bubble."

Just as I noted in my refutation that words mean different things to different people, different critics will build their terminological topologies around whatever they find meaningful.  I can argue against the Freudian dependence of a theory like Carol Clover's, as I did here. But there's nothing I can do to dispel whatever emotional attachment Clover or anyone else has to the terms they find endearing. 

Indeed, I would be hypocritical to argue against the endearment itself, as opposed to arguing against the fallacious logic used to support it.  I'm aware that my lexicon of terms on this blog has been and probably will remain daunting to most readers.  But I believe that no critic worth his salt is ever comfortable with passively receiving terms set down by other analysts, whether lit-critics like Frye or persons from other disciplines like Big Sigmund.


Charles Reece said...

This really isn't that difficult to understand: "world of literary criticism" vs. "private language bubble." Think about it, one suggests a community, a world, while the other suggests solipsism. It isn't jargon per se that's the problem with your responses, but the grinding of meanings (particularly regarding fairly common terms, like freedom or self-determination, not something like phallus) into dust until you're literally making no sense in any shared manner that makes discourse possible.

And suggesting Amazonian control would actually be worse than the panopticon has nothing to do with definitions, which seems fairly obvious, so you're way off on that one.

Gene Phillips said...

It should go without saying that I recognized your accusation of solipsism and rejected it as immaterial when I spoke of refuting the particulars of the original argument.

More to come.

Gene Phillips said...

I've already presented my take on the plurisignative nature of the particular "common term" over which we disagreed, so there's no need to repeat the argument.

However, we have not *only* disagreed over "common terms." On one of the comment-threads we differed on the question of what to call Plato's philosophy, which is surely a matter of jargon. Our old arguments about the similitude of myth and pop culture are also not dealing with "common terms," though you may believe that they are such.

The larger point you're overlooking is that regardless of what *you* meant when you spoke of a "private lexicon," many if not all critics either evolve their own lexicon or make use of someone else's. You definitely made use of terms introduced by other critics, so your complaint about a "private lexicon" becomes fortuitously ironic.

Charles Reece said...

The point was that Marson was opposed to the expression of free will and self-determination, saw them as bad tendencies in need of control and domination. Arguing about the possible meanings of self-determination was beside the point, because his opposition was to the concept that I was talking about. "We" weren't disagreeing about the meaning of a word. I was disagreeing with Marston's view on certain concepts. You attempted to make it all about semantic disagreements, as you always do. That's boring.

Similarly, Plato is a realist, always has been. He's one of the classic examples. You didn't know this, evidently, and chose to argue about the meaning of 'realism' which flew in the face of accepted philosophical usage. This doesn't matter to you, but it makes a discussion pretty much impossible. Again, solipsism.

Gene Phillips said...

It certainly is not a "semantic disagreement" to say that the term freedom means different things to different people. Yes, characters like Gell Osey and the members of Villainy, Inc., want the "freedom" to do whatever they want, but the fact that Marston thought the impulses of those fictional characters-- and by extension, any real-world analogues-- ought to be curtailed does not prove that he was against all "free will and self-determination." Your essay might have had some teeth had it stuck with characters who were not criminals or tyrants. But you chose to bulldoze over those little details. That's a far greater semantic dodge, to assert that, like Humpty Dumpty, that a word like "freedom" means only what you think it should mean in all cases.

Gene Phillips said...

Re: "accepted philosophical usage"-- you mean words are always the same and don't change? REALLY, Charles?

That sounds like a statement from one occupying a language bubble.

If I'm a solipsist, how come I'm the one who googled Plato to see whether the term "idealism" or "realism" was currently more associated with his name?

I refer you again to the concluding remark from GESTURE AND GESTALT PART 2:

'Just for a laugh I googled the terms "Platonic realism" and "Platonic idealism."

The first had 16,100 results.

The second, 67,200.'

Just did the Google-thing again today and the disparity isn't as great-- more like 8000 more hits in favor of "idealism".

Is it merely a semantic dodge that a lot of people think calling Plato's views "realism" goes against the grain of what people mean today when they say "realism?"

Philosophers will undoubtedly continue to use the less-favored term, possibly for the same reasons you've described elsewhere.

But it will continue to go against the grain of that "fairly common term."

Just to repeat the original point, then, no, we have not only argued about "common terms," and in that case you were arguing against a more common meaning, which I upheld.

Gene Phillips said...

And by the bye, contrary to your slur, I had heard Plato called a realist before you mentioned it. I simply didn't agree with the term, and I think those that use it are doing so for unsupportable reasons.

Charles Reece said...

What common usage? Plato's a philosopher. Philosophers call him a realist, because of reasons like he's the big daddy of mathematical realism. Some joe on the street doesn't much form part of the philosophical commons, nor do you. This is about philosophical jargon. You can call him whatever you want, but trying to act like philosophers are wrong for calling him something based on reasons you don't know or understand is foolish.

And note the argument you're having about Plato isn't whether his concepts are correct, useful, or meaningful in any manner, but about terminology. Definitions is what you argued against with my Marson essay. That's ultimately what most your blog is about: your defining or redefining a bunch of terms, linking to other examples of your definitions for terms. That's what you like to do. It's a semantic vortex.

Gene Phillips said...

"What common usage?"

We're speaking of the usage made of a word used by both philosophers and common joes: "realism." The common usage of "realism," using one of those dictionaries you prize so highly, is:

"interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc."

There can be no doubt that no matter how fervently Plato felt that he had demonstrated his universals as the fundaments of reality, they remain "abstract" and "speculative." I don't know what medieval scholastic thought of using "realism" to describe this strand of philosophy, but if modern philosophers still use it, they're working against the grain of current meaning, and for little effect except adhering to tradition.

Gene Phillips said...

"Some joe on the street doesn't much form part of the philosophical commons, nor do you."

Nor do you, if the measure of the "philosophical commons" is being a philosophy professor who can stand on tradition as an explanation of the terms he uses.

"This is about philosophical jargon. You can call him whatever you want, but trying to act like philosophers are wrong for calling him something based on reasons you don't know or understand is foolish."

Jargon is useful when it describes concepts that are difficult to translate into prosaic language. In an earlier post you provided one reason for the efficacy of using "realism" to describe Plato, in that it distinguishes Platonism from so-called "Berkeleyan idealism." I regard this as a case of the definition "wagging the dog," so to speak.

You're right about one thing: I can't sway so much as one professional philosopher from using whatever terms he prefers, traditional or otherwise. But your attempt to paint my disagreement in terms of ignorance-- far from the first time you've done so, with me or other opponents-- is fatuous.

Gene Phillips said...

"Definitions is what you argued against with my Marson essay."

I argued against some of your definitions of specific words in my essays, not against definitions as such.

Charles Reece said...

Reality is dependent on thought = idealism.

Reality is independent of human though = realism.

That latter is Plato's position, cf. his argument of the forms, or his argument about illusions.

That's enough from me.

Charles Reece said...

by the way,

Your google search test is nonsense.

George Berkeley realism = 516,000
George Berkeley idealism = 151,000

it gets far more drastically different (over 42,000,000 hits for realism) if you drop the George.

Similar thing happens with Hegel.

The honorable thing to do is admit that you were mistaken ...

Gene Phillips said...

"Reality is independent of human though = realism."

And it's still a definition that goes against the grain of what the word means in the common parlance you have often championed. Which reinforces my original point; you and similar critics inveigh against terms you don't like by imputing a "language bubble," or words to that effect. But then you then feel free to use words within your own private bubble as it pleases you, whether it's in tune with some authority's usage-- no matter how poorly reasoned-- or a very specialized usage of a common word, such as "freedom."

Similarly, since you didn't get it, I also have a problem with using the panopticon concept-- which promotes maximum visibility of a subject's actions-- to describe what happens in the Marston stories. Call these internal transformations brainwashing if you like, but they have nothing to do with the experience of being watched all the time.

Re: Google search-- you must have omitted the quotemarks, because I get 420 hits for "Berkeley realism" and 14,700 for "Berkeley idealism."

But even if the order had been reversed, that doesn't negate the point that it's still more common to speak of "Platonic idealism" than "Platonic realism." Your take on that commonality is clear, and I trust mine is as well.

Gene Phillips said...

Grammar panopticon here-- "would not negate the point."

Charles Reece said...

Realism is a philosophical word as it applies to Plato. Where have I championed some common "I'm not concerned with philosophy" definition for it? If we were talking about narrative, I wouldn't be talking about the philosophical meaning.

Anyway, platonic idealism isn't the same as idealism. This is what you're not understanding. It's not related to idealism. It means something different. That's why Plato was realist, but is also a platonic idealist at the same time. Really, all you have to is read some philosophical dictionaries online or consult with Wikipedia. You were wrong about claiming Plato as an idealist, because you didn't mean Plato was a realist about his Ideas. Platonic idealism is a form of realism. Idealism is opposed to realism. Get it? Probably not, but this is some pretty basic philosophy 101 stuff here. You weren't then, nor are you now making a point with any philosophical or conceptual import about platonic idealism. You just weren't aware of what the term means, but damned if you'll listen to anybody about anything to have corrected your mistake in all that time. Instead of simply doing a search for platonic realism, actually click on a link.

Gene Phillips said...

When I said:

"And it's still a definition that goes against the grain of what the word means in the common parlance you have often championed."

I'm not talking about your having championed "common parlance definitions" in respect to the word "realism." The word "often" should convey that I'm talking about a repeated pattern, not just one incident. Like this one:

'So freedom is, e.g., (from the Mac dictionary) "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint."'


You continue to insist that the only possible way to define Plato's philosophy is in terms of some philosopher's nifty little breakdown:

"Reality is dependent on thought = idealism.

Reality is independent of human though = realism."

All well and good, unless you don't want to talk about Plato in terms of whether or not reality is dependent on thought. If you want to talk about whether or not Plato grounds in the experience of the senses or in supersensory, abstract concepts, then Plato falls in the latter category, and this does indeed put him closer to Berkeley than either guy is to Comte. That's why I have to keep repeating the point you ignored the first time:

'Charles, I'm sure that if I look up "realism (philosophy)" on Wiki I'll find a lot of stuff identifying Plato and similar types as "realists."

What I'm saying, though, is that outside the philosophy department this is a dead use of the word, which has come to mean something more like "empiricist" while "idealist" means anyone who seems to promote concepts outside the range of sensory input.'


The online discussion you referenced in the comments-thread, to the extent that it involved Plato and similar thinkers, was concerned with ratifying reality through sense-data, not through thought, given that I was debating a devout Popperite.

Again, just like the word "freedom," terms like "realism" and "idealism" are contingent on their connotation.

I don't see how anyone except an essentialist could insist otherwise.