(c) 2011 MJKelly

In Control

On the Intersubject

Intersubjective engagement (here I get into trouble)

Latour (1999) more recently discusses the epistemological divide between thing and consciousness, and endeavors to transcend it by eliminating the human as an absolute unit and relativizing it on a scale of human/non-human. That is, perhaps, one way of doing it: merge humans and things into “humings.” It still leaves the question of how it is we represent such hybrid things. Yet he seems otherwise to have his finger on the thing anyway, in his discussion of the gradual process of interaction that culminates in stable, socially verifiable narratives about engagement with the world.

While others have claimed the epistemological divide is a myth (Bourdieu?), they offer little enough means to explain its persistence or method for moving beyond it. So here’s my two cents. The epistemological divide is a theory of individualism writ macroscopically small. In problematizing the basis of “knowledge” of the “world,” not only does it presuppose “the world” as something that exists someplace else, but fails to ask a more basic question. More primitive even than how we represent the world, it seems to me, is how we represent.

Assuming we can represent the world, how do we represent what we know? We implicitly assume some Lockean form of social blank that eventually takes the form of an autonomously framed individual mind which, through universal reason, will in the best possible world be self-scripted, the author of all that it knows. It is a sort of authorial process in which empirical, material engagement becomes the ink, and right reason the pen.

Knowledge is thus an adventure, literally a going-forth into the world, a sensorial intellectual labor that is the complement of the material effort that, in a similarly Lockean vision, transforms the stuff of nature into property. Knowledge then is an intellectual property, universal to labor’s uniqueness. It is as ridiculous a conception of what being human is as the more abstruse ponderings of the economists. Individual mind and individual thing, it is a divided conception of experience, matter broken down into fragments of perception, into distinct qualities.

And so my point, which I’ve made before (“Intersubject”), is this: the basic unit of social analysis isn’t, or ought not be, the “individual” in its relations with the “collective,” but instead intersubjective engagement, whether linguistically or through other non-linguistic (“perilinguistic,” Silverstein 2004:621; see also Parmentier 1996?), semiotic modalities. Just as one cannot start with an isolated individual, neither can one end there. If walking is an asymptotic kind of falling, “culture” is a similar form of social decay, an endlessly ongoing moment of intersubjective engagement, real and remembered.

What Gives Here

The point of this page is to air my views for myself. It’s all part of the dialectic process of “my” life in which I try to understand the nexus of me and you within the larger complex called “America.” Far-fetched, I know. Nonetheless it’s where I’ve been led these past few years. Rather than deny it, I figure now I’ll just indulge it. At some future date I may link this site to another site where I offer results of that historical research which initially prompted these musings.


Welcome to Weblogs at Harvard Law School. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!