Avoiding Resonance

On topics from religion and politics, through literature and movies, to philosophical positions and scientific theories, I frequently hear people say that they seek out what “resonates” with them.

What I want to suggest here is that we should all seek to avoid what resonates.  This tendency is particularly dangerous in fields like religion and economics, but I would claim it is equally pernicious and undesirable in choosing what movie to watch or painting to hang on the wall.

What does it mean to “resonate”?  I think the way people generally use it today does derive from its literal meaning.  Resonating is picking up, echoing, and deepening an existing sound.  What most people seem to mean by this term, then, is that a particular text (in the broad sense of that term) is echoing back for them, perhaps in a richer and more satisfying way, what they already think. Or, perhaps, is putting into concepts for them what they already do in their everyday lives, and so offering a sort of “justification” that makes their actions seem right, and even inevitable.

I think this should be troubling to all of us. Seeking what resonates is a way of avoiding understanding and critical thought, of reifying the world of our ordinary common-sense understanding.  It robs us of the only kind of freedom we can possibly have: the ability to understand better the working of our World, and so to discover different ways we can act in it, including actions that will change the nature of that World and open yet more options for action.

In religion, seeking resonance usually leads to a kind of narcissism. The religious belief which “resonates” with me is the one that tells me I am the ideal subject, in need of no substantial change—perhaps simply in need of being recognized by others for the ideal subject I am. The religion that demands something of me, demanding effort or new ways of thinking or simply ethical behavior I don’t feel like engaging in, can be dismissed because it “doesn’t resonate.”  In philosophy, the pursuit of resonance is just as troubling.  The goal of philosophy was once to help us determine the kinds of desires we ought to cultivate.  Now, the goal becomes to help us pursue the desires we already have—but never to examine their source or their desirability.  What resonates, quite simply, is whatever tells us what we want to hear, and so keeps us securely deluded and powerless to do anything more than fantasize about states of imaginary plentitude.

My goal, lately, has been to avoid reading things that “resonate.” To that end, I have been reading a great deal of Charles Taylor’s work.  Taylor’s belief in God, and commitment to what he calls a “a more original, primordial” and so “preconceptual” kind of “contact with the world” are obviously opposed to my own position.  Yet I do find Taylor to be very insightful and intelligent, much smarter than I am by any definition of “smarter” you might suggest.  This is important here: it would be useless to waste time engaging with something abjectly stupid just because it clashes with my construal of the World.  Reading nonsense like Dale Wright or Jordan Peterson is not a productive kind of dissonance (not the best term, but I cannot think of a better one at the moment). Not that such activity is useless—it may be necessary to perform some analysis of such popular stupidity in order to counteract it (by the way, I had forgotten Peterson’s name, but a Google search of “right wing idiot Canadian” reminded me).  What I am after here is not critique of stupidity, but challenge from someone whose position, while different from mine, is intelligent and challenging.

Taylor is not caught in the Romantic ideology to the extent that most philosophers today still are, and is working to escape the picture of the world we have been trapped in since the 18thcentury, caught between the alternatives of Lockean empiricism and Romantic expressivism (which turn out not to be alternatives at all, but merely complementary aspects of an ideology—my term for it, not Taylor’s).  I find I get much more from reading one of Taylor’s books, in the challenge of sorting out where exactly our positions diverge, and why, than I would from reading something by a fellow Lacanian-Althusserian. At least, I do at this point in my life.  And anyway, there are only three of us in the world, and I’ve read everything the other two have written.

What I’m struggling with now is the connection between this preconceptual contact with the world and the belief in God. Are the two necessarily connected?  In particular, is belief in the former necessary to support belief in the latter? I’m not sure about this yet, but for the moment I want to try to spell out my own objection to the position that Taylor and Hubert Dreyfus present in their book Retrieving Realism.

As Taylor and Dreyfus are, I am also interested in recovering realism from the dual errors of reductionism and relativism, from the Kantian idea that we are hopelessly blocked from access to the Ding an sich.  However, I’m troubled by the particular solution to this problem Dreyfus and Taylor suggest.

They use Wittgenstein’s metaphor of being held captive by a picture, and argue that it becomes very difficult to see the framework of assumptions within which we think.  So difficult, they say, that many, such as Rorty and Davidson, who believe they have escaped the Kantian picture have in fact reproduced it in their own assumptions. I would agree here (although my own argument against Rorty is differently focused and more heavy-handed, it is similar to the one Taylor and Dreyfus make).  However, I am not sure I see how they think they have escaped this same picture.  A key term for them is the I/O, or inside outside, model of the world and the mind. This is what we must try to break free of. The mind is the “inside,” and the source of reason and concepts, but the world of sensory perception is outside, and it is unclear how we can ever guarantee a connection between the two.  As they put it, “we are left with the image of the self-enclosed subject, out of contact with the transcendent world,” which leads to “the picture of each mind acceding to the world from behind the screen of its own percepts, or grasping it in molds of its own making,” which leaves “no way of rational arbitration of disputes” (55-56).  This diagnosis of the problem seems to me correct, but I’m not sure I agree that they have escaped it.

I’ll try to explain my confusion briefly, then offer an alternative that I think better succeeds at escaping this conceptual trap.

It seems to me that the idea of a preconceptual contact is still caught in this I/O picture.  Taylor and Dreyfus argue that we can develop correct (if corrigible) conceptual depictions of the world, but that these are a later development, following from our original preconceptual contact.  They would deny that we begin with an objective contact with the world, and then have it warped by our conceptual construal, however.  Their position, following from Heidegger, is that “grasping things neutrally requires modifying our stance to them, which primitively has to be one of involvement” (35).  So far, I would agree.  We don’t start out objective and then become biased by concepts (to use the common language of today’s college students). Instead, we start out with an intention, and then are able, with concepts, to acquire an objective concept of things in certain kinds of human social practices.  Okay.

My problem comes with the idea that this initial contact or stance is preconceptual.  This is where they seem, to me, to be still caught in the I/O picture, with a divide between our concept-free engagement and our objective concepts.  (Their version of this divide is close to McDowell’s division between necessity and spontaneity, although they differ with him on exactly the same point concerning the existence of a preconceptual contact). They may have flipped the values of the terms, but there is still an I/O divide here, and it remains unclear to me how it could be possible to have any perceptual construal of the world that is not already informed by concepts.

Taylor and Dreyfus use the example of the skilled footballer, who is able to act on the field without forming concepts.  And this, for me, would be a perfect example of why for humans we cannot have any such thing as a preconceptual engagement. Nobody plays soccer prior to learning a lot of concepts without which they would never be able to play the game. They suggest that the player who sees an opening on the field does so “without the benefit of concepts”(76) but this seems to me to be impossible.  The player must have concepts of the rules of the game, the speed and skill of other players, his own speed and skill, etc., in order to determine what would count as an “opening” at all.  My suggestion would be that we gain this apparently, but only apparently, concept-free contact with the world only after long practice using concepts. We must practice so long that the concepts seem to operate almost automatically, and only then do we get what might appearto be (but are not) concept-free abilities.

The only way to escape this I/O picture, it seems to me, is to stop thinking of the mind as an atomistic thing which contains the structure of reasoning within it prior to any engagement with anything external. That is, we must give up our intuitive atomism, in which we form our minds individually in interaction with the world, and only then begin to interact socially with others.  My claim is that the structures of our reasoning come from our language, which is something we enter into in its fully-formed, if sometimes still malleable, state.  Furthermore, the world we interact with is largely a humanly constructed, socially meaningful thing. We cannot begin to get any kind of useful contact with it until we have entered into the language of our culture.  We are surrounded by things that have meaning because of human social symbolic systems, and could not begin to construe them, or interact with them, prior to gaining access to those symbolic systems. Think of the things around us: a mailbox, a book, a lamp, a television, a sofa—which of these things could exist without language? How can we gain meaningful “contact” with them prior to the concepts which produced them?

This is not to say we have no direct interaction with the physical world at all.  But I agree with Taylor and Dreyfus that that interaction begins as interested, motivated, involvement.  Further, I would suggest that we are the product of two streams of external input here: the physical world and the world of concepts.  Neither can make any sense to us without the other, but neither is internal to us.  In fact, I would suggest a different spatial metaphor is needed here: rather than inside and outside with might think of the subject as the point of intersection of two different streams, or the crossing of two different strings in a net.  There is no “inside” for the external to be poured into; rather, the subject is the meeting of two causal streams, both of which precede and are “external” to its point of existence.

I’m sure that last paragraph is, as my daughter used to say, clear as mud.  So I’ll try to develop it a bit.

One problem with grasping this model, in which reason is in the discourse we enter into and not our supposedly individual mind, is that it seems to most of us obviously wrong.  For instance, this may seem unlikely to someone like Taylor, a very intelligent person who has spent his life working with and teaching only the most intelligent members of his society in prestigious and competitive graduate programs.  Because those members of our society will all seem to share, by the time he engages with them, the same form of rational understanding of the world. So it would seem that it must be something internal to the structure of the individual mind. But for someone like me, who has spent many years trying to teach college students who, although Americans and native speakers of English, have very poor literacy skills and extremely little knowledge of history, Literature and science, it is evident that the basic logical structure of the mind is not inherent in the brain.  These students are not lacking functional minds; rather, they are are part of a very different (collective) mind.  And as a result their supposedly preconceptual contact with the world is quite obviously and dramatically different from mine.  For instance, the supposed cogency of a logical syllogism is, for them, not at all convincing.  They can learn to find it convincing, in my experience, only once they have entered into, become part of, a different collective discursive mind. To put this in terms of my streams metaphor, they must become the intersection of very different streams—something which seems to happen only gradually if at all.

One question that this model of subjectivity raises is the problem of the corrigibility of our knowledge.  How can we correct our construal of the world, if even the standards of reason are socially produced and not fixed universals “inside” our minds?

My suggestion is that it is only on this model that such correction is possible at all. As Taylor and Dreyfus have convincingly argued, the I/O model always leads only to skepticism and relativism, exactly because there is no guarantee that your concepts correspond at all to the Ding an sichoutside our minds.  On my model, we cannot really be too very wrong about the nature of our percepts, because they are part of what we just are—we just are partly physical processes in the world which we usually think of as perceptions of the external world, combined with concepts we have created to guide us in achieving our intentions (these concepts, which we inherit with our first words, of course also give us our intentions).  We cannot be wrong that we are bumping up against a rock, although what this means to us may be very variable.  We may be wrong in our theory concerning the properties of the rock that are not immediately sensible, but that is another matter altogether—our theorizing about those properties are the product of our intending to accomplish something, and we can discover if the theory is correct only by whether we succeed.

This last is simple pragmatism, right? But we need to avoid the error of assuming that because this is true of our theories about properties and causal connections, it is also true about our simple physical experiences of the world; these latter will remain impervious to our conceptual construals, a part of what we are that the other part of what we are cannot alter. We need not fall into the error of ontological collapse, assuming that if one truth is tested in this way then all must be.

The harder question is how we are able to gauge the “correctness” or relative value of our symbolic systems, of the discourses in which we create our intentions and concepts.  This should be the real “hard problem” in philosophy.  Because we need not worry about mind/body connections once we realize the mind is simply the interaction of two material processes with somewhat different ontological statuses (one of which is non-human and one of which is produced by human actions).  We need not worry that our sensations are tricking us, since our initial interaction is not the running up against an outer boundary but is a meaningful process of involvement in the world, constructed of the point of intersection of a physical process and a social process. But we do need to worry that we have created foolish or harmful intentions for ourselves and others, and these errors may be hard to detect because they do in fact precede and enable our (individual) initial interaction with the world.   Or, in my stream metaphor, they are one of the two streams which collide to produce us. Plants and animals may be simply physical processes, but we are constitutively, as humans, the combination of two distinct streams of causality. There can be no sensory experience prior to concepts, because we only exist once conceptual and physical streams of causality have met.  We cannot change the physical laws of causality, but we construct, and so can change, the socially symbolic causal stream.  But how would we know it needs reconstructing, or gain any vantage from which to do this?

This last problem, though, has been largely ignored, or dismissed, in the postmodern relativism of today.  There is no deciding between two different cultures, we are told, because there is nothing to judge them on and anyway we cannot “jump out of our own skin” (Dreyfus and Taylor cite this metaphor from Donald Davidson) and look at ourselves in any way which would enable an objective evaluation of our social/symbolic construal of the world.  So long as we are trapped within this assumption, we will remain confused an unable to alter the world that we inherit.

What we need to keep in mind here is that there are always multiple, often conflicting or contradictory, streams of social/symbolic causality.  I’m basically agreeing here with McDowell’s point, which Taylor and Dreyfus cite, that “experience inextricably combines receptivity and spontaneity.”  I find McDowell’s book, Mind and World, difficult reading, but what I take him to mean by this is that an experience is always both the sensation of external stimuli (receptivity) and the application of reason (spontaneity). Reason is the source of “spontaneity” because it is how we are able to be freed from materialist determinism (essentially—I’m oversimplifying McDowell’s point here).  What I would argue is that this “spontaneity” is not something within the individual brain, but is something that also comes to the individual from without, from the social space of language, but also of material social practices in which we live.

Let’s consider one of Dreyfus and Taylor’s examples: the man walking up a hill between two buildings while thinking about something else.  They say that navigating the hill, effortlessly walking over the uneven ground without forming any concepts about it, is a kind of preconceptual contact with the world. My point would be that this is not the case, that such walking is actually a post-conceptual skill we have developed only after having concepts.  For Taylor and Dreyfus, the walk up the hill entails “treat[ing] the different features of the hill as obstacles, supports, openings, invitations to tread more warily…this is nonconceptual…language isn’t playing any direct role” (50).  Perhaps not…but I doubt it.  It seems to me that language and concepts have determined how we “treat the features of the hill” completely.  Think of what it would be to walk that hill in a different World: say, instead of a professor walking between two university buildings, we imagine a hunter-gatherer in pre-Uruk Mesopotamia.  Would he be walking the hill in the same way, with the same supposedly preconceptual skills? We already know it is safe, we need not look out for food sources as we walk, etc. The “skills” with which we walk uphill are dramatically different because of the conceptual world in which we do it.

Even an infant learning to engage the world does so dependent on the always-already conceptually constructed social space she is born into.  Her relations to others are socially determined roles she must learn, and the space she crawls around in is baby-safe and full of objects meant for her use.  She is not learning a preconceptual engagement with the world, but learning, at a minimally linguistic level, the concepts in which she must engage the world to succeed.

So now let’s return to the problem of deciding between cultures, of making choices about the conceptual construal of the world that, on my understanding, precedesour every interaction.  My point is that we can begin to do this only once we stop seeking “resonance.” Because there are multiple ways of perceiving the world, each shaped by a particular conceptual framework, and we can put them into uncomfortable collision in a way that calls attention to the conceptual frame that actually structures our supposedly preconceptual interaction.  Once we begin to do this, we become free to reason about them—free in the sense that McDowell means: free to do what is actually possible in the existing world (not, that is, free in the facile sense of free to reconceive or remake the world in any way we want).

Perhaps an example from the artworld might help, here. I want to briefly consider a few paintings from Vincent Hron’s recent Tromp L’oeil series.  https://www.vincehron.com/vanitas

d99ea4_8dd82ca0bbce4f92b622f69201b3782b~mv2_d_3505_2796_s_4_2

In one painting called “Wrench” we see a typical Romantic landscape: a pond, wooded hills, a blue sky with clouds on the horizon. Then in the center, apparently hovering in front of the painting, a Tromp L’oeil pipe wrench.  The oddness of the ordinary, and very un-Romantic, object is jarring, and breaks the illusion of the landscape.  But what is striking to me is the mix of genres, calling attention to the constructedness of the structure of our perception. The landscape might seem to be very “realistic,” almost objectively photographic, until the wrench reminds us of another and supposedly even more “objective” genre which attempts to precisely imitate its object so as to fool our eye.  Also, the Tromp L’oeil genre flourished during the era in which Lockean empiricism arose, in part an attempt to create the pure perception of the object as it appears to our senses before thought interferes and distorts it, and in part a commentary on the susceptibility of our senses to deception, of our inability to access anything more about the thing itself than sensory input. The Romantic landscape, on the other hand, is meant to restore us to the pure reception of nature, removing concerns about the workings or failures of reason and allowing the expression of emotion.  Putting these two genres together on one canvas produces a sort of unsettling or jarring effect, in which two ways of perceiving, each of which we thought was presenting an objective copy of something in the world, are both seen to be in fact generic constructions. They not only represent their objects differently, but choose different kinds of objects to notice.  The conflict here is exactly the conflict we have faced since the late-eighteenth century, between empiricism and Romanticism, which, as I mentioned earlier, turn out to be not really opposed but necessarily complimentary ideological forms.  The landscape may “resonate” with us, luring us into the Romantic ideology still so prevalent today, but the wrench calls attention to this way of perceiving as exactly post-conceptual, and opens up a space of critical thought.  What we can grasp in the form of this painting then is the necessary gestalt flipping back and forth between the structuring frameworks in which we always construe our world, so that our very sense perceptions are exposed as the product of concepts, not the groundwork of them (as either Romanticism or empiricism alone would assume).

What happens here, then, is exactly an avoidance of resonance at the perceptual level.

d99ea4_6a56a461affe47889ff04986b8f97af1~mv2

Or consider a more politically charged example, called “Precariat Trump L’oeil: Neighbors.”  Vince says that he “liked that tromp-l’oeil rhymed with Trump-l’oeil and could be used to convey [his] concern that some of those most vulnerable in our society might be most susceptible to deceptive campaign rhetoric,” and the politics of painting dilapidated row houses with the illusion of an insect crawling across the painting is clear. But for my purpose here this also helps prevent the aestheticization of the lives of the precariat class that the skill of the painting and the composition might produce. The title seems at odds with the “Beware of Dog” sign that draws our attention to the line of division between the homes, and the Tromp-L’oeil insect reminds us of how easily our very sensory perceptions of the world can be fooled by the expectations produced by genre.

d99ea4_a796c9b36a2249ae99facf6e8a6784d8~mv2

One final example, then: “Brick”.  Here we have three genres in collision. One a realistic picturesque landscape suggesting the freedom and romance of travel, another an abstract that calls our attention to the complexity and insubstantiality of ordinary objects, and finally a Tromp-L’oeil brick which suggest the simple solidity and substantiality of objects.  There is no privileged genre here, and each one undermines the construal of the world the others might offer us.

To return to my original point, then, what Vince Hron’s paintings suggest to me is that even in what we take to be ordinary non-conceptual perception, we need to avoid “resonance” if we hope to gain any kind of real agency in the world.  What I hope the paintings also help demonstrate is that we can gain a kind of critical vantage point on the world not by “jumping out of our skin” into some supposedly objective place, but because we are always engaged in multiple different and sometimes conflicting social/symbolic, discursive, even perceptual, construals of our World.  This is not a problem to overcome, but an opportunity to take advantage of.

This is why I try to engage mostly with those whose work does notresonate with me.  I can only really produce the kind of theory of a collective subject that I am working to produce here if I am forced to clarify it in distinguishing it from other positions that are both intelligent and plausible.  I’m wary of disagreeing with Taylor and Dreyfus here, because I do take them to be very smart, and they seem to me not to make stupid errors.  My concern is that my own position might be missing something, or that in my disagreement with theirs I might have missed some subtle point that would make it more convincing to me than it is.

But here they seem to me to be making a mistake in assuming that there can ever be a preconceptual experience.  It seems to me that perception just is conceptual, because it just is the product of the social/symbolic and the material impact.  That any attempt to separate out the material impact from the social symbolic component is like trying to separate out the water from the hydrogen. We can separate this out, but only afterwards, and as a result of the originally concept-laden perception colliding with alternative possibilities in the social space.

Of course, as always, my great concern is to make my position clear.  I don’t expect many people to accept it, as it runs to contrary to our universally shared common-sense understanding of the world, in which we are atomistic selves with thought that occur inside our individual brains.  However, I do hope to make it clear enough that when people reject it they will at least know what it is they are rejecting.  These are just rough notes toward the book I am working on, so any objections, questions, or correction of conceptual error would be appreciated.

The Romantic Real

I’ve been thinking about the Romantic subject, because that is the topic of the section of my book that I am working on right now.  I’ve also been reading a great deal about the theory of language, following from my earlier reading of Brandom’s book which I discussed in some previous posts.

What strikes me as obvious here, because after all I am a Romanticist, is that the impasse that many contemporary philosophers of language are struggling to overcome is exactly a Romantic impasse.   I’ll try to explain as lucidly as I am able.

The Romantic concept of the symbol, and of art generally, is devoted to a concern that language not become too explicit.  That is, the affective power of a poem, or of a painting, or even of a particular place, is dependent on our failing to do what Brandom says we should try to do with language: to make explicit the implicit commitments and assumptions that inform our experience.  Charles Taylor argues, in an essay I don’t happen to have access to right now, that this is also Heidegger’s theory of language; Taylor’s argument, as I recall, is that for Heidegger it is necessary to us, as language using beings, to perform this act of making implications explicit.  If we don’t do this, we are harmed as human beings (I believe Taylor uses the term “maimed”).

For example: A simple activity like participating in a PTA meeting at your child’s school is loaded with assumptions about power relations, the nature of parenting, nature of eduction, etc. We can just go on with the activity and so reproduce and naturalize these assumptions, or we can make them explicit in language with analysis.  Brandom says we can, but don’t always, perform this making explicit. Taylor seems to suggest that for Heidegger, forbidding us to do this somehow diminishes our humanity.

The point is that we are capable of stopping short of this explication.  When we do, the particular event or scene or even language can take on a powerful affective quality.  The Romantic task was to insist that we stop at this emotional response, and not destroy it with explanation or examination.  This stopping short enables two things: one is that we then see this as a kind of inward-turn, as an examination of the depths of our selves; if we examine the causes of these emotions, we might discover the ideological commitments and assumptions about the world informing these otherwise everyday acts and events, and see that this emotion we think is deep within us is actually socially produced, produced by our cathexis of ideological practices.  The other thing stopping enables is that this particular ideological formation become naturalized, experience as something that “resonates” deeply with our nature—culture becomes nature, through the experience of this moment of excess and ineffability.  We must fail to realize that the excess is likely caused by some contradiction or tension in our ideological practice, and that it is in fact often completely effable.

Wordsworth’s famous “spots of time” in ThePreludeare perhaps the prime example of this. Assuming that certain intense and affectively rich memories are messages from some purer state of nature, of God, or of his own childhood’s innocence, Wordsworth wants to avoid analyzing them, figuring out why, for instance, the memory of his impatience and annoyance just before his father’s death would produce feelings of guilt.  Instead, it is taken as proof of the rightness of the existing order of things. Freud, of course, would attempt to analyze such childhood memories, explaining their affective power and intensity in terms of their function in his own ideological interpellation.

So, maybe this isn’t so clear to anyone who is not a Romanticist?  And even a Romanticism of a particular (Marxist or new historicist) stripe. The point, though, is that the goal of the Romantic symbol, of the poem in particular, is to naturalize a particular set of ideological practices by investing them with unexamined affective power.

And perhaps because I’ve been thinking about this lately, I was struck with with something Charles Hallisey says about the “real” in his recent conversation with Glenn Wallis (a videodiscussion is available here: https://youtu.be/4QCsx8vMw8M).

In discussing the goal of Buddhism, Hallisey suggests that it is the pursuit of the real.  He then defines the real by turning to Romanticism, and particularly to Keats’s concept of “negative capability”: to be “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”  (Hallisey quotes indirectly, so differently, but this is what Keats’s letter of December 1817 says).  Keats goes on to say that when this is achieved, “the sense of Beauty overcome every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”  Hallisey clearly suggests that this is what Glenn is attempting to do in his recent work—to approach the real, but the real defined in this way. That is, to approach what, for a Romanticist, is the ultimate kind of ideological obfuscation: mistaking a powerful affect produced by social practices for evidence that we have escaped all social construction.  Glenn, doesn’t really respond to this directly, but seems to concede that this is what he is doing.

My concern is that I believe this is exactly what most Western Buddhism is doing.  Naively reproducing Romanticism, and thinking that by doing that we will escape the suffocating pressures of subjugation by ideology, and live as free, authentic and unconditioned selves.  To mistake Romantic ideology for the “real” is a huge mistake.  (I would, as I’ve said before, argue that this is also what Laruelle is doing…but that’s a more complex argument.)

What I want to consider instead is the Lacanian concept of the Real, connected to Freud’s concept of the unconscious.  In this version, the Real is not some powerful thing from outside the oppressive realms of culture.  Rather, it is produced exactly by the limitations of our culture, of our symbolic system.  The Real is the point where the aporia of our symbolic system trouble us, because, to put it too crudely, things are happening which we insist on believing are unthinkable and impossible.  The point of the Real, then, is the opposite of the point of negative capability (which is just another term for the Romantic symbol). The Real is the point at which we need to begin all that irritable reaching after fact and reason. Because only explication will offer us a (slight, but important) increase in our freedom.

My question is this. I’ve spoken to another Romanticist about this, and her take was that this seemed quite obvious.  But I seem unable to make it clear to most other people—and not just to those who have some interest in Buddhism or Buddhist scholarship, although they seem particularly unable to grasp this, and unusually enamored of Romanticism in its Deleuzian (and Laruellian) guise.  I would like to be able to make this point clear to an average college graduate, someone who perhaps was not particularly trained in the study of Romanticism.  Is my point here really completely impenetrable?  If so, at what point? What would I need to make more explicit in it?  Would examples help, or only confuse?

I will email Glenn with this question, to see if he wants to engage it at all here. As I’ve said, I am reluctant to comment on SNB any longer, because I feel like the annoying guy who just keeps pointing out the same thing over and over and interrupting the conversation.  Sort of like when I was a grad student in psychology, and I would point out repeatedly that the experiment proved a particular treatment didn’t work. At a certain point, people just got angry with me—they simply chose to redefine failing to relieve symptoms as a cure, and couldn’t see why I wouldn’t stop objecting to this.  Nobody seemed able to get the point, so it’s best to stop being the annoying jerk at some point.

Why is it so very difficult for most people to see that this particular misunderstanding of the “real,” as a kind of profoundly ineffable affective power, is just the reification and naturalization of the contradictions inherent in our ideology? Is it in some way personally and psychologically threatening to grasp this? Or perhaps Romanticism has so thoroughly structured the way we think, become our common sense, that it is impossible to see it, like noticing the air?  Any other possible explanations?