A New Imperative

A timeless tale of forbidden love. A brooding, cinematic glimpse of medieval Arabian society. Estate life on an 18th century Japanese feudal homestead. Towering barks that give way to a crystal brook on an expansive, elevated valley, untouched by the looming industrialization.

All are descriptions that induce a mental image. A few of my favorite things, I suppose. (I got the inspiration from the books I’ve read and the films I’ve watched.) I see them in my head clearly – images so fine and picturesque I almost believed they were made exclusively for me. Piecing them into words was not very difficult yet I can’t expect that everyone will partake in my crazy, happy stupor, nor do I expect people to see the same things I see.

Mental images can drastically differ from person to person. There is no such universal picture and no single standard because the images we form in our heads are contingent on our experiences, and feelings, and perceptions. But given a description, there should be some consensus on what the said retelling should look like. For instance, the thought of a “bedroom” should have all the qualities that an actual bedroom has, and it’s more simple than you might expect: a bed contained within a room. But you probably imagined something more than just that. Some cabinets, perhaps? A desk? Windows with shutters? Is it morning? How’s the state of clutter? Is there someone inside? Is he sleeping?

Or consider the first example above: “a timeless tale of forbidden love” Does the phrase refer to a pair of star-crossed lovers, ala Romeo and Juliet? Or perhaps a highly taboo same-sex relationship in a highly conservative society? It is unclear what image should form as love itself is an abstract thought. Moreover, by adding “a timeless tale” to the mix, it’s easy to be seized in a paroxysm thinking of such examples. What is clearer, however, and easier to imagine, are “towering barks that give way to a crystal brook on an expansive, elevated valley.”

The former situation, one that involved abstract, impenetrable thoughts, is what I feel about philosophy. The narratives that I provided illustrate why I have always believed in the value of language precision. I thought language was most effectively utilized when the meaning comes through loud and clear after the text has been read. For most of the readings, that was not exactly how I felt and I found it frustrating dealing with the jargon at first. Consequently, I was struck with a kind of cognitive dissonance, since I believed that the purpose of studying philosophy was to make other things easier to understand. I realized I had it backwards; a discipline requiring systematic logic, analytic rigor, and rules of evidence was not simply going to be a walk in the park.

I’ve also found that the intentions of these writers aren’t always obvious, and that philosophy is an endless endeavor to arrive at an unreachable truth. True for many philosophical texts, there exists an unavoidable multiplicity of interpretations when even the simplest language comes into play and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To forcefully induce into prospective writers the protocols of simple technical writing is to rob them of their agency. No winners in a scenario where our worldview is limited to whatever we experience. In fact, the diversity found in the experiences of others far outstrips that of our own. By engaging with others and learning about them, I feel I’ve gained a thousand lifetimes. I feel as if part of their mantle has been transferred to me.

The selections I’ve read, especially those of Descartes and Ricoeur, perfectly illustrate my sentiments to the detail. My experiences have once perverted my outlook and left a bitter aftertaste, rendering me incapable of even considering others’. I can now attest to the opposite – that a man lives as many lives as embraced with his encounters with people. By entering a dialogue with them, I am able to enter bygone worlds far more subtle, intricate, and vast than I could imagine. Notwithstanding my struggle with impenetrable philosophical texts, I’ve actually decided to pursue them more aggressively. The payoff of finishing one is great, that is, to learn and to consider. It’s my way of closing the unbridgeable chasm between myself and my limits.

To get up and and see the world afresh; meet new people, engage in new texts — I have philosophy to thank for that.

Sean Hong. 154888. JTA-A.

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