Understanding cultural traditions

Zilberman, David B. & Robert S. Cohen 1988. Understanding Cultural Traditions Through Types of Thinking. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 102: 299-329.

In this consciousness, signs are not conceived as such, as their significance is taken for something unshakeably trustworthy, for a 'thing' populating the ralm of natural experience. (Zilberman & Cohen 1988: 302)
Einstein is also the source for "private signs" (e.g. Morris's personal signs). I wonder if the trustworthiness has something to do with this discourse.
Semiotics, which is successful in studying systems of culture on the side of their 'mythopoetic' content, stops in embarrassment before modern forms of cultural activity - such as science, engineering, etc. Their natural sign-ability still remains hypothetical and in principle has nothing in common with the 'worldly wisdom' of common sense and religion. Representatives of the so-called 'normal science' would hardly favor teh idea of explaining their ways of thinking in the genre of myth. On the contrary, they would reject this idea by indicating that the information circulating in modern social systems is never shaped in 'folklore' patterns, even though it may be comprised by public opinion. (Zilberman & Cohen 1988: 304)
This is probably what Cliffort Geertz is suggesting with his ethnography of thought.
As for the term used here as a denotation, i.e., 'tradition', it should be understood not as an object that actually exists but, rather, as a kind of attitude toward something presumed to be existing retrospectively, i.e., once the position is taken. In particular cases, this attitude may take the shape of an apparent presentation, in the form of rememberance, to consciousness of something previously observed, in some other thing. But since the 'past' is also a relation, this 'something' of tradition can be occasionally found in the 'present', or even in the 'future'. In other words, the traditionalistic attitude displays itself by projecting the present norms against the 'past' with the simultaneous transformation of these norms into values, i.e., the pseudo-objects of reassessment of this 'past' from a relatively 'future' position, that is, from the point of our actual 'present'. (Zilberman & Cohen 1988: 305)
That is, "traditions" are not a given, but social constructions. This is nowhere more apparent than local catholics calling for "traditional" family values - a move by which they project a norm that has no place in modern society as if it is time-proven and mandatory. It is doubtful if Estonia has ever been a truly christian area. Looking back, christianity seems more like a facade that was necessary to cooperate with the rulers.
From the subjective point of view, the deontic modality denotes the significance of action completely devoid of any signability. For example, when someone's order is carried out without delay and without reflection of this command as a 'sign' for action, its deontically interpreted significance is the only real one. Deontic is the spirit within esoteric groups with specific 'inner' emotivism shared by the participants. When members of such groups interiorize an external experience its significational nature is completely effaced. It can be noticed only by the onlooked who does not share in the esoteric sentiments. The situation is quite similar with the individual mystical experience. Properly speaking, mystics of any time and place never claimed that their experience is universal. But they unanimously insisted on its non-significational nature. It can be travestied into signs only with attempts to communicate, so that the popular idea of the basic unity of all kinds of mystic experience is externally imposed. (Zilberman & Cohen 1988: 312)
The understandability of current discourse is underlied by obnubilation and obfuscation that surpasses fashionable jargon. In other words, I have little idea what this text is about.
For example, we may reconstruct the definition of 'sign' (τό σηειον) in the Pythagorean 'semiotic' (τό σημειοτικά). It is not difficult to notie that the structure of their Order was used as a prototype for their conjectural generalizations. The Pythagoreans counted this structure as having three components: the 'esoteric' group of 'listeners' (οι ακροαματικα) who followed the intentions of the protagonist 'speaker' immediately and acted according to the pure significance of his utterings; the 'exoteric' group of 'instructors' (οι μανιάτικοι) who addressed the uninitiated (οι υποφαινομενοι) with 'signs' conferring some meanings; and the mediating group of 'signifiers' (οι σημαίνοντα) who invented the means of construing the sense of the whole structure. (Zilberman & Cohen 1988: 314)
All this sounds very important.
Power will be the partial institution of the 'Tibetan" type. Tibetan society is known as the only genuine theocracy, hence, it is most suitable for this type of label. The basic structure of tradition in this case is constituted not by religion as such but by its enactment as a means of power (hence '-cracy'). In this sense, Tibet is chosen as an ideal representation of all possible variations of the type, including the Soviet one: because the only principle difference here is in the nature of power orientation, which is anthropomorphous in the Tibetan case and sociomorphous in the Soviet one. The main feature of this type is the absurdity of value for the cultural consciousness, which results from the absolute inability to think about free choice. This consciousness is subservient to the 'statutory' norm, i.e., a kind of metaphysical action similar to punching , so that thinking itself turns into an epiphenomenon or a serial reprint of the paramount 'metaphysics'. In cultures of this type, the most important source of normative action is the authoritative text, emanating its ascriptive significance and having its proper meaning only as a derivative. Cultural thinking acquires the features of texture, with an imprint of temperation on the statutory mental behavior - and resolves itself in a series of similar 'textoids', rather than personalities. Since the natural organismatics is normatively imposed by power and absolutely subservient to the mechanics of power, any attempt to display free will and evaluative judgment (concerning the authoritativeness of power) is cut short not by excommunication from the culture (as in the previous case) but by physical extermination (in Tibet, most typically, by self-extermination). Thus the carriers of personal values are transferred to natural non-being. Struggle for dominance, being a kind of implicit re-valuation of actuality, constitutes the content of social life. This is why the sociology of power happens to be the only sufficient subject for investigations in societies of the 'Tibetan' type. (Zilberman & Cohen 1988: 321-322)
Whaddaya know, an approach to power quite similar to Lotman's textual enactment paradigm (e.g. life imitates art).


Post a Comment