Incompletenesses

–Jean Cocteau, French litterateur, records the following interchange involving composer, Darius Milhaud:

“[Milhaud] shows his old housekeeper a very faithful painting of the great square at Aix.

You see, it’s the square at Aix.
Answer: ‘I don’t know.’
What? You don’t recognize the square at Aix?
‘No sir, because I’ve never seen it painted before.’”

The rub isn’t how well the painting depicts that which it is a painting of, but rather we recognizing what it means to be a remove away from literal representation. The painting itself—better yet, any mental model we have—is that which we can compare only against other representations (mental models). Moving toward uncertainty and risk (from the directions of certainty or unstudied conditions) means not only that we have a more complete appreciation of reality as contingent, provisional and messy; we end up also seeing how the permanent incompletion of representation drives the very production of more representation.

–The criticism against specialization is that each specialism—and there are so many—encourages an infinity of specialized questions and topics taking us further and further away from ever gaining a total view. Yet when infinity meets infinity, you’d think there’d be some overlap.

The more specializations, the easier it should be to recognize we share the limits of knowledge, right? The more we differentiate needs, risks and issues, the more likely we can recast (represent) the complex into multiple ways that matter, right?

To put the matter more familiarly, a reason why we have not all tipped into seeing the world one way only is that, while the world is real, it is more complexly real than humans can cognitively realize (such is the argument of philosopher of science, Roy Bhaskar). No single or new representation could ever even pretend to complete the reality that other recastings are both irresistibly forthcoming and inescapably required.

–Is the sense of incompleteness the felt part of an irreducible particularity of being, that sense we never body forth as representative or total?

“The [French] Constitution of 1795, like its predecessors, was made for man. But there is no such thing as man in the world. In my lifetime I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; thanks to Montesquieu, I even know that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare that I have never in my life met him; if he exists he is unknown to me,” declared conservative critic, Joseph de Maistre.

Or consider the more recent lines of poet, Fernando Pessoa,

They spoke to me of people, and of humanity.
But I’ve never seen people, or humanity.
I’ve seen various people, astonishingly dissimilar,
Each separated from the next by an unpeopled space

Lessing’s Nathan says “I have never asked that all trees have one bark.”

–Henry Hardy, who labored long over editing the work of Isaiah Berlin, recounts: “Russian translation rights in an Oxford dictionary had been sold to a Soviet publisher on the usual condition that the translation should be a faithful rendering of the original. However, when the Russian book arrived, it was found that a change had been made in the entry for the verb, ‘make’. One of the examples of usage in the English text was ‘God made man’; but in the Russian edition this appeared as “Man made God’”.

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