More on a policy palimpsest

–The philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, writes in The Big Transcript

In a story it says: “After he said that he left her, as he had done the day before.” If I am asked whether I understand this sentence, there’s no easy answer. It’s an English sentence and in that respect I understand it. I would know, for instance, how one could use this sentence. I could come up with a context of my own for it. And yet I don’t understand it in the same way I would understand it if I had read the story up to that point. (Cf language-games.) [7e]

Replace “if I had read the story” with “if I had read the palimpsest,” and you get the point about policy palimpsest. The spaces in between the words, “After he said that he left her, as he had done the day before,” are just as important, if not more so, than the actual words read. The spaces signify all that has been left out, effaced or erased from prior texts used to assemble this composite sentence. Not to see what’s missing is a failure of understanding what you are reading.

–How so? Immediately after the above quote, Wittgenstein asks us to think of the sentence as if it were a painting:

What does it mean to understand a painted picture? Here too there is understanding and a failure to understand! And here too ‘understanding’ and ‘failure to understand’ can mean different things. –The picture represents an arrangement of objects in space, but I am incapable of seeing a part of the picture three-dimensionally; rather, in that part I see only patches of the picture. . .[M]aybe I know all of the objects, but – in another sense – don’t understand how they’re arranged. [7e]

So too we understand the words in a composite sentence but fail to understand the three-dimensionality of the palimpsest–its weight and heft–from which the composite has been patched together.

In actuality, each composite sentence is a rearrangement of the palimpsest’s elements-with-effacements from different contexts into, literally, the straight lines we call sentences. These linear, sequential expressions are, in effect, meshes of interrupted time and space tethered in multiple places to the entire policy palimpsest.

To shift the analogy, making arguments and writing sentences in this world is like fly-fishing, where the artificial fly cast onto the water’s surface is already hooked to what is out of sight for what seems not to be there. If it doesn’t work, you recast.

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