9 February 2012

(Indeterminate, yet sharply delineated noise; perhaps of gunshot or fist thumping table or boot contacting stone)

"I refute it thus."
--(Dr. Samuel Johnson, kicking a stone; rejecting Bishop George Berkeley's idealist philosophy.)


No matter what the debate, whatever its content or its medium (text or talk), there is likely to be some furniture around. While we talk about things and events, principles and abstractions, cognition and reality, or read about construction and objectivity, we do so in chairs and in rooms, at desks and tables, or even out in the open, where the rocks and trees are. The appeal of these things is that they are external to the talk, available to show that it is just talk, that there is another world beyond, that there are limits to the flexibility of descriptions. Hitting the furniture also works as a nonverbal act, offering the advantage of getting outside of language; its force is that it avoids the rhetorical danger of appealing to nonverbal reality by putting it into words.

The Realist's Dilemma

Of course, the hitting is not just a slapping; not only words signify. The table-thumping does its work as meaningful action, not mere behavior. All the pointings to, demonstrations of, and descriptions of brute reality are inevitably semiotically mediated and communicated. Rocks, trees and furniture are not already rebuttals of relativism, but become so precisely at the moment, and for the moment, of their invocation. We term this the realist's dilemma. The very act of producing a nonrepresented, unconstructed external world is inevitably representational, threatening, as soon as it is produced, to turn around upon and counter the very position it is meant to demonstrate.
The solidity and out-there-ness of furniture (etc.) makes it a hard case for relativists to deconstruct. And just as commonsense observation is the hard case for relativism, it is the soft case for realism. Furniture arguments are realism working on its chosen soft ground. However, there is a cost for realism in this strategy: for in resorting to these cases, realists appear to be setting aside, conceding even, a huge amount of more contentious stuff to relativism--language, madness, the social order, cognition, even science. And it is generally disputation about these sorts of things that ends in table-thumping, the point of such gestures being to bolster a realist defence of something more contestable. In the rhetorical situation we are describing, the relativists may be winning the Epistemological Wars, but are in danger of losing the final battle. The forces of relativism are gathered about the last and best-defended castle of realism (Fortress Furniture), laying siege to it, and in the process suffering a blistering bombardment--Bang! Bang! Bang!

The Bottom Line: The Rhetoric of Reality Demonstrations - Malcolm Ashmore, Derek Edwards, and Jonathan Potter

1 comment:

Pink said...

I have a relative preference for soft plush sofas when it comes to furniture. The browner the better. The advantage of plush sofas is that they tend to soften the banging sound of reality.