There has been a lively and interesting dialogue going on at the ALL THINGS SHINING blog. It’s true that sometimes in an exchange, the dialogue takes over, and becomes more than the sum of its parts. We think thoughts and say things that we would never have come to without being engaged in that particular discussion.
Sean Kelly has made this dialogue possible, and has committed to following it through. He is a good exemplar of its fecundity, and of its possible stumbling blocks. As he talks of « gratitude », we can be grateful for the conversation that has been given to us. One of the things that Kelly uses this dialogue for is the ability to amplify on the core points by way of a discussion of various circumstances that can help to make them comprehensible and even plausible, plus the capacity to re-focus on the core points, and to abstract them out from the circumstances.
However, I am a little more sceptical than Kelly is about this distinction between the core and the circumstances, if applied absolutely.
Perhaps Kelly’s image of the dialogue as an Auseinandersetzung could be applied to the relation between core and circumstances. The core, in this case a “decision being given” (I find this formulation more satisfying than “being given a decision”) may sometimes bear traces of the circumstances in which it was formed. Even if a decision is formed from beyond our ego’s control, we may still be in dialogue with it, we may still struggle (for example we may talk it over with a friend, mull it over, or do some research).
What Kelly calls a “radical” or a “minimal” reading, allows him to pare off extraneous connotations and to focus on the core. This corresponds to what I have been calling a “generic” perspective and language. I use the term « generic » (along with Alain Badiou and François Laruelle) to indicate the attempt to free one’s descriptive language from unnecessarily specific properties, images, or assumptions.
However, this generic language need not seek to isolate the core, but rather articulates that aspect of the phenomenon that is shareable by people with quite other assumptions than one’s own.
With this distinction in mind I have the feeling that some of Sean Kelly’s expressions are more generic, and thus more acceptable to me, than others.
For example, when Kelly talks about some moments as being “worth highlighting” as compared to others that « recede into the background », this is not the same as saying that some moments “demand our gratitude”.
The first expression (an event worth highlighting) is more generic, than the second (a gift that demands our gratitude) in that we can readily imagine other forms of highlighting than gratitude. The former expression I can go with, the latter (if it is taken as a general characteristic) leaves me uncomfortable and unsatisfied.
In a slogan: more generic is less pious.