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William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague.

Gavin, William Joseph. William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992. xi + 227 pp. $37.95--Gavin argues that the restoration of "the vague and inarticulate" to its proper place in experience is vital for James's texts (pp. 45, 86, 92). In the first part, "Interpretations," he shows how religious concerns led to the metaphysical notion of "reality as vague." In line with the "unfinished" Jamesian text, the second part offers "Conversations" with texts of Peirce, Dewey, Marx, Rorty, and Derrida. The third, "Applications," true to the "directional" thrust of James's text, puts that text to work in modern art and medicine (p. 13).

Since reality is broader than the "known" and the "knowable" (p. 49), philosophy's "linguistic pronouncements" give "epistemic clarification" but fail to fathom the "thickness" and "depths" of reality (pp. 174, 50, 89). "Real" signifies "inexhaustible fecundity" (p. 94), "profusion" (pp. 92, 159), and "jewellike" experience glistening in diverse ways (p. 154). James is best designated "radical realist," for being can be "alluded to," but not "captured," by language (pp. 91, 79). Our focus here has an "illogical subconscious periphery" (p. 148), the "fringe" of an "unfinished continuum" of "selective choices" (p. 23), where interpretations of reality become part of its content (pp. 121-2).

In James's "relational metaphysics," the universe is "incomplete" (p. 178), possessed of a "vagueness" which is not, ontologically, a "fall from grace" (pp. 178-9). This "metaphysics of pure experience" (p. 77) discloses Being (p. 85) through language as the "way" to, or "conduit" for, pure experience (pp. 88, 92). But the "insufficiency" of language (p. 89) means that it cannot go "all the way down" (p. 187) into the tissue of reality. Language is ambiguous: both liberating and insulating (p. 170), necessary and betraying (p. 82). Though tempted to put language aside, simply to act (p. 185), James never stops writing, and this is the "crux" (p. 186) for Gavin. Language is thus saved for James--and James is saved for writing--by the way in which we "preperceive the present moment through the concepts of the past" (p. 67), by the way we "create" reality in naming it, in linguistically molding it (p. 72) into "a leading," where each word and sentence is a "sliding focalization" for something more (p. 74).

The unfinished Jamesian text thus defers and defies closure: writing is "eternal incompleteness" (p. 10), and the text is "an activity," a sustained effort to continue the will to believe (p. 55), a way to get on with the choice to go on (p. 190), a "return" to experience (p. 192) as a mode of nurturing the "fragile self" (pp. 134-5). Reality is beyond linguistic formulation but is accessible only through the concepts with which we talk and which are made for practice, not "insight" (pp. 158, 90). Language is the "house of pure experience" (p. 90), but the "whole of pure experience" cannot be confined by language (p. 91).

The power of the provocative vagueness of the Jamesian text to reinstate the "fluency" which is human life itself (p. 191) confronts late modern culture where "the other is now no longer to be taken for granted at the experiential level of everyday life," which is ruled by "immediacy" (p. 167) and "locked in the eternal present" (p. 164). Since the "primordial, prereflective form" has been displaced by "a conceptual paradigm" which "espouses immediacy as optimal" (p. 177), and since immediacy is the opposite of the vague or mysterious (p. 169), the act of belief of the Jamesian textual act of naming the unnameable can be released for the sake of "transcending the immediacy" of the present (p. 164). This entails "empathy" with experience--both that of the other and that of the past--which is "performative" and "reaffirms the indeterminate" (p. 170). Thus, the "affective" suggests that the basic trait of reality is its ambiguity (pp. 172-3). If what saved James was the will to continue to articulate this armbiguity, what saved this will to the text-as-directional was a steadfast sense of "reverence" as a "ladder to the most exalted truths" (p. 183). Gavin makes Jamesian writing the object of this reverence and provides not only a rich exegesis of James's unfinished textual arch, but a spur to his reader to address the meaning of the activity of writing as "pure experience."
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Author:Galgan, Gerald J.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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