Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Metaphysical Cast of Mind

Joseph Carroll writes in his book Literary Darwinism that the "metaphysical cast of mind" is characterized by a "naive humanistic faith in the supreme efficacy of grandiose abstractions" and a "credulous susceptibility to 'Big Words.'" He contrasts this with the scientific approach (exemplified, according to Carroll, in Robert Storey's book Mimesis and the Human Animal), which places its faith instead in a "cumulative and self-correcting body of empirical information" (Carroll 59).

I love the turn of phrase (said the rambling humanist) and I think he has a point. Sobriety of style is something all serious writers should strive for. On the other hand, if philosophy and literary criticism could be fully assimilated into said "cumulative and self-correcting body of empirical information," we'd probably call them physics, biology and information theory.

I will continue to put my own (possibly naive) humanistic faith in the curious gods of our universe, science among them.

(Image from


Dr. T said...

Many in the humanities have "science envy" and have reacted in two ways: 1) denigrate science, and 2) come up with a terminology that make you sound "scientific." The latter only goes to show that many in the humanities have no idea why scientists have the terminology they do, which is to simplify and clarify. Humanities people use their terminology to act as ways of keeping people out and obscure.

It's too bad, because it seems to me that the role of both groups should be to make themselves clear and understandable to as many people as possible. The point for both groups is to educate others about what they are doing.

John MacEachern said...

Sounds to me like somebody hasn't yet reduced his paternal signifier to its inherent constituents of nonmeaning. Keep chasing that object a, man.
There's actually an interesting chapter in The Literary Animal on the theoretical and practical incoherence of Lacanian psychoanalytical theory. I think my favorite Lacanian formulation is in Bruce Fink's The Lacanian Subject when he claims that the mother (or was it the [m]other? I can't remember) is like a giant crocodile from whose jaws the son can only be saved by the phallus, which must insert itself between her jaws (symbolically, of course) and prevent her from biting down and devouring him.

"Whatever such twaddle may mean" (to steal Robert Storey's phrase), it's an impressive image.