Talk:Irrealism (the arts)

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Older discussions from before the page was split have been archived at Talk:Irrealism/Archive2.

Even older discussions from before the page was split have been archived at Talk:Irrealism/Archive.


Hello, as you may have noticed, I have changed things around a bit. I hope that the Nelson Goodman enthusiasts won't mind the fact that I've changed the opening sectioin, and put his section down in the "philosophy" section. However, irrealism is a term that proceeds his use of it--e.g., the Czech writer Karel Teige was using it in the 1920's--so I didn't feel that it was accurate to create the sense for the reader that all the other manifestations of irrealism somehow flowed from his conceptual framework. Other than that, I greatly expanded the Literature section, and added a little bit to the end of the Art section. Only being superficially familiar with Goodman, I didn't do anything there, though the previous discussion regarding him looks quite interesting. Curiously, Sartre and Husserl also spoke of an "ireal" in the course of their work, so bringing in Sartre wasn't that out of place, though neither ever developed it into an irrealism as such. Anyway, let me know what you think. Jcimrman 8-27-06

Hmm. Just conceivable I guess. If you can find a definite reference that predates the Structure of Appearance I'll be convinced (and I'll submit it to the OED because they're currently looking for Irrealism refs.) If this is true the page should probably be split since in that case irrealism in art would be fairly separate to philosophical irrealism. --cfp 09:25, 28 August 2006 (UTC)
Just jumping in here. The latin languages don't use "unreal" and "Anti-real" but rather "irreal" as in the French word "Irréalisme" or the Italian "Irrealismo". So occurances of the word won't be hard to find. But, if we want to stick to English here and allow for a distinction between Anti-realism, Realism, and Irrealism, we are going to require a little precision. Another problem: While we can mention Sartre, Kafka, and so on, we need to be careful not to confuse apples and oranges due to only certain similarities. Sartre was an Existentialist, not an Irrealist. It might be more correct to think of Kafka as a Surrealist or German Expressionist. We may find there is a whole lot of Hegel in Irrealism but that doesn't make Hegel an Irrealist. I am however very pleased with the bold changes being made to the article. Can we try to link the parts together a little better? Or do we prefer splitting the page?Joseane 13:48, 28 August 2006 (UTC)
Ahh I should have known that. Well observed. In that case is most of the literature described as irrealist really just "unreal" (fantastical), e.g. calling it irrealist is just a mistranslation. I've read a fair bit of a Calvino and he is certainly fantastical, but I would be hard pressed to call him irrealist in the philosophical sense (though the odd bit might be structuralist, e.g. the first chapter of Mr.Palomar). I think this just reenforces the need to split this page. The "Irrealism in the Arts" page could discuss how it's merely a mistranslation of unreal, and the "Irrealism (philosophy)" page would say that Goodman appropriated the mistranslated word. I presume Jcimrman would vote against splitting (correct me if I'm wrong), so it looks like you have the deciding vote Joseane. What do you reckon? --cfp 16:05, 28 August 2006 (UTC)
Regarding CFP's point: It's a little unclear, then, when Goodman first used "irrealism", as the text of the entry refers to a 1978, not a 1951 work. If it is the '78 work, than it is clearly predated by the Barth qoute, which comes from a 1974 book (the one in the bibliography). However, I'm not convinced that, even if Goodman used it first, in the field of philosophy, in English, that it therefore becomes universally applicable to all fields and all other uses of the word. Regarding Joseane's point, that "While we can mention Sartre, Kafka, and so on, we need to be careful not to confuse apples and oranges due to only certain similarities. Sartre was an Existentialist, not an Irrealist. It might be more correct to think of Kafka as a Surrealist or German Expressionist." Sartre was certainly an existentialist and not an irrealist, but elements of his philosophy might be useful toward a definition of irrealism as a literary or artistic style, and I think that's all the point that is being made here. More importantly, I think it is the point of these writers that to judge Kafka as a Surrealist or German Expressionist is to deny him his innovations, and the innovations of a unique style of writing that has arisen in the last hundred years (would you also classify the Japanese writer Kobo Abe, for example, as a German Expressionist?). That in fact what Kafka and others was and are doing was distinctive from existing terms, and that they are trying to find a term and set of characteristics to describe it, and have settled on irrealism. (Besides which the various Surrealist groups that follow in Breton's footsteps wouldn't and don't regard Kafka as a Surrealist). Regarding CFP's point that somehow "irreal" was mistranslated, I don't really follow that. It is true that it is, in the latinate languages, the dominant word that means "unreal", but in English, the Slavic languages and German it all takes on the secondary meaning that I described, so I don't see how it is that in English, which is as much Germanic as it is Latinate, it is somehow a mistranslation and we should condemn everybody who is so useing it by having the "Irrealism in the Arts" page could discuss how it's merely a mistranslation of unreal. Regarding the question of splitting, that would depend, based on CFP's last point, whether all meaning of "irrealism" must be derived from Goodman. Indeed, I have the sense that neither CFP nor Joseanne wants the term irrealism to leave Goodman's domain: it appears as if you think there will be a page devoted to Goodman, and then a page devoted to how everybody else is mistranslating the word. And I don't believe that Goodman has the stature--the theoretical dominance over even his own field of philosophy, much less outside of it--to lay such a claim over it. So, no, I certainly wouldn't favor splitting it. Looking forward to your responses. Jcimarman 28 August.
I was under the impression that all your old users of irrealism were not writing in English. If this is not the case, I apologize. Nonetheless, I think there is still a very strong case for splitting this page. Irrealism in the arts seems to have very little to do with irrealism in philosophy, and this is the generally accepted criterion for splitting a page. If you are worrying about Irrealism in the arts being a harder to find page, then I am happy for the main Irrealism page to be a disambiguation page between irrealism in the arts and irrealism in philosophy. --cfp 19:34, 28 August 2006 (UTC)
It is true that irrealism, such as it's being used in the arts, has little directly to do with Goodman's irrealism. I do think there's a certain synergy amongst all these uses of this term, which I would argue results from the term's hybrid status in English (which might be more linguistically friendly way to put it than as a mis-translation--unless of course you're terribly partial to the Latin languages), but it's probably true that such a synergy can't justify them being together given the criterion you have cited--it's more the topic of an interesting essay than an enclopedia entry. So, in that context, I guess I wouldn't have any problem if, as you say, the main Irrealism page is a disambiguation page between irrealism in the arts and irrealism in philosophy, although that Tristan Tondino in the "Art" section does seem to refer to Goodman, so that could be a complication. -- Jcimrman 20:53, 28 August 2006 (UTC)
So much interesting stuff! Let's take a page out of Goodman's book. There won't be one definition of this term that will absorb all definitions. I have no idea what disambiguation entails so I'd say go for it! I still think we're mixing too many things together. I don't mind most of the opening - would love to see more on Irrealism in Philosophy (Elgin, Yablo) and the historical ancestry. Kant -(the antinomies - the enlightenment), Hegel (The Dialectic - Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis)- The Philosophy of Revolution, Marx, Bruno Bauer, the destruction of objectivity, the angst and general loss of direction that occured when history took "direct conversations with God" out of the picture... and left us with the big question that's at the core of this discussion. But that would require a book. Goodman's intention, I believe, was creating the philosophical groundwork for mediation i.e. there is some measure of truth in each view and while they contradict, they still describe similar things from alternate perspectives. Kafka's Metamorphosis is about a guy who can no longer live in the version of the world in which he's become trapped. He can't refuse his role openly so he does it by turning into a monster. His family can't live with his refusal so it ends in tragedy. If we are to look back and call authors like Kafka and Melville (e.g. Bartelby, the Scrivener) ancestors we might want one clear criteria. Do we have any suggestions? Also Tondino is arguably an Irrealist in that he at least makes the claim to be one. It is rather common place that each new trend looks back and claims others held similar views, nonetheless we are rewriting history by applying the "isms" of our time to our unsuspecting ancestors. How many times have we heard Kierkegaard described as a Christian Existentialist? Joseane 03:52, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

I've stopped the indentation but I am adding one more thought. I would like to suggest the best definition of "Irrealism" is still Goodman's. I don't think we should be looking toward elements of style. (The fantastic, moody, murky or whatever) What is key to Irrealism is that it asks us to consider our views of the "really real" as finite views of infinity. By this definition, I would side with Tondino's claim that "Realism is (itself) an Irrealism" and that style is therefore irrelevant. I think this makes the idea "Irrealism" more powerful, in that it is attempting to push an ontological question into places it hasn't really been before. There is far too much Realism in this world - far too much certainty about the nature of things that are truly much more complicated than they appear. Joseane 13:11, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

To Joseane, who writes: "I don't think we should be looking toward elements of style. (The fantastic, moody, murky or whatever) What is key to Irrealism is that it asks us to consider our views of the "really real" as finite views of infinity." I would answer: I think you are underestimating what lies behind style. There may be a few, very formalist, writers who write a given way (or painters who paint a given way,etc.) because they are purely experimenting with style. But, in what we might call great literature, style becomes what Sartre calls a rhetorical act, a means to better express an idea or feeling. In describing writers who write in a style called irrealism, then, I think we must say that they are necessarily expressing a sense of ambiguity about what is real, and challenging our tendency to want to proclaim a single, concrete reality. Why would Donald Barthelme, for example, write in the way that he did, especially given the overwhelming dominance of realism in the United States? I think because he wanted to "ambiguate" (to borrow a Wikipediaesque term) reality, and found this impossible to do in with the prevailing realism, which very much postulates that our current reality is the true reality, or some form of fantasy or science fiction, which postulates itself, after the suspension of belief, as being the true reality.) As far as Goodman having the "best definition" of irrealism, I think obviously that depends on your point of view. Coming from the Anglo-American phiosophical tradition, as you seem to be, I'm sure you'd feel that way. And for good reason (in my opinion), as he seems to be, based on the secondary source reading I've been doing of Goodman in the last few days, quite an interesting philosopher. Nonetheless, my background is more in the continental tradition, and I prefer Husserl's phenomological ambiguation of reality--the "ireel"--for a variety of reasons, but especially because it is then possible to bring in Heidegger and Sartre's existentialism, which I think is appropriate, as they describe the anxiety and absurdity that is inherent in a world in which there is no single world. Jcimrman 19:38, 29 August 2006 (UTC)
This is all very good. I don't consider myself on one side (Ang vs Con Phil). Both sides have had very interesting things to say and still do. My point is we can bring Kant, Hegel, Bauer, Heidegger, Sartre, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Frankenstein, Cocteau, Hitchcock, Terry Gilliam and so on into the definition but I'm not sure where we'll be able stop. Sartre's metaphysics in "The Transcendence of the Ego" is very close. But I'd suggest we avoid calling Sartre an Irrealist because he apparently preffered the term "Existentialism". Instead, I think we should be trying to show why Irrealism is distinct from Existentialism. i.e even if it is only a shiny new linguistic paint job. What do you think CFP?Joseane 19:14, 29 August 2006 (UTC)
My suspicion is that Husserl etc. are already covered extensively elsewhere. My suspicion is also that if their position has been described as irrealism, it is certainly not what they are usually known as. (I would probably call it post-Kantian pluralism or something, but like I said I don't really know the post-Kantians that well.) Also my understanding is that if you AAA-ize Husserl you end up with a position closer to Rorty than to Goodman. (And Rorty certainly isn't an irrealist.)
My guess is that the irrealism in the arts and irrealism in philosophy arose roughly in parallel. The below is my guess at the chronolgy of the term in english:
  • In the early 70s the term started being used in the arts in typical deconstructionist fashion, e.g. inventing a new-word where really one or more old words would have sufficed. It's meaning wasn't really specified, but those who used it thought in leaving its meaning unspecified they were making a higher point.
  • In 78 Goodman describes his position as "something akin to irrealism", based on the kind of works irrealism had been applied to up to then.
  • Later philosophical critics (who weren't as aware of the arts as Goodman was) who started taking Goodman's position as the definition of irrealism.
  • Later still, as Goodman's position was so much better specified than anthing that had come out of the (continental) artistic critical literature up to that point, it was also adopted as the definition of irrealism in the arts, though even for people like Tondino who explicitly mentioned Goodman's irrealism, it still seems their irrealism owes more to the original vague use than to Goodman.
So broadly I would say anything before 1970 is a distraction, and that a fairly clear split between irrealism in philosophy and the arts can be made. Tondino might be mentioned in both, though the bulk of the discussion of him should probably still go in the arts page, on the basis that the "in philosophy" page should stick to theory and at most brief examples.--cfp 20:28, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

Yes, I certainly agree that for an encyclopedia entry they should be split, and also that Goodman’s concept should predominate in the philosophical section, as he wrote most clearly about it among English language writers. Also, I agree with your chronology up to: “Goodman's position was so much better specified than anthing that had come out of the (continental) artistic critical literature up to that point, it was also adopted as the definition of irrealism in the arts.” Actually, I’ve been rather involved in the arts for quite some time in this context, both in the United States and in Europe, and only recently stumbled on Goodman’s irrealism. This isn’t too surprising since his use of the term has limited circulation even in philosophy: looking at 3 of the leading reference guide’s to philosophy (Oxford, Routledge, and the update to The Encyclopedia of Philosophy) in conjunction with our discussion I discovered that not only wasn’t “Irrealism” granted a separate entry as a term, but even the entries about Goodman, though mentioning “Ways of Worldmaking”, didn’t mention irrealism. So while I agree with your chronology, and your analysis regarding its use in the arts pre-Goodman, I once again have the sense that Goodman’s use of the term is being given credit for a wider currency than it might fully deserve. Additionally, there was a continental figure, a Czech writer of some note, Karel Teige, who wrote extensively developed his concept of Irrealism in his last work, The Phenomenology of Art, which he wrote in the late 1940’s (not the 1920’s, as I wrote earlier) but which wasn’t published for political reasons until the 1960s. Jcimrman 07:57, 30 August 2006 (UTC)

I agree. Let's split the page. Unfortunately, I don't know how to do it. So... any suggestions on how? Regarding Goodman's lack of representation in the above mentioned Encyclopedias - it doesn't surprise me in the least. The slant toward science, physicalism, realism is so intense these days that I'd love to count the number of references to the word "art". If we split, we'll have the opportunity to represent the variety of versions which is in keeping with (I'm sure you'll all agree) the spirit of Irrealism.Joseane 08:44, 30 August 2006 (UTC)
OK the deed is done.--cfp 11:20, 30 August 2006 (UTC)
Thanks!!! I'm already thinking more clearly.Joseane 13:02, 30 August 2006 (UTC)
Looks great. I did do a slight edit for the "arts" description, to something a bit more general, so you might want to see if it looks okay to you. Thanks for splitting the pages! Jcimrman 07:22, 31 August 2006 (UTC)