This presentation revisits the widely considered relation of semiotic forms to moral experience, with a focus on the much-maligned reputation of language as an inauthentic expression of one’s ‘pure self’. Such castings focus on language as a referential system and hark back to modernist sensibilities that words obscure self-understanding and instead give rise to conventional configurations of experience that derive from and accommodate society. In popular and scholarly discourses, language surpasses other social products in its moral positioning as deceptive, superficial, imprisoning, and/or coercive. This paper discusses some of these assumptions in relation to two ideas: 1) The linguistic configuring of experience varies in relation to agency and control, as more or less volitional (e.g. lexical selection versus basic word order in English). 2) Language not only refers to experience, it also is itself experienced through speaking, writing and other semiotic channels. The latter distinction finds its parallel in the difference between Geertz’s (1983) and Kohut’s (1985) renditions of experience-near and experience-far, where the former dwells on a spectrum of symbolic expressions and the latter on kinds of communicative engagement. Integrating these assumptions with Gadamer’s conviction that self-understanding is realized through dialogue, the presentation considers the less-discussed point of language as a path in the pursuit of experiential authenticity.
A light lunch will be served.
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