Page 207 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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note the process of experimentation in relation to the observer’s narrative, coupled to the
changes we see in the other. The observable is put into context. In Figure 14.10d we see the
relationship between models and narratives. In Figure 14.10e we see the mapping of meaning
in the terms of Figure 14.7. In Figure 14.10f we consider the processes of generalization and
specification.
In Figure 14.10g we see Polanyi’s notion of focal versus tacit attention. This will
allow us to bring in the explicit assistance that the humanities might lend the sciences and
their mode of understanding. Although a physicist, Polanyi uses the distinctions to build
meaning, richness, and ambiguity in hierarchies of literary structure. Needham (1988) is
explicit as he points to the limits of literary criticism. To play out Figure 14.10g, let us turn to
Needham’s treatment of Polanyi’s focal and tacit attention. Needham refers to the
Shakespeare sonnet in which the bard says, “Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds
sang.” First the poet appears old and desolate, comparing himself to a ruined church, and then
an old tree. The birds in the tree are the choristers. The choristers are like the young man who
wrote the early sonnets. And then there is a more distant reference to the galleries of old trees
appearing as the pillars and arches of the church. There is a banging up and down the levels
of association. Much as the holon of Arthur Koestler (1967) is contradictorily both a part and
a whole at the same time, the poet is both old and young, a choirboy and a bird, set in the
context of the tree while also under the arches of the ruined church.
Again in terms of Polanyi’s tacit versus focal attention, Needham takes apart
Daisy
Miller
, a novella by Henry James in
Cornhill Magazine
in June–July 1879. Winterbourne is
attracted to Daisy, but cautious. So Daisy takes up with Giovanelli, a fortune seeker.
Winterbourne inquires about it. “We are just good friends,” she claims, and James tellingly
adds, “she answered sparing but a single
small queer
glance for it, a smaller queerer glance,
he felt, than he had ever yet had from her.” Needham starts the analysis with the word
small
.
The word most obviously drawing attention to itself is ‘small’. We take it as
something like ‘quick’ or ‘little’; neither of which would quite do. And we sense that
‘small’ is physically suggestive, making us purse our lips a little. It also probably calls
to mind the vulnerability we sometimes feel in Daisy; she seems here to shrink
momentarily. Thus thinking (tacitly) about ‘small’ makes us think about ‘queer’, since
we have to fit them together. At this level of usage ‘queer’ can mean something like
‘upset’ or something like ‘suspicious’: ‘she looked queer’ or ‘she gave me a queer
look.’ Both meanings come in here, corresponding with Daisy’s vulnerability and
reaction against it. The words react with each other and the whole that they are
forming and they react in subtle and complex ways. (1988: 37)
Winterbourne defends Daisy after she left the party, rebuffed by the hostess. He does this
even though we might imagine that he takes “just good friends” to mean that Giovanelli is
Daisy’s lover. There are more contradiction here as to his feelings. In the end it appears that
Giovanelli is forced to meet Daisy’s standards, and they are literally only “just good friends.”
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