steiner

Hard to jump into without a warm up, but – here George Steiner complains about a drift from literacy that matches a drift from specific meaning – without rigor in language we drift into theoretical concepts we can’t test against experience (Platonic math), or – into sensational sentiment… To what extent is training in the arts, and our pursuit of outcome, aligned with the mirage he points to?

 

“The alphabet of modern economics is no longer primarily the word, but rather the chart, the graph, and the number. The most powerful economic thought of the present is using the analytic and predictive instruments forged by the functional analysts of nineteenth-century mathematics… The temptations of exact science are most flagrant in sociology. Much of present sociology is illiterate, or, more precisely, anti-literate. It is conceived in a jargon of vehement obscurity. Wherever possible, the word and the grammar of literate meaning are replaced by the statistical table, the curve, or the graph. Where it must remain verbal, sociology borrows what it can from the vocabulary of the exact sciences. One could make a fascinating list of these borrowings. Consider only the more prominent: norms, group, scatter, integration, function, coordinates. Each has a specific mathematical or technical content. Emptied of this content and forced into an alien setting, these expressions become blurred and pretentious. They do ill service to their new masters. Yet in using the gibberish of ‘culture coordinates’ and ‘peer-group integrations’ the sociologist pays fervent tribute to the mirage that ahs haunted all rational inquiry since the seventeenth century – the mirage of mathematical exactitude and predictability.”

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