notes: ambiguity and offense

First, the example of speakers offended by an interpretation of their words they didn’t intend. Oddly, this doesn’t seem to happen often, by my reckoning.

Then, we might find examples of [those] bad faith interpretations [this is the precursor to the above, sometimes/always seeming to have the intent of offending (?): Where does such “bad faith” interpretation occur? How does one identify such an interpretation or identify the motive.]

Reality may not require proof and may indeed easily withstand harsh scrutiny. though not requiring proof, sustains under scrutiny. Like The Truth (which is something frequently construed with the idea of “Reality”), it is as Hannah Arendt said, “stable” [Derrida cites her in No Alibi]. A lie, though frequently (always, probably!) conveyed on a structure of facts (“true” facts, if you like), is nevertheless unstable. I think this is one way that ideas of The Truth and Reality get conflated. An idea like The Truth is taken to be this far away “other”, something not experienced in the here-and-now, an ultimate state in which all discontinuity is reconciled — like, “someday”.

On the other hand, Reality is construed to be “what is”, or what is seen, simply and without contrivance; the facticity contained within immediate experience. With so much fact underpinning a concept that, of its own, wouldn’t actually sustain scrutiny, a person is often left to simply trust that, all things being equal, if one thing is true, all must be within a claim or utterance. So a lie propagates.

We can imagine scenarios in which something is promoted or marketed as being an expression of The Truth, but for which no actual, underpinning facts exist; we can all imagine, similarly, those times in which Reality is asserted. Usually, it is an unpleasant reality (no one ever says something like, “You have to just live with that great wealth and privilege, my friend, that’s just reality!“. No, Reality is usually unpleasant and The Truth is ever strived for and never found.

Both of these common construals, unseen Truth and unmediated Reality, are examples, I think, of deeply abiding lies that ride high on a current of otherwise “true facts”.

Consider what “is true” now and what can survive the shared experience

Consider what is measurable and how this is experienced and construed and communicated. A pure contrivance is not experienced, construed, or communicated in the same way. Though a contrivance may survive and flourish, perhaps for centuries, its promoters must continually work very hard to prop up its artifice and pull in (or hide) its discontinuous edges. In this environment we might have occasion to turn the lie inside out.

Shifting from the broad to the narrow. A speaker insists:

I am only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.

There is a tremendous amount of tension between ideas of Truth and Reality in this brief sentence. Taken from one point of view, this could be taken as displaying an assumption that one’s own communication exists at the highest level [of rhetorical plane?]; that an utterance is inherently factual [how?] — taken at “face value”; that one’s audience surely must have made a great effort just to deliberately misunderstand or to construe one’s own pronouncement in the worst possible interpretation!

This could also come from a defensive attitude in which the speaker might insist that the audience is compelled to assume good intentions. It is idealistic; possibly coming from an attitude of self-righteousness, but maybe it’s just naive.

Taken from another position, such an expression is blandly true. The statement seems to says nothing other than to restate the obvious: “I spoke; you heard sounds”. No winners are to be found here. If the others are construals of privilege, this last one, by contrast, is the position of a simpleton.

Yet another position would be from someone unwilling to travel down this road — the road of privilege of interpretation; “I mean what I said”. A refusal to engage in negations or attempts to “fix” the expression, with doubling back, counter-interpretation, finding some hidden logic.

Yes, of course it’s true, simply, that a speaker is basically responsible for utterances; sounds emanate from the mouth. But, what was the need? What circumstance produced the utterance? And was the speaker aware of the meanings and codes uniquely possessed by the audience or only aware of his or her own meanings and codes; of the signifiers that might potentially create a different interpretation than intended?

An utterance leaves one’s face and radiates outward to other minds who, in turn, might repeat and alter the code, change the words, shift the meaning. The speaker cannot change this physical fact of human nature. But, the speaker can judge the importance of the message and take a proportional responsibility for its integrity while communicating.

If a message is not important, then the audience can be made fully responsible for correct interpretation. In such an instance, the above quote would never be uttered (one would hope; it would be petty).

Where the message is important, such an attitude would rightly be considered flippant, as when a politician or industry type blames the audience for misunderstanding a message containing disastrous implications. A speaker really does seem to have a large responsibility for the level of understanding of the message.

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