Posted on November 17, 2012
This blogger has been exercised before now about the readiness with which anti-independence campaigners will claim that any form of attention paid to any type of national characteristic is at best a parochial pastime and at worst an embarkation on a vehicle of cultural fascism for the mountain village of Xenophobia. I’ve been exercised too, didn’t you know, notwithstanding the sticking potential of the aforementioned slur, by a lack of wider national readiness to see and accept resident and emerging cultural formations as reason to move with confidence into 2014 and beyond.
These recurring consternations are in part about parochialism. My current excercisedness is specifically concerned with problematic definitions of parochialism and problematic applications of those problematic definitions in the independence debate. There is something unsatisfactory about the bandying of parochialism by anti-independencers as a tactic of attack. More than that, I’m thinking that certain problematic deployments of parochialism in the debate are in fact better examples of intellectual parochialism than their targets.
This last observation writ large presents a healthy challenge to our normative intellectual positions, as well as to pat critics of cultural rationales for independence. I mean by that statement in this bloggy speculation that much deployment of the parochial denigration is indeed more clearly parochial in itself because it represents an intellectual narrowness and parish philosophical conservatism which overlooks progressive issues at stake, or at the very least accentuated, in the independence debate. A quick blast of Habermas can help with this point, before I pictorialise it with reference to James Guthrie.
The best of Habermas, pragmatically, is to be seen in his artful profaning of Kantian transcendental enterprise at the same time as he recuperates something of the universal dimension of Kant’s purview. The structural principles of that type of outlook have appealed to me once or twice before in the context of the independence debate. This is because that outlook allows for expansive, universal possibilities at the same time as full acknowledgement is given to the necessary lifeworld embededness of any credible philosophical world picture.
In other words, productive apprehension of our world is not to be achieved through a programme of fundamental, ontotheological impositions through abstract reflection: it is to be achieved through progressive analysis of humans in the world in their various locations. Such an approach, importantly for Habermas, and for Peirce before him (and for Reid and Hume before him and Geddes with him…) is bound together with the everpresent ambition to uncover in-life common ground that will ultimately prove to be more important than either the isolating and fetishising of the vernacular or the isolating and fetishising of the supernatural.
So this profaning and recuperating is of interest analogously in our current political context because it is born from Habermas’s perception of the transcendental tradition in philosophy as potentially a narrow and conservative enterprise, despite its seeming expansiveness of subject.
From Truth and Justification (2003, Fultner ed. trans.) we get this description from Habermas on his dual project of profaning and recuperating:
After the pragmatist deflation of Kantian conceptuality, ‘transcendental analysis’ refers to the search for presumably universal but only de facto unavoidable conditions that must be fulfilled in order for fundamental practices or achievements to emerge.
Elsewhere in the same work, Habermas delineates the shift in attention for transcendental analysis within a pragmatist worldview: its goal now must be ‘to discover the deep-seated structures of the background of the lifeworld. These structures are embodied in the practices and activities of subjects capable of speech and action’.
We are being encouraged by Habermasian thought here to hold open the possibility of seeking, finding and utilising common ground towards universal momentum in that direction. This is to be achieved by no other means than close attention to the background of the lifeworld which might be revealed in the location of the revealer. Attention to local speeches and actions for a foothold in the global.
Look through Habermas’s profaning and recuperating lens at James Guthrie’s famous work, A Hind’s Daughter (1883).
Our attention is already a thought crime in the minds of those who bandy accusations of parochialism, and my thought crime must be doubly criminal to the bandiers when you consider the prima facie parochiality of the kaleyard subject matter constituting the cultural artefact. But such a pat constriction of the debate must be checked, and the accusation of parochialism should be redirected.
After Habermas, we might attribute parochialism to the nay-sayers, for they, like immaculate Kantians, would see substantive components of serious intellectual and cultural debate only existing to one side of the world of locally-lived lived-relations, especially Scottish ones it seems. The real world of the nay-sayers is to be found, they would have it, in the transcendent domain of untouched, pure reflection, an abstract world that would somehow somewhere prevail in relation to Guthrie’s world-of-earth like the stratosphere.
But A Hind’s Daughter, and much Scottish art since Wilkie in the 19thC, looks at the world-of-earth, at the background structures of the lifeworld, and stares back at us, in turn, with universality in mind. One need not look long at Guthrie’s exemplar here to feel the diminished presence of an omnipotent and transcendent presence of any kind. The girl is as if painted from the stuff of the earth and her handful of vegetables signifies both the separateness of the be-knifed human capacity and the earthly interdependence of all matter.
The resolute little girl in that particular field in Cockburnspath, melded as she is with the ground around her, represents in summary fashion the de facto unavoidable life conditions that must be fulfilled in order for fundamental practices or achievements to emerge. Her world is hers but the painting (the rendering cultural of the vernacular) reminds us that her world is our world, its ecology being an instructive microcosm. The vernacular arises and transforms to intimate common ground beyond itself, ground of expansive significance.
To foreclose the power of the vernacular to indicate universal components of lifeworld background is to take a parochial view of the transformational power of human thought and of the significance of the world in front of us. Habermas and Guthrie (and Reid and Hume and Wilkie…) have the superficial deployer of parochialism against indigenous culture and independence exposed as a conservative intellectual narrowist.
Confined to her parish, restricted in outlook, and conservative in the face of cultural potential, that parochial narrowist we can dismiss.