Language, discourse and teaching the language arts: The development of imaginative self‐understanding

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Wisconsin - Madison]On: 20 November 2014, At: 11:30Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Language, discourse and teaching thelanguage arts: The development ofimaginative selfunderstandingGeoff MadocJonesa Simon Fraser University , CanadaPublished online: 19 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Geoff MadocJones (2005) Language, discourse and teaching the languagearts: The development of imaginative selfunderstanding, Teaching Education, 16:1, 73-79, DOI:10.1080/1047621052000341644

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  • Teaching EducationVol. 16, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 7379

    ISSN 1047-6210 (print)/ISSN 1470-1286 (online)/05/01007307 2005 School of Education, University of QueenslandDOI 10.1080/1047621052000341644

    Language, Discourse and Teachingthe Language Arts: The developmentof imaginative self-understanding

    Geoff Madoc-Jones*Simon Fraser University, CanadaTaylor and Francis LtdCTED160109.sgm10.1080/1047621052000341644Teaching Education1047-6210 (print)/1470-1286 (online)Original Article2005School of Education, University of Queensland161000000March 2005GeoffMadoc-JonesFaculty of EducationSimon Fraser UniversityBritish ColumbiaCanadamadocjo@sfu.ca

    Paul Ricoeur asks that we conceive of the imagination less in terms of visual images than in termsof language. He develops this idea as part of the hermeneutic work of interpreting literary texts andposits that the world disclosed by the literary work provides a space for the imaginative consider-ation of new possibilities for the self. I describe some principles for educating children in a literarytradition that may assist in the development of linguistic expression and self-understanding.Furthermore, some suggestions are made concerning the education of language arts teachers inthis regard.

    Introduction

    In this essay I use aspects of Paul Ricoeurs work to argue that the imaginationshould be considered less in terms of visual images than in terms of language. Idescribe some principles for educating children in a literary tradition that may assistin the development of both linguistic expression and self-understanding.

    Ricoeur argues that understanding is necessary to the mode of being human, Themost fundamental phenomenological presuppositions of a philosophy of interpreta-tion is that every question concerning any sort of being (etant) is a question aboutthe meaning of that being (1991, p. 38). Thus our ontological situation raisesquestions which are hermeneutic, because the meaning of being human is mediatedby language. We live with other human beings in the world and share that reality andcommunicate with them through the mediation of our language. As Hans-GeorgGadamer argues, Thanks to the linguistic nature of all interpretation every inter-pretation includes the possibility of a relationship with others. There can be no

    *Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC V5A 156,Canada. Email: madocjo@sfu.ca

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  • 74 G. Madoc-Jones

    speech that does not bind the speaker and the person spoken to (1989, p. 71). Thisnecessary relationship is made manifest through language. When a person seeks tounderstand another, this is possible, because we live with each other in a commonworld of language and symbols.

    Our being is constituted in large part by language, so that in an important sensewe are language. What distinguishes us as humans is that we are beings who areconscious of ourselves and seek to understand what this means by coming to knowourselves self-reflexively through language. It is perhaps not necessary to go as far asHeidegger (1971), who remarked, language speaks man; nevertheless, we mustrealize that we are not beings who merely use language, but beings whose world isto a great extent formed through languages revealing presence.

    However, while in principle experience can be made manifest through thelinguistic/symbolic order, it cannot be reducible to these articulations because anyparticular expression is finite. The finite reality of each expression in relation toactual experience is always contrasted to the infinite possibilities of language, eventhough what is expressed at any time is brought into being for us through its medi-ation. Ricoeur remarks about the lingual condition of all experience in the followingway:

    This has its own presupposition in a general theory of meaning. It must be supposedthat experience, in all its fullness has an expressibility in principle. Experience can besaid, it demands to be said. To bring it into language is not to change it into somethingelse, but, in articulating and developing it, to make it become itself. (1991, p. 39)

    Thus the awareness of our being and the emergence of its meaning are equiprimor-dial, that is, they cannot be completely separated from each other in the begin-ning. But while signification is the way in which experience reveals itself to us, thisis not merely a case of language being able to express the particularity of an event ina more general manner. As Kieran Egan (1999) points out, the emergence of under-standing in children is formed in great part by the gradual acquisition of language. Itboth provides the means or tools for us to realize the significance of our lives whilealso constituting the mode of those understandings. The manner and matter ofemergent enlightenment about the self and the world are mutually intertwined.

    There are two equally significant processes at work during such an expression asan event. First, there is the almost paradoxical way in which experience emerges atthe same time as language brings it into meaning. That does not mean that the mindconstructs the world in its totality. Mind-independent reality is always and alreadymore than the expression that gives it meaning; it is always more than what we cansymbolize, construct, or conceptualize. Second, while language allows experience toemerge, there is also an excess of meaning in our being, which escapes articulation.There is always an almost-said, which demands metaphor, symbol, narrative,nuance, and polysemy for its articulation. This excess of the possibility of expres-sion, combined with the presence of the mind-independent world, means that noindividual statement or set of statements can totally capture any particular situation;there is always an element of indeterminacy which requires that interpretation is a

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  • Imaginative Self-Understanding 75

    necessary part of even the most seemingly unambiguous statement. Therefore, inprinciple, all acts of language are in this sense hermeneutic or interpretive events.

    In the light of the above what does it mean to understand the self? First, if there isa surplus of meaning in our being that signification cannot completely encompass,then there can be no absolute knowledge of the self. There will always be aspects ofthe self that evade capture by any particular act of signification. This is because ourfinite nature is contrasted with the infinite possibilities inherent in time, and wealways run out of time before the quest is complete. Second, there can be no directacquaintance with the self, because such knowing is formed and mediated by aparticular linguistic and socio-cultural tradition. Thus self-understanding is alwaysin part a socio-cultural act, one in which understanding ones context becomes anecessary part of any act of personal reflection. This means that unmediated accessto the self, either through supposedly pure reflection or introspection is impossible.To understand the self, therefore, also requires an inquiry of the cultural and linguis-tic forms of ones lifeworld.

    On the one hand, self-understanding passes through the detour of understanding thecultural signs in which the self documents and forms itself. On the other hand, under-standing the text is not an end in itself; it mediates the relation to himself of a subjectwho, in the short-circuit of immediate reflection, does not find the meaning of his ownlife. Thus it must be said, with equal force, that reflection is nothing without the media-tion of signs and works, and that explanation is nothing if it is not incorporated as anintermediary state in the process of self-understanding. In short, in hermeneuticalreflectionor in reflective hermeneuticsthe constitution of the self is contemporane-ous with the constitution of meaning. (Ricoeur, 1991, pp. 118119)

    Thus the detour through the understanding of cultural signs and works consti-tutes a necessary part of the development of self-understanding and provides thebeginning of a hermeneutic theory for language arts education, where the notion ofunmediated reflection should always be regarded as highly problematic. What iscrucial, in such an education, is that the selection of appropriate works be combinedwith the teaching of appropriate interpretive practices. A danger in todays class-rooms is that students may come to believe that an understanding of the self can bedeveloped merely through a monologue with their pre-existing thoughts.

    Ricoeur identified the structure of language as discourse in the following way:

    Someone says something about something to someone. The structure of language asdiscourse reveals that there are four clearly distinct dimensions of all speech in act.First, there is subjectivity, for someone speaks. Second, there is intentionality, for some-one says something. Third, there is reference, for someone says something about some-thing. Fourth, there is inter-subjectivity, for someone speaks to someone. (Ricoeur,1974, pp. 8388)

    This primary condition of human experience is, according to Ricoeur, articulatedthrough a hierarchy of stages: the sign, the symbol, and the text. Maintaining thesestages as distinct, but hierarchically connected, will assist language arts educators inrealizing the existence of two, related but separate, facets of hermeneutics. That is,hermeneutics both as it relates to the fundamentally linguistic character of human

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  • 76 G. Madoc-Jones

    experience and understanding as well as the more technical role that hermeneuticsplays in textual exegesis. This two-part feature of hermeneutics does not mean thatthere are two separate forms but merely that it reflects the relation of parts andwholes. It should represent a constant reminder to teachers and researchers thateven while dealing with the minutest details of a textual interpretation or philologicalpuzzle these matters are not unrelated to much broader questions about humannature.

    The structure of language is characterized by such a dynamic and hierarchicalrelation between words, sentences, and discourses. The sentence is made up ofwords or lexical signs but is not a derivative function of them and cannot bedescribed by using the same structures; the whole is not just greater than the sum ofthe parts but is qualitatively different. In the same way discourse which is made up ofwords and sentences cannot be reduced to them and its sense maintained.

    Discourse incorporates the mediation of language by texts but does not limit thisstage to the written form, because both sign and symbol can exist both orally and inscript. However, Ricoeur sees writing as opening up new and original resources fordiscourse, as it

    acquires a threefold semantic autonomy: in relation to the speakers intention, to itsreception by its original audience, and to the economic, social, and cultural circum-stances of its production. It is in this sense that writing tears itself free of the limits offace-to-face dialogue and becomes the condition for discourse itself becoming-text. It isto hermeneutics that falls the task of exploring the implications of this becoming-text forthe work of interpretation. (Ricoeur, 1991, p. 17)

    This enables the understanding of the self to be an understanding of oneself as oneconfronts the text, which may at the end of reading reveal a condition of the selfwhich is other than that was there prior to the undertaking of the reading. In thiscase it is not the subjectivity of the author or the reader that is important, but thework of the text on the self. The task of hermeneutics then becomes to reconstructthe internal dynamic of the text, and to restore to the work its ability to project itselfoutside itself in the representation of a world that I could inhabit (p. 18). Thus inlanguage arts education it is this possibility of finding a world which the workprojects and in which the reader could discover a different or a changed self thatconnects the reading and interpretation of literature to the goal of a dialogicallyformed self-understanding. The literary text may not merely mirror the readerspresent self because contained within the reading experience there exists a possibleworld which could be incorporated imaginatively into a new view of the self. Thisopenness to the possibility of the new is not merely an opportunity for the indiv...