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

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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 underst