Like appearances, words can be deceptive. The words that historians use to describe the intellectual and social aspects of the past often foster a false impression in modern minds: “humanism,” “renaissance,” “feudalism,” “enlightenment,” “dialectic,” are modern linguistic innovations, which reflect today’s sensibilities and have little to with the past. The scholars in the fifteenth century didn’t use the term “humanism”; they were not aware of the concept of humanism—they didn’t think they were living in the period of the Renaissance. Between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, people didn’t see their social system as feudalism—they had a different conception of their society. The term “enlightenment” came into being in the middle of the nineteenth century and it quickly acquired a meaning that is different from the way the French Enlightenment philosophes saw themselves. Aristotle uses the word “dialectic,” not in the modern Kantian sense but for the science of what happens when, instead of thinking by ourselves, we try to convince others.
The literary fiction writer, Clarice Lispector, one of my favourites, a Wiki aside here, (Clarice Lispector was a Brazilian novelist and short story writer acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories. Born to a Jewish family in Podolia in Western Ukraine, as an infant she moved to Brazil with her family, amidst the disasters engulfing her native land following the First World War.) Deals with the epistemology of words and the emotional/mental states/narratives they can create. Narratives that branch out from the direct meaning of the word into subjectivity and/or create new definitions with elaborate theories. Lispector's fiction and her bio by Benjamin Moser relays this obsession almost she had with definitions and their consequences. The blur between subjectivity and objctivity.
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