The Poetics of Thought


Posted in Uncategorized by Fred McVittie on September 28, 2009

The concept of ‘knowledge’ covers a wide variety of different expressions, with a correspondingly wide range of applications, values, and inclusions.  A small sample of these might include: objective, subjective, tacit, explicit, declarative, propositional, carnal, occult, procedural, possessive, performative, proactive, and situated.  Whilst some of these terms come in pairs, the tacit/explicit binary for example, most of them appear unconnected one to another and their coexistence within an overall category that one might call ‘knowledge’ seems a matter of convenience rather than structure.  The diversity in these terms appears to offer no overall epistemological picture which we might use to relate the different terms, and likewise the objects and events to which these terms are applied, the contents of all these different types of knowing, can also appear unconnected.  And to the extent that such contents of knowing are related, in the dewey decimal system of libraries, encyclopedia, school and university prospectuses, and in the various ‘trees’ of knowledge that have been produced, such relationship smacks of the arbitrary.  A good example of such trees include that centerpiece of Enlightenment thought, the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers of Diderot and  D’Alembert, with its exhaustive arboreal analysis of not only rational knowledge but also poetics, metaphysics, and Black Magic.  Whilst such a mapping may give the appearance of connectedness and ultimately of coherence, this is ultimately an exercise in taxonomy rather than structure, of categorization rather than consilience.

We might be tempted to say that knowledge organization has moved on considerably since the 18th century when the Encyclopédie was written, and it is certainly true that few modern encyclopedias would give the same page space to divination as to the dressing of chamois leather which one finds in Diderot and D’Alembert.  However, in terms of the development of a coherent image of how the different forms of knowing operate little has changed, and improvements have largely consisted of the cultivation of those branches of the tree which support the weight of scientific progress, and the vigorous pruning of those limbs which do not.

Taxonomic strategies of knowledge organization do not reveal the inner working of the great body of knowledge, rather they place the bones here, the viscera there, substituting the living pattern that connects with the geometrical placing of  body parts in neatly labeled amphora.

What I will be arguing here is that knowledge in all of its forms does have a coherence, and that this coherence comes from the way our minds and our bodies work in relation to that knowledge.