Monday, July 30, 2012

"radical 'poetical' processes of late-Protestant thought"?

Carter Kaplan
Intellectual Wild Man

A few days ago, I noted that Carter Kaplan had sent me a copy of his International Authors (IA) edition of The Scarlet Letter, and I closed with a quote from Carter's essay, a quote that defends Locke and criticizes Continental philosophy:
[John] Locke has . . . been identified as part of a larger Enlightenment straw man that is the target of those seeking to advance the authoritarian agenda of Continental philosophy, which as a program, in anthropological terms, seems to be the logical systemic outcome of an increasingly corporate, nihilistic and authoritarian Academy. (Kaplan, "'A' is for Antinomian: Theology and Politics in The Scarlet Letter," p. 236)
I wondered what Carter meant by this, for it seemed linked by contrast to a remark in his opening paragraph, a remark that speaks favorably of Anglo-American science and philosophy:
[T]he novel's complex philosophical dynamics . . . resonate with the anthropological and political understanding that attends skeptical-empirical science and analytic philosophy. As a phenomenon of intellectual history, The Scarlet Letter represents an important formulation of the classic liberal ideas that mark the emergence of the modern world. (p. 230)
When I came upon a similar remark later in the essay, I copied it down for more reflection:
[T]he American Revolution is properly an outcome of radical "poetical" processes of late Protestant thought. In more modern terms, this revolutionary mindset is characterized by patterns of investigation sharing close affinities with analytic philosophy and critical synoptics. Before, however, analytic and synoptic perception is possible, thought has to be set free to range beyond the limits of conventional knowledge. Custom and tradition must be left behind. Thought must fly above and beyond the law. (p. 248)
I needed to know more, so I sent Carter an email asking for an explication and received a brief response that he dashed off, practically on his way out the door:
I am leaving for Boston tomorrow morning, then Scotland Monday. Please excuse brevity.

The alienation [that the protagonist] Hester experiences [in The Scarlet Letter] enables her to effectively "think outside the box." Perhaps this is also a point of departure for considering what Wittgenstein says about "the bloody hard way [in philosophy]." That is, learning to "think outside the box", and do it right, is not easy, and, as Hester's experience illustrates, it comes with some wear and tear. The "radical 'poetical' processes of late-Protestant thought" here refer to Milton's tremendous effort to sort out the universe and give us the modern world.
As my readers might imagine, I now have even more questions, but they will have to wait until Carter has time. My retort as historian of science would be, "I believe it was Newton who gave us the modern world!" But that would be to misconstrue Carter's point. Milton attempted to sort out the universe not scientifically, but 'humanistically'! He did, after all, set forth to "justify the ways of God to men."

Carter himself is thinking outside the box, and is thus hard to follow thoughtfully . . .

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