Ruminating on Michael Polanyi's epistemic model as developed and conveyed by Dr. Esther Lightcap Meek in the book Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People

Friday, October 15, 2004

Rhetorical Devices

Modernism, with its individualistic focus, gave us a disdain for formality, including rhetorical devices. Yet, just as all particulars must take some form in order to exist, so ongoing dialogue cannot be had without rhetorical devices. Consequently, each modern and post-modern generation has rejected the prevailing forms and devices as "formal," and replaced them with their own. This appears to have happened at an ever increasing rate as Western society has splintered and decayed. Each generation seems to think that it has finally arrived at "pure" individual expression, and fails to recognize its own rhetorical devices as such.

Why are rhetorical devices necessary? Is it because they function as placeholders for common clues? The way that rhetorical devices come about has to do, I think, with the way people--and communities of people--associate meaning with things. That is, we assign meaning to things by association. That seems to me very much related to the way that we know the world as described in LTK.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Movies: Kate & Leopold - A Leap in the Dark?

If you haven't seen this movie then 1) Don't read this and spoil it for yourself, and 2) For heaven's sake, go rent it and watch it! Go! :-)

When I first saw K&L, I hadn't yet read LTK. I interpreted the main message of the story as a version of the tired old "follow your heart, not your head" theme that has dominated pop culture for its whole sorry life. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the clever meld of sci-fi and romantic comedy. The plot was fun, as the temporal displacement theme always is, and it had some welcome side themes. It was my misunderstanding of the ultimate point that brought a sigh on the first viewing: faith as a blind leap in the dark. But it seems to me now that my conclusion was premature. Through Polanyi-colored glasses, there is more to it than I had thought. It can be viewed as a beautiful picture of how a person comes to faith.

Kate, the chief dynamic character, moves from skepticism to belief (in Leopold) by means of piecing together a number of clues. By seeing beyond the expected to an unimaginable future (and past!) manifestation, she overcomes her understandable disbelief, and comes to know and love Leopold, and, finally, to know her true place in the world.

When we are introduced to her, she is an all-star jaded pragmatist, a true Chick Lit style post-modern woman. She is not at all ready to believe in Victorian gentlemen, nevermind in rifts in time. To her, Leopold is at worst a bizarre acquaintance of her annoying ex-boyfriend, and at best a flabbergasting enigma. She has no time and no toleration for Leopold's archaic, formal manner.

Then, slowly, his sweet, unrelenting noble gentleness begins to win her over. He awakes her repressed longings to be treated like a lady. That, I think, is what helps her take her first halting steps toward faith -- it makes her want to believe, to wish that Leopold were really who he and Stuart claim he is. Among the clues at this stage are:
  1. Leopold's genuine gentlemanliness, his honest care and respect for Kate as a lady
  2. A delicious, beautifully presented breakfast
  3. The prospect of a man actually offering her fresh brioche in bed

Next, Leopold captures Kate's imagination. He builds (though only by being himself) on her desire by continuing, unabashed, to act in accordance with his old-fashioned beliefs and well-bred character in the midst of a world that has long since forsaken such silliness. She gradually ceases to find him irritating, and begins to warm up to him and enjoy his subtle overtures, though she still regards him with perplexity and doubt. The clues at this stage are:
  1. The consistency of his manner ("He is so method!" according to Kate's actor brother)
  2. The rooftop dinner and dance
  3. His gallant horseback rescue of her purse from the thief

Along with her imagination, he captures her heart, her confidence. Though she wavers, she begins to truly enjoy him. She can embrace him, though she doesn't yet understand him. She doesn't yet accept his claims to be from the 19th century. But what he does for her causes her to set aside her doubts for the moment and just enjoy the experience of him. The clues that align with her desires (and with the way she is made, if you'll excuse a bit of my own old-fashioned silliness) just tip the scale against those that align with her sense of normalcy. The clues here include:
  1. He's the ideal spokesperson for her most important client
  2. He lovingly takes care of her
  3. He broadens her view of the world, especially of the value of taking time to smell the roses, so to speak, to enjoy the goodness and beauty that surrounds her

Could he do all this if he were an imposter? Maybe, but not likely. The profundity of the pattern is beginning to be a factor in swaying her to believe.

She sees the name OTIS on the panel of the elevator. Could it really be true? She's now open to accept Leopold's claims about himself. But she's still not ready to jump.

There's a beautiful "lightbulb moment" during her acceptance speech for Senior Vice President of her firm. She sees herself in the photograph from the 19th century. Now she's ready to jump.

But it's not merely a leap in the dark. It's not irrational (well, not from her point of view in the context of the movie's plot). She can see the pattern. She trusts Stuart's testimony and explanation, which accord with the pattern emerging from the subsidiary experiences of the past couple of days. She leaps knowing that she will find herself with her lover. Her lover and, would it be too much to say, savior?

I think that the plot's use of a LTK-type epistemic model is a chief reason why the story rings true. Yes, Bilbo, it has the ring of truth.