Monday, June 29, 2009

My Sense of Things

James Poulos is an eccentric sort of conservative. He contributes to and keeps good relations with The American Spectator, so he's not a lame too-cool-for-Hannity dissident of the sort we've been complaining about in this space. Nonetheless, sometimes it seems to be difficult for some of us dim bulbs to figure out his train of thought.

One of his recurring gripes is to complain about "a sense of" as an idiom in contemporary speech and writing. I think we can stipulate that it is simply meaningless linguistic filler much of the time, and at first glance this seems to be a case of usage hypersensitivity, like those people who know the correct meaning of "momentarily" and cringe slightly when hearing the word in its colloquial sense. But I think Poulos wants to go further than that somehow, as if there is something actually blameworthy or alienating in its common use.

I don't get it. Again allowing for overuse, "a sense of" can be used to emphasize something quite real, ie, the epistemological distance between our experience of the world and its underlying reality. We can (and often do) experience a sense of alienation with respect to some cultural phenomenon or another without actually being alienated from it in any meaningful way. It's hard, for me at least, to describe the difference without using the offending phrase.

I wouldn't bother with this ordinarily but now we have our very own philosophe on retainer here at FlyingSpit. I wonder if Boethius thinks there's any there there.

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