New Free Rice Words II
Bill Long 8/14/08
Focusing Only on Diremption
The words diremption and discerption are synonyms, but you probably have never used either. Let's see what we can do about making them part of our working vocabulary. Yikes! What became evident to me upon studying diremption is that it, derived from the Latin word diremere, "to separate, divide," was rarely used before the 18th century, but was picked up by the English-language translator of Hegel's Phenomeonology of Spirit and, as such, rendered quite useless. But its uselessness has not been an obstacle for lawyers and law students/professors. Now there is a little bit of a cottage industry in diremption, where no one know what anyone else is talking about. Let me trace that process briefly here; unfortunately sometimes scholarship is just pointing out the history of confusion.
Getting Started with Diremption
As I said, diremption originally (17th century) meant a forcible separation or severance. Thomas Hobbes so used the word in 1678: "They cannot be parted except the Air or other matter can enter and fill the space made by their diremption. Just another example of a 17th century English writer inventing or using a new term; preachers did that all the time in Shakespeare's day and beyond. In that same century diremption took on a more technical meaning--the forcible separation of husband and wife. From 1649: "The displeasure of the Canon law against such marriages is so high flowne, that no lesse can take it off then an utter diremption of them." Or, Gouge, in his 1653 commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews could say: "Marriage...ought not to be issolved, but by diremption, which is, by severing man and wife by death."
Thus, diremption was minding its own business as a rare but useful word into the 19th century. It meant a rather violent or forceful separation between two things. The fact that it was connected to the separation of man and woman in marriage suggested that the empirical, down to earth English wanted to keep the word from flying too high from the earth, where things tend to explode and crash.
Enter Hegel--and the Crash of Diremption
Though Hegel flourished 200 years ago, at the beginning of the 19th century, his real philosophical impact didn't reach English-speaking shores until the early 20th century. As Roger Foster says in his biography of Theodor W. Adorno, the beginning of the 20th century had a "pervasive sense of the need to distance thought from the previous age." It appeared to a new generation of thinkers that a concerted effort to
"disengage the subect from the process of cognition had created a rift between subject and world, effectively confining the role of subjectivity to that of passively registering a process in which it plays no part" (p. 27).
I hope this is starting to get muddy for you, because we are just getting started. Then he goes on to say that the person credited with describing this sort of "rift" between subject and world was Hegel.
"Hegel had described this situation as one of diremption --Entzweiung."
Ah ha! Our word. The German word is much more clearly descriptive--"making two." Actually, one of Hegel's major contributions to Western philosophy would be to try to make this "two" into "one," or, in German words, this Entzweiung into Versohnung (reconciliation). So, in a sense this is all nothing more than trying to use age-old theological concepts but in ways that perhaps would have more resonance with the cultured elites of early 19th century Berlin, where Hegel taught, than simple Pauline theological terms.
Let's finish with Foster's description of what Hegel had tried to do with the concept of Entzweiung, before diving into that word a little more specifically. Hegel was bothered by what he saw as an Entzweiung, and Foster described it as follows:
"Hegel takes diremption to be a result of the general social and cultural consequences of the dominance of the understanding, which severs 'reason from sensuousness, intelligence and nature' and 'absolute subjectivity from absolute objectivity," Ibid., p. 27.
Philosophy's purpose is to try to bring unification in a time when the "power of unification" has vanished from life and the oppositions have lost their "llving relation and reciprocal action." Thus, Hegel was no solipsist; he believed deeply in adversatives and oppositions, but also believed that diremption was a sort of bad thing, and that philosophy would be able to unite it from its "twoness."
Starting to Sink
Well, we have to take this a little further. Hegel had made the argument for what we might call the "overcoming of diremption" in his famous Phenomenology of Spirit which, even if you know no German, reads easier in German than in English. Here are a few quotations that give the flavor of that work, as it relates to "diremption" or Entzweiung.
"This independence of the form appears as a determinate entity, as what is for another, for the form is something disunited; and the cancelling of diremption takes effect to the extent through another. But this sublation lies just as such in the actual form itself..." He goes on to say that "the form itself in its very subsistence involves diremption, or sublation of its existence for itself," (Self Consciousness, par. 6).
But, of course, we are not done yet:
"The simple substance of life, therefore, is the diremption of itself into shapes and forms, and at the same time the dissolution of these substantial differences; and the resolution of this diremption is just as much a process of diremption, of articulating."
Before you go jump off a cliff or other high object, you ought to realize that language like this, the diremption process to resolve the diremption dilemma, is grist for the mill of the early Freud, who will introduce a series of impenetrable Germanic words and mythological characters to try to articulate a rather simple concept, arising out of Hegelian philosophy--that the healing of the self happens when unity is recreated or produced where diremption, or Entzweiung, was only present before.
Losing Us All
Whether or not all this heavy Germanic language and serious-sounding verbiage is really necessary to get to the simple concepts that lie behind it (it really isn't), the language of diremption has been taken over by late 20th century/early 21st century legal writers to mean whatever they want. I think the term serves primarily to indicate what language does for many academics--it traps them in their own prisons of unclarity. For diremption has now made it into the vocabulary of critical legal studies and followers of Jacques Derrida and the structuralists, and can be used as a term to describe anything from the natural male inclination to "divide" things (whatever that means), to the Hegelian sense of "two-ing" which is unclear enough.
Let's close this essay with some quotations to show how diremption, in the hands of children, is dangerous. Indeed, after these quotations, I think that the District of Columbia, rather than trying to pass legislation to ban the possession of handguns in its territory, should outlaw the use of diremption. This would probably be a better solution to the linguistic anarchy of the "critical legal thinkers."
Let's begin where every aspiring speaker of unclear words must begin: with a reference to Jacques Derrida.
"For Derrida, one cannot adequately identify, interpret, or appreciate arguments so long as they are viewed as disembodied events. There is no argument able to transcend history or language, no neutral framework within which to describe reality or situate other human endeavors. There is no human mode of relatedness to the world in which separateness between self and world, between (legal) experience and world, is at all sharply delineated. The Cartesian or masculine desire for diremption, for mastery through individuation in willful repudiation of the vicissitudes of historical and family ties, in deliberate refutation of the roots of self (a well-known psychoanalytical motif), the idea of starting anew with the guidance of reason alone, must be apprehended not in timeless, ahistorical, or universal terms but as the intellectual rule of one particular model of knowledge and reality having sustained its hold within the intellectual arena by delegitimizing *668 and suppressing other modes of knowing. Derrida would say that the object cannot be grasped “rather by measurement than sympathy," 27 Cardozo Law Review 631, 667-68 (2005).
Now it is men and Cartesians who have a desire for diremption. Pretty serious stuff... Other recent legal articles talk about the "diremption of law and morality," which is "at the center of a project of rationalism's protection from the ravages of passion." Yawn. Then, in an article on legal ethics from the lawyer's point of view, a young scholar laments a woman's alienation from her own moral life. She suffers, "as Hegel might say, the diremption of modernity." But, I thought that diremption was a male disease? Then, another article talks about a "cognitive approach" which can work a "diremption from lawyers' largely unnoticed captivity to a Black Box (i.e., reason)." But, to top it all off, we have someone who truly has their head buried somewhere, talking about:
"disciplinary enclosures advocating radical decontextualization or diremption...[which is a] view of interdisciplinarity..."
I just have to stop here lest I feel tempted to do damage to myself. That is, how can people on whom we have spent so much to try to educate them, end up making sentences that make no sense to anyone, except maybe a few other people who they write to? Ah, but maybe these few other people have chairs of jurisprudence someplace, and they want others like them to convince themselves that they really have something to say to our complex world today. A better way, however, is to learn words, and facts, and people, and then you can understand far more than trying to place words together in ways that make a little sense.
Yikes, I see I have only gone through a few words here; I need to return to my free rice words if I hope to learn them all, and teach you all the words.