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Enlightenment in Humanistic Studies of XXI Century Essay

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Updated: Jul 23rd, 2020

The concept of ‘Enlightenment’ concerning humanistic studies as practiced now in Linguistics, Literature, and History/Society/Culture

Governed by the principle of the one-way movement, the world is spinning around only to approach another stage of its progress. However, the ancient ideas of how the new era must look and what it must be guided by often prove a mistake. Nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that there is a grain of truth in the theories of the past since some of them still prove efficient in modern times. Among these, the ideas of Enlightenment have been also interwoven into the pattern of modern life, yet how they have been implicated might be somewhat different from the suppositions of the ancient philosophers.

It must be admitted that certain subtle issues bring closer philosophy and linguistics, making them an integral part of the concept of the given country and the world in general. Tracking the most peculiar issues of the Enlightenment philosophy manifesting itself in such sciences as linguistics, one will be able to conceive the ubiquity of t5he idea of the Enlightenment and realize what brings the modern world and the old concept of Enlightenment together.

What is Enlightenment, after all? According to Kant, this is freedom – and at the same time the complete, utter understanding. As the philosopher himself claims, “Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters” (Kant). Therefore, it can be considered that the key idea of Enlightenment is interwoven into the pattern of the modern life since the modern laws presuppose that people enjoy freedom as long as it does not harm the rest of the humankind. Therefore, it cannot be doubted that the ideas of Enlightenment in the vision if Kant has been implemented into the contemporary world long before.

Considering the relation of Kant’s ideas on Enlightenment concerning the aspects of modern English language, one can see the certain interrelation between the key ideas of the Enlightenment and the sections of English studies. Considering the aspect of linguistics, one can claim with certainty that there is a considerable interrelation between the ideas expressed by Kant and the key aspects of the language studies. Thus, one of the most obvious ideas of the Enlightenment, the issue of freedom and the possibility of thinking before following certain ideas blindly has been put into practice most efficiently.

As Kant claimed, one of the most annoying and invulnerable prejudices of the past was the concept of believing without any proofs needed and following ideas blindly. In contrast to the ancient times, nowadays the modern science presupposes well-grounded theories, preferring the ideas that demand certain proofs to the principles that no one has ever attempted to consider. There is no secret that even in linguistics, the rules and laws of the language are completely logical and based on careful and thorough meditations. Also, the modern fashion of teaching the language offers an opportunity for dialogue between the teacher and the student modern language studies are the dialogue between those learning and those teaching.

This means that one of the core principles of the Enlightenment expressed by Kant – the idea of proving the postulates of science – has been implemented. Putting it into the words of Pinker, the ear of language and mind has come for people to understand the links between the two integral parts of each person’s life – the language and the idea of progress. This is the “universal grammar” that Pinker was speaking about. According to Pinker, the ideas of Enlightenment are also the sphere where the common misconceptions concerning the linguistic issues stem from: as Pinker emphasizes, it is the “weaker version”, that is, the linguistic determinism that is the reason for the difference in the speakers’ thoughts (Pinker 57).

Considering how the ideas of the Enlightenment were implicated in the sphere of the English literature, one will inevitably notice that the striving for knowledge is the key issue and the guiding idea for the writers since the thoughts of Kant were sounded. For instance, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the scientist’s longing for knowledge dominates over the rest of his wishes.

In terms of the traces of the Enlightenment in modern English culture, one can assume that the theory of Kant proves efficient in this sphere as well. According to Pinker, “the foundational categories of reality are not “in” the world but are imposed by one’s culture”, which means that the modern linguistics possesses a certain speck of the Enlightenment as Kant’s theory of the world development.

The difference between linguistic competence and linguistic performance

It is quite peculiar that the aspects of linguistics touch upon different spheres of people’s brain work. At certain moments incorporating the linguistic competence and the linguistic performance proves impossible, since they are opposed to each other like theory and practice. The first being the sum of knowledge that the given person possesses in the sphere of linguistics, and the latter meaning the practical application of this knowledge, there can be certain situations when the two are completely incompatible. Hence follow all sorts of puns and play on words; however, sometimes more serious misconceptions can occur, once the purport of the communication has been delivered to the recipient in the wrong and distorted way.

A perfect specimen of this kind of linguistic puns is the book by Lewis Carroll, Alice in the Wonderland. Considering the quotation offered, one can claim with certainty that the situation of the linguistic collision has occurred – although the lead character’s linguistic competence was impeccable, and the task was completely clear to Alice, she failed to complete it, thus showing the absolute failure of linguistic performance – mostly due to the circumstances. It is evident that there is a certain distinction between linguistic competence and linguistic performance, and it must be admitted that such a difference is crucial in the sphere of linguistics. The reasons for such assumptions are evident since the two components play the part of the theory and the practical application in the sphere of language.

There is no doubt that the gap that is sometimes created between the grammatical correctness of a certain phrase and its further acceptability is truly significant. A certain phrase might have no meaning at all, yet follow the grammatical rules completely. Analyzing the example from Alice in the Wonderland that has been provided, one can notice that the grammatical construction if the phrase is given is impeccable; yet its monotonousness and the considerable number of repetitions hinders its acceptance. Also, the phrase contains ten separate elements that have to be analyzed (the ten “ones” in the given case, to be more precise), which means that the memorizing process will be somewhat slow.

To complicate the matter, the elements are completely the same, which is bound to lose count of the elements in question. The last, but not the least, is the aspect of speed that the phrase was pronounced with. Analyzing the given sentence, one can spot immediately that it lacks any commas, which means that the entire phrase was pronounced without even stopping to catch a breath. Therefore, the issue of Alice’s linguistic competence cannot be denied – the girl identified the given task and understood what was demanded to complete it, yet the very form of the assignment made her fail. It can be considered that in the given case, the conflict of linguistic competence and linguistic performance comes to the forth.

Although the example is taken from a fairy-tale, it must be admitted that the accidents involving the conflict between the two aspects of linguistics occur in reality as well. Considering the modern world and how the two elements of linguistics are opposed to each other in ordinary life, one can suppose that linguistic competence and linguistic performance must be inseparable for successful communication. Indeed, when ideas are communicated to the other person, the addressee should had the basic linguistic competence, otherwise (s)he will not be able to conceive the ideas offered by the opponent.

On the other hand, the linguistic performance must be completed as well. In this case, the problem of comprehensibility is being touched upon. For instance, if one asks a person what the word “to bubulcitate” means, the respondent will hesitate, which is a clear-cut example of the lack of linguistic competence. In the given case, successful communication is impossible. On the other hand, asking one to stack the words “stay, woe, apple, great, cinder, parallel, prune, adequate” in an alphabetical order orally, a person is likely to encounter the phenomenon of linguistic performance failure.

In contrast to the previous case, the given assignment does not cause any problems with understanding the task, which means that the linguistic competence in the given case is complete. Yet the linguistic performance is hindered by the abundance of the information that the recipient has to operate with. In both cases, the result will be deplorable, which means that linguistic competence and linguistic performance must be inseparable to make communication successful.

The concept of the ‘monster’ in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein concerning critical and theoretical texts

Does a beast deserve happiness? Moreover, can a man who created a monster be called a human being? People say that, when being told that most of the world considers Frankenstein the name of the monster, Mary Shelly said that this could be true. Indeed, the crazy doctor who considered himself Dr. Faustus does not deserve a speck of compassion – in contrast to his creation and victim, the miserable beast that cannot find the place where he belongs. It seems that the creature feared by everyone is more humane than Dr. Frankenstein himself is.

What makes a monster? Perhaps, these are the ideas and the inclinations that give birth to the most terrifying creature ever living on the earth. Even though the monster created had the terrifying appearance and was practically the lowest of the low, compared to his educated and refined creator, the miserable beast is more humane than the doctor – this creature is devoted like a dog and naive like a child, which means that it could not survive in the world of the ordinary.

With his childish approach and the justice of the wild, the creation of Dr. Frankenstein could never live among people – yet the beast is still worth being called a human being. It is evident that the monster does not have the desire to destroy – he would rather live his peaceful life in a detached place, isolated from the rest of humankind, and stay reconciled with himself and the rest of the world. Yet with the doctor Frankenstein’s ambitions, the beast is forced to live the life that he hates and follow the orders that he does not understand. Indeed, Dr. Frankenstein is the one worth being called the true monster in the story, with his ideas as disgusting and terrible as the appearance of his brainchild.

Considering the drama that takes place in Frankenstein’s life through the lens of the theories of Enlightenment, one can assume that the tragedy of the creator and his creation embrace the eternal experience of mankind to cognize the world and bring the knowledge obtained into an integral whole. Considering the idea of Enlightenment as Kant and Foucault explained it, one can suggest that the tragedy of Frankenstein obtains new shades of meaning, once the ideas of Enlightenment are applied to it.

One of the most important issues of the novel is its double name, which makes the novel acquire a double meaning and provides another way to see its hidden ideas. Calling Frankenstein the new Prometheus, Mary Shelly approaches the theory of Enlightenment as Kant and Foucault understood it. According to the Greek mythology, Prometheus, the Titan, created the humankind – in comparison to his, Dr. Frankenstein created a peculiar specimen of a human being, which is, of course, less great, yet nonetheless impressive.

Prometheus gives people the knowledge – the sacred treasure that only gods can possess; compared to him, Dr. Frankenstein tries to breathe some culture and understanding into the creation of his, yet with little success… The opposition of mind and culture has led to the most dramatic results. As Foucault explained, “another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world” (Foucault), once collided with the opposing ideas, is bound to subside – or die.

Seeking for “immortality and power” (Shelley 71), Frankenstein was doomed to failure – and he seemed to know it as soon as his brainchild opened his eyes and stared at his creator. This is the collision of cultures, the clash of the world visions that makes the novel so tragic. Instead of accepting the new member of society, people start persecuting and tormenting him – for people always do so to the ones whom they fear; and the monster, who feels the urge to express his elevated feelings understands the contrast to the high-flown emotions and the miserable flesh of his.

Considering the situation in which the monster was trapped in, one might find certain common traits between Frankenstein’s creation and the chimpanzees from Pinker’s experiment. According to what the results of the test said, chimps were unable to master the skill of either the sign language or the spoken one; this is, perhaps, one of the most impressive evidence of the fact that the “universal system” (Pinker), which all people belong to, proves effective only with humans. Prometheus failed this time; his brainchild was not perfect enough to become a member of the human race.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. What Is Enlightenment? 2011. Web.

Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? 1784. Web.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text. Ed. Marilyn Butler. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

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