Advertisement

Introduction

  • Maria Balaska
Chapter

Abstract

This is a story about certain times or cases in the human life when expression through language seems inescapably inadequate, when words seem bound to fail us, and meaning to escape. Such a case is the experience of astonishment. I use the word “astonishment” to describe the experience of being struck by something that appears to be extraordinarily significant and which can have a positive emotional tone or a negative emotional tone. Dating back to 1300, the word “astonishment” comes from the old French word estoner that means “to stun, daze, deafen, astound,” which originates from the Latin verb attonare or extonare that literally means to leave someone thunderstruck, to strike with lightning. In its root, then, the word “astonishment” is neutral: it can be positive or negative, but in both cases, it has a profoundly unsettling, dazing effect. Examples of positive astonishment may include an experience of overwhelming beauty, or kindness. Examples of negative astonishment may include an experience of the absurdity of death, of a terrifying evil, or of absolute guilt; in the face of these, one feels anxious and saddened, and perhaps left with a sense of despair. Although I offer here examples of cases in the face of which one might experience astonishment, positive or negative, the principal aim of this book is not to examine what triggers an experience of astonishment; hence I will not address questions such as: “are there certain things in life that are more likely to astonish us?,” or “can anything appear to be astonishing?” These are not my questions. Rather, the book focuses on a central trait of that experience, namely, the way it appears to resist expression in language.

References

  1. Bouwsma, O. K. (1986). Wittgenstein: Conversations, 1949–1951 (J. Craft & R. Hustwit, Eds.). Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  2. Diamond, C. (2008). The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy. In: S. Cavell, C. Diamond, J. McDowell, I. Hacking, & C. Wolfe (Eds.), Philosophy and Animal Life (pp. 43–91). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Dostoyevsky, F. (2003). The Brothers Karamazov (D. McDuff, Trans.). New York: Penguin Classics.Google Scholar
  4. Fischer, P. (2003). Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. Cambridge, MA and London, UK: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Heidegger, M. (1994). Basic Questions of Philosophy. Selected ‘Problems’ of ‘Logic’ (R. Rojcewitz & A. Schuwer, Trans.). Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Heidegger, M. (2000). Introduction to Metaphysics (G. Fried & R. Polt, Trans.). New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Kluger, R. (2001). Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  8. Lacan, J. (1997). Seminar III: The Psychoses, 1955–1956 (J.-A. Miller, Ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  9. Llewelyn, J. (2001). On the Saying That Philosophy Begins in Thaumazein. Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, 4, 48–57.Google Scholar
  10. McDowell, J. (2008). Comment on Stanley Cavell’s Companionable Thinking. In: Cavell et al. (Eds.), Philosophy and Animal Life (pp. 127–138). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Plato. (2010). The Last Days of Socrates. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  12. Rovatti, P.-A. (1996). The Peace of the Evening. JEP, European Journal of Psychoanalysis, 3–4.Google Scholar
  13. Rubenstein, M.-J. (2008). Strange Wonder: The Closing of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Tarkovsky, A. (1994). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986 (K. Hunter-Blair, Trans.). London: Faber & Faber.Google Scholar
  15. Tillich, P. (1952). The Courage to be. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Vassalou, S. (2015). Wonder: A Grammar. SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  17. Weil, S. (1977). The Simone Weil Reader (G. A. Panichas, Ed.). Moyer Bell Ltd.Google Scholar
  18. Wittgenstein, L. (1993). A Lecture on Ethics. In J. Klagge & A. Nordmann (Eds.), Philosophical Occasions 1912–1951 (pp. 37–44). Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Balaska
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HertfordshireHertfordshireUK

Personalised recommendations