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Knowledge of Others

Posted by clissold345 on August 30, 2007

Even if we recognise the errors in our first impressions of a person, it is still not possible to gain exact knowledge of the person, since, even as we clarify our impressions, we are merely clarifying out-of-date impressions.

The passage I’m discussing above is from In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower:

Ainsi ce n’est qu’après avoir reconnu non sans tâtonnements les erreurs d’optique du début qu’on pourrait arriver à la connaissance exacte d’un être si cette connaissance était possible. Mais elle ne l’est pas ; car tandis que se rectifie la vision que nous avons de lui, lui-même qui n’est pas un objectif inerte change pour son compte, nous pensons le rattraper, il se déplace, et, croyant le voir enfin plus clairement, ce n’est que les images anciennes que nous en avions prises que nous avons réussi à éclaircir, mais qui ne le représentent plus. (Page 177 of volume 5 of the Gallimard edition, Paris, 1946-47.)

Moncrieff translates as follows:

Thus it can be only after one has recognised, not without having had to feel one’s way, the optical illusions of one’s first impression that one can arrive at an exact knowledge of another person, supposing such knowledge to be ever possible. But it is not; for while our original impression of him undergoes correction, the person himself, not being an inanimate object, changes in himself, we think that we have caught him, he moves, and, when we imagine that at last we are seeing him clearly, it is only the old impressions which we had already formed of him that we have succeeded in making clearer, when they no longer represent him.


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