quick thought-stub —
Harold Bloom said that literary criticism was “the art of making what is implicit in the text as finely explicit as possible”. On a different sort of level, the same seems to ring true for (at least) moral philosophy, where I came to see that there is a lot of understanding to be gained from simply stating explicitly what is implicit in our moral behaviour, or the way we think and talk about morality. For example, we seem instinctively to know that there’s a difference between calling someone “a good cricketeer” and “a good man”, which doesn’t seem to reduce simply to the difference between “cricketeer” and “man”, but making this implicit difference explicit turns out to be a less straightforward task than one might think (whereupon it might transpire that one doesn’t really understand the difference after all).
And what about making that which is implicit, explicit — for history? I had a conversation with my supervisor once, in which we talked about one of the troubles of writing Malaysian history (though the case can probably be taken more generally). The trouble is this: Malaysian historians who write about Malaysia often leave out their local or tacit knowledge (or ‘implicit understanding’) of Malaysian culture and history from their historical analyses, perhaps because they take it for granted, or assume their audience knows it, or assume that it’s irrelevant. I’m reminded too, at this point, about how I met a PhD student from Antigua last year, who told me that he’s read many published histories of Antigua which have drawn all sorts of pear-shaped historical conclusions about the island and its colonial past. This came about, he says, because those historians had never been to Antigua, and had failed to note two basic geographical features, which all Antiguans know about implicitly: that Antiguan beaches have virtually no waves, and that the island has virtually no fresh water (no rivers or streams, and very few springs).
Perhaps, we concluded, there is a good deal to be gained from writing down all this implicit knowledge — the sort of information about one’s own country and culture which one thinks is blindingly obvious, but just isn’t so for everyone else, and which might just have a greater impact on one’s historical analysis than previously suspected.
(I think that in writing this, I have either made something implicit usefully explicit, or else have perhaps done the close-cousin thereof, i.e. Stated the Blindingly Obvious).