Semantic pragmatism in Ene Mihkelson’s literary works


Keywords: pragmatism, semantic pragmatism, representationalism, Ene Mihkelson, scepticism, history

The article argues that the aesthetics of Ene Mihkelson’s prose invites the reader to give up the representationalist framework and instead adopt semantic pragmatism. Representationalism is a position in philosophy of language according to which sentences represent mind- and language-independent objective reality. Semantic pragmatism, however, does not consider sentences as representing reality, but rather takes the central aspect of a sentence’s meaning to be its role in a community’s language game.

The first part of the article explains how semantic pragmatism rejects representationalism, acknowledges the discursive-conceptual trap and thereby mitigates scepticism. According to this framework, history is not a fixed set of past events, but is rather determined by the discursive-conceptual framework that a given community has decided to establish as a narrative of history. The second part of the article explicates how the aesthetic force of Mihkelson’s fiction pressurises the reader to embrace this semantic pragmatist attitude towards history both at the levels of narrative strategy and sentence poetics.

The central motive of her narrative strategy is a kind of scepticist anxiety: The main characters want to know what happened in the past, but are unable to do so because the past is entangled in the web of incoherent sources of information. By sympathising with the characters of Mihkelson’s prose, the reader realizes that the only way to overcome the scepticist anxiety is to give up the representationalist attitude towards history and accept semantic pragmatism. This aesthetic manipulation is strengthened further by certain poetic devices such as semantic accent and lack of quotation marks.

Henrik Sova (b. 1983), MA, PhD student, Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu), henrik.sova@gmail.com


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