Although people’s experiences are not perfectly transparent to them, they do have at least partial access to them. However, the translation of a reflective awareness of an experience into a languaged expression might further distance the evidence of an experience from the experience itself. The kind of interaction that holds between experience and its description in language remains a contested philosophical issue. Positions on this issue lie along a continuum from Husserl’s phenomenological idea that experiences precede language to Derrida’s postmodern notion that experience itself is a construction of the language one speaks. Gendlin understood that experience is more complex than language and that it informs and corrects the words people use to express it. He cited as an example a writer’s struggle to find the right word to accurately express a feeling or thought. Arnheim recognized that recollections and thinking often occur in visual images and that language is often an inadequate presentation of a visual experience. Wierzbicka, however, in her cross-cultural study of words used to express emotional feelings, held that “the way people interpret their own emotions depends, to some extent at least, on the lexical grid provided by their native language”. Ricoeur presented a middle position in which he holds that experience is more complex and nuanced than can be expressed in literal language.
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