In this contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium “Fuzzy Studies: On the Consequence of Blur,” the words ambiguity, ambivalence, and ambience are shown to share the common prefix, from Latin, ambi-, defined in most modern dictionaries as “around, on both sides.” Ambi captures some, but not all, so Leo Spitzer has argued, of the multiple senses (physical surrounding, spiritual embrace, air) that Greeks infused into the prefix peri. Ambiguity and ambience (“going around,” “that which surrounds”), as well as the more modern ambivalence (coined in the context of psychonanalysis), suggest different angles of perception, but all represent fuzzy modes, modes that would seem to have no place in science, especially in climate science, which is pressed to be ever more precise. Yet an analysis of the genealogy of these terms and, in particular, of the differential relation between “around” and “on both sides” may reveal that the very fuzziness of ambi is precisely what is required to grasp the chaotic complexity of the environment.
Karen Pinkus; AMBIGUITY, AMBIENCE, AMBIVALENCE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT. Common Knowledge 1 January 2013; 19 (1): 88–95. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1815737
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