'or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without'

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matchalatte

New Member
Korean
Hello, I've recently read a part of a writing passage, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry by Walter Pater, and there is an expression I cannot ever understand. Its context is as below, and what I want to interpret is the underlined expression or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without.
As I understand, the context says, overall, that although there are a magnitude of external objects and experiences from them for us to have, once they are left(or possessed) as our impressions(namely, in our mind), they are simplified or biased depending on each individual's personality.
I'm not sure whether I understand the context properly or not, but anyway the underlined part is hard for me to understand, especially syntactically.
Could I get help?

At first sight experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand forms of action. But when reflexion begins to play upon these objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force seems suspended like some trick of magic; each object is loosed into a group of impressions–colour, odour, texture–in the mind of the observer. And if we continue to dwell in thought on this world, not of objects in the solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions, unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them, it contracts still further: the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the individual mind. Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without. Every one of those impressions is the impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world.


Source:The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry - Conclusion (by Walter Pater)
 
  • Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    You need to look at the entire sentence that your phrase is part of to make sense of it. I'll take out some parts to get at the basic meaning of the sentence.

    Experience... is ringed round ... by that ... wall of personality through which no ... voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without.

    The approximate meaning of that sentence is:

    There is a wall around experience/self. No voice has ever come inside through the wall to the person inside. Nor has any voice ever made it from us, through the wall, to the outside. Therefore we can only guess that there's anything out there.

    So, the meaning of "or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without" is... from the self, outward, through the wall, to whatever's outside the wall - that we don't know for certain, but guess about.

    I hope that is helpful.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Brilliantly done Truffula.
    It’s an extreme sentence.

    It took me a while to realise that «without » was being used to denote something external rather than (the more usual) lacking.
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    Brilliantly done Truffula.
    It’s an extreme sentence.

    It took me a while to realise that «without » was being used to denote something external rather than (the more usual) lacking.
    Same here. The style's sloppy. Voices don't pierce through walls; they just pierce them.
     

    matchalatte

    New Member
    Korean
    You need to look at the entire sentence that your phrase is part of to make sense of it. I'll take out some parts to get at the basic meaning of the sentence.

    Experience... is ringed round ... by that ... wall of personality through which no ... voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without.

    The approximate meaning of that sentence is:

    There is a wall around experience/self. No voice has ever come inside through the wall to the person inside. Nor has any voice ever made it from us, through the wall, to the outside. Therefore we can only guess that there's anything out there.

    So, the meaning of "or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without" is... from the self, outward, through the wall, to whatever's outside the wall - that we don't know for certain, but guess about.

    I hope that is helpful.
    Thank you, Truffula.
    I can understand much clearer thanks to you.
    But still, why "without"?
    "We can only conjecture that there may be such a wall to be."
    Then, without what? without the wall?
    Does that mean that "Although there's no wall substantially, we can only guess there is."? :confused::rolleyes:
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    @matchalatte: It's a less common meaning of "without" that means outside. (as mentioned in suzi br's post above)

    without - WordReference.com Dictionary of English "4. at, on, or to the outside of: both within and without the city."

    "from us / to that which we can only conjecture / without "

    from the self / to the thing we can only guess about its existence / outside

    It is not the wall we are conjecturing about in this sentence; it is the existence of anything outside the wall. Only things inside the wall of the self are known/knowable in this formulation.

    @suzi br Thank you :)

    @rhitagawr I didn't notice that. I do think it happens sometimes (pierce through rather than just pierce), but it is less common.
     

    matchalatte

    New Member
    Korean
    @matchalatte: It's a less common meaning of "without" that means outside.

    without - WordReference.com Dictionary of English "4. at, on, or to the outside of: both within and without the city."

    "from us / to that which we can only conjecture / without "

    from the self / to the thing we can only guess about its existence / outside

    @suzi br Thank you :)

    @rhitagawr I didn't notice that. I do think it happens sometimes (pierce through rather than just pierce), but it is less common.
    Wow, thank you SO much!!
    I've never seen such usage of "without". It's so ..f..fresh...
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    @machalatte Very unusual usage, and typically only found in elevated language (which the passage you asked about definitely is).
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I've seen it used before in more modern writing as one of the contrasting pair: within/without. For example": the enemy within, as opposed to the enemy without.
     
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