Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Minding Language

Paul Fry, in a lecture on deconstruction (part 1, part 2), describes that many opponents of deconstruction have made the accusation against it that it is simply privileging language in the way that God had been privileged as prime-mover in another time, mind in others. I myself, in That Funny Feeling ... perhaps came close to suggesting similar, only I equated it with sharing the same genealogy as the idea of eternity, or a transcendental object in which to situate everything else. For Derrida, language seems to be all. To paraphrase Fry, Derrida believed we live in a world "awash with discourse."

Fry then goes on to explain that Derrida was well aware of the difficulty of holding language in such a position, but he also recognised that language was different from other grand explanations because it goes back in on itself, and it doesn't refer to anything other than itself. In evoking God we refer to something outside, and create the space for a great chasm to be formed between the eternal and the world, to place them in opposition to each other. In other words, when language is that big other, we use language to talk about language. When God, or whatever (any kind of belief system, or mode of explanation), is the big other, the big object, then we are speaking as if there is an outside to language.

There is an interesting question here. It is an intensely moral one, one which I would simply like to raise, but certainly not to answer. I can tell you that I have no gut reaction either way. Or, rather, I have a gut reaction in both directions. I cannot decide on this one, not right away. I am compromised.

Here is the question; is it right to place the big other outside of language, and does this create an opening needed for creative thought, or is it right to recognise the limits of language as we proceed through it? Can we gain more insight from this way of thinking? Does it matter a jot which one is right or wrong, or are we simply dealing with more of the same, those old old arguments, over and over again?

With regard to Derrida's insistence of the uniqueness of language and discourse in this very privileged position, all encompassing in the way in which the notion of God could only hope to be, we are presented with the ultimate self-reflective sign. But is there another such object, so to speak?

A number of weeks ago, coming into town on a bus, I started to think about concepts, signs, things, and how the mind was the strangest one. I know, I know, the deconstruction of psychoanalysis has been happening for decades. And yes, I see the problems in privileging the self as prime mover. But as I sat on that bus, I was struck by the fact that the 'I', 'myself', did this strange action which other signs and concepts did not. It came back on itself, just like language did for Derrida.

I could describe the seat in front of me, or the woman sitting next to me, or Doyle's pub as we drove past it. Though they were all imbued with different feelings, thoughts, emotions, knowledge, even, for me they seemed similar in one sense: they did not do the thing that my mind did when I tried to think about it as an object. It was self contained, in the same way that Derrida's language was. I tried to think of myself. The self goes back on itself when trying to regard itself. An infinite regress, perhaps? For that moment at least, I felt the utter uniqueness and strangeness of the sign of the self.

Is this a paradox, or the end of paradox, to find something that reanimates itself, regurgitates itself, the snake that eats its own tale? I am not sure, but I have only found two things that have somewhat convinced me that such things may exist, and these are Derrida's loop of language, and my own bus musing on the loop of the mind.

Though Derrida put himself in opposition to Freud's notion of the primacy of the mind, there might still be some sort of value in a study of the tension between the two. Do they do away with each other, language and mind, as it would at first seem? Does this inference of mutual annihilation actually point to something grander than that, a relationship or tension of the strangest sort?

Or do all signs hold within them the same capacity as the self? In this case it would only be the existential which ties us to the mind, which itself would have to be accounted for, either as a kind of dissonance between two fields - a kind of merging into paradox, the reflexiveness of language and mind - or as something utterly unique and inexplicable. In other words, a paradox.

It seems that we are at a bit of an impasse. But if all signs did hold within them this possible reflexiveness, as Derrida seemed to hold they did (hence all sorts of weird features of language, such as its autoimmunity), then the world certainly would be a very rich place indeed.

Personally, though, I don't like this catch-all word of 'language', or even 'text', or 'discourse'. These are all cold academic words. I do like the word Spirit though. Not something otherworldly, but something like the German 'Geist', or Spirit. Hegel himself talked about the world spirit, or Weltgeist. I understand the problematics of such a term - indeed it is the vague unfixability of the term that makes it attractive to me.

This is not an appeal to some other outside of our world, not an appeal to evoke a heaven, a God, or all manner of such eternal things. It is situated in the world. And yet, perhaps it is in part an appeal to reinstate that outside object. I'm not sure. Perhaps it is both; perhaps it is neither; a paradox, then, an impasse, towards which and beyond which we strive.

What do you think? You don't have to versed in philosophy to attempt an answer. All are welcome to throw the metaphorical shit at the metaphorical wall: all comments are welcome.

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