Sunday, 17 August 2014

The solution

I want to think about us as the vehicle through which language resolves some of its shortcomings. If we manage to agree, then I can say I have managed to demonstrate that we are ourselves the consequences of writing, the proof of its solution.

Source: Sprott's Gateaway


Language is by definition disordered and disorderly. In order to be understood, language needs some facilitators. Speech is one. By speaking out, we give language the order of our own pronunciation. Then we give it the order of our thoughts, which, of course, become apparent only when we have pronounced them. We believe there’s a close relationship between language and speech, an ontological closeness between them, that makes writing redundant. But speech isn't any less disrespectful in the way it relates to language. Speech too distorts language and the World. Rousseau, with his invitation to return to the primitive state, did not consider the exclusion of speech from the natural history of humankind. Now, of course, when we talk about the exclusion of speech we get cocky questions, like: What would you like? Turn us into animals? But that’s not what the exclusion of speech would lead to. Without the ability to speak, we’d still not be animals, because we would be endowed with the ability to signify. We are sign creators – that’s what we are at the core of our species. And signs are alive and well in speech, just as much as they are in writing.


So let’s take another turn. In order to become comprehensible, language needs to be translated. As in all types of translation, something is lost when we put language into signs (spoken, written, or otherwise).
Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called “Remembered Columns.” It goes like this:
“The solid letters of the world grew airy.
The marble serifs, the clearly blocked uprights
Built upon rocks and set upon the heights
Rose like remembered columns in a story
About the Virgin’s house that rose and flew
And landed on the hilltop at Loreto.
I lift my eyes in a light-headed credo,
Discovering what survives translation true.”

The story of the Virgin of Loreto is one of translation and transportation: an entire edifice moved over to a different, and very distant, location by unnatural means; and not just once. So the question is: What “survives translation true” when something is transported in whole, as it were? What did Heaney discover by the end of his poem? The word “credo” may give us a clue. Signs understood by means of a credo are signs enforced upon us. We don’t see the enforcement because we take pleasure in them. We pleasure ourselves with the products of writing. Does this sound erotic? Maybe there is something intrinsically erotic in the way we interact with writing. But let’s ask Freud about this some other time.

The synchronic Sign

So what was the truth discovered in the poem? Oh, yes. The truth is that, when we don’t have evidence, we need to believe dogmatically. And that, sometimes, feels like an embarrassment; like an offense to our intelligence and our power to think things through. But still, the lack of evidence hurts. How can we even say anything at all about anything at all, when we have nothing to prove we are right at all? This is where we enter the intricate labyrinth of our uncertainty, the doubt with which we approach the things of the World.
So with writing we think we have solved the problem of this lack of evidence. Through letters and words and paragraphs and pages we construct (so we think) records. We put the World on hold by means of our scribbled signs. We tame the untamed, we subject the unsubjected – by halting their aimless running about, by corralling them to a place of so-called security.
The difference between diachronicity and synchronicity is this: one is constant flow, the other is pure stasis. The World is Heraclitus' river: we cannot immerse in it twice (the river is not the same, we are slightly different). The Word, by contrast, is the very definition of the immobility that defines synchronic signs. How gracious of English language to have given us this slight confusion, this suggestive resemblance between “world” and “word,” so as to make us think they’re still very closely related, that only the way we twist our tongues inside our mouths makes the difference between them.

(See here, between 3'10''-3'50'', the urge and the equally urgent necessity to pin things down by writing.)

Words, like monuments

Can we say that, with every word we've written, we have taken another step up the flight of stairs that leads into the Museum of Immobility? There is a Madame Tussaud’s of sorts that we write ourselves into, with every word and every letter. Once written, the word stays. Here again, the glory of English language: “stay” doesn't mean just stop or stopover; it also means vacation. Vacation, as in ‘time off’; as in fleeing-some-place-in-order-to-find-comfort-in-another. Now that’s something that sends us back to Seamus Heaney. Translation: the art of fleeing the discomfort of language in order to find repose in the silence of signs. No wonder the letter is raised on a plinth that makes it look like a column. A column, as well as a monument. Writing is a monument to our presumed victory over language. What order we've managed to create! How well we've swept the floors of this untidy habitant! How intelligible we have made everything! How beautiful the World now!

Source: Wonderful Engineering
Between speech and writing there’s this important distinction: with writing, we can build monuments. With speech, we may be able to build the same monuments, but they won’t last, those oral moments. Not after writing has become predominant. With writing, we can say: Yes, there is a Chapel of the Virgin Mary on the summit of a hill in Loreto. With speech, we could only say: Yes, a miracle happened one night, when the chapel rose out of the blue (an immense, incomprehensible blue). But who would believe us? Who would do it without a credo? Who?

I was here

You see now how writing is, indeed, a solution. It solves out the impasse in which language ought to be sometimes: the difficulty of having to be believed.
Creeds are works of writing; they are memorials, reminders. Where there’s no way you can be believed, where your very reliability is placed under a question mark, you raise a monument. You write I was here, 2014. Now there will be solid truth in your statement, when you make it a few years from now. You have proof. You've planted it there. You can show it to all the unbelievers. And now you’re happy you know how to write, how to put yourself back into the world, how to occupy the world by means of written signs. Writing is, indeed, like the barbarians, a solution.