Meanders on Walter Benjamin, “The Language of Man” (part 1)

This may take a while:

all communication of the contents of the mind is language, communication in words being only a particular case of human language and of the justice, poetry, or whatever underlying it or founded on it.

Certainly we cannot speak in language what may not be properly treated by language. This fact rather forgets sometimes it is engaged in “analysis of—” or meta-experience of—the particular phenomena it engages. Distinguishing between one and another, or, defining, is the purview of language. It is that which calls this “this” and that “that” and often plays at calling this “that” and that “this” and so on, and communicates equivalence and distinction to this body and that body. And certainly it is tempting to take this system (and it may be meaningful to distinguish here that a system is not necessarily built or developed by mind, but is articulable only, so far as we know, by mind; recognizable, so far as it seems, by mind—when a mind recognizes a phenomenon, has it created the phenomenon into language?) of disambiguation of phenomena to be the very existence it describes.

I’m thinking of photosensitivity as a most basic carrying out of what Benjamin seems to be calling language.

In a deep pool of water, there resides a culture of micro-organisms that move lower in the day and come close to the surface by night, because, when sunlight interacts with their cellular structures, it starts a process of adjusting buoyancy to a more advantageous state (a state which provides the culture access to nutrients and keeps the culture more remote from the forces and life-forms which may cause them harm or extinction). Light communicates to the organism in a way that distinguishes when and how to behave. A language of light? Perhaps? Well then in this sense, certainly how is anything not language? Cause-effect. And for human communicability of the meta-awareness of such analogy, how is language not the thing that is always happening? But of course language is not man-made, rather, similar to the micro-organism, it is grown in the cellular structure towards a disambiguation of light and not light, food and not food, danger and not danger, and so on. And could we say of the organism’s photosensitivity mechanism that this constitutes the “mental” aspect of the creature? And if so, is the creature itself not the speaker of the language of its mental life? This is all part of some larger body of the cell, which in humanspeak we make a distinction to draw analogies and understand concepts or to bastardize and oversimplify and etcetera. But in distinguishing between the speaker and the language and the language and the mind, we may also see it is not any of these aspects that has conducted the disambiguation; it is the human analysis which has done so. It is the language of mind and not the human heartbeat which has done so, but also yes it was the human heart—and the liver and spine, the grouping together of humans in society, the cultivating of crops and cattle, the cattle itself, the cow’s nervous system, the cud in her belly, the growing of the grass, the sunlight and the rain, the helium moving out from the core of the star, the dead stars casting heavier elements about the cosmos—indeed, everything that may be said to “be”—it is all of these things that have conducted the disambiguation, and the disambiguation takes part in them, not separate, but a part. The language of the language has not made in any real sense anything that wasn’t already making, and the world goes on causing and effecting as it will, no more or less than before, furthering in complexity, interconnecting, being its whole self/un-self, with discreet/undiscreet distinction as a piece of it. And would we call the mind of man so small a thing as to be made of language? And would we name the man of mind so large a thing as to say the little bug in the water thinks the whole universe is made of light and dark and the only thing to do with light and dark is to move up and down in them, and would that little bug be right or wrong?

Is it possible the faculty of man that is language is also a faculty that insinuates itself everywhere, while being no different in this way from anything else at all? Language makes a magic show of analogizing itself with all things? But the analogy is sort of silly. All things are all things anyway… “TADAA!!” says man of his language. “I know how you did that,” says the Acorn. “Quiet,” says the Octopus, “don’t ruin the show, this is for fun.”

All that is asserted here is that all expression, insofar as it is a communication of contents of the J by its whole innermost I guage. On the other hal necessary to ask of whic to say: the German langl of everything that we co direct expression of that mental entity. It is then~ communicates itself in la distinguished from it. TIi. precisely in its languageinto which all linguistic t precisely over this abyss i and the linguistic entity J study of linguistic theory, it is, rather, the frequent being that constitutes a d of which is found in the paradox has a place, as remains a paradox, and i What does language ~ corresponding to it. It is I itself in language and no speaker, if this means son Mental being communica tha t it is not outwardly identical with linguistic b What is communicable i therefore communicates mental being only insofar insofar as it is capable oj Language communicat festation of this being, h( tion” 1 ( J (‘ langua§ municates itself.” The la not the lamp (for the me ble, is by no means the communication, the lamr the linguistic being of a linguistic theory depends even the appearance of t means, “That which in On this “is” (equivalent t On Language as Such 63 cation of contents of the mind, is to be classed as language. And expression, by its whole innermost nature, is certainly to be understood only as language. 

The faith which holds its canon as also its proof of the veracity of its canon is the only sort of faith there is. If a Biblically-centered community is engaged in what would seem uncompassionate behaviors bolstered by a belief that those behaviors are “scriptural,” it is useless to point to evidence external to the collection of documents that make up the moral world of the community. You have to locate your reasoning inside the canon in order to affect a look at changing behaviors. An external approach is tantamount to heresy.

A Biblical circularity exists also in the sciences, whereby the precept of skepticism seeks a process that cannot be interrupted or corrupted by deus ex machina results to a line of inquiry, as the explanation “this is up to god” seems to put a period at the end of a sentence in a language that wants no punctuation. Should it surprise us, then, when an approach which endeavors to remove the hand of God from its functioning yields results which seem to suggest God is superfluous? Of course God is superfluous to a system which has begun with the understanding that bringing God into the mix is superfluous to the aims of the system. In the interior analysis it seems simple, we’ve discovered that by eliminating God from the line of questioning, we eliminate god from the results, ergo, as you can see, there is no need of god anywhere. The trouble comes when we want to make the endeavor into the whole of the world. Well, look, we’ve put limits on this thing on purpose, maybe let’s not go into the wasteland where the limited starts making assertions about the limitless. Let’s not be stupid children.

Let’s be stupid children!

Once, in my time at Naropa, after a particularly contentious discussion in a particularly contentious class, I went with Troy and Cliff and Eric back to Eric’s apartment, which was our tradition on the day of the class, for a bowl and a blunt and some free-scribbling where we might allow the contours of the disagreements and alignments of the prior discourse to soften, magnify, de-formalize, fade in and out, that I think we were intent on allowing the discourse to breathe all the many airs available to it, that we might not think we understood something, but rather had been given fodder for poetic growth and development. Even so, when Troy was in the mix my blood was often up and I could be pretty rigid and argumentative about things, which I think was good for me to see & I’m not sure if it was good for anyone else, but there remains in my hopes that potential. Well, in any case, we got onto a line of argument where I was insisting that narrative was universal as a creative concept and I was relying heavily on Gestalt to make my claim. Troy was mainly saying, “No it isn’t,” so by design I was at an impasse with him. And Cliff began to argue from the point of view of his bathroom floor in Denver, where nothing happened and nothing happened next, and I began to be persuaded.

“Late at night on the bathroom floor, nothing happens. And it’s creative.”

“That’s narrative. You just don’t want it to be.”

“Talking about it NOW is narrative. But on the floor it isn’t.”

“But you find value in it and so you return there. Again, narrative.”

“You’re surrounding the state with narrative and calling all of it narrative.”

“Yes. I don’t see the problem.”

“The problem is you don’t see what’s not happening when it’s not happening. You start out thinking everything is a sequence that fills in with meaning by mental connectivity, and so everything conforms to that for you, but I’m just on the floor and sometimes I’m not even aware that’s where I am. And the poetry there is sometimes just a bass string and there’s nothing in mind to connect one thing with another.”

In argumentation I still can’t see a way around the narrative, but argument is not always the best lens for finding what ought to be found. There is a bathroom floor in Denver where, at night, Cliff no longer sits, and once did, and the only way to talk about it is in narrative; one way to experience the non-narrative is to experience the non-narrative. And then there’s no way to explain it without applying narrative, and so the illusion persists.

“All mental communication is language,” I use my words to say. Try disproving me using language. You won’t be able to do it. It doesn’t mean you’re onto something.


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