Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Language


A traditional error when thinking about language is to reduce it to the mere act of naming, and all the paradoxes inherent therein.  However complex and thought through Badiou's theory of the event is, its being named opens it up first to these paradoxes, and second to an attenuated vision of language that remains supicious.  Preferable by far is the wider focus on language as composed of relational phrases to be found in Deleuze. 

Phrases or sentences if you prefer, raise their own set of problems.  The primary amongst these is how to contend with the subject-predicate coupling which is the basis of the very philosophical tradition Deleuze is trying to overturn.  Aside from this, possibly insurmountable, problem there is of course the nature of relation within the phrase unit, especially if the subject-predicate copula is retained.  And of course the relation between phrases which necessitates that one address simple ontological questions such as where does the phrase begin and end, how do we differentiated phrases from each other?  Deleuze's genius is to see these problems and, to my mind at least, compose credible means of resolving them. 

The first thing to be said therefore is that any philosophy of language needs to pay equal attention to language as name and language as phrase.  Naming can never be a only relation between word and thing, a relation we find time and again radically non-relational, but must also be between names and names and names and verbs and predicates.  By the same gesture while Deleuze is certainly correct to stress the importance of linguistic construction over that of denotation, something he shares with Foucault, this cannot be at the expense of the name as and experience of philosophy

Language in this model becomes a form of mediation between two worlds traditionally unable to communicate.  Words point to things in the world, while phrases point to the relation between worlds.  Language therefore produces some form of relation between an extensive relation (word-thing) and an intensive relation (phrase-phrase) necessitating a view of the world as bifurcated between world as common, language founded on naming what there is for all of us, and as proper, the actual infinity of the relations between phrase-worlds.

If we adopt this model of language many new issues come into focus.  The first of these is that however complex our new model is, accepting language as word-thing, word-word, word (noun)-phrase (verb) and phrase-phrase, it is still a bifurcated identity-difference construct and so well within the confines of our metaphysical history.  To militate against this we can observe that the outer limits of language as word and as phrase begin to decompose the snug intimacy of the subject-predicate presupposition which is at the heart of the model I have just laid out. 

The word, after all, is not the minumum or most primitive unit of language.  Before any word as such is uttered, the material-ontological preconditions of enunciation must be met, these are of course a self-enunciating subject in actual or constructed fact, and various other matters such as marking, absence, silence, reptition, redundancy, rhythm, expletives, glossolalia and so on.  Put simply before each word there must be met the preconditions of utterance that philosophy has usually distributed along the lines of subjects and matter. 

At the other end we have to consider that while a phrase-based linguistics is certainly more relational and constructivist, it is still of limited relationality and really only a primitive form of construction.  It is, after all, not phrases that interest us but phrases in frameworks, phrases composed into significant 'paragraphs', phrases in consort with other phrases, and out of kilter with other phrases, phrases through time, across place, under the auspices of power, and phrases as events.  All of these could be held under the heading 'discourse', or specifically the operativity of discourse and the inter-relationality of multiple but not infinite discourses.

These removals of the traditional epoche of ideas of language do no free it from binaristic, identity-difference structures.  But they begin the slow process of entirely reconsidering the nature of language to a such a degree that such a noun may eventually be adandoned as not naming anything to be found in this world.  Before we get there however the program is clear:
  • Reconfigure language as neither word based nor phrase based but as word-phrase based
  • Be open and honest about the aporias to be found therein of both systems and their relation
  • Open both the internal borders of language, let word consort with phrase, an the external, let word consort with matter and let phrase consort with discourse
  • Which may in turn even open discourse to matter and vice versa
Such a 'philosophy of language' would far exceed the reductionist contesting models we tend to encounter but even this expansion would be insufficient.  It does not, for example, begin to contend with the fundamental belief in Agamben and Deleuze that language is primarily performative.  Nor does it yet contemplate the fundamental belief in Agamben and Foucault that language is also pure communicability as such. 

For us to proceed beyond language we need to consider the performative at both the primitive level of subjective enunciation and the multiple level of power through territorialisation.  And by the same gesture a consideration of communicability at the base level, for example Foucault's stipulation that all statements need base material presence, and at the discursive level: the wider sanction of communicability as such as a sanctioned form of pervasive and relatively consitent intelligibility.

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