Without Dream or Mercy

Gueorgui Pinkhassov, photography (USSR, 1980)

“The enslavement of language in prattle is joined by the enslavement of things in folly almost as its inevitable consequence. In this turning away from things, which was enslavement, the plan for the Tower of Babel came into being, and linguistic confusion with it.”
Walter Benjamin (On Language as Such and on the Language of Man)

“Wasn’t it noticeable at the end of the war that men who returned from the battlefield had grown silent—not richer but poorer in communicable experience?”
Walter Benjamin (The Storyteller, 1936)

“Men are reduced to walk-on parts in a monster documentary film which has no spectators, since the least of them has his bit to do on the screen.”
Theodor Adorno (Minima Moralia)

I think, when looking over my last few posts here, the underlying theme is really the relationship between authoritarian societies (and just Capitalist society) and how we, as children, are integrated into this system that is bent on destroying our imagination. And how this system is different from and the same as, earlier societies and cultures. And underlying these concerns are questions about language. And here, I think, it is useful to start with Walter Benjamin.

Now Benjamin’s early essay (not published in his lifetime) On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, written in 1916 while a student in Munich (when Benjamin was only 24) is, as Hito Steyerl notes, “Of all weird texts by Benjamin, this is definitely the weirdest.” Steyerl is not wrong.

“But Benjamin’s idea of translation – at least in this text – boldly ignores this obvious and perhaps banal feature of translation. And thus, an entirely different concept of a politics of translation emerges. Instead of national languages, which are only mentioned passingly in this text, he focuses on what I would call languages of practice: the language of law, technology, art, the language of music and sculpture. And more importantly: translation doesn’t take place between them, but within them. That is: between the language of things and the language of men, at the base of language itself. “
Hito Steyerl (The Language of Things)

Carl de Keyzer, photography. (Weimar. Former East Germany.)

Steyerl is a German conceptual artist and filmmaker. Not an academic. All the better. For Benjamin’s essay is not really about linguistics. It is theological, at its heart. As Steyerl adds…

“…it bluntly locates translation at the core of a much more general practical question: how do humans relate to the world? Instead of a politics of the original content – like the nation state, the culture, the Volksgeist or national language – Benjamin argues for a politics of form.”

In fact, Benjamin’s concluding paragraph in the essay is:

“The language of nature is comparable to a secret password that each sentry passes to the next in his own language, but the meaning of the password is the sentry’s language itself. All higher language is a translation of lower ones, until in ultimate clarity the word of God unfolds, which is the unity of this movement made up of

Walter Benjamin (On Language as Such and on the Language of Man)

There are echoes of Kafka in this statement. And of Adorno, too. Benjamin is suggesting that there exists some originary language, but one we are unlikely to ever know. But we can know, in a sense anyway, what it was and did (!). It was the language of things, inherent in all things. So language at its core is translation. These thoughts, of the young Benjamin, are hugely paradoxical, but no less valid for it. If this originary language of the world, of things, is perhaps lost, we must still open ourselves to a right listening, to be receptive to the world (and God). And as Steyerl notes, this is actually a profoundly political ambition.

“Human language originally translated nothing other than the language of things. While the function of language is generally seen to be one in which things, by being named, are transformed into objects that are communicable and therefore categorisable, Benjamin counters that this capacity is preceded by an act of reception. To hear the language of things and then translate it is a condition of any naming process. This type of perception, which cannot itself be based on the transmission of linguistic content, is made possible by human language’s capacity for imitation or mimesis”.
Kathrin Busch (The Language of Things and the Magic of Language)

Gueorgui Pinkhassov, photography (USSR 1980)

Ergo, children are closer to God. And this relates to what I wrote in my previous blog post on the pre-linguistic memories of the child. The pre-cognitive, even. This is what the child brings back to the home after roaming the world. And it is what artists intuit when they create, and which the experience of the artwork is then carried by the viewer or audience back home. And here home includes something additional but not separate from one’s house. The sense of home is profound for us partly because as children the home is the site of return. Adults are all, to some degree, exiled. Some far more than others. The exile then takes on an additional resonance as the delivery system, as it were, for meaning. The language of in things is given perspective by exile. Early hunter gatherer societies often stayed in the same relative location for a thousand years. Ours is an internal exile, too, though.

“As Zarathustra says, the individual can experience himself only at the end of his wandering.”
Walter Benjamin (Experience, 1913)

“…by postulating receptiveness as the necessary antecedent to any articulation, he asserts the existence of a passive condition in human speech. The usual relationship between humanity (active) and the object world (passive), once it is reversed in this way, is thus reinterpreted. { } He formulates a theory, rooted in the early Romantic tradition, of the magic of language. This latter aspect of the magical was described by Benjamin as the “primary problem of language”. The idea of a magical nature of language originates in the critique of an instrumentalist concept of language, which Benjamin rejects as bourgeois. “
Katherin Busch (Ibid)

I have said, when teaching writing students, that communication is NOT the point. Communication is what you get in an Ikea instruction page for assembling your new table (or making, oh, an atom bomb). That is instrumental language in a nutshell. What Benjamin suggests here is that it is not through language that the deeper meaning resides, but in language. A very particular meaning emerges in the language of the world. The child in the tree, again. Day dreaming.

“The answer to the question “What does language communicate?” is therefore “Every language communicates itself’.’ Benjamin considers this passage a transition, and plausibly so. The first sentence can be read as a summary of the preceding discussion. It then means that the linguistic essence of an entity is communicated in language, and we can add that it is a spiritual essence that does the communicating.”
Margarete Kohlenbach (Walter Benjamin Self Reference and Religiosity)

“Benjamin’s argument thus goes considerably further than simply stating that the meaning of what is being said is inseparable from the way of saying it, that the content of a speech act is intrinsically bound up with its form. Rather, the more radical argument that the form of speech can produce a completely different, independent and above all latent meaning must be made and it is in poetry that this becomes particularly clear.”
Kathrin Busch (Ibid)

Brice Marsdan

Again, Benjamin himself was obsessed with childhood. With the sense of what gets lost as we mature. And as we adapt. For the child is considerably more mimetically active than the adult. And probably, I suspect, most involved with a mimesis of the personal before actual institutional schooling begins.

“With this thesis of the magic of language, rather, a layer of language is revealed in which latent meanings are conveyed. In the theory of magical practices, this transmission of what is latent and purely implicit is conceptualized as contagion and one may conclude that, as far as his outline of a language of things is concerned, such models of sympathetic contagion served as an example for Benjamin.{ } The language of things refers to the manner in which we are addressed by an object. This appeal or claim on our attention itself defines the act of speaking. Instead of the identificatory order imposed on objects by means of linguistic categorization, Benjamin focuses on the process of being approached or “sparked” by objects as a precondition for this naming process. In particular, his work ‘Berlin Childhood’ around 1900 tells of the affective force of things, which precedes a linguistic order.”
Kathrin Busch (Ibid)

Again, here, theatre looms as the significant artform. Mimesis is foundational in all artforms but in theatre there exists the preeminence of the text. And this text is one memorized, and spoken aloud. There is a register of translation then, in the performance. Recitation is ritual, and it is ceremony — and as such it imparts a sense of something outside the *prattle* of daily life that so offended Benjamin. An interesting side bar is found in an essay by Adi Nestor:

“In the same vein was the First German Youth Congress (ErsterFreideutscher Jugendtag ), which took place in October 1913 with the aim of promotingself-education for youth in autonomous communities. Benjamin’s report from the summit, “Youth was Silent,” published the same month under the pseudonym “Ardor” in the radical expressionist journal Die Aktion, attests that in his eyes, finding a language for youth was not a task that could be simply carried out in one sitting: “Youth was silent.—It had not yet the intuition before which the great age complex breaks down. That mighty ideology: experience—maturity—reason the good will of adults. It was not perceived at the Youth Congress and was not overthrown.'”
Adi Nestor (Silence, Medium, Transmission: Benjamins Metaphysics of Language and Youth)

Frank Stella

And Nestor also notes, on another of Benjamin’s very early essays, The Metaphysics of Youth, something of the often obfuscated dynamic of conversation…

“The conversation requires both parties—speaker and listener. Benjamin indicates that the listener, too, relies on the speaker whose task is to seek forms in which the listener can be revealed. The process that is described is a cyclical one. The speaker blasphemously transmits words to the listener, who in silence produces meaning. The speaker thereafter moves to occupy the position of the receiver by being the first auditor of ‘the silence of a new language.'”
Adi Nestor (Ibid)

This is one of the hidden purposes, in a sense, of theatre. The audience produces meaning. But it is a dialectical relationship with the performer.

“But even if he revives an empty past through orgiastic excitement,the listener hears not words but the silence of the present.Fordespitethe ight of spirit and the emptiness of words, the speaker is present; his face is open to the listener, and the efforts made by his lips are visible. The listener holds true language in readiness; the words enter him, and at the same time he sees the speaker.Whoever speaks enters the listener. Silence, then, is born from the con- versation. Every great man has only one conversation, at whose margins a silent greatness waits. In the silence, energy was renewed; the listener led the conversation to the edge of language, and the speaker creates the silence of a new language, he, its first auditor.”
Walter Benjamin (Metaphysics of Youth)

Hito Steyerl, writing in relation to the making of documentaries (I remember the theoretical debates surrounding the criteria for documentary from time at the film school)…

“But let me make one thing very clear: to engage in the language of things in the realm of the documentary form is not equivalent to using realist forms in representing them. It is not about representation at all, but about actualizing whatever the things have to say in the present. And to do so is not a matter of realism, but rather of relationalism. { } remember the role that material objects took on in Benjamin’s thought later on, when he started deciphering modernity mainly by sifting through the wake of trash it left behind. Modest and even abject objects became hieroglyphs in whose dark prism the social relations lay congealed and in fragments. They were understood as nodes,in which the tensions of a historical moment materialized in a flash of awareness or grotesquely twisted into the commodity fetish.In this perspective,a thing is never just something,but a fossil in which a constellation of forces is petrified. According to Benjamin, things are never just inert objects, passive items or lifeless shucks at the disposal of the documentary gaze. But they consist of tensions, forces, hidden powers, which keep being exchanged. While this opinion borders on magical thought, according to which things are invested with supernatural powers, it is also a classical materialist one. Because the commodity, too, is not understood as a simple object, but a condensation of social forces.”
Hito Steyerl (Ibid)

Giotto (Lamentation, 1306)

The later Benjamin felt he could not escape a Marxist critique of social relations. But I think it safe to say the later work is not at all in contradiction to the early essays. Giorgio Agamben, an ardent reader of Benjamin, especially the earlier writing, noted:

“According to a tradition found in Gnostic, Manichaean, Jewish, and Iranian texts, it constitutes the supreme soteriological and messianic experience. In the Arabic treatise Picatrix, which exerted considerable influence on Renaissance hermeticism, the angel appears as a form of an extraordinarily beautiful figure who, when questioned by the philosopher about its proper identity, answers: ‘I am your perfect nature.’ A Mandaean text describes the redemptive encounter with the angel in the following terms: “I go to meet my image, and my image comes to meet me; it embraces me and pulls me close when I leave prison.”
Giorgio Agamben (Walter Benjamin and the Demonic: Happiness and Historical Redemption)

The Angel (Paul Klee’s Agesilaus Santander)is often thought to represent happiness (perhaps paradoxically, to some). But I think this is a simplistic reading. Benjamin did not believe in a simple idea of happiness.

For what does that mean exactly? And here, the political failures of the 20th century and the nightmare of National Socialism, only further mediated ideas of hope and happiness.

Michael Mazur

“For Benjamin, as I will show further, human beings have always been susceptible to what he calls “the phantasmagoria,” a miasma of false, idolatrous forms of reality based on our misreading of the world and its objects. Capitalism for Benjamin has only ampli‹ed this tendency; through commodity fetishism, capitalism has produced an elaborate, and false, sense of time and space, a “reality” that results from capitalist forms of production. So totalizing is this reality that even the most ardent leftists among us are endowed with a secret desire for capitalism to succeed; the failures of the Left are, in a sense, an effect of our participation in the same reality that feeds capitalism. Even our “hope” for revolution or the end of capitalism is similarly informed by a dark eschatology that is a product of the phantasmagoria.”
James R. Martel (Textual Conspiracies)

But this is not quite right, either. Nobody, even in the darkest night of the soul, wants capitalism to succeed. Capitalism is incapable of succeeding, in fact. And here I think Benjamin’s early Kabbalah influenced essays are most relevant. The language of things, of the world, is linked to the angels of our perfect nature. This is the iconography of Christianity, but also of Gnosticism. One could make a case for Hinduism and redemption, here, too. But the point here is that theatre, the ritual stage (all stages are ritual) are enactments of that metaphysical conversation Benjamin wrote about. Benjamin anticipated the suffering of the second world war after living through the first.

“While Benjamin seems to hope for this kind of event, he also foresees a darker possibility of its realization, which he calls conjuration. If there is so to speak a white magic of things, bristling with creativity and power, there is also a black one, charged with the dark powers of the taboo, illusion and the fetish. The power of conjuration tries to tap into the forces of things without proper reflection, or as Benjamin calls it: without interruption by the inexpressive. And it is on these unmediated and uninterrupted chaotic powers, that capitalist commodification and general resentment thrives.”
Hito Steyerl (Ibid)

Steyrel adds something Adorno emphasized and that is that the politics of the artwork is found in the form and not the content. Anything made, regardless of content, in Hollywood (or its equivalent) will take on the politics of Hollywood, and that is fascism. One may prefer to call it neo liberalism, but its fascism, at its core, that is what it is.

Boris Ignatovich, photography. (USSR)

Steyerl finishes her essay:

“If Benjamin’s concept of translation could tell us one thing, it is that translation is still deeply political, if we literally put it to practice. Only that we need to shift our attention from its content to its form. We need to shift the focus from the languages of belonging to the language of practice.”
Hito Steyerl (Ibid)

What is important to remember is that while Benjamin’s later work is overtly Marxist (thanks in part of his friendship with Brecht and Adorno, and in part to his reading of Lukacs) the seeds of his metaphysical materialism (no, really) is evident in his very earliest writing.

“More and more we are assailed by the feeling: our youth is but a brief night (fill it with rapturel); it will be followed by grand “experience,” the years of compromise, impoverishment of ideas, and lack of energy. Such is life. That is what adults tell us, and that is what they experienced. Yes, that is their experience, this one thing, never anything different: the meaninglessness of life. Its brutality. Have they ever encouraged us to anything great or new or forward-looking? Oh, no, precisely because these are things one cannot experience. All meaning—the true, the good, the beautiful—is grounded within itself. What, then, does experience signify?— And herein lies the secret: because he never raises his eyes to the great and the meaningful, the philistine has taken experience as his gospel. It has become for him a message about life’s commonness. But he has never grasped that there exists something other than experience, that there are values—inexperienceable—-which we serve.”
Walter Benjamin (Experience)

This is Benjamin’s very idiosyncratic definition of ‘experience’. But the point is clear regardless, that the contemporary logic of technocracy and scientism, of positivism and instrumental reason, is one that works in the service of killing off the imagination, and more, the sublimity of childhood. What is unclear is where this prelapsarian or originary language, or rather, translation, actually resides. And we return then to those very earliest of Benjamin’s essays. Language is in everything.

Today, the ascension of a totalizing pathologized digital form of domination is in its third generation of those raised in it, under it, and for it. And the internet, the screen, the smartphone, are themselves propaganda. What speaks through them is noise. They murder silence. They murder dreams. Benjamin wrote a very early essay on capitalism…from the same period as Language as Such and the Language of Man.

Giorgio de Chirico (The Child’s Brain)

“Nevertheless, even at the present moment it is possible to distinguish three aspects of this religious structure of capitalism. In the first place, capitalism is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extreme that ever existed. In capitalism, things have a meaning only in their relationship to the cult; capitalism has no specific body of dogma, no theology. It is from this point of View that utilitarianism acquires its religious overtones. This concretization of cult is connected with a second feature of capitalism: the permanence of the cult. Capitalism is the celebration of a cult sans réve et sans merci [without dream or mercy].”
Walter Benjamin (Capitalism as Religion)

On the Aesthetic Resistance podcasts we began to talk of the cult of Covid, which has now been transferred to the cult of Climate Change. And what Benjamin says of Capitalism, circa 1920, is true today, especially through its directed programs of influence.

“Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement.”
Walter Benjamin (Ibid)

It is remarkable that Benjamin wrote this in the early 1920s.

“Freud’s theory, too, belongs to the hegemony of the priests of this cult. Its conception is capitalist through and through. By virtue of a profound analogy, which has still to be illuminated, what has been repressed, the idea of sin, is capital itself, which pays interest on the hell of the unconscious.”
Walter Benjamin (Ibid)

Benjamin adds that capitalism is the expansion of despair. And this early piece prefigures much of his later Marxism, which focused on the suppression of imagination and the retarding of all impulses toward collectivity under the sign of Capital. This is one of the paradoxes, to a degree. The over-valued individual’s social life is always mediated. The collective presents as a progress of reward, but such illusions are always stillborn. This is the cultic aspect, which disappoints over and over and yet its grip rarely weakens. To this degree Martel’s observations are correct. And today, capitalism is viewed on the left as something to be treated with one form of compromise or another and that, perhaps, liberalism will be the ultimate cure. The individual, so prized by marketing and American exceptionalism is also to be merged into some vague notion of galactic compassion. Selling individualism in the Climate narrative is clearly difficult. Hence it is the far(ish) right that now most embraces individualism. The liberal left is increasingly all mush brained whole foods mock collectivity. But it is not genuinely collective, but rather the performance of collectivity.

Rene Magritte (The Spirit of Geometry, 1937)

There was a recent article in Forbes magazine that suggested cutting down all the trees on earth might actually save the earth. Such levels of irrationality are now simply included in a hyper accelerated stream of digital information daily, a language of the digital (per Benjamin) but one in which listening is acutely discouraged. Electric light pollution is rivaled only by sound pollution. It is a sensory maiming in which sleep provides the only relief. And there is ever less sleep, as Jonathan Crary has noted. But the 21st century has now, since 9/11 probably, been so nakedly dishonest, that only a cult could tolerate life in this madhouse. News stories about, oh, a medical study determining the harm of mask wearing, to be followed the same day by new edicts from Canada or the CDC, or the Australian health minister that mask mandates are to return. No return of the pandemic, but just, wear them anyway. One day a news story on wildfires destroying Greece, it is global warming run wild scream the headlines. Later that day, a story about the Greek police arresting 7 people for the arson that caused the wildfires. A news story about men ‘chest’ nursing their babies. Later that day, testimony before congress by a young woman whose life was ruined by early gender transitioning, before she reached puberty. There is no discussion EVER about these contradictions. In government the US elections feature two potential convicts. One senile and the other with some form of personality disorder and a third grade vocabulary. The Aesthetic Society released its statistics on so- called ‘plastic surgeries’ (for 2021). This is in the US. It showed a 54% increase over the previous year. The procedures included liposuction (491,098 procedures), breast augmentation (363,753 procedures), abdominoplasty (tummy tuck, 240 thousand or so), and then breast lift, and over a 147 thousand breast implant removals (!). There were over 2 million breast implant surgeries worldwide last year. The public can watch the new TV limited series on the Sackler family ( the second Hollywood project on the Purdue Pharmacy empire that manufactured Oxycontin, and cost probably a million deaths and destroyed countless communities and whole towns in some cases) and then cheer a TV cop show featuring the arrest and punishment of black inner city drug dealers. Sackler pere still travels freely enjoying his countless mansions and vacation islands. The net work of the Sackler family is around 11 billion dollars. Whenever the new covid variant necessitates lockdowns again, be sure Sackler and other millionaires will not be forced to shut down their private jets. The ruling class don’t do fifteen minute cities.

There is no bottom to the irrational. Now I was thinking recently about Giorgio de Chirico. If I think back on the influences of painters, in my childhood and youth, my first love was Goya. I had a reproduction of Bullfight in a Divided Ring on my wall. I asked for it, after seeing it in a book store while out with my father. When I got to junior high I fell in love with de Chirico. A bit later with Joan Miro. And later still, in high school, with guys like Diebenkorn and Ron Davis, and Barnett Newman. But back to de Chirico. For de Chirico was, like Benjamin, profoundly affected by the first world war. And his metaphysical period from those years, lasting until around 1920, was influenced — also like Benjamin– by reading Nietzsche and Rimbaud (for Benjamin, of course, it was Baudelaire).

In a retrospective at the Hamburger-Kuntsthalle, the exhibition copy reads…

“In 1920, passing the display window of the Galerie Paul Guillaume in Paris, André Breton (1896–1966) catches sight of de Chirico’s painting The Revenant (1914). The arresting strangeness of this work administers such an aesthetic shock that he immediately disembarks from his bus: he simply must own the work. The founder of Surrealism will keep this painting – which will acquire a fetish character for the entire group, and will later be renamed The Child’s Brain by the French writer Louis Aragon (1897–1982) – until the end of his life. The painting forms the beginning of the Surrealist appreciation of de Chirico’s metaphysical imagery, and at the same time its reception by a number of artists – from Picasso to Max Ernst. The closed eyes of the depicted male figure refer again to the imagination of the clairvoyant artist, who experiences revelation in a half-sleep or wake dream. The yellow book that lies before him is suggested by de Chirico’s French edition of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1912).”

Giorgio de Chirico (Death of a Rider, 1937)

Think of the writers active at the end of the 19th century. In all of Europe. In Russia, too, and in the U.S. The painters as well. The philosophers, too. Think of the mid 20th century. Then think of today. What today most resembles, as many others have noted, is the 1930s. The spectre of a 21st century fascism. Only minus the visionary opposition. And it is interesting to note, per Benjamin, that by the 30s, his friendship with Brecht had reshaped his reading of Lukacs. For Brecht it was experimentation that would break down the rigid narrowness of ‘realism’. For Lukacs (I’m being simplistic, or sort of schematic) it was a realism based on materialist reality (sic) that would break down the mystifying and crude mythologies of National Socialism. (Brecht was right). Benjamin, for all the influence that Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness had for him, was never going to abandon the child’s angel of perfectibility. And here it is important to look at Benjamin’s idea of metaphor.

“…metaphor establishes a connection which is sensually perceived in its immediacy and requires no interpretation.”
Walter Benjamin (On Some Motiffs in Baudelaire)

The metaphor is invisible but it connects something difficult to articulate. Something sensuous. And here is where I think today it is impossible not to be metaphoric, in a sense, and where everything is literally an allegory. Capitalism and instrumental reason do not trust metaphor.

“The opening of the past as distance and questioning as being the task of thinking are intimately wedded. The opening of a distance raises the question of the incompleteness of the present, it signals its borders. The distant brings to question the veil of normality of the present. Thus the relation to the past becomes a critical and challenging methodology to the way things are, to the semblance of normality that characterizes modernity’s systems of oppression.”
Rolando Vázquez (Commodity Display and the Phantasmagoria of Modernity)

Alexander Grinberg, photography (USSR, 1940s)

Vázquez follows that with a paragraph that is worth quoting because it signals something inherent in the language of capitalism, the anti language really. Though one might say the language of the commodity.

“Towards the closing of the nineteenth century, public space in the modern city became coextensive with the spaces for display. The city’s public spaces were turned into thriving arenas for the non-ending flow of commodity desires. Public display became the necessary complement to the production of commodities in the industrial floors.The embodiment of the commodity in ‘la Parisienne’ is an early example of the consumption of identity and public recognition mediated by the techniques of display and production of desires.”
Rolando Vázquez (Ibid)

Public space is now on screens. Vázquez makes one other trenchant observation; and that was that the 1909 opening of Selfridges department store, in London, marked the beginnings of consumerist theatre. The shop window as stage. Now this is both right and not quite right. It is a hugely insightful note, historically, and no doubt correct, but this wasn’t the show window as stage so much as it was the shop window as TV screen. Selfridge anticipated the indoctrination of consumerist practice. It marked the start of the long death of the stage, actually. Screen life, which includes the gradual growth and increase of science as, itself, a cult, and the growth of financial forms of capital. Perhaps the last half the 20th century was the growth of the cult, but nobody noticed.

But I want to take this back to early Benjamin in conclusion.

“Unmetaphorically speaking, pure intention is forced into exile inthe uses of language and the translator is the one charged with the responsibility of recalling – reminiscing, revoking? – the exile. Thesense of alienation that, as de Man suggests, is brought about by translation, is, in my opinion, nothing more than an estrangement from the language one considers one’s own in its stark contrast to language as such, to language’s pure potentiality. Read along these lines, Benjamin’s rich oeuvre on language and translation, boiled down to its essentials, can be said to be a theoretical inquiry intothe primordial linguistic uprooting of man.”
Gys-Walt van Egdom (Theses on Pure Language and Postliterate Translation)

Alexander Khlebnikov, photography (USSR, 1950s).

Life can only be understood, per Benjamin, from a perspective of history. And one can never, once exiled, cease to be an exile. Blanchot noted this, too, but used the term *stranger*. It is the same, really. We are exiles to ourselves, even if aspects are recuperated. Agamben asks of the passage, for the infant, from pre literacy to the possessing of a language. Benjamin never exactly addressed this, but he circled the question. What is it that is lost once the infant, or young child, begins to understand those noises have meaning and intention? For this is the answer to the language of the world. Benjamin’s pure language. It is also related to what I wrote of before about Lacan and Freud and ‘das ding’. That thing, that trace memory (if that’s exactly what it is, since childhood amnesia remains such an enigma) that clings to our experience of the uncanny, of those things so hard to articulate that are a part of our inner exile. Certainly capitalism can now be seen as a project to further exile us all. What is the journey back from Capitalism? For our multiple registers of exile? One cannot know, really. All that one can know is that it probably begins with a resistance to the cult. And how that resistance is shaped is a whole other question.

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  1. Despite being a society obsessed with language, our brains run on “motion”.

    From Ian McGilchrist book The Matter with Things;

    “The cognitive deficits that accompany motor diseases may be an inalienable consequence of the close connexion between action and thought. I alluded in Chapter 12 to the well-known Hebbian formula in neuroscience that ‘what fires together wires together’ – that is to say, repeated use of a particular neuronal pathway causes structural changes which further facilitate its future use. Since we now have evidence that neurodegeneration may spread along the reinforced synaptic connexions created by this process, Bak has coined the phrase ‘what wires together dies together’.156
    It seems clear, however, that the key difference is not a grammatical one – nouns versus verbs, as such – but an experiential one – in as much as nouns tend to suggest objects, and verbs tend to suggest action. The brain’s connexions between thought and motion are mediated through imagined experience, not through linguistic rules”

    “To Harvard neurologist Jeremy Schmahmann, it seemed possible that whatever the cerebellum did for motor control, it might also do for behaviours outside the motor domain.175 In the same way that the cerebellum regulates the rate, force, rhythm and accuracy of movements, it might regulate the speed, capacity, consistency and appropriateness of mental or cognitive processes. He called this the ‘dysmetria of thought’ hypothesis,”

  2. John Steppling says:

    and the point is? With respect. This is exactly the problem with neuroscience. All this description and nothing is really being said. Its amazing, actually. I mean way back they rewired a frog to turn left when its brain was saying right (the fly the frog wanted to eat was on the right). What conclusion do you get from this? Philosophy is asking something different, as well.Not how neurons charge, because you could map all the neurons in the brain (would take decades) and then what? Thoughts are not found in neurons. You cant read (sic) thoughts. Nobody even knows what a thought is. But this is what Agamben and others are noting. Science dislikes to the point of obsession anything metaphorical. That said. I have listened to McGilchrist’s lectures and he is wildly metaphorical. My god. And yet, and yet, ideologically, he remains a sort of positivist. In the cult of science.I mean he talks of ‘inhibiting’ neurons. Well, um, the neuron doesnt work in a unitary way with its neighbor neuron (often). To call that inhibiting is actually a metaphor. And, its quite possible that scientists have yet to figure out not only why neurons do what they do, let alone how, but more to the point, to what purpose? The spectre of darwin is hard to escape in all this. But for sure, quantum theory is rife with metaphor and worse, the field of AI is one big anthropomorphic mosh pit. Its why i prefer philosophy. I actually think its more practical.

  3. Regino Robainas says:

    Not every petrified rock or grain of sand
    that damces on the beach or dives back to
    the blue Mother can be measured, even with
    fuzzy precision. Not all Science or
    Mathematics is narrow, instrumentalist, or
    philistine. Goethe knew that, as did Blake,
    Nietzsche, and even Newton & Liebnitz.

    When we recognize phenomena such as a
    gestalt of neurons inside us, we do not or
    should not, pretend to shine an
    all-encompassing light on the existencial
    mystery that is our dance floor.

  4. David Comdico says:

    You are badly misunderstanding McGilchrist. He is not a positivist and considers such thinking an example of the dominance of the literal, overconfident Left hemisphere. (An example:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion-induced_blindness) He also believes that consciousness is inseparable from matter.

    The inhibiting he discusses is how the communication between the hemispheres is inhibited. Information is discarded. The brain does something similar with visual information. It discards a lot and prioritizes different things based on context. McGilchrist emphasizes that the brain, and the human body, does not work like a computer or a machine which is a model in which the biological sciences are still stuck.

  5. John Steppling says:

    thanks. I suspect you are right. I will dig into it further.

  6. John Steppling says:

    ha, as i re-listen I did misread it badly. I still have some issues, but this quite interesting. And he’s right about certitude at the end of that video. But now I am sort of hooked. You probably initiated my next blog post. Thanks again.

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