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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: July ::
Re: Deconstruction
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1483  Tuesday, 22 July 2003

[1]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Jul 2003 17:25:28 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1473 Re: Deconstruction

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Jul 2003 23:15:45 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1473 Re: Deconstruction


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Jul 2003 17:25:28 -0600
Subject: 14.1473 Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1473 Re: Deconstruction

The recent "Deconstruction" posts (assuming this thread is allowed a
little more life) have talked about language and Shakespeare's plays
(made up, partly but not wholly?, of language) and how language in
general and the plays in particular work.  Shakespeare's phrase "a
mirror held up to nature" has been invoked and interrogated.

Here's my contribution on more or less the same theme.

Somewhere Heidegger calls language the "house of being"; he probably
means by this something similar to what he means when he says language
opens a space in which Being reveals itself or comes into the light.

According to Levinas, language necessarily involves the other (i.e., the
other person).  Language, whatever else it does, is offered to another.
This is true even granting that language might serve in some sense as a
"mirror held up to nature." Though language refers to ("thematizes")
"the world" and the various things and activities that make up a world
(read "nature"), and though it uses or depends on or even seems to
consist of a system of signs (one way of describing the "mirror"),
language is most fundamentally conversation, an offering and receiving
involving oneself and others.  If it were not this, not only would
"signs" not "mean" anything, it would be hard to imagine what we would
mean by the word "signs."  (In other words, it would be hard to make a
sensible account of language as consisting of a set of entities --
"signs"--relating to and interacting with each other in an impersonal
void.)

(By the way, I think all of this works for Shakespeare's plays too.)

Levinas calls the offering to another in conversation "saying"; the
content of language that can be reduced to concepts is "the said."  Even
in the simplest language "saying" produces an element of ambiguity: "In
the play activating the cultural keyboard of language [so that the
conceptual content does in some measure depend on the culturally
inflected system of signs constituting a particular language], sincerity
or witness [other ways of saying "saying"] signifies by the very
ambiguity of every said, where, in the midst of the information
communicated to another there signifies also the sign that is given to
him of this giving of signs" (_Otherwise Than Being_ 152).  For example,
in this very message (the one I have concocted and you are reading), I
am saying both "This is how language works" and "I am saying this to
you--I am offering this as an appeal for your consideration and
understanding."

Language (as well as playmaking and playwatching) is an activity taking
place in the very world it refers to, so it can hardly be separate from
the world (it is as if the mirror were part of the very nature it is
reflecting; Shakespeare has another phrase for this phenomenon: "the art
itself is nature").  And perhaps any particular use of language obscures
some things and illuminates others--so it is not only a mirror actively
involved in the world it reflects but a mirror that selectively focuses,
expands, contracts, illuminates, and obscures.  In fact, rather than
directly showing us the world, it seems that language mainly reminds us
of and interprets things (and experiences, relationships, etc.) in the
world, while also taking place in the world.

Though there are problems with overly simple accounts suggesting that
words refer transparently to things, yet it seems to me nonsensical to
say there is no "world" or "reality" that language refers to or attempts
to illuminate.  It also seems obvious to me that, though language
affects our understanding and even experience of virtually everything,
there is much that we experience that language fails to convey --and we
sense, sometimes painfully, the vastness of these failures.  One
nineteenth-century writer, feeling keenly the discrepancy between what
he had experienced and even understood, on the one hand, and his ability
to convey it through language, on the other, said: "Oh Lord, deliver us
in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were total
darkness of paper, pen, and ink; and a crooked, broken, scattered, and
imperfect language" (Joseph Smith, _History of the Church_ 1:299).

Shakespeare seems to have thought a lot about language (and about
plays), and from the evidence I'd say he knew they could be looked at
from various angles and with various attitudes.  Two quite different
attitudes, for instance, are suggested by "Words, words, words," on the
one hand, and "Love and tongue-tied simplicity in least speak most, to
my capacity," on the other.  What I have been trying to say about the
limitations and uses of language and language's involvement in the very
world it tries to interpret is maybe anticipated by the statue at the
end of _The Winter's Tale_: this work of (supposed) art that turns out
to be an active participant in nature, and not only that, but a dynamic
personal agent who responds and provokes response, who offers and
receives.  Could this scene be (in part) an image of what a play does?

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Jul 2003 23:15:45 -0700
Subject: 14.1473 Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1473 Re: Deconstruction

Clifford Stetner writes,

My problem with Derrida's position against Husserl is that it seems to
limit phenomenology to the individual consciousness. This creates a
false dichotomy of terms that excludes any aspect of "collective
experience."

I should think that this is not only Derrida's reading of Husserl. As
you've described it, it seems influenced by Sartre and Heidegger, both
of whom thought that "collective experience" was an evasion of the
historicity of Dasein, or the authenticity of the cogito. Heidegger
would probably call it the "everyday" or something like that, while
Sartre would think of references to collective consciousness as bad
faith, I should think.

The movement beyond the solipsism of phenomenology (or at least, of a
certain reading of early phenomenology) isn't, I think, towards
collectivity, but towards responsibility, recognition of the Other. Your
description of the audiences of Greek tragedy and football matches
strikes me as rather frightening:

The audiences of Greek tragedy, I read somewhere, fell to weeping and
wailing spontaneously and simultaneously, and we have all witnessed
people, whether in a riot or a football game, being "caught up in the
excitement of the moment."

Like the rebels in Sir Thomas More attacking foreigners, I suppose.

Yours, trying to keep his head,
Sean.

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