Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Language and ‘Tool-being’

September 29, 2009

HorizonI did this in a bit of a hurry as I want to get off to the library, but this should hopefully explain a little more why Harman is not in ignorance of his ‘medium’ and understands exacty what is meant by language as the horizon and ‘house of being’.

In the middle of a room there is a table. The table stands with four legs on the floor. If I say, the table is related to the floor through a meaningful relationship of abstraction several objections can be made. 1) That meaning cannot be given to object-object relations, they are only meaningful to humans who observe these relations where meaning is a product of language. 2) Objects cannot abstract each other, only humans can perceive something in an object which is only a part of it against what is given in reality. As I pointed out in the review, Harman tries to redefine abstraction and meaning, giving them a universal ontological application. The status of beings, meaning and language are thrown into dispute. Is there not something special about human language that gives us greater insight into the world and into being in general?

Anyway, back to the table and floor. Are these things ideal or real? If they are ideal, it means that they are objects that can be made present to human understanding from comprehension of language. Within this context, the table and floor are both objects, as each could be separated, yet they are used here as an example machine, and thus are one object (or more accurately an assemblage of objects within objects). What type of object are they? Do they exist only as ideal structures? Is an ideal structure something transcendental or material?

Let us say that the ideality of a thing necessitates a non-semiotic medium in which to reside. The word table doesn’t reside in a transcendental realm exterior to the material world, as Platonism is understood, but is something with materiality. The table and floor have materiality through text on a computer screen. The word ‘table’ as text is itself ideal in that its medium could be almost anything. The meaning of the words (as signifiers with signifieds) is in infinite play depending on who reads them: the intention of the object is unknown. Are the table and floor real? Or are they imaginary? How do they have existence? Yes, they exist. They have an ‘iness’. Before the word means anything it could be said to ‘be’. It is being. Yet, we can go further. It could refer to different types of objects. Yet in this example, there is a clause that narrows down the type of table (one with four legs). The word table is a ‘rigid designator’ (Harman is favourable to Kripke’s term). It is something exterior to any relation that can be put to it. The text ‘table’ is thus something which refers and withdraws: it refers to things outside itself for its own context, yet all actual relations do not make present all that ‘is’ the object.

The table refers to something outside itself (a table thing) , yet its referral is not its only feature. Anything that could be known about why the word ‘table’ is, could never be described, listed or noted in full (to start with, the word ‘table’ is not a table, it is an assemblage of letters; it is an English word; it has two syllables; etc). Thus any view of it I may have must necessarily be one of abstraction. What is the importance of language here? Before the word ‘table’ is anything linguistic it ‘is’. If anyone of any language was to see it they would see something and nothing (no-thing in particular, as the signifier ‘table’ would not be understood to point to any particular signified, but there is relation and thus, would have some kind of meaning). What difference does language make here? It makes some difference to how the word table is abstracted but not all the difference to what it ‘is’.

If we think cannot know anything outside language because language is our only medium of access to the ‘world’ and each other, then language immediately becomes present-at-hand (PAH). Necessarily, if we don’t want to mistake language as PAH we must acknowledge it’s withdrawn essence which is before our exhaustive encounter with it. Language is nothing linguistic: it is nothing but the freeing of movement that leads from the appropriating event (Ereignis) to man’s speech. Put simply, language allows for the movement of being as nothing to its appropriation as something in particular. Language is not just a tool to manipulate words and communicate. It does not only exist as something pragmatic, put to use through one’s projects. Language must, if we are to take Heidegger seriously, be something that is always already withdrawn from the linguistic. To define a theory of language through its use is to reduce it to PAH. This message is echoed by Badiou whose confrontation with set theory leads him to the conclusion that although language bestows identity on being, being is in excess of language. The inscription in language requires that existence be in excess of what the description defines as existing.

The RTH of ‘table’ cannot be described through language and social practises. It is not that the philosopher must only recognise their medium (i.e. language): the philosopher must recognise the their medium of which language operates within. Our lives are at the disposal of more than a purely linguistic reality. Heidegger concludes, “Language in its essence is neither expression nor a human deed. Language speaks”. The speaking of language as done by human Dasein summons the world to things, yet preserves things as things. Language, like art, reveals the tension/strife between world and thing. Not only that but language is the concrete interpenetration between world and thing in their dif-ference (e.g. ‘table’ as is, and with all referential interpretations). Language is world, but world is not just something that humans have, it is a universal structure non-reducible to human Dasein’s access to being.

Heidegger centres human Dasein by making the distinction between world (human logos), world poor (animals) and world less (rocks, water, etc). He insists that these classifications demarcate the ‘accessibility’ of beings to being. The essence of world coincides with the essence of the world forming character of human Dasein. However, Harman does not deny that we are different from animals and rocks, only that there is a base line, ontological principle that animals and rocks do not escape from: the RTH. For Heidegger, human Dasein is the being that can approach being as being through Angst. It is this being-towards-death that brings recognition of ones finitude thus making care a primordial existential condition of Dasein’s being-in-the-world. Thus human Dasein has world animals do not. Yet human Dasein can never encounter being as being separable form beings. Harman appropriates Levinas’ ‘insomnia’ against Heidegger’s Angst to show that it is not beings standing against a blank screen of being that blurs beings against being.

For Levinas, insomnia shows that being is only beings. Insomnia shows the ‘is’ structure and not the ‘for’ contextualization of beings. Harman reveals neither Levinas or Heidegger can push human Dasein to the top of the ontological rankings as Angst and insomnia reveal being as being, but not the ‘being in general’ (RTH) that is withdrawn from any world relation: this is the transcendent that no being has exclusive access to. Human language cannot bridge this gap to the ‘being in general’ and so we must look at language as something which isn’t the limit of our world or intrinsic to our pragmatic concerns but an aspect of our engagements in the world of beings that makes a difference to being, but not to the detriment of non-semiotic actors which make differences in their own ways. To use the terminology of Levi Bryant, language makes a difference but not all the difference. Harman recognises this and it provides the imperative to speculate on an object-oriented philosophy.

I found this quote from Badiou to support this idea of language by Harman. They very different imperatives as to why they want to ‘abandon’ philosophy as mediation on language: Harman wants to watch a ‘carnival of objects’ while Badiou has political machinations of universality which can depose the tyranny of the universality of capital):

“If philosophy is essentially a meditation on language, it will not succeed in removing the obstacle that the specialization and fragmentation of the world opposes to universality. To accept the universe of language as the absolute horizon of philosophical thought in fact amounts to accepting the fragmentation and the illusion of communication [this is a Lacan reference: see my article on (mis)communication] – for the truth of our world is that there are as many languages as there are communities, activities or kinds of knowledge. I agree that there is a multiplicity of language games. This, however, forces philosophy if it wants to preserve the desire for universality – to establish itself elsewhere than within this multiplicity, so as not to be exclusively subordinated to it. If not, philosophy will become what in one way it mostly is, an infinite description of the multiplicity of language games”

(From ‘Philosophy and Desire’ in ‘Infinite Thought’ p. 47)