Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
One thing appears and reappears in this literature, and it is the rhetorical assumption that the audience believes in, and has experienced already, a very particular kind of... ineffably "psychological" change. Or at least: that the audience believes in the possibility of such a transformation.
1) Great, that sounds fun. Yoga needs an update anyway.
2) Well, that sounds fine -- but it doesn't sound like Yoga. Yoga is an ancient precise method for bringing about enlightenment and healing, and it activates the chakras in very specific ways by using techniques that have been perfected over the millenia. "Wiggle your shoulders" all you want -- that's good exercise. But it's not Yoga.
Incidentally (?): here's a picture of a pit-viper. I took this picture this weekend. I had seen a Carolina water snake about a month ago (pictured below), and I thought it was the same. It wasn't. The top one here is a copperhead -- not deadly, but painfully poisonous. The bottom one's harmless. Obviously, sometimes definitions are really important. But of course, I wouldn't have this picture if I knew my definitions. Hey, isn't a snake a classic figure for wisdom? Of course.
Prerequisites Albert Camus playing goalie for the Algerian national soccer team. Your own astrological sign. Albert Hoffman riding his bicycle. Dispensing Easy Cheese. Working for under $8.00/hr. Something about the brutal death of Rasputin. Picasso’s
. The Tamil Tigers. Pythagoras’ theorem. How to figure batting average. That black-and-white of the naked Vietnamese girl, napalm in the near distance. The song, “Row, row, row your boat.” A little bit of Spanish. The verses of the Diamond Sutra. The ability to swim in open water. Recognizing Toucan Sam and Tony the Tiger. One fact about the Guernica Gangesriver. The outlines of Jean Valjean’s story. Pol Pot. How to unhook a bra with one hand. The story about Hitler’s rejection from art school. “Laying out.” The story about the television debate between JFK and Nixon. All the words to Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The opening sentence of Moby-Dick. The difference between an equinox and a solstice. The train-station metaphor for the theory of relativity. Being in a wedding. The square root of 225 without showing your work. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start. Having a favorite episode of Seinfeld. The first five American presidents and the last five. The board game, “Life.” The memory of chatrooms. A good guess about how many Jews were killed in the holocaust. A working theory concerning the Great Depression. Watching The Matrix. The phrase “illegal downloading.” Helping friends move. Wearing Birkenstocks or flip-flops. Going to a professional sporting event. Trimming your pubes at least once. Not loving M. Night Shyamalan’s endings. Breaking a bone or needing stitches. The year twenty-twelve. Who Meadowlark Lemon played for. Knowing what Shostakovich was famous for. Where Luther posted his theses. About the green M&Ms. And Yellow No. 5. The memory of putting the chain back on your bike. Trying Thai food for the first time. What good blood pressure numbers look like. The ability to name the eight or nine planets in order starting closest the sun. The ability to identify a modernist skyscraper. A trip to another country. Using a graphing calculator. Taking a train. Having read at least one of Shakespeare’s plays. Smoking a joint. Rembrandt in the MET. Internet porn (hard & soft). Jones. The memory of French-rolling your jeans. Trying to pray or meditate. Crying until your head throbs when you’re not alone and older than 18. Cutting the grass. Eating cold Pop-Tarts. “Up All Night” with Rhonda Shear. The names of The Beatles. Bowling better than 150. Taking stuff to Goodwill. Basic understanding of the theory of supply and demand. The names of at least two different antidepressant drugs. John 3:16. Remember reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Hungry Hippos. Admitting you were wrong about an idea. At least glancing at the Communist Manifesto, if not reading it. Something about: Ty Cobb, Leopold & Loeb, Kevin Arnold, and Easy E. The names of three geographical features (e.g., peninsula). The name of any character on Friends other than the original six. Standing in line at the DMV. An outdoor concert. Getting a “C” in a class. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The words to one of James Taylor’s songs. The questionable use of a condom, during sex or otherwise. Mozzarella sticks. Spraining an ankle. The name of the Japanese currency. The name of one of Hulk Hogan’s WWF rivals. Owning Velcro shoes. A good guess about how long ago the earliest cave paintings ever discovered were painted. A distinct 9/11 memory. Seeing an open casket. Jimi Hendrix’s National Anthem. The photograph known as “Earthrise.” The Branch Davidians. Volunteering because you have to, at least once. Dissecting an animal. Skimming text to find your own name. Painting your face. Sinking a three-pointer. A mug of good green tea. Indiana
Think of this as preparation for my next post, which is going to be about the necessity of things like authority and expertise (and maybe even "discipline") and the psychological and social benefits of authentic self-cultivation. A post that I will title, "The Student-Centered Civilization and the Problem of Real Selfishness," or something like that.
Literature cannot but witness the origin from which it comes, but it may or may not take cognizance of these origins. In the case of collective trauma, the midrashic impulse reveals a more ethical mode of responding to tragedies. I suggest that the midrashic mode is more ethical because it sidesteps the potential pitfalls of representation (which always claims to know) by relying instead on extensional logic, which implicitly acknowledges the convergence of what can never be known or understood and the imperative that we have to continue to try.
In just the comparison of the midrashic mode to the literary/representational mode, Monica has already created the premise of an argument worth listening to. I hope I'm not wrong to suggest that Monica understands midrash as being a kind of narrow and tenuous path between silence and narrative, and to identify the point about "extensional logic" as being a key part of the foundation of her argument.
But I'm most struck by the very last half-sentence of that excerpt: "...the imperative that we have to continue to try [to know... what some trauma was like, psychologically/historically]."
I don't have a counter-argument for any of this, but I am drawn to the distinctions that Monica is making. I have some questions, the kind I would've asked if I had been the only person in Monica's audience on the day she delievered the talk:
- What is it that creates the imperative to keep trying?--the magnitude of a trauma? Its uniqueness? The "depth" of the tragedy? What would happen if we stopped trying?
- It seems to me that there is a danger in turning to "extensional logic" that I think would be opposed by "revelatory writing" (or something like that). Is there a risk that we become mired in history at the expense of the present? Remember Emerson's first words: "Our age is retrospective. It builds sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face." [Emerson's "God" here may be interepreted as just "other people," and I include this excerpt as a direct challenge to your inclusion of Levinas. I've always read Levinas' "other" as a living being, and the "Face" as existing in the present, not in the past. What if these claims conflict? What if the inconsistencies of history make us choose between being responsible for our living neighbors and our dead ancestors? It seems you're making victims of the Holocaust into "neighbors" for whom we should/must be responsible. Hmmm.... thoughts? Or are you saying that our midrashic response may encourage midrashic response from our living neighbors?]
- To turn to midrash in the wake of the Holocaust has the effect of turning the Holocaust into a kind of "holy text" -- isn't that problematic?: the Holocaust as G-d's latest prophet?
- You say later in the talk that 20th century language and theology have been inadequate. What would adequate look like? Is joy any more capable of being adequately communicated? Or even something as mundane as the ennui of the French existentialists: do Camus' essays/stories/plays do an adequate job? Could midrash have helped Camus to express his angst better? In other words, is the problem of representation that you have identified not limited to responding to atrocities?
- When the lateral aspects of the breasts are uncovered, it is known as side cleavage, sidewinders or sideboob.
- Exposure of the underside of the breast, such as below an extremely short crop top, is known as neathage, Australian cleavage (because of the American reference to Australia as down-under), bottom cleavage, reverse cleavage, underboob, or shitapai (shita+oppai, under-breasts in Japanese).
- For legal purpose it was noted by the United States federal courts that "anal cleft or cleavage" and "cleavage of the female breast" are so imprecise as to provide no guidance in defining them.
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?
My favorite line here is, "If you want to bring your arms down, the best I can advise you is: Don't."
Soc. But if [the rhetor] is to have more power of persuasion than the physician, he will have greater power than he who knows?Gorgias, who is often (I think) understood as a kind of jovial dandy, admits in this section that the rhetor need have no expertise of any subject except the art of rhetoric. And if the rhetor have that single expertise, he will not be in any way inferior to the experts (for example, physicians) who have acquired knowledge. Socrates, straining himself, manages to get Gorgias to admit that a) the rhetorician is ignorant of the knowledge of the physician, but, b) that the rhetorician may be more persuasive with others ignorant of the knowledge of the physician than the physician himself.
Soc. Although he is not a physician:-is he?
Soc. And he who is not a physician must, obviously, be ignorant of what the physician knows.
Soc. Then, when the rhetorician is more persuasive than the physician, the ignorant is more persuasive with the ignorant than he who has knowledge?-is not that the inference?
Gor. In the case supposed:-Yes.
Soc. And the same holds of the relation of rhetoric to all the other arts; the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who know?
Gor. Yes, Socrates, and is not this a great comfort?-not to have learned the other arts, but the art of rhetoric only, and yet to be in no way inferior to the professors of them?
Whether the rhetorician is or not inferior on this account is a question which we will hereafter examine if the enquiry is likely to be of any service to us; but I would rather begin by asking, whether he is as ignorant of the just and unjust, base and honourable, good and evil, as he is of medicine and the other arts; I mean to say, does he really know anything of what is good and evil, base or honourable, just or unjust in them; or has he only a way with the ignorant of persuading them that he not knowing is to be esteemed to know more about these things than some. one else who knows?
- Socrates (hemlock)
- Zeno (who, failing in his attempt to kill the tyrant Demylus, "with his own teeth bit off his tongue, he spit it in the tyrant's face."
- Empedocles (throwing himself into a volcano)
For Empedocles' teaching is, after all, something that has to believed. After experiencing death while still alive you have to bring that understanding back into life, or what people call life... First, madness has to be experienced; then controlled. And to do this is to discover all kinds of sanities, of ways for operating skillfully in the world.
Ancient writers quite often mention in passing that Empedocles had a successor. To quote the words of one author who neatly summed up the situation as a whole: "Parmenides was the teacher of Empedocles who was the teacher of Gorgias." (Kingsley's source is Olympiodorus, a sixth century philosopher who delivered and recorded a lecture on Gorgias)
That [this tradition] should run from Parmenides, a "Monist," to the "Pluralist" Empedocles is bad enough; but that it should run from them to Gorgias is far worse. At least Parmenides and Empedocles were both philosophers. And yet Gorgias has come to be considered something very different from any philosopher... He used to be known as a sophist. In fact he was sometimes even referred to as the father of the sophists. And however much individual scholars might try to shift or redefine the dividing line between sophists and philosophers, the division still stands.
And so, Glaucon, I said, we have at last arrived at the hymn of dialectic. This is that strain which is of the intellect only, but which the faculty of sight will nevertheless be found to imitate; for sight, as you may remember, was imagined by us after a while to behold the real animals and stars, and last of all the sun himself. And so with dialectic; when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of sight at the end of the visible.
- I thought of a title for a pop-philosophy book I'm going to publish in a few years: Just as Bad as Presbyterians.
- A post interpreting the teachings of Gorgias (read up!).
- A post on Wallace Stevens' Necessary Angel and the idea of Literature as Religion
"Then this guy followed me into the apartment. Handcuffed me. A woman came in. They hammered two spike things into the wall. And strung me up with a rope. They crucified me, goddamnit, on the wall, like Christ. So. And then... it was... very strange... they opened a sort of... it was like a safe... and there was this weird hammer in it... an odd, archaic sort of form... with a handle made from a branch... very crude. But the hammerhead wasn't steel or wood, it was ice. Ice. I don't know whether it was artificial or real, but it was ice. And then--picture this--the broad starts slamming my chest with this hammer. She keeps saying, 'Talk to me with your heart, tell me with your heart.' But... it was so strange! They taped my mouth shut! With packing tape. I'm mooing, she's bashing me. With all her fucking strength, man. So, this ice splinters and flies around the room. She's pounding me and talking all this bullshit. It hurt like hell, went straight through me. I've never felt pain like that. Even when my meniscus went out. So. They're banging and banging me. Then I just lost consciousness."
He took a swallow from the glass.
"Sav, this all sounds like nonsense. Or a dream. But--here, take a look..." He unbuttoned his shirt to show the huge bruise on his chest. "That's not a dream."
Savva stretched out a pudgy hand. He touched it.
"Does it hurt?"
"A bit... when you press it. My head hurts. And my neck."
"Drink, Borya, relax."
"I... I have to go in early tomorrow, that is, today."
Borenboim emptied the glass of whisky. Savva poured some more right away.
"But the most interesting part was after. I wake up and I'm sitting in a Jacuzzi. There are two women with me. The water's bubbling. And these women start patting me gently and telling me some nonsense about a brotherhood, that we're all brothers and sisters--talking about sincerity, frankness, and so on. It turns out that they'd been hit in the chest with the same kind of hammer, they showed me the scars. Actual scars. And they were pounded until they spoke with their hearts. They said all of us in this fucking brotherhood have our own names. Their names were Var, Mar, I don't remember. And my name--is Mokho. You get it?"
"Mokho?" Savva looked at him with small, weak-sighted eyes.
"My name is Mokho!" Borenboim shouted and began laughing. He leaned against the back of the stainless-steel chair. Clutched at his chest. Winced. Swayed.
Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of time, all mankind, — although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.
...truth is determined by social dramas, some more formal than others but all man-made. Rhetoric in such a world is not ornamental but determinative, essentially creative. Truth once created in this way becomes referential, as in legal precedent. The Strong Defense implies a figure/ground shift between philosophy and rhetoric-in fact, as we shall see, a continued series of shifts.
- Perception : notion :: Rhetoric : _______
- Perception : notion :: Consciousness : Language
My friend Wrangler--who might by now consider himself my adversary--brought the conversation to a very fine point in the comments section two posts ago. He wrote,
But to claim that I have not had this "experience" of which you speak is offensive, elitist, and exactly the kind of egoist orientation toward others (as unresponsive texts awaiting the light of your intelligence) that forces me to resist Literary Study in the first place. Check that--that lead me to transfer out of a PhD program in literature to a program in rhetoric.Wrangler makes two important points: 1) I shouldn't be so presumptuous to claim that he has not had the literary experience. 2) Literature is defined as "unresponsive texts awaiting the light of your intelligence."
To make quick, conciliatory work of point #1: I assumed Wrangler hadn't had the experience I am trying to describe because he has told me on numerous occasions that he doesn't believe in that kind of experience. In my most recent post, I called it "enlightenment," "gnosis," "escape-from-dialectic," etc. I'd like for Wrangler to weigh in on that point, and to let me know if he has had a moment like that, but that is a minor point in my judgment compared to point #2...
#2: Wrangler gave up on literary study because it did not seem worth his while to study "unresponsive texts awaiting the light of [his] intelligence."
That would make sense to me if literary texts were like ongoing conversations in a parlor. But what I have learned is that literary texts can be like a dear friend who has just found out on the phone, in front of you, that their father has died... and you as the reader are like a person whose parents are both still living.
Those of us in the field of literature who are trying to emphasize this distinction may be called "experientialists" (if the term doesn't bother): scholars like Sacvan Bercovitch, who prefaced his 1993 book The Rites of Assent with a personal narrative about his Jewishness, his Brooklyn-ness, his 1950's-ness, and tried to explain why these texts "felt" the way they did to him... and like James Phelan, whose 2007 book Experiencing Fiction moves still further from the rhetorical situation that Wrangler describes. In this new kind of literary study, analysis and explanation are devalued while something else is privileged.
What is this something else? Well, if you assume that your "job" during/after reading a novel is to "respond analytically," either in writing or in conversation... you may assume more than is necessary. It may be only & precisely your job to listen.
This is a different take on ethics. It is an alternative to the Levinasian, yes -- but I think it is no less formidable. Where Levinas asks his ethical beings to "respond" to the "face" of the "other," Experientialists (that term has a nice ring, ey?) see the response as something that happens after the ethical moment. The ethical moment takes place in the "other's" narration of experience -- e.g., when they tell you that they just found out their father died. Reading literary texts is the perfect kind of practice for these unspeakable moments precisely because they
Of course, many a reader will persist in "responding" to the literary texts they read by jamming marginal comments in, writing notes to themselves, underlining, composing essays, publishing books, etc. But I see all of that kind of activity as akin to whipping out a tape recorder after "My father just died--" and asking, "Do you mind if I record this?--I'm working on a book about death and mourning and I could so use this."
Analysis vs. Experience. Mind vs. "Heart."
I absolutely anticipate that my three or two readers will have "had enough of all this" by now. In case not, I recommend two compelling podcasts on the topic:
1. "The Heart Doctrine," from Gnostic Radio (skip the "donate here" button)
2. "The Zen Tree Fort in the Sky," from Buddhist Geeks Podcast
Number two is probably more engaging. Number one is probably a better "argument."
CHALLENGE: In my humble and limited imagination, the arts--music, poetry, etc.--offer much more in the way of "Heart" than the coarser disciplines (Corporate Finance, Management... Linguistics, and... Rhetoric?). But prove me wrong: I'd love to read a blog-post titled "The Heart of Rhetoric," so that I may understand how that discipline engages human emotion and sentiment.
N.B. -- I'm not saying that analytical thinking is always wrong and "Heart" stuff is always right. But I do believe American academic culture to have gone too far, even within its context, in the direction of Head, while neglecting the Heart.
These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.Awakening. Salvation. Enlightenment. Gnosis. Experiencing the "hymn of dialectic." Transcending. The sensation of Oneness. The Peace that passes all understanding. In this essay I am going to write in the voice of a person who has had this experience, and I am going to call it "the experience."
People sometimes ask me whether I believe in the experience. I can only say that the experience is not something that can be understood or explained, and can only do my best to communicate that single fact over and over again. As far as I know, there is no prerequisite knowledge that one must gather before having the experience. There is no essential vocabulary. No academic degree can promise anyone the experience.
Before I had the experience, there were many things I did not believe in. I did not believe in "God" or heaven or reincarnation. I did not believe in Marxism, and I resisted things like "postmodernism," anarchism, capitalism, and so on. Indeed, I disbelieved in almost everything on the eve of having the experience.
Since then, I have read accounts of other people's experiences. Most of them seem to have had a slightly different apprenticeship on the way to the experience. Instead of adamantly disbelieving in as much as they could, they were what I call "constricted believers"--that is, they believed very strongly in one dead tradition or other. They generally called themselves "Atheists" or "Christians" or "Muslims" or "Advaitists" or "Jainists" or "Buddhists" or whatever.
Despite our differences on the way to the experience, I have found that there is absolutely no disagreement after the experience about what the experience is, or whether it exists.
But as I have said, people who have not had the experience occasionally ask me to defend the path I took to get to the experience. And no matter how hard I try to make it clear that the way one takes is laughably unimportant from the perspective of one who has had the experience, it seems that my questioners cannot help but focus on my path instead of the experience itself.
People who are "path-obsessed" are themselves the cause of the tradition that involves an "experienced" mentor/teacher/guru/shaman telling a student to jump through a given number of hoops in a particular manner: "Go outside and find 'your' spot on the front porch. I will not teach you until you have found your spot. Make sure to sit cross-legged (right leg on top) when you find your spot." The master's intention here is nothing other than to shake the path-obsessed student of their obsession with the path. As somebody who has had the experience once said, "The way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices."
But the path-obsessed are nimble and graceful compared to the stubborn mules who refuse to believe there is any "experience." These I call the "Intractables." Refusing to believe that there is anything on the other side of the ocean, the Intractables refuse to embark on a voyage; and by their refusals, they obliterate their natural curiosity to know what's on the other side. The Intractables would sooner look me in the eye and tell me that my own experience of the experience must be a kind of madness, or a chemical imbalance, or something of that nature -- anything rather than admit there may be land on the other side of that vast ocean. [Sidepoint: caution: this is only a metaphor... we should remember the reminder given to us by another of those who had the experience: "They also serve who only stand and wait." The other side of the Ocean may well come and get these Intractables.]
Or, if they be that rare case, not "believing" in the possibility of the experience, but disciplined enough to admit the possibility that I have experienced something they have not, they will have sculpted themselves into a perfect mystery to me. For my thesis will always be: "This experience has occurred at least once. I know it from experience." And for those wise enough to not argue that point, the experience may be closer to them than they know. Of these I ask only, in good faith, tell me what is in your heart--speak that.
Subhuti asked, “Lord, will there always be people who understand your message?”
Buddha answered, “Don’t doubt it, Subhuti! There will always be people who, hearing the message, will adhere to the precepts and practice our way. Our message will reach people simply because it is true! There will come a time when many will no longer need words, but will be beyond words. We must all strive to go beyond the words, because words can be clung to, and we should not cling to things. Understand that the words of the Buddha are like a raft built to cross a river: When its purpose is completed, it must be left behind if we are to travel further!
Starting point: the old argument--the one offered by Matthew Arnold, Bertrand Russell, George Santayana, Harold Bloom, and others--doesn't work anymore.
My friend writes,
In the contemporary American university, literary studies could easily be considered the canary in the coal mine of humanities education. Among the last of the trappings of traditional liberal education (i.e. lessons in the Classic languages, refinement through philosophy, and exclusion of women), literature has long been where the vestiges of liberal thinking (cultural, not political) held ground. But we’ve know for some time that the bird is gasping for air under the pressure of corporate administrations and vocational curricula that demand its relevance beyond the crumbling walls of the ivory tower. In other words, rather than being a vestige, literature seems increasingly vestigial.And assume that when she says "literature" in that last sentence, she means "literary study in the academy."
My dialogue partner suggests two rhetorical paths for defending literature: the strong defense and the weak defense. The strong defense, she implies, will answer for literature's use-value and necessity in the context of the increasingly corporate and vocational university system. The weak defense (and I think it's my role to defend this path) involves defending literature without making appeals to use-value or necessity within a corporate/business/industrial setting. In short, the weak defense appeals to a latent/vestigial/imaginary conscience for subsidization.
My knee-jerk defense on Facebook, where the dialogue started, was to compare literary studies to monastic life, and to a kind of spiritual pursuit. But my friend pointed out (justifiably) that a religion unconnected to the world is not, from the perspective of the world, worth funding. So that's about where we were...
For a moment, let's make this a question of (generic) rhetorical theory: when does the weak defense ever work? When is it wise to appeal to conscience rather than pragmatics? The only time I can imagine relying on the weak argument is when you believe that your audience has already made up its mind. Example: a mob is angry at me and I am brought before it to testify, and I believe that I am less likely to be deemed guilty if I keep silent than I am if I speak. That is: I use the weak argument when I believe the strong argument is worse than no argument at all.
Ironically, this is a difficult point to make in theoretical terms. In narrative terms, it's quite an easy phenomenon to observe:
They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?" Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!" They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."Part of me regrets the source of this narrative -- part of me revels in the irksomeness of it. In any case, isn't this the question: "by what authority?" Why does
"A mind enclosed in language is in prison." --Simone Weil
Me & one of my favorite sparring partners are having a conversation about--well, among other things--whether human beings are mediated by language. So, for example, are we, as Walter Ong apparently has suggested, bewitched by grammar and language? That's how Wrangler put it in the comments section... and further, he wrote, "there is no consciousness without language," and then refined that by suggesting that "language" might be taken to mean "analysis." That's an important point: being trapped by language sounds abstract. Being trapped by our "human" need to create narratives, to explain, to understand -- that seems like a very distinct possibility.
When I was 21 and realizing that I didn't want to major in biology and chemistry, I was listening to a lot of Dave Matthews. At the time, I was convinced that it was because his lyrics were "deep" and that the language he used meant a lot to me. I read the CD jackets like they were poetry, and that probably did jump-start my interest in language enough to "convert" to English as a major.When I met my wife, I told her that Dave Matthews and Bob Dylan were great poets. She mocked me and said that was ridiculous, and suggested further that my statement revealed how little I understood about poetry. She told me to take any Dylan song I could think of--his most poetic (I took "Blowin' in the Wind")--and print the lyrics out. Then she made me read the lyrics without keeping the tune. I recognized almost immediately that the music was at least as important to the overall effect as the language was.
I'm not sure what, if anything, these photoshoppers are evidence of... but if it seems like only a conscious being could make them, I can assure you that language played no part in the process. Do they communiate anything? Do they offer an experience? Do they invite analysis? That's all a mystery to me.
My final point: I don't share Wrangler's belief that human beings cannot be conscious without being conscious-through-language. But if I did, I feel like I would try anything to break out of that prisonhouse. And, as I started planning my escape, I would be very careful to not include writing or talking about my escape.
The "Compassion" sermon quotes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Tara Brach (Buddhist meditative instructor and clinical psychologist), Emily Dickinson ("If I can stop one heart from breaking,/I shall not live in vain"), R.E.M. (the band), and Henry Ward Beecher. And not Jesus or "God."
UPDATE: See also, Stanley Fish's opinion piece from today's NY Times.