Babel of Tongues: The Need for a New Language of Thought

Reading several critical works brings me back to a notion I’ve had for some time: all the past narratives (Freud, Marx, Philosophy, Science, Economics, etc.) no longer capture the state of affairs in our time… the stories they tell, and we tell each other: the metaphors they use, the whole complex system of relations they use to capture what we are experiencing in our day to day lives, and even the global shift of relations across the world itself, are useless to most people. They no longer speak to us, give us the meaning or context within which we can relate to ourselves or others. So we wander from abstraction to abstraction, unable to relate to one another because each of us is an assemblage of competing systems of thought that no longer relate across systems. Therefore we’re in that crash space the Scott Bakker is always describing… unable to speak to each other because each of us is encircled by our own history of reading, thinking, systems… and none of them can bridge the gap of communication. There is no universal thought-form to relate to, rather we all live piecemeal in separate cubicles of part-cultural fragments, fractured thought-forms that seem to bind us to unmeaning rather than meaning.

It’s as if we’d entered the babel of tongues again, each defending a part of a lost narrative, caught with a part truth, arguing a point that no longer captures what it is we truly want to say or do. We attack others for not understanding, for shifting the dialogue to psychology, politics, ecology, religion, philosophy, lalalala… endless talk that skirts around the real inability for us to actually come together and listen to each other without automatically shutting down because the Other does not speak in our thought-forms, speak our system, with our metaphors, metonyms, hyperboles, tropes…. We peg and label people who speak differently than ourselves, pin them with some judgement so that we don’t really have to hear them or understand them, but rather so we can continue to believe our own bullshit rather than really open ourselves to change and difference.

We’d rather live in the illusion of freedom than actual freedom. To be open to an Other is the most difficult thing in the world. To actually listen to another and try not to reduce their thoughts to our own meagre idiocy is even more difficult (myself included). We reduce people and define them by who they are reading, channel them into categories of cliché so that we can pin the donkey tail, grasp them and shore up our own thought against theirs.

Somehow we’ve got to begin again. Somehow we have to invent a new thought, a new way of thinking, one that is not derivative, not burdened with so much failure….

19 thoughts on “Babel of Tongues: The Need for a New Language of Thought

  1. I could have said it just this same way, but in different terms. I wonder if any one has already talked about how ‘caste’ is the social organization of ‘just after the re-beginning’, that it is the encounter between the ‘individualist’and the’pluralist’states (colonialist europe and india) that marks the ‘beginning of the end’,where the destruction of the individual necessitates its reinstatment as a socialized plural entity (and capitalistic ironic contradiction).

    Is that making sense to you?

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  2. But more on point: your notice here is why i have suggested a ‘divergent’discourse, because it is obvious to me that most people have no clue nor even care,and that to speak of some effort to reconcile the sutuation only serves to make the issue invisible, as i say it clouds the issue.

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    • Landzek, probably the only one’s that would read such things already agree for the most part… that’s the issue… we need to discover a language that can universalize not the concepts but the communications itself to the point that we can develop new stories that can reach down into the larger mass mind of the public at large… speaking to each other (i.e., intellectual to intellectual) has not solved a fucking thing yet… we need to reach those others that are usually invisible to scholarly writing and thinking…

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      • Also. Correspondently, Your postseems to me exceedingly councidental .

        A pre-edit copy of my book can be found thru the link on my recent post “absolution onscribd”. But if you prefer a hard copy (as i do) , its gonna be another few weeks till that comes through .

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  3. If each other talks across a different history of reading, cultural education and such, a conversation is always going to be divergent and defamiliarize however one understands one’s alienation within an organization of thinking that makes up one’s perspective on the world. Over time it seems the way one reads the world and one’s activity in it comes to an end. Insisting on a particular set of cultural references will not take away the sense of not being understood or communicating. In fact this probably prevents us from coming to terms with an ending and therefore the possibility of significant change. If my/our world comes to an end then this is how I come to terms with its loss. If one is an unrecognizable island impossible to understand then this is less of a finished state than a process focusing elsewhere that distinguishes distant communications. Not exactly indifference but a sort of scattering of the bond of community that would tie us based on a history of reading that we would take to be ours and not the others. Maybe all there is is this divergent process without a particular goal that brings into play a generic art of conversation that is truly other because one can’t make out its historical roots as being grounded in a determinate religious or political ideology?

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    • A part of me got to thinking about this because in the past few years with the demise of humanities departments, everything has sunken into a cultural malaise of nihil… a sort of silo culture where scholars talk to their own peers, and every silo has its own language… oh, sure, there are a few that still try to reach beyond specific disciplines, become transdisciplinary, etc. but for the most part we have a multitude of cultures, sub-cultures, and linguistic buckets now where people talk past each other because the enframing and frameworks encode thought into different registrars…. and, unless one is privy to these various disciplines one becomes bogged down into trying to translate it all into an idiom for the general reader (is there such a thing anymore?). We seem to have lost the notion of the universal scholar or public intellectual who used to be an operative catalyst. Instead we have hundreds of books published on the same subjects every year as if thrown into a sinkhole never toe be seen again. Our mainstream critics are for the most part illiterate and less than adequate anymore, and have become more combative and less informative. Ours is obviously a transitional age with no real direction, or scientific / philosophical tendency… we shift among the fragments of culture rather than having a culture of our own.

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      • The experience of being inside a “silo of culture” is already the starting point for a a more universal communicative possibility if taken to the limit when one assumes the absence of peers that can give one the comfort of knowing for sure that one is passing one’s time in a meaningful manner. Then we are in the situation of Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Robinson Crusoe) when he meets Absal (Friday). They were able to talk because they had some understanding not just of the “perfect state” (Plato) but that they were that as a microcosm of the big picture. They reached towards a common language through the innovation of a constantly improvised conversation that involved a lot of tinkering with streams of thought so that they remained just that, a flowing process… where a fixation around a concept was recognized as a past memory that had no future because it ceased to evolve. The “idea” of a universal scholar and public intellectual seems to have no future because we no longer see it as a microcosm whose management as a republic is not unlike the self-organization of our intellectual life (memory, imagination, desire, understanding, etc.) that ultimately is like siily putty, an uncarved block, a joker in a deck of cards, a blank domino, proteus, or a zero degree signifier. We the people are a potential that can become anything which is why we appear to play off a fragment of someone’s thinking (what else is there?) in order to try and develop over time, through tinkering, a soothing refrain since any significant change in an intellectual state is going to involve anxiety. We are common because we participate in a public intelligence and its history which is not a personal memory and so an experience that can be understood according to some yet to others there is understanding. As for myself this is too either/or black and white thinking. My experience is that the answer is both/and. There is something in going through a significant change that leaves a mark that does not constitute an alphabet much like a draft towards an as yet unrecognizable picture that therefore cannot be understood yet the use of analogy says something is being understood. You just know reason has feeling. This the issue in the situation of Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Its understanding requires a fuck of a lot of culture, taste for solitude, and the ability to learn from crude beginnings, necessary ruins. The beauty is none of this requires the recognition of peers which is an accident but hardly necessity as the process and the pleasure we get from it is its own reward.

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      • You say: “The “idea” of a universal scholar and public intellectual seems to have no future because we no longer see it as a microcosm whose management as a republic is not unlike the self-organization of our intellectual life (memory, imagination, desire, understanding, etc.) that ultimately is like siily putty, an uncarved block, a joker in a deck of cards, a blank domino, proteus, or a zero degree signifier.”

        All you’re doing is reducing it to a nihilist flux of non-meaning to the point that we might as well forget the notion of any form of shared meaning which is what ‘culture’ was as cult or to educe a pattern and organize sense data, etc. to begin with. I’ll agree that there is no such thing as a global or world culture, no monomythic symbolic overlay; yet, there are a multiplicity of sub-cultures across the globe, each with specific ideological and symbolic registrars that convey, circumscribe, and delimit meanings for their own cultures. A pluarlism of cutlures. Here in the U.S. one has the Latino cultures that term themselves ‘Chicano’ with a whole set of values, images, art and aesthetic forms: music, dance, religious and political beliefs, etc…. just to name one instance of ethnic culture. But there are many other forms of sub-cultural horizons of meaning: political, social, religious, atheistic, aesthetic, etc. etc. Each with varying patterns of behaviour, dress style, speech traits, gestures, etc. Meaning is everywhere… and, these various multiplicities learn of their cultures through all the usual channels of art, music, architecture, clothing, ritual, style, habit, custom, etc. And within these various communities there are men and women who become carriers of the knowldge and memory of these systems of meaning whether we want to term them universal or public intellectuals or not… that’s insignificant what label we give them… but that there is a combination of coherence and knowledge that can be passed on from generation to generation over time and becoming is there, a shared world of ideas, and bodily or mental patterns of thought and behaviour.

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      • You say: “The “idea” of a universal scholar and public intellectual seems to have no future because we no longer see it as a microcosm whose management as a republic is not unlike the self-organization of our intellectual life (memory, imagination, desire, understanding, etc.) that ultimately is like silly putty, an uncarved block, a joker in a deck of cards, a blank domino, proteus, or a zero degree signifier.”

        It says: All you’re doing is reducing it to a nihilist flux of non-meaning to the point that we might as well forget the notion of any form of shared meaning which is what ‘culture’ was as cult or to educe a pattern and organize sense data, etc. to begin with. I’ll agree that there is no such thing as a global or world culture, no monomythic symbolic overlay; yet, there are a multiplicity of sub-cultures across the globe, each with specific ideological and symbolic registrars that convey, circumscribe, and delimit meanings for their own cultures. A pluralism of cultures.

        Yes, there is reduction but only on a temporary basis judging from experience. Actually keeping open a smooth field so that the heirloom seeds stored in the silo have cultivated furrows into which they can be planted and given the waters of forgetting and the sunshine of public intelligence also have the capacity to become old expressive stock lasts as long as a minimal amount of thinking occurs. You can only remain a tragic joker for so long. At some point the serious business of pruning our hothouse flowers gone wild because no longer fed the manure of resentment– begins. If this wild garden that are the fruits of a history of reading grows into a living form of communicative life it only does so because like anything living it is a rhythm of rest and activity. It is resting when a fallow field is there and we go blank with the suspension of the understanding and there is the tapping of a potential source that is sleeping. It is active when this non-fragmented coherence is loosened and its striving attaches to an end… I am thinking about your remarks on fragmentation… or I am given it some definition within some practice. How do we give the words we use a meaning if not by placing them within a practice whose activity defines them? The notion of a “public intellectual” has no meaning if it is not defined by the description of a practice. The same could be said for a word like “form” that would constitute or emerge from a shared meaning as its expression which you suggest is culture in the sense of a cult “to educe a pattern and organize sense data”. This is interesting because we are already then beginning to define a memory or that which habitually occurs in experience and so then the imagination has something to shape into a future and this defines what it means for the understanding to be processing streams of thinking. Sometimes we do it as a pastime when we strictly devote it to wild flowers and frivolous play. Certainly this could be the case as we get older and take the semi-retirement of a sabbatical seriously. Sometimes it is necessarily useful because we need to eat and have a roof under us. Fortune is to use thinking for the latter as little as possible. It’s not like a low impact intellectual life has a need for much.

        Anyway, back to your concern. If I am understood, beyond thinking about something when the understanding is in operation and the imagination is forming this or that thought from stored habits or memory that prompts the will to move towards a future organization of our intellectual life within the physical limits of our unique situation there is something that looks like nothing that you refer to as a “nihilistic flux of non-meaning”. I prefer to think of this as making sense or being a pointer at the exit door, that is, an observing I simply appears. The simple appearance of an observing I (an “attentional form” in Stiegler?) does not provide something to think about but simply points to the capacity to speak grounding thinking in a renewable resource breaking the natural, denotative connection of words to things. Here as I speaks, as Virno teaches us in “When The Word Becomes Flesh”, a fact of speaking is separated from what the I says and so there is a “material emission of articulated sounds” (pg. 55) but not understanding of it. Have I been understood? This is what occurs in the swearing of an oath, a salute, coming to attention, or the egocentric language of children.

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      • Yet, when you say “simply points to the capacity to speak grounding thinking in a renewable resource breaking the natural, denotative connection of words to things.” This breaking of the connection of words to things is exactly nihilism completed. The moment you break the connection between word and thing you have entered the whole hypernihilist circle from Husserl’s epoche or bracketing to Derrida’s final undecidability of word and thing in an endless textuallity… etc. One needs to move out of this circle, but you haven’t presented a path rather you’ve actually completed the path of nihilism itself.

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      • No, I said that for a time one can certainly step out of the use of language as a medium through which we understand each other. Literature does this all the time. It can’t be completed or what would it mean to complete the silence of thinking? It is not possible or extremely rare in human history. Why would one want to step out of the circle I described? Or does silence have any value in our lives?

        With regards to breaking the connection between word and thing, here, “thing” is meant as that which is being understood but not the thinginess of expression, the material reality or sonorous quality of the voice in the fact of speaking. This materiality is the real compared to the abstract ideality brought to mind when language is understood as a what is being said.

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  4. In trying to lay strong foundations we have instead fortified the metaphorical walls that trap our thinking, and keep us from expanding on (or more necessarily, redefining) our Universe of communication and understanding.

    Our hubris as a species is amazingly strong … and increases our resistance to the ideas you’re alluding to here.

    Excellent, and thought-provoking post. Now back to reading Kant. 🙂

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