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← 25. The End of Theory?; Neo-Pragmatism

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  1. Prof: Well,
    I'd like to welcome the
  2. prospective students.
  3. I won't say the word
    "Yalie"
  4. prematurely,
    but of course I hope you all
  5. come.
  6. I wish I had a chance to
    provide a little context for
  7. what I'm going to say today,
    but maybe you'll scramble into
  8. some sense of things as we go
    along.
  9. This lecture concerns an essay
    written to immediate widespread
  10. acclaim and controversy by two
    young,
  11. at the time quite uninfluential
    and untenured scholars trying to
  12. make their way in the world.
  13. They certainly succeeded with
    this essay,
  14. which was published in
    Critical Inquiry,
  15. then certainly the leading
    organ for the dissemination of
  16. innovative theoretical ideas,
    and they were,
  17. generally speaking,
    gratified by the results.
  18. Almost immediately the editors
    of Critical Inquiry
  19. decided to publish,
    together with "Against
  20. Theory,"
    in book form a series of
  21. responses to "Against
    Theory,"
  22. all of them sort of polite,
    carefully thought-through
  23. responses which made a very
    interesting thin book,
  24. which is still available.
  25. I think it's still in print and
    well worth having if you take an
  26. interest in the controversies
    that the article generated,
  27. and of course,
    I'm hoping in the time
  28. remaining to get you to take an
    interest in them.
  29. Knapp and Michaels were then,
    still are,
  30. what's called
    "neo-pragmatists,"
  31. which is to say they are
    influenced most immediately by
  32. an important book written in the
    1970s by the philosopher Richard
  33. Rorty called Philosophy and
    the Mirror of Nature;
  34. but Rorty was writing in a
    tradition that goes back through
  35. the important work of John Dewey
    in the 1930s and '40s,
  36. and before then not only to the
    great philosophical
  37. interventions of William James,
    Henry James's brother,
  38. but also a theory of signs
    by Charles Sanders Peirce,
  39. a theory which at the time
    didn't generate too much
  40. recognition or controversy.
  41. It was taken up by the
    so-called Cambridge School of
  42. literary critics headed by
    I.A. Richards.
  43. He and C.K. Ogden wrote some
    reflections on Peirce's
  44. semiotics,
    but today with pragmatism,
  45. neo-pragmatism--
    a fairly important strain in
  46. academic theoretical and
    literary thinking--
  47. Peirce's semiotics is in a way
    receiving more attention,
  48. in a way also challenging the
    hegemony in the field of
  49. literary theory of Saussure's
    semiotics.
  50. This sense of the sign as
    something different from what
  51. Saussure said it was is going to
    be the underlying theme of the
  52. second and central part of this
    lecture.
  53. Nineteen eighty-two was
    probably the high-water mark
  54. both of the fascination and the
    frustration with literary theory
  55. in this country.
  56. It was a hot-button
    topic--we've gone into this
  57. before--
    in ways that it is not really
  58. today,
    so that our interest in
  59. literary theory is at least in
    part historical,
  60. one might want to say.
  61. In 1982, though,
    where you stood on these
  62. matters just made all the
    difference,
  63. and it was in that atmosphere
    that Knapp and Michaels's
  64. "Against Theory"
    was published.
  65. Now as I say,
    they were neo-pragmatists,
  66. and what that means basically
    is that one knows things,
  67. which is the same thing as to
    say that one believes things,
  68. such that one acts in the world
    unhesitatingly as an
  69. agent.
  70. Everything that matters in
    being human has to do with one's
  71. powers of agency,
    but there are no actual
  72. foundations in what we can know
    objectively for our beliefs and
  73. actions.
  74. In other words,
    it's a position which is called
  75. anti-foundational or
    anti-foundationalist but not a
  76. position that,
    as such a position might imply,
  77. somehow entails nihilism or a
    kind of crippling radical
  78. skepticism.
  79. On the contrary,
    it's a position that insists
  80. that we just do what we do,
    that we are always doing,
  81. thinking, believing,
    and saying something;
  82. that we are always exerting an
    influence as social beings in
  83. our surroundings,
    and that the only thing that
  84. needn't concern us about our
    powers of agency is that perhaps
  85. we don't really have a full,
    adequate objective account of
  86. how and why it is that we do and
    say and believe and influence
  87. things in the way that we do.
  88. That position is essentially
    the position taken up in Knapp
  89. and Michaels.
  90. Now you saw it last time
    already in the essay of Stanley
  91. Fish--
    Stanley Fish,
  92. who takes it that we are
    largely produced by the
  93. interpretive community to which
    we belong.
  94. You'll recall his understanding
    of this community as that which
  95. constitutes our values--
    in other words,
  96. there's nothing intrinsic to
    ourselves,
  97. nothing unique in our own modes
    of perception,
  98. but rather only the ways in
    which our educational
  99. circumstances bring us to
    believe and understand things.
  100. This, too, is a neo-pragmatist
    position.
  101. Now you notice that in the
    third part of the Knapp and
  102. Michaels essay,
    they engage in a kind of polite
  103. disagreement with Fish.
  104. There is an underlying,
    very broad agreement with him,
  105. but remember in the third part
    of the essay they're talking
  106. about the synonymity,
    the identity,
  107. of knowledge and belief,
    and they point to a particular
  108. passage in one of Fish's
    arguments where he kind of slips
  109. into the idea that,
    on the one hand,
  110. you have knowledge and then,
    on the other hand,
  111. you have, in relation to that,
    belief.
  112. They say, "No, no, no, no.
  113. You can't separate knowledge
    and belief,"
  114. and just on those grounds they
    disagree with Fish.
  115. Fish writes one of the
    responses in the book that's
  116. then subsequently published
    concerning "Against
  117. Theory," but it's a
    completely friendly controversy
  118. about a transitory and
    superficial matter.
  119. As a matter of fact,
    while I'm going to pay a lot of
  120. attention to the first two
    arguments--
  121. there are basically three
    arguments in this essay--
  122. I'm going to pay very little
    attention to the third argument
  123. in which Fish is challenged
    about the relationship between
  124. knowledge and belief,
    in part at least because it's
  125. an argument that belongs to
    philosophy.
  126. It is the cornerstone of
    Rorty's argument in
  127. Philosophy and the Mirror of
    Nature and perhaps not so
  128. immediately relevant to the
    kinds of things that we think
  129. about in doing literary theory.
  130. So to turn then to what they
    actually do say in relation to
  131. this movement that I'm talking
    about,
  132. you notice for example that in
    tone,
  133. their work is very similar to
    that of Stanley Fish.
  134. It's a kind of a downright,
    no-nonsense,
  135. let's-get-on-with-it kind of
    tone that,
  136. after reading Derrida and other
    writers of that kind,
  137. you're perhaps not quite ready
    for.
  138. In a way it's bracing.
  139. It must be kind of a relief to
    get this sort of no-nonsense
  140. attitude toward these issues
    after all the tacking and
  141. veering that we're likely to
    have experienced in earlier
  142. writers.
  143. In a way, the tone comes with
    the territory.
  144. You take these views and in a
    way, the tone seems to follow
  145. from it, because what they're
    saying in effect is,
  146. You just do what you do.
  147. You think what you think.
  148. As a literary interpreter,
    you're bound to have some
  149. opinion about what you're
    looking at, so just get on with
  150. it.
  151. Express that opinion,
    that's your job of work.
  152. On this view and in this tone,
    the only way you can go wrong
  153. is to grope around for some
    theoretical justification for
  154. what you're doing.
  155. It's just fine that you're
    doing it.
  156. Don't worry about it.
  157. Get on with it,
    but don't think,
  158. according to the argument of
    Knapp and Michaels,
  159. that you can hope to find
    anything like an underlying or
  160. broad theoretical justification
    for what you're doing.
  161. Obviously, that rather
    challenging and provocative
  162. notion is something that lends
    itself readily to the sort of
  163. no-nonsense tone that I'm
    talking about.
  164. So turning then to their
    argument,
  165. they argue that people become
    entangled with issues of theory,
  166. all of which in their view
    should be avoided,
  167. when they do two--well,
    three but, as I say,
  168. we're going to set
    "knowledge and belief"
  169. aside--
    when they make three
  170. fundamental mistakes.
  171. The first is to suppose that
    there is a difference between
  172. meaning and intention:
    in other words,
  173. for example,
    that to know a meaning you have
  174. to be able to invoke an
    intention,
  175. on the one hand,
    or in the absence of an
  176. intention,
    we cannot possibly speak of a
  177. meaning,
    on the other hand.
  178. That's their first argument:
    people become embroiled in
  179. theory when they make one of
    those two mistakes.
  180. We'll come back to that in a
    minute.
  181. The second argument is their
    insistence that there is no such
  182. thing as a difference between
    language and speech:
  183. in other words,
    the Saussurian idea that we
  184. have language somehow or another
    virtually present in our heads
  185. as a lexicon and a set of rules
    of grammar and syntax,
  186. that language or langue
    produces speech,
  187. what I say from sentence to
    sentence,
  188. or parole--this notion
    is simply false because there is
  189. no difference between language
    and speech.
  190. That's their second premise.
  191. Now before I launch into those
    arguments, let me say one more
  192. thing about their attitude
    toward theory.
  193. Let me call your attention to
    the very first paragraph,
  194. which in your copy center
    packet is on page 079.
  195. This is the very first
    paragraph of "Against
  196. Theory,"
    where interestingly they exempt
  197. certain ways of thinking about
    literature,
  198. certainly quasi-scientific ways
    of thinking about literature,
  199. from their charge against
    theory.
  200. They say:
    The term ["theory"]
  201. is sometimes applied to
    literary subjects with no direct
  202. bearing on the interpretation of
    individual works,
  203. such as narratology,
    stylistics, and prosody.
  204. Despite their generality,
    however, these subjects seem to
  205. us essentially empirical,
    and our arguments against
  206. theory will not apply to them.
  207. Well, now this is a little
    surprising because for one
  208. thing,
    in this course,
  209. which is presumably devoted to
    theory,
  210. we've talked about some of
    these things--
  211. especially about narratology:
    stylistics--
  212. which is the science of style
    and how one can approach style
  213. syntactically,
    statistically and in the
  214. variety of ways in which that's
    done--
  215. and poetics,
    which is general ideas about
  216. what constitutes a poem,
    or a text written in some other
  217. genre.
  218. All of these,
    for example,
  219. must remind us very much of the
    Russian formalists.
  220. Narratology,
    as we studied it,
  221. is largely derived from
    structuralism,
  222. indeed also from certain ideas
    of Freud,
  223. and all of this sounds
    suspiciously like theory.
  224. What point are they making
    about it?
  225. Well, simply,
    the point that those ways of
  226. thinking about literature,
    which they exempt from their
  227. diatribe against theory.
  228. are the ways that they call
    "empirical,"
  229. ways of thinking about
    literature that are based on
  230. observation--
    and that, of course,
  231. would certainly,
    it seems to me,
  232. apply to the Russian formalists
    or at least to what the Russian
  233. formalists think they're doing--
    ways that are empirical in the
  234. sense that they observe data,
    they build up a kind of
  235. database, and they generalize
    from what they have observed.
  236. They begin, in other words,
    with the object in question and
  237. then draw conclusions from it.
  238. So empirical approaches to
    literature,
  239. the simple observation of data
    from which one can generalize--
  240. they exempt these from the
    general charge against literary
  241. theory.
  242. Turning then to the idea that
    intention and meaning just must
  243. be the same thing,
    and then subsequently the idea
  244. that language and speech just
    must be the same thing:
  245. in the background I'd like you
    to be thinking about some of the
  246. implications of this sentence
    [points to board:
  247. "I can know the meaning of
    a word,
  248. but can I know the intention of
    a word?"]
  249. by Stanley Cavell which was
    written in another one of the
  250. responses to this essay that was
    published in the book,
  251. Against Theory.
  252. I don't want to reflect on
    it now,
  253. but it seems to me a strikingly
    vivid way of posing a challenge
  254. to the Knapp and Michaels
    position which in a variety of
  255. ways,
    if only by implication,
  256. we'll be touching on.
  257. So what do Knapp and Michaels
    do in order to convince us?--
  258. and I'm going to be going a
    long way with them here,
  259. indeed almost all the way,
    even though I'm going to be
  260. taking a sharp turning toward
    the end of the road which,
  261. I hope, saves theory.
  262. After all, it's scarcely
    conscionable to stand here
  263. twenty-six times in front of you
    for an hour each and then
  264. finally to confess at the end
    that the thing we have been
  265. talking about should be banished
    from our vocabulary.
  266. >
  267. Needless to say,
    it's incumbent on me to save
  268. our subject matter.
  269. I will, but you're going to
    have to wait a while because,
  270. as I say, I am going to be
    going a long way down the road
  271. with Knapp and Michaels.
  272. Knapp and Michaels say in
    effect, Well,
  273. you know what?
  274. The thing about the way in
    which we approach any text,
  275. any utterance,
    any instance of language
  276. floating before us,
    is just to take for granted
  277. that it has an intention.
  278. As theorists and critics,
    we worry away at the question
  279. of how we can know intention,
    and all of this is a dangerous
  280. mistake because the fact is,
    in everyday practice any piece
  281. of language we encounter we just
    assume to have an intention.
  282. All right.
  283. So they give us an example in
    which this assumption is tested
  284. and makes us realize what's at
    stake in supposing that we know
  285. the meaning of something.
  286. Ordinarily, we just
    spontaneously say,
  287. "I know what that
    means,"
  288. or if we don't know what it
    means, we say,
  289. "It must mean something
    even though I don't know what it
  290. means."
  291. That's our normal approach to a
    piece of language.
  292. Then they say,
    Suppose you're walking on the
  293. beach and you come across four
    lines--
  294. "lines"
    is already a dangerous thing to
  295. say--
    four scratches in the sand that
  296. look an awful lot like the first
    stanza of Wordsworth's 'A
  297. Slumber Did My Spirit Seal':
    A slumber did my spirit seal;
  298. I had no human fears.
  299. She seem'd a thing that could
    not feel
  300. The touch of earthly years.
  301. There it is on the beach just
    right in front of us;
  302. and we say, Oh,
    well, somebody's come along,
  303. some Wordsworth lover has come
    along here and scratched these
  304. lines in the sand,
    so that the intention of the
  305. text is unquestioned.
  306. Wordsworth wrote it.
  307. Somebody now wants to remind us
    of what a wonderful stanza it
  308. is, and there it is.
  309. Of course, it's very difficult
    to know what it means,
  310. but at least I can ascribe
    meaning to it because,
  311. no doubt, it's an intended
    thing.
  312. But then what happens?
  313. A huge wave comes along and
    leaves on the beach underneath
  314. the first stanza the other
    stanza, and this of course is
  315. highly problematic.
  316. There it is:
    No motion has she now, no force;
  317. She neither hears nor sees;
    Roll'd round in earth's diurnal
  318. course,
    With rocks, and stones,
  319. and trees.
  320. Now we are really puzzled.
  321. Maybe, as Knapp and Michaels
    say, the sea is a kind of a
  322. pantheistic being that likes to
    write poetry--so the sea wrote
  323. it.
  324. Maybe, they say later on,
    there are little men in a
  325. submarine who look at their
    handiwork and say,
  326. "Gee, that was great.
  327. Let's try that again."
  328. In other words,
    we can infer all sorts of
  329. authors for the stanza,
    but it's much more likely that
  330. instead of saying that the sea
    writes poetry,
  331. or instead of saying there are
    little sort of homunculi in
  332. submarines writing poetry--
    instead of saying that,
  333. it's much more likely that
    we'll say,
  334. "This is an amazing
    coincidence,
  335. truly amazing,
    but it's just a coincidence.
  336. What else could it be?"
  337. Knapp and Michaels's point,
    which was the same point that
  338. you might make about a parrot
    saying,
  339. "My boss is a jerk,"
    for example--
  340. you know the parrot doesn't
    mean that.
  341. The parrot is just making words.
  342. Somebody else meant it,
    maybe, but that's just words
  343. for the parrot,
    okay?
  344. Or monkeys at typewriters
    writing Shakespeare.
  345. We are told that given
    eternity, this is a task that
  346. could be accomplished,
    always supposing somebody were
  347. there to whisk away the sheets
    whenever they wrote a word
  348. >
  349. and finally put it back
    together.
  350. All of these things are
    possibilities,
  351. but we suddenly realize that
    those texts,
  352. "My boss is a jerk"
    and "A slumber did my
  353. spirit seal,"
    written by chance by whatever
  354. it is--
    and already there is a sort of
  355. an intentionality entailed in
    the idea of writing
  356. "by"
    something--
  357. but just left by chance,
    we suddenly realize,
  358. according to Knapp and
    Michaels, that in that case
  359. those words are only like
    language.
  360. They are not actually language
    because nobody wrote them;
  361. nothing wrote them;
    no entity or being from God on
  362. down wrote them.
  363. They are just there by chance.
  364. Therefore, even though they
    look like language,
  365. we suddenly realize that it
    would be foolish to suppose that
  366. they have meaning.
  367. There is a poem that exactly
    resembles this bunch of marks
  368. that we see in front of us,
    and that poem has meaning,
  369. but this bunch of marks does
    not have meaning.
  370. Now I think probably most of
    us--and that's why I think in a
  371. way Knapp and Michaels could
    have chosen a better example--
  372. I think probably most of us
    would resist the idea that we
  373. can't interpret the bunch of
    marks.
  374. They're identical to language.
  375. We feel free to interpret them.
  376. After all, nobody knows what
    the poem means anyway!
  377. It's been the subject of
    critical controversy for
  378. decades.
  379. That's one of the reasons Knapp
    and Michaels choose it,
  380. and so okay,
    there it is on the beach.
  381. I'll have my stab at it.
  382. It must mean something,
    so here goes.
  383. And so we resist that.
  384. That's why I gave you this
    other example,
  385. because it seems to me that in
    a way, the other example is more
  386. compelling than that of Knapp
    and Michaels.
  387. [Points to handout.]
    Now you see these two ladies
  388. looking up at the tree.
  389. The upper--what do you call
    them?
  390. What do you call it when the
    branches are sawed off and
  391. eventually there's a kind of a
    scar formed?
  392. Student: A burl.
  393. Prof: Burl?
  394. The upper burl certainly looks
    an awful lot like Jesus,
  395. >
  396. and when this appeared in
    Milford about fifteen years ago,
  397. not just these two ladies but
    hundreds and hundreds of people
  398. visited the site.
  399. Now they, of course,
    believed that that was on the
  400. tree because God put it there.
  401. Therefore, it had meaning.
  402. We knew what it was.
  403. It was a representation of the
    face of Jesus,
  404. and the feeling that one could
    know what it was,
  405. interpret it,
    and take it to be an actual
  406. representation of something was
    therefore unquestioned.
  407. As we would all agree,
    you accept the premise:
  408. God wrote it or I should say
    put it there.
  409. He's been known to do the same
    thing with toasted cheese
  410. sandwiches and tacos,
    and it happens,
  411. right?
  412. You accept that premise and
    you're all set.
  413. But suppose you say,
    "No, no,
  414. no, no.
  415. God didn't write that.
  416. God didn't put that there.
  417. It's just an accident."
  418. Wouldn't you then say,
    "Oh,
  419. therefore it has no meaning,
    it's not a representation of
  420. anything,
    it just looks like
  421. something"?
  422. In other words,
    in this case--
  423. however you feel about "A
    Slumber Did My Spirit
  424. Seal"--
    in this case you would accept
  425. Knapp and Michaels's argument.
  426. You would say,
    "It really does depend on
  427. the inference of an intention.
  428. If I infer no intention,
    I ascribe no meaning.
  429. If I infer an intention,
    I ascribe meaning."
  430. So Knapp and Michaels are
    simply making the same argument
  431. about "A Slumber Did My
    Spirit Seal,"
  432. and I think it's a very strong
    argument.
  433. Once you realize--or once,
    I should say,
  434. you accept the idea--that
    meaning just is intention and
  435. think about it etymologically--
    when I say "I mean,"
  436. that precisely means "I
    intend,"
  437. right?
  438. It doesn't quite work that way
    in all languages,
  439. but it certainly works that way
    in English,
  440. and it's worth remembering
    to mean is "to
  441. intend" --
    it makes a lot of sense to say
  442. that a meaning just is an
    intention and that it's perhaps
  443. against the grain of common
    sense to factor them apart,
  444. to say, "Well,
    I can see this sentence and I
  445. have a certain notion what it
    might mean,
  446. but I still don't know what the
    author intended to say,"
  447. which is forbidden from the
    standpoint of Knapp and
  448. Michaels.
  449. Of course, you know what
    the author intended to say.
  450. You've just ascribed meaning to
    the sentence.
  451. Now mind you,
    you may be wrong,
  452. but that isn't to say that your
    being wrong hinges on knowing
  453. what the author intended.
  454. In a certain sense,
    Knapp and Michaels agree
  455. perfectly well with the New
    Critics and with Foucault or
  456. whoever it might be and say,
    "Well, you can never know
  457. what an author intended."
  458. But that's not the point.
  459. The meaning of the sentence in
    itself entails intention.
  460. If it weren't a sentence spoken
    intentionally by an agent,
  461. human or otherwise,
    it wouldn't have meaning
  462. because it wouldn't be language.
  463. In a certain sense this,
    then, can carry us to our
  464. second argument because,
    having established in their own
  465. minds satisfactorily that for
    any text the meaning of the text
  466. must just be its
    intention--
  467. in other words,
    to be understood as language at
  468. all,
    to repeat myself once again,
  469. and to be understood as
    language at all,
  470. an intention needs to be
    inferred.
  471. The argument here is that we
    ought to be able to recognize,
  472. supposing we succeed in
    not inferring an
  473. intention,
    that what we are looking at is
  474. actually not language;
    it's just a simulacrum of
  475. language,
    an effective copy of language
  476. like,
    for example,
  477. the speech of a parrot or the
    words produced by monkeys on
  478. typewriters and so on.
  479. We should not from such
    simulacra of words infer not
  480. only intention but meaning as
    well.
  481. It is meaningless to speak of
    marks that are not signs as
  482. language.
  483. Bringing us to the notion of
    "sign":
  484. for C.S. Peirce,
    who actually discriminated
  485. among hundreds of different
    kinds of signs,
  486. all signs are
    active--that is to say,
  487. they have an agency,
    they have a purpose,
  488. they have a function.
  489. Peirce, in other words,
    does not understand them in the
  490. way that Saussure does as being
    differential.
  491. He understands that too,
    but for him the central point
  492. about a sign is the agency of
    the sign.
  493. Now the implication of this is
    clear, and it's the implication
  494. that Knapp and Michaels draw on
    in this argument.
  495. Their claim is that there is no
    distinction to be made between
  496. language and speech.
  497. Now let's just pause over their
    argument.
  498. I would think the fact that as
    we think about that--
  499. especially since we have been
    exposed to Saussure and,
  500. I hope, have come to accept the
    idea that language is a virtual
  501. synchronic entity laid out in
    space,
  502. and speech is an actual
    diachronic performance derived
  503. from language laid out in time--
    since we have absorbed that and
  504. since we just have this sort of
    spontaneous belief,
  505. if we're students of literary
    theory,
  506. that there is a distinction
    between language and speech:
  507. what do we do when we come face
    to face with this claim of Knapp
  508. and Michaels's?
  509. Now I think that they make
    their most effective case in a
  510. footnote.
  511. This is the last footnote I'll
    be calling your attention to
  512. this semester,
    and it's, like all footnotes,
  513. perhaps the most telling thing
    in the essay.
  514. It appears on page 084 in the
    copy center packet,
  515. footnote number twelve.
  516. I'm not going to read the whole
    thing.
  517. I'm just going to read a single
    sentence at the top their page
  518. twenty-one,
    footnote twelve,
  519. in which they say,
    "…
  520. [A]
    dictionary is an index of
  521. frequent usages in particular
    speech acts--
  522. not a matrix of abstract,
    pre-intentional
  523. possibilities."
  524. Think about that.
  525. Language, we suppose,
    is, in addition to being a set
  526. of grammatical and syntactical
    rules, also a set of definitions
  527. made available for speech acts.
  528. That is the assumption that a
    course in literary theory
  529. provides for us.
  530. Knapp and Michaels are denying
    that in this footnote.
  531. They are saying that dictionary
    definitions are just a sum
  532. total,
    as it were, of words in action,
  533. that any definition is of a
    word which is already a
  534. speech act.
  535. You go through all eighteen
    definitions of a word.
  536. They're all of them embedded in
    sentences, speech acts,
  537. and can be taken out of
    sentences and still understood
  538. in their agency as performed.
  539. Any word in a dictionary,
    in other words,
  540. according to Knapp and
    Michaels, is a word performed,
  541. and the record fossilized,
    as it were,
  542. in the dictionary is a record
    not of meaning per se but
  543. of performance,
    of the way in which the word
  544. works in speech,
    in history.
  545. A dictionary is nothing other
    than a composite or a sum total
  546. of speech acts.
  547. To distinguish,
    therefore, between language as
  548. something which is pre-action
    and speech as the implementation
  549. of language is a mistake.
  550. Language, even in the sense
    that it's always there before
  551. us, is nevertheless always
    active.
  552. It is a record of those actions
    that have taken place before our
  553. own actions as speakers.
  554. There's no difference between
    me acting through speech and
  555. language preexisting as
    something which is not action.
  556. It's all continuous as an
    ever-deepening,
  557. broadening, and
    self-complicating record of
  558. action, or speech action.
  559. Now this is a very interesting
    idea and I think,
  560. again, it's an idea that one
    might well go a long way with.
  561. I think it should be said in
    defense of Saussure,
  562. by the way, that in a certain
    way he anticipates this
  563. position.
  564. Remember I told you that
    although for purposes of
  565. learning,
    to understand structuralism and
  566. its aftermath we only
    distinguish between language and
  567. speech,
    langue and
  568. parole,
    but in Saussure there's
  569. actually a third category,
    a sort of intermediate
  570. category, which he calls
    langage. Langage is
  571. actually the sum total of all
    known speech acts.
  572. If you could codify or quantify
    everything that's ever been said
  573. or written, that would be
    langage.
  574. You can see how it's different
    from langue,
  575. which needn't necessarily ever
    have been said at all.
  576. I'll be coming back to that in
    a minute.
  577. Langage,
    in other words,
  578. is "empirical,"
    as Knapp and Michaels would
  579. say.
  580. It is something that,
    had we enough information,
  581. we could actually codify into a
    vast database.
  582. It would be the sum of all
    speech acts,
  583. and that actually,
    what Saussure calls
  584. langage,
    would be not unlike what Knapp
  585. and Michaels mean by
    language.
  586. Saussure is aware that you can
    think of the sum of speech acts
  587. in the way that Knapp and
    Michaels do,
  588. but he still holds out for this
    other category,
  589. this notion of langue as
    the code from which speech acts
  590. are derived,
    as a thing apart.
  591. Now I think,
    as I say, this is a persuasive
  592. position,
    because after all,
  593. as long as we suppose that
    language exists for
  594. communication,
    that it is interactive--as long
  595. as we accept,
    as we have accepted from
  596. Bakhtin and others during the
    course of the course--
  597. the idea that language is
    social, that all of its
  598. deployments are interactive,
    derived from the speech acts of
  599. others,
    appropriated for oneself as
  600. one's own set of speech acts,
    and influential on yet other
  601. people as a speech act--
    as long as we accept this,
  602. we say to ourselves,
    "Yeah, it makes a lot of
  603. sense to think of language as
    inseparable from speech,
  604. to think of language simply as
    the sum of all agencies so that
  605. no meaningful distinction
    between that sum of agencies and
  606. the individual agency of a
    speech act needs to be
  607. made."
  608. Notice though--and here,
    by the way,
  609. is where I'm going to make my
    turn and save theory,
  610. so sharpen your
    pencils!--notice that I began
  611. that last riff by saying
    "as long as we suppose
  612. language exists for
    communication."
  613. Now we do suppose
    language exists for
  614. communication.
  615. What else could it exist for?
  616. What do we do with language
    except to communicate?
  617. You could say,
    "Well, we write doodles.
  618. We make meaningless marks in
    the sand."
  619. There are all kinds of things
    that maybe we do with language,
  620. but let's face it:
    we don't, right?
  621. If I do, in fact,
    make marks in the sand
  622. amounting to "A Slumber Did
    My Spirit Seal,"
  623. it's because I love Wordsworth,
    as by the way I do,
  624. and I wish to communicate that
    love to the rest of the world.
  625. It's a speech act.
  626. Come on, I'm not just making
    marks.
  627. If I wanted to make marks,
    I'd do something rather more
  628. mark-like [gesticulates].
  629. Well, so
    >
  630. in any case,
    we certainly inhabit a life
  631. world in which it is almost
    inconceivable for anyone to come
  632. along and tell us,
    "Language is not for the
  633. purpose of communication."
  634. In other words,
    Knapp and Michaels seem to be
  635. completely right.
  636. What else is it for?
  637. That's what we use it for.
  638. We have refined it to a
    fare-thee-well as an efficient,
  639. flexible, sometimes even
    eloquent medium of
  640. communication.
  641. That's what language is for,
    that's what it exists for.
  642. As I'm saying,
    if we accept this idea--
  643. which seems simply to carry the
    day,
  644. because who could think
    anything else?--
  645. if we accept this idea,
    then there's a very strong case
  646. for Knapp and Michaels being
    right.
  647. Really there's no significant
    or important difference between
  648. language and speech.
  649. But now suppose we approach the
    question from a--I don't say
  650. from an empirical point of view
    >
  651. but from a speculative
    anthropological point of view.
  652. Suppose we approach it with
    some rather commonsense remarks.
  653. Now we say language is for
    communication;
  654. the purpose of language is for
    communication.
  655. We say that.
  656. Especially if we think of the
    whole history of mankind,
  657. does that mean that the purpose
    of fire is for cooking?
  658. Or to bring it a little bit
    closer to home,
  659. does it mean that the purpose
    of the prehensile thumb is for
  660. grasping?
  661. Does it mean that the purpose
    of a cave, a hole in the rock,
  662. is for dwelling?
  663. No.
  664. In those cases,
    adaptation is what makes fire a
  665. good thing to cook with,
    the prehensile thumb a good
  666. thing to grasp with,
    and a cave a good thing to take
  667. shelter in,
    but they all in their various
  668. ways are just there.
  669. Plainly, all of them have
    other, well,
  670. not "purposes,"
    because a purpose is,
  671. when you think about it,
    only something that we can
  672. impose on something;
    but they certainly are not
  673. there in any sense for us to do
    the thing that it turns out
  674. we've decided it's a good idea
    to do with it.
  675. Fire burns us but we can cook
    with it, and so on.
  676. Now in the case of language,
    we have to suppose as a matter
  677. of fact that language,
    as it were, appeared among us
  678. in the same way that the
    prehensile thumb did.
  679. Of course we "discovered
    its use,"
  680. but that's a funny way to put
    it.
  681. It might be more circumspect to
    say that we discovered it had a
  682. use for us which was to
    communicate,
  683. and so once we were able to put
    this--
  684. whatever it was,
    this weird capacity to make
  685. differential sounds--
    once we put this weird capacity
  686. to make differential sounds to
    work,
  687. henceforth for us and for our
    purposes language was there to
  688. communicate.
  689. Of course we made an enormous
    success of it,
  690. or a tower of Babel of it,
    whichever you prefer to think,
  691. but in any case we have it,
    and it has developed among us
  692. as a means of a medium of
    communication.
  693. But by whatever mutancy
    language arose,
  694. supposing this to be the
    case--and I'm not making an
  695. argument that has anything to do
    with "intelligent
  696. design" one way or
    another--
  697. supposing that by whatever
    mutancy language appeared,
  698. then, of course,
    the next day there were an
  699. avalanche: then it might well be
    the case that this species
  700. consisting of all of us sitting
    in this room and I guess a few
  701. other people,
    >
  702. that this species might be mute.
  703. It might be communicating
    perhaps with incredible
  704. eloquence, perhaps even with
    literary genius,
  705. by means of signs or--who
    knows?
  706. Or for that matter it might
    have taken a detour in its
  707. development such that
    communication was not anything
  708. one could identify as
    specifically human.
  709. All sentient beings
    communicate, but it's possible
  710. that this particular species
    could have taken a turn in its
  711. development after which
    communication was much as it is
  712. among mice or ants or whatever.
  713. All of this is possible,
    you see, when we think about
  714. language--a property that we
    have and manipulate and
  715. communicate
    with--anthropologically.
  716. It comes into being in such a
    way that it is,
  717. I would think,
    scarcely relevant to say that
  718. its purpose is for
    communication.
  719. It comes into being simply as
    an attribute,
  720. a property, something we happen
    to have,
  721. something someone happens to
    have for which a use is then
  722. discovered,
    as for fire,
  723. for the prehensile thumb and
    for the cave.
  724. The relationship between the
    cave and the house,
  725. it seems to me,
    is a particularly interesting
  726. way of thinking about the
    relationship between language as
  727. a set of differentials and
    language as speech.
  728. Notice something about the
    signs of language--and here of
  729. course we also invoke Saussure.
  730. Saussure lays every stress on
    the idea that language is made
  731. up of differential and arbitrary
    signs.
  732. In other words,
    Saussure denies that there is
  733. such a thing in language as a
    natural sign.
  734. The Russian formalists do this
    as well.
  735. Both Saussure and the Russian
    formalists warn us against
  736. believing that onomatopoetic
    devices--
  737. for example,
    "peep, peep,
  738. peep"--devices like that,
    are actually natural signs,
  739. that they are derived,
    in other words,
  740. from the thing in the world
    that they seem through their
  741. sound to represent.
  742. Saussure reminds us that these
    are accidents of etymological
  743. history which can also be
    understood in adaptive terms.
  744. Onomatopoeia exists in language
    because it's good for
  745. communication and it's fun to
    communicate with,
  746. but it doesn't enter language
    as a natural sign.
  747. It only passes through
    moments--in the evolution of a
  748. given word--
    it only passes through moments
  749. in which the relationship
    between the sound and the thing
  750. represented seems to be natural.
  751. This is a matter upon which
    great stress is laid both in
  752. Saussure and in the Russian
    formalists.
  753. When you read these passages in
    which such stress is laid on it
  754. you may have thought:
    well, that's overkill.
  755. Who cares about onomatopoeia?
  756. Well, it anchors the entire
    idea about language,
  757. which is precisely that it is
    something other than speech.
  758. When we speak,
    we not only endeavor to
  759. communicate;
    we endeavor to refer.
  760. In other words,
    we take language and we try to
  761. make it, as the philosophers
    say, hook on to the natural
  762. world.
  763. We take a set of signs,
    a code which is not in itself
  764. natural,
    which is arbitrary,
  765. and through the sheer force of
    will,
  766. we make those signs as best we
    can hook on to the natural,
  767. to the actual world.
  768. In doing so,
    we reinforce the idea that
  769. language is for
    communication--whereas my
  770. argument is language isn't for
    communication;
  771. speech is.
  772. When we speak,
    that is--entirely and
  773. exclusively and without any
    other motive--
  774. for communication,
    except for one thing that the
  775. Russian formalists in particular
    took note of.
  776. There are funny things going on
    in our speech--
  777. alliteration,
    unnecessary or uneconomical
  778. forms of repetition--
    weird things going on in our
  779. speech which don't seem to have
    the purpose of communication.
  780. As a matter of fact,
    they actually seem to impede
  781. communication.
  782. When I really start messing
    language up--
  783. for example,
    in Lewis Carroll's "'Twas
  784. brillig, and the slithy toves /
    did gyre and gimble in the
  785. wabe"--
    I am impeding communication
  786. because I am laying stress on
    elements of rhythm,
  787. pattern, and sound recurrence
    which cannot be said to have any
  788. direct bearing on communication.
  789. This, of course,
    is what we've studied
  790. recurrently and,
    I have to say,
  791. empirically
    >
  792. because these are all empirical
    facts about language,
  793. as the Russian formalists
    insisted.
  794. What we have studied
    recurrently is the way in which
  795. language rears its ugly head in
    speech,
  796. the way in which,
    in other words,
  797. language won't be repressed as
    mere communication,
  798. the way in which speech entails
    elements that keep bubbling up
  799. to the surface and asserting
    themselves,
  800. which oddly enough really can't
    be said to conduce to
  801. communication.
  802. Those things,
    those elements that bubble up
  803. to the surface,
    are nothing other than evidence
  804. of the presence of language,
    precisely in the way that in
  805. Freud the Freudian slip--
    the fact that I can't get
  806. through a sentence without
    making some kind of blunder,
  807. very often an embarrassing
    blunder--
  808. is understood as the bubbling
    up into the conscious effort to
  809. speak of that which speech can't
    control,
  810. of that which Freud calls
    "the unconscious"
  811. and which,
    by the way, we would have no
  812. idea of the existence of if it
    weren't for the Freudian slip.
  813. In other words,
    as Freud said in the first
  814. handout that I gave you at the
    beginning of the semester,
  815. we infer the unconscious from
    the behavior of consciousness
  816. because,
    given the erratic nature of the
  817. behavior of consciousness,
    it seems necessary to do so.
  818. By precisely the same token,
    we can and,
  819. I think we should say,
    we do infer language as
  820. something else from the
    composite or sum total of speech
  821. acts.
  822. We infer language from the
    erratic behavior of speech
  823. because it seems there is no
    other way to account for the
  824. erratic behavior of speech.
  825. That sense of language,
    which I'm going to be talking a
  826. lot more about on Thursday,
    sort of bubbling up and from
  827. below in speech,
    and proving its existence as
  828. something other than a composite
    record of all speeches,
  829. is what suggests to us that
    Knapp and Michaels are not quite
  830. right in saying there is really
    no difference between language
  831. and speech;
    that if there is a difference
  832. between language and speech,
    as I am claiming,
  833. and if the difference between
    language and speech is much as
  834. we have been taught to think of
    it by Saussure and his
  835. successors down through
    deconstruction--
  836. if there is such a difference,
    then guess what?
  837. We have literary theory back in
    the fold,
  838. alive and well,
    and we no longer have to say
  839. that it should be jettisoned
    from our thinking about
  840. literature.
  841. We have a real use for literary
    theory.
  842. But that's exactly where Knapp
    and Michaels,
  843. supposing they were here and
    I'd convinced them--by the way,
  844. I know them both.
  845. You can't convince them of
    anything, but that's not
  846. unusual.
  847. You probably can't convince me
    of anything either--suppose we
  848. had them here and I had
    succeeded in convincing them.
  849. They would say,
    "Well, okay,
  850. but isn't it a pity?
  851. Because you have proved better
    than we did that literary theory
  852. has no purpose.
  853. Why on earth should we worry
    about all this bubbling up of
  854. stuff that has nothing to do
    with communication?
  855. After all, we're here to
    communicate, aren't we?
  856. We've begun by saying that our
    life world consists precisely in
  857. the deployment of language for
    communication,
  858. and here is this person saying
    there is this stuff bubbling up,
  859. which makes communication
    difficult.
  860. What use is that?"
  861. Knapp and Michaels might say.
  862. You see, they are pragmatists,
    aren't they?
  863. They are pragmatists,
    or they are concerned with
  864. practicality.
  865. Their interest,
    their reason for being
  866. interested in meaning and
    interpretation,
  867. is a practical reason entirely
    entailed in the understanding of
  868. communication and the
    furtherance of communication;
  869. whereas theory,
    which I have saved,
  870. I nevertheless seem to have
    saved at a pretty considerable
  871. cost because I have suggested
    that theory itself is completely
  872. impractical.
  873. I have suggested it,
    and we're going to get back to
  874. that next time.
  875. That's what the Thursday
    lecture is going to be about.
  876. In the meantime you say to
    yourself, "Okay,
  877. fine.
  878. We've got theory,
    but we have also been shown
  879. that you can't really do
    anything with it,
  880. and so it might just as well
    suit us to suppose that Knapp
  881. and Michaels are right and to
    proceed as though theory could
  882. be jettisoned."
  883. One last quick point,
    going back to the distinction
  884. between meaning and intention:
    notice the two-pronged
  885. argument.
  886. On the one hand,
    there are people like
  887. E.D. Hirsch who believe that
    you can invoke an author's
  888. intention in order to pin down a
    meaning--
  889. on the one hand,
    you have people like that and,
  890. on the other hand,
    you have people doing
  891. deconstruction who say that
    because there is no
  892. inferable intention,
    texts themselves have no
  893. meaning.
  894. But that's not quite
    right,
  895. because that's not really what
    deconstruction says.
  896. Deconstruction doesn't say
    texts have no meaning.
  897. Deconstruction doesn't even say
    that you can't know what the
  898. meaning of a text is,
    exactly.
  899. What deconstruction says is
    that you can't rope off
  900. meaning in a text.
  901. Texts have too much meaning.
  902. Texts explode with meaning.
  903. You can't corral the way in
    which texts produce meaning.
  904. You can't corral it by
    inferring an intention.
  905. You can't corral it by taking a
    particular interpretive path.
  906. Meaning just explodes in texts.
  907. That's not at all the same
    thing as to say,
  908. according to the claim of Knapp
    and Michaels,
  909. that in deconstructive thinking
    texts have no meaning--
  910. a very, very different
    proposition altogether.
  911. I think it might suggest to you
    that the relationship between
  912. intention and meaning isn't
    really what's at stake in
  913. deconstruction.
  914. A text is intended,
    or you can say,
  915. "Well, it may be intended,
    no doubt it's intended"--
  916. all sorts of ways of putting
    it, but is that really the
  917. point?
  918. The text is the text on
    my view, and the text,
  919. just as I say,
    fairly bristles with meaning,
  920. that being precisely the point.
  921. You can't rein it in.
  922. That's not really the flip
    side--as Knapp and Michaels
  923. would want to make you
    think–that's not really
  924. the flip side of the idea of the
    followers of Hirsch that in
  925. order to know a meaning,
    you have to be able to infer an
  926. authorial intention.
  927. There is no symmetry
    there and,
  928. as I say, I'm not sure that
    deconstruction,
  929. whatever its claims,
    whatever its perfections and
  930. imperfections--
    I am not sure that really
  931. deconstruction has the question
    of intention in relation to
  932. meaning very much at heart one
    way or another.
  933. Sorry to have kept you.
  934. We'll see you Thursday.