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← 26. Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory Now?

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Showing Revision 2 created 10/21/2013 by Maggie S (Amara staff).

  1. Prof: Well,
    last time we saved theory from
  2. the clutches of Knapp and
  3. and we did so by saying that
    there really is a difference
  4. between language and speech.
  5. That's a claim that I want to
    continue investigating in
  6. today's concluding lecture,
    but in the meantime when I say
  7. we saved theory,
    you may well be asking by this
  8. time,
    "Well, okay,
  9. so you saved it,
    but for what?
  10. Why?"
  11. We began to suggest last time
    that in a certain sense,
  12. especially in view of
    neo-pragmatists' claims about
  13. the agency of language and
  14. understood to be one and the
    same thing--
  15. in view of claims of this kind,
    do we have to conclude that
  16. theory is impractical?
  17. That is, that it can't have
    anything to do with pragmatist
  18. objectives?
  19. That, too, is something I want
    to worry a little bit about
  20. today.
  21. Why do we bother to save
    literary theory?
  22. Well, it has something to do
    plainly with communication.
  23. Speech, as we said last time,
    is unquestionably for--that is
  24. to say we have made it
  25. So the old, frankly incredibly
    tired question,
  26. "How well do we
    communicate with each
  27. other?"
  28. is unfortunately,
    in a way, not irrelevant to
  29. what we're trying to get at
  30. I want to say a couple of
    things about what the French
  31. during the existentialist period
    called la manque de la
  32. communication.
  33. In a way, they're not really
  34. First of all,
    I want to say that we actually
  35. communicate rather well.
  36. Congratulations to us,
    in other words!
  37. I think that many of the
    conventional ways in which
  38. people worry about whether or
    not we can understand each
  39. other--
    many of those ways of thinking
  40. about the problem are actually
  41. My own feeling is that perhaps
    a good deal of the time we
  42. understand each other all too
    well, and >
  43. that it might be better,
    in a way, if we didn't have
  44. quite such an acute sense of
    where each of us are coming
  45. from.
  46. It probably would improve human
    relations rather than otherwise,
  47. and this may have something to
    do with what I take to be a
  48. certain measure of bad faith in
    the ways in which we try to get
  49. together and raise each other's
  50. Our supposition is that the
    whole problem is that we don't
  51. communicate well enough,
    and we don't understand each
  52. other's subject positions well
  53. As I say, I'm not completely
    convinced of that,
  54. so there's a certain sense in
    which I say, "Hey,
  55. speech is great.
  56. It's doing just fine.
  57. Don't worry.
  58. We're communicating perfectly
    well, possibly too well."
  59. So why on earth should theory
    come along and say,
  60. "Well, there's sort of a
    problem with
  61. communication"?
  62. The problem is this nagging
    entity called language
  63. which keeps poking up through
    the communication process,
  64. getting in its way,
    impeding communication,
  65. as the Russian formalists
  66. all for the better,
    as they saw it--
  67. that language does.
  68. Why should it matter?
  69. What's at stake?
  70. As Knapp and Michaels might
    say, what's at stake in calling
  71. attention to the way in which
    language does impede
  72. communication?
  73. In other words,
    we communicate fine,
  74. but what we really mean in
    saying that is,
  75. we communicate fine for
    everyday purposes.
  76. Speech has a rough and ready
  77. and anybody who denies that,
    as I say,
  78. is simply exaggerating problems
    that may exist on grounds other
  79. than difficulty of
  80. So speech is really fine up to
    a point.
  81. Part of the function of theory
    is precisely to interrogate the
  82. degree to which speech in an
    unimpeded way communicates and
  83. the level of accuracy and detail
    at which speech can ever be
  84. expected to communicate.
  85. These are the sorts of
    questions that we might expect
  86. theory to ask,
    and if you say, "Well,
  87. I'm still not very convinced
    that that's an important aspect
  88. of one's intellectual
    life," I don't blame you.
  89. I hope to have convinced you
    over the next forty-five minutes
  90. or so that it's pretty important
    in a variety of ways and that
  91. it's worth keeping in mind.
  92. In the meantime,
    just to start on this issue
  93. tentatively,
    we can understand theory--and
  94. of course,
    we began the semester by
  95. defining it,
    by trying to distinguish
  96. between theory and philosophy;
    theory and methodology;
  97. perhaps even those sorts of
    approaches to literature that
  98. Knapp and Michaels call
  99. maybe even to distinguish
    between theory and hermeneutics,
  100. because after all,
    the whole drive and function of
  101. hermeneutics is to discover
  102. There is a certain sense,
    as we have come sadly to
  103. realize,
    in which theory is more
  104. interested in the way in which
    meaning is impeded,
  105. so it may be--as we suggested,
    as I say,
  106. at the beginning of the
    course--that as to theory,
  107. if we're to get comfortable
    with it at all,
  108. we have to keep in mind that
    it's not philosophy.
  109. That is to say,
    even though you're good at
  110. theory and you understand the
    purpose of theory,
  111. you can still be a system
  112. That is to say,
    you can still have a sense of
  113. explaining the totality of
    things that philosophy needs if
  114. it's going to function as
    philosophy or as philosophy
  115. properly should.
  116. You can still,
    as Knapp and Michaels say,
  117. engage empirically with
    questions of literary data
  118. summarized in such a way as to
    amount to what we call
  119. "poetics."
  120. You can do all these things,
    and you don't really have to
  121. feel as though theory is somehow
    or another standing on the
  122. sidelines sort of shaking its
    fist at you and wagging its
  123. finger.
  124. Theory doesn't have to be
    understood as a watchdog.
  125. At least in my opinion,
    and not everyone agrees with
  126. me,
    theory really lets us go our
  127. own way and simply reminds us
    that there are certain limits or
  128. reservations that need to be
    kept in mind,
  129. that one is perhaps wisest to
    keep in mind,
  130. as we think through problems of
    interpretation and meaning.
  131. So theory I would define
    as--and I've used this word
  132. "negation"
    a lot--
  133. I would define theory as a
    negative movement of thought
  134. mapping the ways in which it is
  135. as opposed to the ways in which
    I have suggested it's perhaps
  136. not legitimate--
    but mapping the ways in which
  137. it is legitimate to be
    suspicious of communication.
  138. Theory is an antithetical
    counterforce to that which is
  139. commonly supposed to be true,
    posited as true,
  140. and--here of course one comes
    to the point--
  141. spoken as true:
    enounced, articulated,
  142. spoken as true.
  143. So if that's the case,
    why the fuss about language?
  144. Why do we so quickly narrow the
    issue down to language?
  145. What I said last time about
    language and the relationship
  146. between language and speech may
    have seemed unconvincing to you
  147. because it was so narrow.
  148. I want to broaden today,
    considerably broaden,
  149. the sense of what I mean by
  150. It seems to me that theory
    encourages a measure of
  151. suspicion about the efficacy of
    speech, that which is spoken as
  152. true, in three ways.
  153. Last time I mentioned one,
    but now let me emphasize three.
  154. The first and the one I did
    mention last time is the way in
  155. which language obtrudes itself
    as sound.
  156. In other words,
    if we think of the efficiency
  157. or functionality of speech as a
    medium of communication,
  158. we're forced to ask ourselves,
    even as we engage in speech,
  159. how and why it is that speech
    is so much burdened in ways that
  160. are of no use whatsoever to us
    for the most part.
  161. Sometimes they are of use.
  162. One of the pre-freshmen asked
    me last time,
  163. "Well, isn't sound a
    reinforcement of meaning?"
  164. I told you when we did the New
    Criticism that all of you had
  165. done the New Criticism in high
  166. That's the way you learned
    literary interpretation.
  167. Well, this was a perfect
    embodiment of a bright person
  168. coming out of high school
  169. "Interpretation just
    is the New Criticism and
  170. I've been taught that sound
    reinforces sense.
  171. That's what it says in
    Perrine's handbook about
  172. understanding poetry.
  173. Sound reinforces sense."
  174. Well, it often does,
    of course, and on those
  175. occasions we can revel in the
    complexity of an intentional
  176. meaning or intentional structure
    that is augmented by the way in
  177. which sound patterns are used.
  178. At the same time,
    as the Russian formalists
  179. discovered,
    working through materials that
  180. weren't perhaps so much
    materials like John Donne's
  181. "The Canonization"
    or texts of the kind that lent
  182. themselves,
    to a degree,
  183. readily to the New Criticism;
    but rather alliterative verse,
  184. folklore and folk verse in the
    Russian tradition,
  185. verse embodying proverbs--what
    they noticed in studying these
  186. materials is that there is
    simply no way of grasping a
  187. semantic purpose,
    a purpose having to do with
  188. meaning,
    in the sound elements that are
  189. involved.
  190. I think that as we recognize
    the way in which there is a
  191. strange pull in our spontaneous
    speaking toward repetitiousness
  192. of sound,
    it's not just that we
  193. all speak iambic pentameter
    without knowing it--
  194. which, by the way,
    is by and large and true.
  195. It's not just that.
  196. It's that there is an
    extraordinary amount of
  197. alliteration and rhythmic
    determination in what we say.
  198. Jakobson has an interesting
    point in "Linguistics and
  199. Poetics"
    about that moment when we're
  200. nearby and an accident takes
    place or something like that.
  201. He says in effect,
    "You could call a person
  202. in a situation like that
  203. but we call that person an
    innocent bystander,
  204. and the reason we do so is
  205. A person is an innocent
    bystander not because that
  206. expression has any particular
    meaning or semantic valence as
  207. over against other expressions
    but because it's catchy,
  208. because it sort of sticks in
    our mind,
  209. perhaps for mnemotechnical
  210. as catchy.
  211. Eisenhower won the election
    against Stevenson because
  212. "I like Ike"
    is a more efficient sort of way
  213. of engaging with the repetition
    of sound than "Madly for
  214. Adlai."
  215. Jakobson doesn't go into that,
    but I think an interesting
  216. political analysis could be made
  217. as I say, the greater efficacy
    of "I like Ike."
  218. All of these functions of sound
    or, I should say,
  219. appearances of sound in speech
    are what an economist might call
  220. irrational.
  221. They're there,
    they're doing a job,
  222. but it's not really a job of
    anything that we could call
  223. communication.
  224. The job they're doing is sort
    of free spirited on the part of
  225. language.
  226. It's just there in an arbitrary
    relation with the semantic
  227. pattern of speech.
  228. So much then for sound,
    but it's not only that.
  229. If it were only that,
    if literary theory were only
  230. about the first two or three
    years' worth of research
  231. performed by the Russian
  232. we probably wouldn't be having
    an introductory survey course in
  233. the subject.
  234. Speech is impeded by language
    in two other ways.
  235. First of all-- second of all,
    I should say,
  236. I suppose--speech is disturbed
    by the way in which language
  237. produces in what's being said an
    uncontrollable semantic drift.
  238. That's what I want to call it.
  239. In other words,
    the language of an utterance is
  240. crafted to say some particular
  241. Actually, it was Saussure,
    in a work of his that's less
  242. known than the Course in
    General Linguistics,
  243. who published a monograph on
    the way in which you can find
  244. acronyms of various kinds buried
    or embedded in Latin verse.
  245. In other words,
    there is meaning within meaning
  246. which can't possibly have been
    planted there and yet,
  247. miraculously enough,
    you can find there.
  248. You can recite a well-known
    poem--the one that we took up
  249. last time because it was the
    example given in Knapp and
  250. Michaels' "Against
  251. you can recite a poem while
    reading this:
  252. [referring to what is written
    on the chalkboard:
  253. A slumber did my spirit seal;
    I had no human fears:
  254. She seem'd a thing that could
    not feel
  255. The touch of earthly years.
  256. No motion has she now, no force;
    She neither hears nor sees;
  257. Roll'd 'round in earth's
    diurnal course
  258. With rocks, and stones,
    and trees.
  259. Now you can see that to write
    the poem in this way is to
  260. perform an exercise which is
    essentially what Joyce is doing
  261. in Finnegan's Wake.
  262. As a matter of fact,
    as I transcribed the poem out
  263. of my notes [gestures to
  264. as you can see,
    I transcribed it--I kept saying
  265. to myself,
    "You know what?
  266. This could be in Finnegan's
  267. I was actually quite
    pleased with myself,
  268. as you can imagine.
  269. >
  270. Notice that I have used all
  271. There's nothing in these eight
    lines which is not a word.
  272. I have certainly engaged in a
    certain amount of anachronism,
  273. but I have also used
    punctuation, and I have worked
  274. out ways in which this discourse
    makes sense.
  275. I could have just left it at
  276. like Lewis Carroll's
    "'Twas brillig,
  277. and the slithy toves / did gyre
    and gimble in the
  278. wabe…"--
    which is another way in which
  279. language is affected by
    uncontrollable semantic drift.
  280. The point of Lewis Carroll's
    famous nonsense verse is that we
  281. all think we know what it means:
    "'Twas blusterous and the
  282. slimy toads did leap and frolic
    in the waves."
  283. We think that it means
    something like that,
  284. but semantic drift--which is
    what Lewis Carroll deliberately
  285. introduces to it--
    prevents us from in any secure
  286. way drawing any conclusions
    about that.
  287. I, of course,
    am making no claims for this
  288. transcription of Wordsworth's
    "A Slumber Did My Spirit
  289. Seal" at all,
    but maybe this can show us the
  290. ways in which there is
    semantic drift.
  291. Let's say that you were a
    person not really,
  292. as Stanley Fish would put it,
    in the interpretive community
  293. to which all the rest of us
  294. and you don't really know what
    a poem is.
  295. Somebody recites in your
    presence what I just recited to
  296. Well, if you were quick at
    writing and you transcribed the
  297. you.
  298. thing, you might very well
    produce something like
  299. that [points to board].
  300. In other words,
    it wouldn't just spontaneously
  301. occur to you that what
    Wordsworth wrote was what you
  302. were hearing,
    and that's because the kind of
  303. semantic drift that I'm talking
    about really is inescapably
  304. present in any utterance that we
  305. The utterance is not often
    mistaken because we're really
  306. actually good at understanding
  307. That's one of the reasons why
    the so-called problem of
  308. communication isn't as great as
    people sometimes claim it is.
  309. We're really good at
    understanding context.
  310. Hence, we're not likely to go
    badly wrong, but certainly there
  311. are occasions on which we go
    badly wrong.
  312. As we all know,
    that's the irritating thing
  313. about spell check.
  314. You put on spell check,
    you write your term paper,
  315. you don't bother to edit it,
    and you turn it in.
  316. It's full of howlers because,
    of course, the language is full
  317. of homonyms, and spell check
    always gives the wrong word.
  318. You're in the soup,
    frankly because,
  319. of course, your teacher is just
    kind of slapping his knee and
  320. guffawing while reading it.
  321. >
  322. In short, don't use spell
    check, but spell check is
  323. >
  324. a phenomenon that shows you the
    way in which semantic drift
  325. permeates language.
  326. But it's not just that either.
  327. There's a third way in which
    language impedes speech.
  328. Saussure never says this in so
    many words, but this is
  329. definitely what he means by
  330. Remember I said that language,
  331. is a virtual entity
    because we could never actually
  332. encounter it written down in any
    codified form.
  333. Yes, it is: the dictionary,
    the lexicon,
  334. But that's only part of it.
  335. right?
  336. So far, notice that we've only
    been talking about the lexicon
  337. when we talk about semantic
  338. but in addition to the lexicon,
  339. langue,
    is a set of rules--rules of
  340. grammar and syntax,
    rules by means of which,
  341. and only by means of which,
    speech can make sense.
  342. In other words,
    language has this sort of
  343. bearing on the choices that we
    can make while producing speech.
  344. Unfortunately those rules can
    be a little bit slippery.
  345. When we talked about the
    innocuous expression "It is
  346. raining"
    as an illustration of
  347. Jakobson's six sets of the
  348. just as an example,
    we were brought up short by the
  349. meta-lingual function of
    "It is raining."
  350. We suddenly asked ourselves,
    "What on earth is
  351. ‘it'?"
  352. In other words,
    there is a kind of grammatical
  353. and syntactical permissibility,
    obviously, in the expression
  354. "It is raining,"
    but at the same time we really
  355. have no idea.
  356. It can lead us in strange
    directions, this "it":
  357. Jupiter Pluvius,
    God, the cosmos,
  358. the clouds.
  359. Some of it is plausible but
    none of it is definite.
  360. We realize that "it"
    is a kind of placeholder in the
  361. sentence that is not doing its
    job and,
  362. believe me, it's not just in
  363. As I said before,
    it's a phenomenon that you can
  364. find in any language,
    even in the expression "It
  365. is raining"--
    il pleut,
  366. es regnet,
    and so on.
  367. In all of those expressions,
  368. is not doing its job,
    so that's another way in which,
  369. if we lean on a speech,
    we have to realize that we're
  370. in the presence of what the
    economists again would call
  371. irrationality.
  372. That has to do with the way in
    which predication works in
  373. language.
  374. As I said before,
    an assertion,
  375. a statement of truth--
    an assertion of any kind is the
  376. utterance of a metaphor,
    because the deep structure of
  377. any assertion is that A is B.
  378. That is an assertion by
  379. but--"A is B,"
    and of course when that
  380. construction is grammatical--
    in other words,
  381. when it makes what the
    grammarians call a copula--
  382. when the construction is
  383. well, that's fine because we
    understand that the relationship
  384. between A and B is not a
    relationship that's insistently
  385. one of identity;
    that a connection is being
  386. made--a connection which de Man,
    for example,
  387. would call metonymic--in
  388. The problem is that any
    sentence which declares that A
  389. is B metonymically--
    that is to say,
  390. as a grammatical proposition--
    is at the same time,
  391. if we simply look at the
    sentence for what it is,
  392. which is a metaphor,
    an insistence that A is
  393. B in the sense that A is A--
    is a metaphor,
  394. in other words which doesn't
    stand on all fours.
  395. No metaphor does.
  396. It has an element of what's
    called catachresis in it,
  397. and therefore in a certain
    sense, as we read the sentence,
  398. necessarily undermines the
    sentence's grammatical
  399. structure.
  400. This is the point that de Man
    is making in "Semiology and
  401. Rhetoric,"
    that there is a perpetual
  402. tension in any utterance between
    grammar and rhetoric.
  403. There is no utterance that's
    not grammatical,
  404. there's no utterance that's not
  405. but unfortunately grammar and
    rhetoric are always rather
  406. openly or subtly at odds with
    each other,
  407. just in the way that metaphor
    and predication really have to
  408. be at odds with each other.
  409. In other words,
    there isn't a sentence in which
  410. the rules of grammar and syntax
    are not subtly interfering with
  411. what you might call the rules of
  412. the ways in which tropes,
    in other words,
  413. deploy themselves,
    ways which can be distilled in
  414. an understanding of what we call
  415. So every sentence,
    as I say, is shadowed not just
  416. by the vagaries of sound,
    not just by semantic drift,
  417. but by the incompatibility of
    grammar and rhetoric,
  418. and all of that is implicit in
    what Saussure and his tradition
  419. call language.
  420. Those are the ways,
    in other words,
  421. in which language,
    if I can put it this way,
  422. speaks through speech,
    the ways in which anything that
  423. we say on any occasion is
    shadowed by another voice.
  424. We've understood this in social
    terms as Bakhtinian polyglossia.
  425. We have understood this in
    psychoanalytic terms as the
  426. discourse of the otherness of
    the unconscious.
  427. We have understood this in
    purely linguistic terms as
  428. language,
    but we can, I think,
  429. metaphorically speaking,
    understand it now as well as a
  430. kind of speech.
  431. Language is an unintentional
  432. Language is just that speech
    which, we recognize--having gone
  433. through the sort of analysis
    that I've been attempting--is
  434. not governed by intention.
  435. Keep in mind:
    nobody--no theorist,
  436. nobody in his right mind--would
    ever try to resist the claim
  437. that speech is intentional,
    that we intend what we say.
  438. That's the way in which Knapp
    and Michaels are right and give
  439. us a bracing reminder about
    things where our skepticism is
  440. misplaced.
  441. The idea that speech is somehow
    not intended--what could that
  442. mean?
  443. Speech just is
    intention, but I've been trying
  444. to argue that there is a speech,
    the "speech of
  445. language,"
    which is unintentional,
  446. which is just there.
  447. It can't be factored out.
  448. It can be bracketed,
    but it can't be set aside as
  449. though it were not there.
  450. It will always come back.
  451. It will always confront us at
    some point if we take the arts
  452. of interpretation seriously
  453. if, in other words,
    we really do bring some
  454. pressure to bear on the things
    that people say:
  455. not just a pragmatic pressure,
    which I think works just fine
  456. for most of us,
    but a pressure that goes beyond
  457. the pragmatic and notices what's
    really in a sentence,
  458. what's really in anybody's
  459. Language speaks through speech
    partly as its origin.
  460. In other words,
    the way language gets into
  461. something that you or I might
    say is a reminder to us that
  462. what we say comes from
  463. It has an origin and its origin
    is precisely language.
  464. Language keeps saying,
    "Oh, oh,
  465. here I am,"
    your origin,
  466. right?
  467. The birth of what you're doing,
    in other words,
  468. way back before you discovered
    that language was useful for
  469. something.
  470. Remember what we said about
    that last time:
  471. you have to discover that fire
    is useful for cooking.
  472. Fire is not "for"
  473. A cave is not for dwelling.
  474. A prehensile thumb is not for
  475. You have to discover the ways
    in which this is the case.
  476. Language is there in what we
    say to remind us that it wasn't
  477. always the case,
    to remind us that it's just the
  478. origin of a history of conscious
    expression during the course of
  479. which we began the never-ending
    process of trying to master
  480. language.
  481. That's, of course,
    what it is to be a writer.
  482. You try to wrestle language
    into submission.
  483. That's the ambition of all of
    us, whether we're writing the
  484. great American novel or revising
    a term paper.
  485. We're wrestling language into
    submission, and we all know it's
  486. not easy.
  487. I'm just trying to explain some
    of the reasons why it's not
  488. easy.
  489. So language speaks through us
    as the origin of speech,
  490. but it also speaks as the death
    of speech.
  491. It speaks, in other words,
    as the moment in which the
  492. purposeful agency of speech is
    finally called into question,
  493. in a certain sense undermined.
  494. I think it's appropriate,
    I think it's fair,
  495. to call language--again
  496. the epitaph of speech,
    the way in which in any given
  497. speech the end of its own agency
    is inscribed even as that agency
  498. is going forward.
  499. Now I want to test this example
    and also show you a little bit
  500. more about the way semantic
  501. but even more than that about
    the way the perilous
  502. relationship between grammar and
    syntax and rhetoric works.
  503. I want to actually try out on
    you a couple of epitaphs.
  504. If language is the epitaph of
    speech, why not talk for a
  505. little bit about epitaphs?
  506. Now my favorite epitaph by far:
  507. well, we won't speculate about
    where such an epitaph might be
  508. found,
    but if and when you come across
  509. it walking through a cemetery,
    it'll probably elicit a chuckle.
  510. On the gravestone it says,
    "I told you I was
  511. sick."
  512. >
  513. Now this is a very interesting
    expression for a number of
  514. reasons.
  515. For one thing,
    and one should pause over this,
  516. one can infer speakers
    speaking efficaciously,
  517. not just one but many.
  518. There's plenty of precedent for
    this in Emily Dickinson and in
  519. other writers.
  520. The most obvious speaker is the
    dead person speaking from the
  521. grave: "there I was,
    sitting in the corner all those
  522. years telling you I had a
  523. You never listened to me"
    and so on.
  524. That is the most obvious
    identification of a speaker,
  525. but of course the speaker could
    be somebody else,
  526. and I'm not introducing
    a measure of skepticism in
  527. saying this.
  528. When we posit an intention,
    we just decide which of these
  529. speakers it is.
  530. The speaker could be an
    apologetic relative,
  531. someone acknowledging that they
    hadn't listened,
  532. but with a sense of humor,
    and so putting in the voice of
  533. the dead person the complaint,
    "I told you I was
  534. sick" as a form of apology:
  535. I know you did,
    and unfortunately I had to go
  536. to the grocery store."
  537. >
  538. That, too, can be the speaker.
  539. Well, on the other hand,
    it could be someone simply
  540. moralizing over the grave,
    which is a frequent habit of
  541. the eighteenth century--
    one of my periods,
  542. so I'm familiar with it.
  543. It could be a
  544. "Well, this is the human
  545. >
  546. as I kept telling you.
  547. I published thirteen books,
    the whole purport of which was
  548. 'I am sick.'
  549. I'm Dostoevsky's Underground
  550. I am a sick man.
  551. I am a very sick man.
  552. Well, let it get worse."
  553. It could be in this mode that a
    philosopher is moralizing over
  554. the grave, or again it could be
    a cultural critic.
  555. It could be someone in a kind
    of an allegorical mood
  556. inscribing on the gravestone the
    death of culture.
  557. Civilization has been in a bad
    way for a long time and here
  558. finally it lies.
  559. The way to communicate this
    would then be,
  560. "I told you I was sick:
    civilization has ways of
  561. letting us know that all is not
    well with it:
  562. we didn't pay any attention,
    and here is the result."
  563. I would say that all of those
    ways of reading the epitaph are
  564. consistent with hermeneutics.
  565. They are consistent with the
    way in which we can try to come
  566. to terms with the intention of a
  567. but suppose we say that
  568. must be obtruding itself in
    this utterance like any other.
  569. What would that be?
  570. You see, that isn't just a
    question of sound.
  571. It isn't even a question of
    semantic drift,
  572. in this case.
  573. It's a question of our suddenly
    coming to understand the
  574. sentence in a way that perhaps
    no individual speaker would want
  575. to give it.
  576. It's an allegory,
    precisely, cleverly introduced
  577. by language,
    about the inefficacy of speech.
  578. That's just the problem with
    speech, isn't it?
  579. "Again and again and again
    I tell you something and you
  580. don't listen"--
    that's the problem with being a
  581. lecturer,
  582. that sort of "I told you I
    was sick and you--"
  583. "Oh, well.
  584. He's just joking."
  585. So it is--according to the
    allegory introduced by language
  586. at the expense of speech--with
    speech in general.
  587. It's an allegory about the
    limits of communication because
  588. that's,
    after all, what the
  589. speaker--insofar as there is a
    speaker inscribing this
  590. expression on the gravestone--
    is concerned about.
  591. This person sitting in the
    corner, complaining bitterly
  592. about nobody ever listening to
    her or to him,
  593. is actually an allegorist
    telling us that that's the way
  594. speech is.
  595. Speech, in other words,
    has its limits.
  596. In a sense then,
    when I say language is the
  597. epitaph of speech,
    we realize that if we
  598. understand this utterance as an
  599. it is precisely speech that's
    lying here--
  600. the end, as I suggested,
    of speech's powers of
  601. communication as announced or
    declared by language.
  602. Well, let's try another one:
    "Here lies John Doe,"
  603. probably the Ur-epitaph.
  604. Supply your own name:
    "Here lies John Doe."
  605. Well, let's not even pause over
    the speaker there.
  606. Let's get immediately to the
    problems posed by language.
  607. In the first place,
    John Doe obviously does not lie
  608. precisely "here,"
  609. In fact, if you think about it,
    it's altogether possible that
  610. John Doe could be absolutely
    anywhere except precisely
  611. "here,"
    because where the sentence is
  612. we know John Doe not to be.
  613. He could be anyplace else,
    as I say.
  614. So any epitaph is therefore a
    self-declared cenotaph,
  615. an inscription on a place where
    the body isn't,
  616. which of course tells us a lot,
  617. about the arbitrary nature of
  618. Language does not hook on to
    the real world.
  619. It doesn't hook on to the body.
  620. The one place where language is
    not is on the body.
  621. The one place where language is
    not is on things.
  622. Speech is on things.
  623. Speech can be inscribed on a
    piece of rock.
  624. So "Here lies John
    Doe," except not here,
  625. anyplace but here--which is
    why, of course,
  626. the interest of the word
  627. is so interesting.
  628. >
  629. The utterance is a lie,
    but it's not John Doe who lies.
  630. Poor John Doe is just lying
  631. John Doe is not lying, right?
  632. It's language
  633. that's making speech lie,
    and it's doing it on any number
  634. of levels, as we've seen.
  635. It's a funny thing about
    epitaphs, and this has been
  636. noted by certain authors writing
    in the tradition of what we
  637. loosely call
  638. the epitaph is a particularly
    fruitful locus for the study of
  639. the ways in which language
  640. undermines, and displaces
    speech, and as I say,
  641. these two examples show more or
    less the way that works.
  642. So speech lies everywhere
    except here--
  643. I don't mean
    here!--speech lies
  644. because it can never stop being
  645. and therefore we can never
    really possibly mean exactly
  646. what we say.
  647. We can mean what we say,
    but we can't mean exactly what
  648. That's probably the most
    commonsensical way of putting
  649. we say.
  650. the matter.
  651. When Stanley Cavell poses the
    question in the title of one of
  652. his books, Must We Mean What
    We Say?
  653. >
  654. he is actually offering us the
    possibility that maybe that's
  655. not the be all and end all of
    speaking, >
  656. that the speech-act situation
    is more complicated than that.
  657. Sure, we all have it at heart
    as an objective to mean what we
  658. say,
    but at the same time in
  659. speaking we are performing,
    we're acting,
  660. as the neo-pragmatist would
  661. and we're doing all kinds of
    things besides meaning.
  662. That really needs to be taken
    into account,
  663. even in understanding what
    speech can do,
  664. let alone in understanding what
    speech can't do.
  665. So it's plausible to say that
    yes, we can mean what we say;
  666. but it's a question--indeed,
    it's a very insistent
  667. question--whether we can mean
    exactly what we say.
  668. Now you ask--you must ask,
    because after all it's been our
  669. constant guide--
    you ask, "Does language
  670. speak in Tony the Tow
  671. I know this has been on your
    mind, and so of course we have
  672. to address it.
  673. I think there are a few
    interesting things to be said
  674. about that.
  675. I spoke earlier in the semester
    about the parade on the vertical
  676. axis, of that vertical axis,
    called "I."
  677. As you read the text,
    there it is,
  678. >
  679. sort of out of Lacan,
    out of Lacanian feminism,
  680. however you look:
    the phallogocenter right there,
  681. I.
  682. But now I is never the
    first word spoken by an infant.
  683. That's another lesson of Lacan.
  684. I is what you have to
    learn how to be--
  685. maybe to put it in Judith
    Butler's terms--
  686. so that I,
    insofar as it is this
  687. incredible upright pillar
    starting one sentence after
  688. another in Tony the Tow
  689. is a promise of,
    precisely, agency:
  690. the promise of the kind of
    identity which stands upright,
  691. which is a successful
    simulacrum of what is seen in
  692. the mirror,
    and which then develops into
  693. what Freud called,
    referring to the way in which
  694. infants begin to get their way
    in the world,
  695. "his majesty the ego."
  696. So the I has that
    function, but as I've said,
  697. it's a story about friendship,
    and the I disappears.
  698. This, too, I think,
    can be communicated as relevant
  699. to the infant in ways that at
    the functional level of language
  700. can't really be called speech.
  701. For example,
    the friendship exists between
  702. Bumpy [pron.
  703. BUM-py]
    and Tony [pron.TO-ny],
  704. uh-oh:
    long before the baby says
  705. "I,"
    it says "uh-oh,"
  706. and that "uh-oh"
    resonates in the friendship of
  707. Bumpy and Tony.
  708. Why "uh-oh?"
  709. Because Tony is stuck and
    Tony's natural response to being
  710. stuck would be,
  711. Along comes Bumpy
    and--"uh-oh"--not only
  712. recognizes the problem but takes
    care of the problem.
  713. Now on the other hand,
    the problem of self,
  714. the problem that's caught up in
    this vertical I,
  715. comes into focus for the infant
    as the awareness of otherness or
  716. that which is alien.
  717. That which is irreducible to
    the self begins to come into
  718. focus,
    and a way of expressing this is
  719. to say,
  720. which is perhaps in some way or
    another a mask or a simulacrum
  721. of "he-he-he-he."
  722. I think it's for that reason
    that the two antagonists of the
  723. story, the unassimilable others
    who do not help,
  724. are called Speedy [pron.
  725. SPEE-dee]
    and Neato [pron.
  726. NEE-to].
  727. In other words,
    that sense of otherness--
  728. of that which is intractable,
    that which cannot be reduced
  729. effectively to self--
    is I think articulated in
  730. "e-e-e."
  731. In other words,
    what the infant speaks is not
  732. speech, is it?
  733. It's language.
  734. If you want to hear language in
    speech, just listen to a baby.
  735. That's why nonsense verse has
    such appeal to young children.
  736. They're still hearing language.
  737. It's a way of putting
    Wordsworth's "Intimations
  738. Ode."
  739. They're still hearing the
    mighty waters rolling evermore.
  740. They're hearing "ohm"
    where we're all hearing speech.
  741. As I say, ontogeny
    recapitulates phylogeny.
  742. The history of the human
    species is a history of coming
  743. to terms with speech,
    mastering speech--or,
  744. I should say,
    perhaps, mastering language.
  745. Well, so it is in the
  746. The individual who is hard
    wired--isn't he?--for language
  747. must somehow or another wrestle
    that hard wiring in to what we
  748. call speech.
  749. So the first thing we hear in
    an infant,
  750. and maybe what is most
    predominant in stories for
  751. toddlers and in nonsense verse,
    is language,
  752. which you don't reduce
  753. you don't parse it semantically.
  754. Sure, I've just interpreted it
    into a kind of meaning,
  755. but it's a meaning which comes
    simply from the observation of
  756. feelings and noticing what
    children actually say on actual
  757. occasions,
    which can't really be called
  758. speech but is rather a kind of
    experimentation with language
  759. dragging itself toward speech.
  760. It's not anything that one
    would ever really confuse with
  761. speech, yet partly an imitation
    of what is heard in the adult
  762. world.
  763. That's where you get
  764. But when the adult occasionally
  765. "Uh-oh,"
    there's nothing like the
  766. investment in it that there is
    in the child for whom it is very
  767. often the first articulate
  768. It is the encounter with
    otherness and the attempt to
  769. master otherness,
    as in Freud's story of
  770. fort/da,
    that this "uh-oh"
  771. seems to be expressing.
  772. All right.
  773. So much for Tony.
  774. I'd just like to
    confuse--I'd like to conclude
  775. with three theses.
  776. Well, you have to speak very
    carefully or language obtrudes.
  777. I had to say very
    carefully "three
  778. theses,"
  779. And of course I made a mistake
    just before.
  780. I didn't want to say
  781. did I?
  782. >
  783. Notice that "confuse"
    was not just anything getting
  784. in the way of communication.
  785. It was precisely what I
    did not want to say
  786. >
  787. --precisely.
  788. I could have said anything
    else, but I said
  789. "confuse."
  790. That is the Freudian slip that
    I've been talking about.
  791. Well, anyway,
  792. three theses about language.
  793. First, it never makes
  794. Language does not make sense.
  795. It's arbitrary.
  796. It is a system of arbitrary
    signs that are not natural
  797. signs.
  798. You make sense,
    not language.
  799. You make sense by invoking an
  800. that is to say,
    by having an intention--
  801. and wrestling language into
    speech: that is,
  802. commandeering language for your
  803. Language doesn't make sense;
    you make sense.
  804. Language in itself,
    secondly, says nothing about
  805. reality just because it is a
    system, a code,
  806. a system of arbitrary signs.
  807. I want to put it two different
    ways to show you what's going
  808. on.
  809. You come to terms,
    as we say, with reality.
  810. That is to say,
    you find the words for reality
  811. as you grasp it.
  812. Another way to put it is you
    figure it out.
  813. In other words,
    you come to understand what
  814. language is,
    "I figured it out,"
  815. but of course in rhetorical
  816. "figure"
    is precisely a figure of
  817. speech.
  818. You bring to bear figures just
    as you come to terms.
  819. You bring to bear figures on
  820. You figure it out.
  821. Finally, to adapt an expression
    with which you're probably
  822. familiar,
    I'll conclude simply by saying
  823. that the road to reality is
    paved with your
  824. intentions,
    be they good or bad.
  825. Thank you very much.