Bezalel's Compass

October 23, 2009

Derrida, Wittgenstien, and Augustine on Language

Filed under: Architecture, On Existence and Time, On Language & Communication — Eric G. Ivers @ 4:01 am

In Derrida we find a language that from its conception is fallen and a method of interpretation that is necessarily violent. “The death of absolutely proper naming, recognizing in a language the other as pure other, invoking it as what it is, is the death of the pure idiom reserved for the unique. Anterior to the possibility of violence in the current and derivative sense, there is, as the space of its possibility the violence of the arche-writing, the violence of difference, of classification, and of the system of appellations”. (OG 110) I find of  interest Derrida’s Notion of naming as violence. “There is a first violence to be named. To name, to give names that it will on occasion be forbidden to pronounce, such is the originary violence of language which consists in inscribing with a difference, in classifying, in suspending the vocative absolute”. (OG 112) The very act of creation, of fathering a text if you will, becomes violent, with no recourse beyond itself. In contrast to Derrida’s claim that the first violence of existence is to be named, Wittgenstein offers and alternate reality that sidesteps the issue of inherent violence and wagers all on the positive attempt to make one’s desire understood. In Wittgenstein’s view of infancy, he suggests that first there was a desire of learning to be understood (following Augustine) and the other freely complied to teach. There is an unspoken lack of violence which I think Derrida rightly supplements.  Nonetheless, Wittgenstein’s turning away from the Tractatus and his turning toward the ‘Philosophic Investigations’ amounts to a conscious break from language as a rational abstraction- a single ideal of clarity, toward a discussion as to the very nature of self and communication. Here the emphasis is no longer on language, but language as an expression of community understanding. In his discussion of “language as a form of life”, Wittgenstein questions the polarity between what amounts to as the footnotes of Plato and Aristotle, of rationalism and empiricism, of denoting and connoting. Now enters Augustine. In chapter 8 and 13 of Book 1, Augustine develops a picture of language as he recalls it from his infancy and boyhood. “Thus, little by little, I became conscious where I was; and to have a wish to express my wishes to those who could content them, and I could not; for the wishes were within me, and they without; nor could they by any sense of theirs enter within my spirit. So I flung about at random limbs and voice, making the few signs I could, and such as I could, like, though in truth very little like, what I wished. And then when I was not obeyed (my wishes being hurtful or unintelligible, then I was indignant with my elders for not submitting to me, with those owing me no service , for not serving me; and avenged myself on them by tears”. (CA, 5) It was not that my elders taught me words in any set method; but I, longing by cries and broken accents and various motions of my limbs to express my thoughts, that I might have my will, and yet unable to express all I willed, or to whom I willed, did myself, by the understanding which Thou, my God, gavest me, practice the sounds in my memory. When they named anything, and as they spoke turned towards it, I saw and remembered that they called what they would point out, by the names they uttered”. (CA, 9) Thus I exchanged with those about me these current signs of our wills, and so launched deeper into the stormy intercourse of human life, yet depending on parental authority and the beck of my elders. (CA, 9) It is within this passage that Wittgenstein opens up his “Philosophic Investigations” and introduces his idea of language games.  My interest in these two authors is not philosophic but rather more psychological and sociological or rather theological in the way these two men viewed language acquisition. James Wetzel (Villanova University) insightfully notes that though there are many affinities of thought between how a child comes to learn language, there is one poignant difference in literary motif. Augustine’s child learns language within the context of two parameters.  XIII begins with a prior understanding that was given to him by God and culminates with his dependence upon parental authority and ‘the beck of his elders’.  Contrasted to this account is Wittgenstein’s child whom Wetzel points out seems like a child in another country, “as if he once had parents… only not these ones.” In the subtext of Wittgenstein’s child is a deep seated alienation of which the child learns language in order to be delivered into a shared hope of a community. In other words, there is a stark difference between the child of Augustine and Wittgenstein. Augustine alludes to a pre-condition of language learning, namely of human nature, sin, grace and redemption. Augustine in the passage quote above precedes a future allusion to his conversion  and salvation where he ‘hears’ a voice say take up and read, “Tolle Lege”. The two points in time are similar since first there are tears, then a breaking of the will of desire by an-other, then a submitting to learn from the other, followed by a deepened dependence upon the other in the form of trust. This does not take place in Wittgenstein’s account, we simply come to a position where the child points, the teacher speaks and the child repeats. In other words, we have Augustine’s account stripped of the pre-conditions of his theology. But I think it is the pre-conditions that undergird the structure of this version of language.  I can hear Derrida whisper, “there is a first violence to be named…” but James Smith retorts, “Rather than being the first violence, to be named is to be loved, is to be part of a community”. (FI, 129) It is in Augustine’s account that the world of the child is first shaped by a trust; the child cries in hunger and is comforted by being pulled close to the loving mother’s breast. Later, the child only expands this world by watching the relationship between father and mother, the expressions of face and tenderness of voice; this is the whole world, the transcendent world of the other and its shapes the child’s immediate experience of it. Though it is not absolute and total in scope, it is adequate to form associations of relationships that ground one’s being-part-of-a-beautiful-world.


October 16, 2009

Truth in Dwelling

Filed under: On Existence and Time — Eric G. Ivers @ 9:47 pm

Heidegger in “The Origin of the Work of Art” opens the discussion by breaking into the hermeneutic circle of  the origin of a work and the work itself. In such a way he is able to open the discussion in regards to the nature of a work of art, its ability to show forth the revealing and concealing of truth, the role of the artist in the work  and the nature of the created poetic act. It is in Heidegger’s section regarding the work and truth that he points to the Greek temple and in such a way the work functions like a symbol. As a symbol it is able to function on two fronts, it “sets up a world” while it “holds open the Open of the world” and secondly, it let’s the earth ‘shine forth’ as is seen for the very first time. It is in this way that truth is revealed, but what are the consequences of this idea? It is one thing to say that truth is revealed in this matrix between earth and world and thus truth can be seen in many situations and contexts, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that there in no hierarchy of truth’s goodness or beauty amongst other truths. It is important to note that in Heidegger, the work of art springs from the historical-political-cultural wellspring of a people in time and space. The art is a consequence of  a community speech act, not a subjective expression. Thus its founding and preservation exist within that cultural milieu. That is the symbolic trust of its relative truth. Such, I think, is the nature of revolution. A truth symbolized in one generation, is found wanting in another where the ideas exceed the limits of a language, it is reformed.

Heidegger, in Building Dwelling Thinking writes a wonderful essay on the origin of dwelling and grounds it in the cultural milieu of a people’s way of being in the world. This lecture was given at a conference regarding housing shortages and the need to provide dwellings but Heidegger was wary of such building without contextual underpinnings. But could isn’t such building methodology in fact the revealing of truth in our current cultural state of being? Is not the heterogeneous alienation and individualistic will toward petty consumption the very hallmarks of truth (however grim) in our age? Isn’t the unrootedness and lack of “dwelling” the symbol of our culture? And should we hold the truth of this age’s cultural symbol as equal in beauty and goodness as other epics in history? Does not the desire of cultural revolution imply to some degree a hegemony of one truth over against another? Does Heidegger have a certain nostalgia for the past that informs a current view of truth now? Did I completely miss the boat?

Truth and Finitude

Filed under: On Existence and Time — Eric G. Ivers @ 7:30 pm

Much of Heideggarian language is intertwined with Judeo-Christian concepts such  as the advent, incarnation, messianic being, eskaton, etc. Though the words are similar, there usage can be quite different. For example,  underlying Heidegger’s notion of truth is his understanding of fallen-ness. Because of man’s spatio-temporal constitution, he is finite. This fallen-ness is not linked to an Edenic fall from a state of pure presence, but is structurally interwoven in the nature of  man’s original existence. The first fall  is simply being in the world, thrown into time, into space and being constituted as-such from thence.  As being finite he is without access to a transcendent state of pure presence… the infinite other to himself.  Hence, truth is always partial and temporal and in a perpetual state of becoming that points teleologically toward a future but never arriving advent of pure being. This word play I think underscores Heidegger’s philosophic project, namely that taking a hold of a cultural-historical existence, in this case Christianity, so as to shake up the tree of language so to speak, in order to partake of a slightly unfamiliar and different fruit. This should come as no surprise since Heidegger begins his training in an Aristotelian-saturated catholic background, moving on to a later scholarship in studies of Luther, Augustine and Kierkegaard to name a few. How does this backdrop in some ways formulate or spawn the thought of Heidegger? To what degree is his phenomenology indebted to the rootedness in the Judeo-Christian scheme of things?  What are parallels between an orthodox view of existence, say in Augustine, and what are the points of divergence? What does Heidegger’s view of truth and God offer to redirected theology as such?

Poiesis and Ecclesiatical Architecture – How to Speak about God

Filed under: on idolatry — Eric G. Ivers @ 6:25 pm

How does one situate the project of building houses of worship in light of the strict prohibitions regarding idolatry and graven images set forth in Exodus? How does on justly speak of God who is by definition ‘unspeakable’? Heidegger, it is well-known, has a lot to say about idolatry, philosophical gods and Christianity. In our attempt to speak of  God do we define Him in our own image? Can we help but to do anything otherwise? Heidegger suggests that instead of comprehending God and re-presenting his Being in a faint trace of an unjust concept, we should think of God otherwise. “All art is essentially poetry” says Heidegger and “poetry is the founding of truth.” For Heidegger, art is a means in which that which has become ordinary in its everyday use can be shook up to reveal the unfamiliar and awe-inspiring of the hither to unrevealed nature of a being. Here poetry does not aim at defining in totality but uncovering an aspect of what has yet to be seen. It formally indicates an understanding rather than circumscribes a knowledge of an object. If this is the case, then can such a change in our ways of speaking of God allow art a method to sidestep its prohibition against representational art? An if so, what would such a methodology  look like?

October 14, 2009

The Bridge of Poetry

Filed under: On Existence and Time — Eric G. Ivers @ 5:45 pm

Though I can appreciate the Heidegger’s desire to express the artist will to create, I think his thesis overstepped a necessary boundary. Where I would attempt to construct a bridge between a transcendental knowledge and an imminent experience, Heidegger seems to have crossed the bridge and then in effect, burnt it, finding himself confident upon the existential shores of an empiric being.  He overlooks the importance of the bridge as the point of contact, more precisely, of a point of communion between the two polarities. Languages as understood transcendentally synchronic and immanently diachronic meet in the particular moment of contextual usage as an application of community/ individual dialogue. It is within a dynamic model of language, as informed through a We-I relatedness of meaning as application that both the will to express immediate experience and the abstracting of classificatory relationships come together in a moment of associative integration… poetry. The question rightly asked then is, “From where do transcend ideas originate? or come to being? What constitutes this logos? How do we come to know of it? How is this bridge formed?”

October 3, 2009

The Origin of the Work of Art

Filed under: Art — Eric G. Ivers @ 6:06 am

Heidegger’s project claims, following Nietzsche, that western philosophy has falsely erected a bastion of metaphysic that since Plato has mis-guided how we approach things in the world. Instead of inquiring into the nature of being itself, philosophy has leaped past this question to pursue questions regarding the essences of beings or entities. Secondly, philosophy for Heidegger is not the pursuit of truth within transcendent objects outside of space and time (i.e. forms, things outside reality, etc) but the description of things as they are experienced and become present in time and history.

In his essay, The Origin of the Work of Art, Heidegger questions both these traditional notions of being and truth by examining the poetic nature of art as a means of creating and preserving truth amongst a history of people. “Art” for Heidegger, “is the becoming and happening of truth” This occurs at the point of conflict and union between earth (i.e. nature?) and world (i.e. culture?). Truth is the un-concealing of being and beauty is the “shining forth” of its self-concealment. The “setting up of the world” and “setting forth of the earth” constitute the work-being of a work of art. Truth establishes itself in this relationship and the creation of a work of art is truth being “fixed in place in the figure”.

Current deliberations that I have concerning “The Origin of the Work of Art” specifically and Heidegger’s thought in general relate mainly to the author’s reduction of transcendent logos to immanent becoming. Here, I can’t help but note an Aristotelian preference over Plato, whether intentional or not. Is there a place for transcendence apart from immanence? Can’t we have both? And are the two wholly other to themselves or is there a possibility of mutual in-dwelling between them? Secondly, I am unsure of the inherent conflict between world and earth. In a section of the essay that seemed to contain so many sexual overtones, I couldn’t help but wonder why the mutual relationship couldn’t be one of love instead of violence, dominion instead of domination. Does this have an implication into the nature of “knowing” itself?  Lastly, it was in a quote from “Contributions to Philosophy” that initially spawned my interest in Heidegger’s attack on the conceptual idolatry of western philosophy. He says: “…those in the crossing must in the end know what is mistaken by all urging for intelligibility: that every thinking of being, all philosophy, can never be confirmed by ‘facts,’ i.e., by beings. Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy. Those who idolize ‘facts’ never notice that their idols only shine in a borrowed light. They are also meant not to notice this; for thereupon they would have to be at a loss and therefore useless. But idolizers and idols are used wherever gods are in flight and so announce their nearness.” But the more I study I must ask, all idols being equal, what ensures that Apollo is not simply being replaced by Dionysius? Is this simply a different metaphysic…Being at rest swallowed up in the perpetual motion of becoming? Is the nature of art and philosophy relegated to side with one or the other? Though I side with Heidegger (and Nietzsche) with regards to the idols of western philosophy, I am not sure that a being’s teleological existence, by itself, leaves poetic knowing on any better of a foundation. The gift of poetry, in my mind, stems from the artist ability to associate the particular in time to the universal outside time and vice versa. The question in my mind should be, “What is it that allows a being’s participation into the knowing of the transcendent universals. And can that knowing simply be iconic rather than idolatrous?

Haiku #1

Filed under: Haiku — Eric G. Ivers @ 4:23 am

My spirit is crushed
Worlding, an unwelcomed hope,
Yet knuckles broken.

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