Saturday, February 21, 2015

Language and Being

There are things that have their being in (or through) language, and that have no other being than their being in (or through) language. There are also things that have a being in language (or a being in a language), leaving open the question of whether they have a being not in language (or a being not in a language).
      Questions therefore to be considered include: Do all things have their being in language? Does language in and of itself constitute the being of things? Can the being of things always be reduced to being in language? Is being in language the only possible mode of being? Is there a mode of being interior to language, as well as a mode of being exterior to language? Is there a mode of being that transcends language?
      Language may be instrumental to the being of things. Indeed, the meaning of the term “being” may only be definable in terms of, or by means of, language.
      Can it rightly be said that to be is to be in language? If so, then the answer to Hamlet’s question, “to be, or not to be?” may depend on whether language is or is not.
      Language may be a ground of being of things. Some things simply are because they are in language, i.e. because we can think linguistically, write, or speak about them.
      Beings may communicate through many kinds of natural and artificial languages, including word languages, sign languages, sound languages, symbolic languages, and numerical languages.
      To translate something from one language into another may be to transform its being in language.
      Walter Benjamin (1916) says that the linguistic being of things is their being in language, and that language is a medium by which the mental being of things can be communicated. (His definition of language does not explicitly include language as a medium by which the physical or spiritual being of things can be communicated.) He argues that mental being is identical with linguistic being only insofar as it communicates, or is capable of communicating, itself.1 Mental being is linguistic only insofar as it is in language or is capable of linguistically expressing itself.    
      If being is always in language, then our understanding of being may depend on our understanding of language (and its syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, and sociocultural dimensions). Our understanding of being may also depend on our familiarity with, and our knowledge of, the rules of language. Our understanding of things may be our understanding of them in or through language. Indeed, language may be necessary in order for us to think, speak, or communicate about them.
      Martin Heidegger (1927) describes discourse as constitutive of the existence of Dasein (being-there), and as the articulation of the intelligibility of being-in-the–world. He says, “The attuned intelligibility of being-in-the-world is expressed as discourse,” and “The way in which discourse gets expressed is language.”2
      Heidegger also raises the interesting question, “What kind of being does language have if there are “dead” languages?”3
      Is language prior to being or is being prior to language? Is the being of things a condition of the possibility of language, or is the being of language a condition of the possibility of the being of things?
      If language is the being of things, then a philosophy of being may require a philosophy of language.
      To formulate a theory of being may be to formulate a theory of language, and to formulate a theory of language may be to formulate a theory of being.
      If language is the being of things, then the embodiment of language may also be the embodiment of the being of things. If language is grounded in bodily experience, then so may be the being of things.
      If the being of things is always a “being thus” or a "being so" or a "being here" or a "being there" or a “being now” or a “being then," then so may be the being of language.
      Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960) describes language as a medium of hermeneutical experience, and as the medium of our understanding of the world. Everything we experience is conditioned by the linguistic nature of interpretation. Language is therefore a horizon of hermeneutic ontology. The horizons of language are also the horizons of our interpretation of the world. The world has its being for us in language, and language has its being for us in its representation of the world.4
      Jacques Derrida (1974) explains that the play of difference between written being and being written is also the play of difference between absence and presence, insofar as the metaphysics of presence conceptualizes written being as a kind of absence (of the writer for the reader), and being written as a kind of presence. To privilege presence over absence, and thus to ignore their interdependence, may be to try to evade a basic question of philosophy, the question of being (“what is, or is not?”).5


1Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913-1926, edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996) p. 63.
2Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), p. 151.
3Ibid., p 155.
4Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975), p. 401.
5Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Charkravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), pp. 18-19.

No comments:

Post a Comment