Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I'm reading Merleau-Ponty's essay "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence." He suggests that a history of painting that seeks to reveal a Reason underlying its history would be a kind of "Hegelian monstrosity." Merleau-Ponty criticizes Hegel's apparent accumulation of the totality of philosophy or of history, and his presumption to say affirmatively what that totality means to say. Hegel, he says, is a museum, in that the works collected there are converted, are perverted, by their juxtaposition and placement within walls, into an inevitable history dictated by a monstrous Reason or Spirit.

Yet later, he seems to suggest that language is such a monster. For instance:
The transparency of spoken language, that fine clarity of word which is only sound and that meaning which is only meaning,... and its would-be power of recapitulating and enclosing a whole process of expression in a single act -- are these not simply the highest point of a tacit and implicit accumulation of the same sort as painting? (Signs, 76)
Later, he tells us that the ambiguity of all literature, of all language really, is the price we pay, "that is, a conquering language which introduces us to unfamiliar perspectives instead of confirming our own" (77). This "conquering language" is also "the presumption to a total accumulation" (81) -- that is, an accumulation of meaning and of words.

It's as though, when we speak, while we simply engage in the act of speaking, at the same time (and indeed, for it to be possible for us to say anything), we are conquered by the tacit language, the presumption of a total accumulation.

The key difference is that, unlike the Hegelian monstrosity, language only pretends to total accumulation, and what makes it obvious that it is only a pretense, is ambiguity. Nonetheless, the tacit language is monstrous, conquers us in our attempts to speak, and aims to accumulate all words and all meaning. We forget this every time we speak, Merleau-Ponty claims, because every time we speak we intend to say exactly what we mean to say.

The tacit language is a silent monster, or else a monstrous silence, lurking beneath "our" language, every time we speak.

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

Will you shut the fuck up?!? You're gonna wake the goddamned MONSTER!!!