The whole history of language and of human culture, he said, is to be found in the decision to renounce the immediate pleasure for the long-term benefit. Aaaaah to Ma-Ma, as Roman Jakobson has so well described it. The task of art, on the other hand, he said, is to find a way of returning to the Aaaah! but in such a way that it can be grasped by others, that it enters the sphere of the social. Is it a coincidence do you think, he said, that both Jakobson and Chomsky are Jews? That Chomsky's first published work was on the Hebrew language? I am of course not suggesting that Hebrew was the original language or is closer to the origins of language than any other language, just as I am not suggesting that Jews were the first at anything whatsoever. I am only wondering out loud, as others must have wondered, though no-one has, to my knowledge, put such ideas into print, for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, he said, the power of Chomsky's work has perhaps retarded rather than advanced our understanding of the origins of human language. For, like so many thinkers before him, but now in full awareness of what he is doing, Chomsky has found the means of cutting man off from his past and so from all other animals. There is a fierce rationality about Chomsky, he said, which more than one commentator, taking up hints in his own writing, has compared to that of Descartes. I myself, he said, prefer to see it as a Jewish trait, like the burning intellectual intensity of a Spinoza or a Wittgenstein. But if he is to be compared to Wittgenstein, he said, it has to be to the young Wittgenstein, for though Wittgenstein lost none of his intensity as he grew older he came to see that our confusions and failures are at least as important as our triumphs and successes and as much in need of explanation. Confusion for Descartes, on the other hand, he said, is something to be eliminated, much as Luther and Calvin wished to eliminate sin. But I am with the later Wittgenstein in this, Jack said, that I believe we eliminate sin and confusion at the cost of eliminating our humanity. On the other hand, he said, we should obviously not make a fetish of failure and confusion.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Noted: Gabriel Josipovici
Leafing through Gabriel Josipovici's novel Moo Pak for the purposes of wrapping up my brief notes on that novel, I happened upon this passage, late in the book, which I remember, but which in the wake of some of the anthropological stuff I've been reading jumped out at me even more: