Expression and Essence: The Metaphysics of Writing

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alterity / Aristotle / blueprint / break / essence / eyes / form / hallucination / hands / heidegger / Interpretation / language / limit / parasite / universal / univocal / writing

A verb is that which, in addition to its proper meaning, carries with it the notion of time.

No part of it has any independent meaning, and it is a sign of something said of something else… Verbs in and by themselves are substantival and have significance, for he who uses such expressions arrests the hearer’s mind, and fixes his attention; but they do not, as they stand, express any judgment, either positive or negative.

For neither are ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ or the participle ‘being’ significant of any fact, unless something further is added; for in themselves they do not indicate anything, but imply a copulation, of which we cannot form a conception apart from the things coupled.

(Aristotle, On Interpretation)

The unspoken is not merely what is deprived of sound; rather, it is the unsaid, what is not yet shown, what has not yet appeared on the scene… [what is not spoken] will linger in what is concealed as something unshowable. It is mystery. The addressed speaks as a pronouncement, in the sense of something allotted; its speech need not make a sound.

(Martin Heidegger, “The Way to Language”)

Being, Language, Difference

(anticipating the essence of language: of a break and a blueprint)

Let us follow, if we can, a line of thinking which must arrive at the essence of writing. In order to more linearly explicate (and also to more narrowly circumscribe and constrain the necessary exorbitance of such a procedure) we shall also follow a related line of thinking which discovers the characteristic nature of writing in a certain relation between the hands and the eyes, that is, of thought to time: this clearly, if in an obviously limited way, inscribes the way our investigation must proceed, onto a far horizon here only implicated.

What is a universal language, the essence of a universal script or pure language of forms? Anticipation of the beginning: is this not the essence we are bringing thought to unearth, uncannily to grasp, an extruded logic of being, or form of language itself: all in order to cause someone to catch a glimpse of the last writing, the “writing” of the end of writing? This mystical closure-by-anticipation is already non-language in its purified immediacy, its incapability of substitution (which characterizes linguistic signals.) Alterity is not the ultimate horizon of expressivity, but rather something not entirely of the order of language, though it is secret the essence of expressivity itself; that is to say: a pure difference in itself, a parasitic infestation, light and noise, radical exteriority.

The essence of language is immanent, and not clearly or rigorously grasped in anticipation, but rather in creativity, in improvisation and the positivity of pragmatic variation. Speech is more narrowly circumscribed than inscription or graphism in this regard, but also more temporal, immediately more dramatic, already a showing and a saying — a double- and triple-articulation — whereas writing or ‘virtual’ speaking holds these two (and more) senses of performative language at the (a) critical distance, and in this opening (which is also a closure) allows a new kind of drama to unfold — one which will close at its effacement or beginning, the erasure of the mark (by time, by noise, by disaster.) The conflict between the sound and the mark unleashes radical alterity itself, opening the curtains again the oldest drama, ungrounding the duplicitous serialism of comedy, releasing the infinite parallelism of tragedy.

We anticipate this beginning in all beginnings, this conflict between the law and the noise, the exception that founds the law, the noise from which channels and signals are created. The parasites invent language in order to exchange it for reality; the essence of language is that which is aware before it is aware, which is inherently capable of desire, of experimentation and hypothesis, of transgression and infestation and hallucination — activities prior to sense and to empirical conceptions of form, in short of graphical writing — this essence of anticipation is always what is implicated in language, whether consequently as in its passive and written sense of ‘marking,’ counting, scratching (re-production of signs)…

Yet these origins also bring us close to the real and primary essence of language (i.e., its infinite virtuality or unbounded expressivity) insofar as language is that presupposes, and is in anticipation of, the invention or distinction of spaces for thought to cross and traverse: language is constituted for these breaks, these rifts riven onto a smooth space which compose a kind of blueprint, a virtual model or design, and only symbolically or analogically implicated by a linearized stream of signals.

In German, der Riss means a crack, laceration, cleft, tear or rift; but it is also a plan, a design in drawing, a graphical or theoretical account, a blueprint. Heidegger plays on this double-sense of Riss and Aufriss when he tells us in The Way to Language that

…the unity in the essence of language that we are seeking is called the Rift-design [der Aufriss]. The name calls upon us to descry more clearly what is proper to the essence of language. Riss [rift] is the same word as ritzen [to notch or to carve]. We often come across the word Riss in the purely pejorative form, for example, a crack on the wall. Today when farmers speak in dialect about plowing a field, drawing furrows through it, they still say aufreissen or umreissen [lit. to tear up, to rend or rive, to turn over]. They open the field, that it may harbor seed and growth. The Rift-design is the totality of traits in the kind of drawing that permeates what is opened up and set free in language.

Martin Heidegger, “The Way to Language” (from Basic Writings p. 407)

A blueprint is as close to a perfect symbol for virtuality as there can be, except for its apparent ‘rigidity’; the virtual includes all blueprints which are possible and which ever could become possible; this is why the virtual contains but is greater than the potential. From virtualization to actualization, the break indicates the work of pure alterity itself, the mediation or rupture in itself which is what interprets us, that which digs into the mind to open us up that we may be set “free” — is this rupture only the drawing of what is at work in language?

Or is it also a fractal blueprint of the essence of humanity? Heidegger is arguing that an inevitable fracture-design emerges between the speaker and his or her speech; language is thus a faculty of opening and being-lacerated-open by expressivity; and in order to be opened up by langauge onto a shared world, in order to express ourselves through language, a blueprint must be made, the space or rift between the spoken and the unspoken must be crossed, opened up, turned over and made fruitful. Hence we find Heidegger claiming again later that “[t]he Rift-design [der Aurfriss] is the drawing of the essence of language, the well-joined structure of a showing in which what is addressed enjoins the speakers and their speech, enjoins the spoken and its unspoken.” [Heidegger, the Way to Language 407-8] This enjoinment is a putting into motion of the categories of being, of presence and absence, in order to bring language to a self-disclosure.

Heidegger achieves a description of a pure category of self-composition, a truth beyond onto-theology; yet this thought of language is still fixated upon the actuality or “verbality” of being, and hinges upon a secondary dialectics of presence and absence, of the spoken and unspoken. He seeks to transcend metaphysics itself by this kind of primary and even scientific procedure; yet his work still remains proscribed within the horizons of a fractured or aporetic writing, even of a kind of fractal science of writing which upsets the classical orientation of scientific thought.

If writing is structured around rifts, around ruptures and equivocations, around arbitrary interconnections of significance and deep confluences of meaning, then metaphysics has to be revolutionized, not only in terms of new concepts and images of thought but to revival and invention of different kinds of expressivity. Heidegger overturns metaphysics without bringing philosophy with him, playing upon an equivocation to destabilize the formal boundaries of thought, the unconscious ontological structures of thought operating beneath classical metaphysics (identity, analogy, univocity.) For example, Aristotle:

…it is possible both to affirm and to deny the presence of something which is present or of something which is not, and since these same affirmations and denials are possible with reference to those times which lie outside the present, it would be possible to contradict any affirmation or denial. Thus it is plain that every affirmation has an opposite denial, and similarly every denial an opposite affirmation…

[However,] the identity of subject and of predicate must not be ‘equivocal’.

(Aristotle, On Intepretation)

Do we now see any more clearly the essence of the individuation of language, or hyper-alterity within writing we are seeking to expose? Aristotle is here experiencing the line of univocity we are chasing, whose beginning is indeed ‘formless’. A fractal history of abstraction: association, diagnosis, linearization; imagism, graphism and phonetic writing; and finally analysis, critique, social transformation.

Yet this origin of society and science at once in the essence of anticipation of particularity (i.e., hypothesis, experimentation) is figured in a much larger horizon than writing itself, that of social articulation, the psychobiological production of expressivity, the noisy essence of sonority, the profound essences actualized in our feelings and intuitions. Is this a vaguely-exposited idealism “guaranteed” by the inevitable process of temporality — or a study into the heart of the singularity of expression, the production of universality through language, which always and is almost even definable by the fact that it joyously anticipates its positive results?

There is an unease in the imagination which is healed by the production of codes, blueprints, systems: it is the unlimitedness of thought in imagination that paradoxically limits it, and of itself develops its own positive limits: these are thresholds of generativity, partial disclosure, a closure or marking off of certain spaces which opens up new modalities of expression, revolutionizes production and amplifies natural creative potentialities. Affirmation is a revolutionary closure because writing closes the infinity of time, paradoxical because affirmation opens horizons: that is, underneath the static form there is always an affirmation of difference.

A positive boundary: the essence of abstraction and conservatism at once. Association or repetition must again be asserted against encoding, as substance to form, and by analogy as matter itself to its human account. A pure difference and rupture precedes the unification of the imagination which occurs in the primary inscription or encoding, a break which is also a design which comes before the mark or the distinction. An absence which precedes the presence, through whose holding back presence itself is produced.
But this is still too abstract, let us find another way to express the same essence at the heart of producing expression: the hands that write are also instruments of hearing and reading, the ears that listen are also instruments of the production of sound. The eye that reads projects light and meaning, constructing linear spaces of thought. The mind which is opened up by thinking also produces dream images, revolutioanry spaces of thought; even the “primary” forms of self-affection, the essence of consciousness, is quite naturally capable of the construction of enormously detailed dream-realities.

Symbols are and are not the basis for this process: both the production and the overturning of the symbol, both the positive construction of a limit and its overturning by traversing the space. In short, there is a principle at work: every signal-transducer functions both ways, sentience has non-equivocal being and cannot be produced in terms of an object or subject, but always and only of multiplicities, networks, symbolic exchanges, parasitic infestations…
As always, it is the insects which discover writing first: in the construction of linearized spaces of production. Not to mention their faculties of chemical expression: they write on the landscape itself, demarcating territories for reproduction, for food, for work, for birth, for death, etc. A whole religion, local and global at once. A “spirit” moving them all, or just a communication network? Or yet something more primordial indeed, a function simply of complexity itself, of chaos and emergence from noise?

Where is the unity of expressivity we so humbly demanded from language — it has fractured completely, there is nothing left but multiplicity, always languages. There is no “essence” of language to be discovered, no singularity at the heart of expression, but always the mobile force of alterity, of expressive networks, of productive intensities and divergent, that is to say alternate and minoritarian spaces of thought. Radical exclusivity is the foundation of gesture, pointing, showing and saying are in effect the same political movement: this “is” the “way” “this” “thing” “is” — a five-fold injunction, five layers of assumption: individual, social, political, spiritual, material.

Language is a mobile cage of representation and identity, a way to synchronize thought which is naturally and of its own accord a-temporal, and about divergences in speed between flows of energy, about conjunctions and networks and signals and alternate modes of temporality. By thinking, we can pierce the horizons of being.

Thought naturally escapes representation and the institution of sense, unless it is trained to also to need and desire it. This is the ‘natural’ or ‘civic’ state of humanity, in a sense a pre-social humanity, a humanity without society — which now brings us to a suitable point of incompletion, and also a question for further discussion; and we shall have to postpone this thought until then.

To conclude, a late video of Heidegger on the future of philosophy (with English subtitles).

The Author

mostly noise and glare

1 Comment

  1. Twitch of the death nerve says

    Prolific comes to mind…although I sit hear and wish that you could be more concrete. It is a sinful thing to ask, but…what else can you expect from me. The blueprint is a nice move, you could Deleuzianize and say diagram instead. Heidegger, however, is currently wishing his beloved sharers in the “inner greatness” of certain political movements might have won to save language from such an obvious understanding in “standing-reserve.” One wonders how it could be possible to see language differently than you express it in such a techo-philic culture as our own. It would seem that ol’ H was on to something.

    You say: “The essence of language is immanent, and not clearly or rigorously grasped in anticipation, but rather in creativity, in improvisation and the positivity of pragmatic variation.” And what of the hearer? How can one find the essence of language while only looking at half? The monad is lonely without windows or doors.

    To end…a warning: You are combining things that do not fit together as easily as you would like them too. I have already hinted at above. It would be nice for Spencer-Brown (yes I see him) and Heidegger to work together but I do not think this will turn out for the best. The logical and the mystical will remain enemies until the end…no matter what we do.

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