Things as Culture

It has never been the case that objects formed a system within language; that they were situated within the field of semiotics. They can of course be talked-of, as anything can be, but things are not language they are culture. This is the root of the confusion; language is culture & objects are culture & we can have discourses-of-objects/things (which in turn can become parts of culture) so that they are, indeed, incorporated into language but only through the processes of discourse-in-action-in-society not because they are in themselves a semiotic system.
We need to use semiotics & the other tools of language to think about things because we have discourses-of them. We need to use the tools for the study of language to think about things when they those things are being used in language; i.e. when discourses-of-things are at work in the interactional settings of society. When we are talking about things we need to focus on the talk and not the objects.



“Repression is a major aspect of the medieval Church’s resilience in
the face of dissent, but repression works best when driven by
passionate conviction and supported by majority opinions: so it is not
an adequate explanation for its own success.”
(d’Avray, MRR, p92)

ideas can hook up with one another and create a connecting network

In a short discussion of Leiris (whose work I do not know) Lévinas writes:

Whereas we are prone to reduce the signifying function to word-association and to think that the multiplicity of meaning produced by the verbal or other sign can be explained away by the network of associations where that verbal sign is located, instead with the notion of bifur, the process of word-association loses its fundamental role. Thought is originally word-erasing – that is to say, symbolic. And because thought is symbolic, ideas can hook up with one another and create a connecting network. Hence, whether this network is produced by the circumstances under which the word was learned or by its vocal similarities with other words, or even by its written form -thus enriched with everything the signs of writing themselves conjure up, this network owes its value not so much to the fact that it connects one thought to another but rather to the fact that it guarantees the presence of one given thought within another.

Emmanuel Lévinas and Didier Maleuvre, ‘Transcending Words: Concerning Word-Erasing’, Yale French Studies, 81 (1992)

This remarkable little echo-chamber of a paragraph reveberates with the pre-images of thinks to come; Wittgenstein, Benjamin, d’Avray.

Fragments of Benjamin

“Just as mosaics preserve their majesty despite their fragmentation into capricious particles, so philosophical contemplation is not lacking in momentum. Both are made up of the distinct and the disparate; and nothing could bear more powerful testimony to the transcendent force of the sacred image and the truth itself. The value of fragments of thought is all the greater the less direct their relationship to the underlying idea, and the brilliance of the representation depend as much on this value as the brilliance of the mosaic does on the glass plate. The relationship between the minute precision of the work and the proportions of the sculptural or intellectual whole demonstrates that truth content is only to be grasped through immersion in the most minute details of subject matter.”

Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, p28-29

accretion in conversion: continuities amid the discontinuities?

When discussing “the internalisation of new belief systems” d’Avray profers the following observation that “people are more easily converted to systems which overlap significantly with their existing convictions” (MRR p84).  There is in this something very odd.  I have become accunstomed to thinking about history (& especially the ‘history of ideas’) in terms of discontinuties but d’Avray clearly shows accretion to be involved as well.  What might be happening here is that different things are being worked over that seem related but are not becuase of scale, context, & different relations to social time & space. I suspect that one part of the story is that there is an issue of time involved & that what we are seeing here is that d’Avray is looking at the interface of change in conviction & ideas & that the ‘discontinutists’ (such as Foucault) are looking at the moments that are furtherest from such instances of change and transmutation.  We need both accertion & discontinuity to think through chnages in ideas, convictions, & thought.