Wednesday, September 27, 2006

To Represent through Dancing

I'm still really enjoying Grassi's The Primordial Metaphor even if I can't wholeheartedly follow him into the abyss of pleasure and pain. He says wonderful things like "This is essentially what language is about: rhythm corresponding to movement" (p. 48). And, impressively, he arrives at this insight by way of tragedy according to Aristotle, and a strict interpretation of mimesis (mimeisthai), "to represent through dancing."

If you're going to get carried away by a metaphor for language, dance is the way to go. It's much more fun than displacement, or grammar, that magical word. And it may take you farther in the end than any other metaphor, with the possible exception of walking and its cousins, depending on whether you count steps or places. But do we need to be carried away by a metaphor? My view is that an adequate theory of language–here I use theory in Grassi's sense of "a theorein, a theater that allows us to see and discover reality in its entirity" (p. 44)–must neither underplay nor overplay the rhytmicity of speech. So what then of this faculty of correspondence? Perhaps Grassi and I are not terribly far apart. It would be an error to see correspondence as a purely cognitive operation. If essences are what concern us, then its essence is dialogic.

Now, as an experiment, try engaging in dialogue with a being who has very limited capacities for abstract thought, a real birdbrain. Those little warblers in the locust tree will do. Is what you share with the warblers language? Really they're just warblers. They warble about warbler things. You can mimic an interest in warbler things, but you can't become a warbler. They will realize this too soon enough. I don't think you should be calling it language unless you have thoroughly anthropomorphized your interlocuters, or warbelized yourself, in which case all bets are off. And if you do achieve mythic communion, please drop us a line.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 3:28 PM.


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