There is nothing outside the text.
Writing is a unique way of thinking.
Before I get into substance here, I just wanted to let readers know that my urologist assured me that the bloody discharge I noticed for the past few days is perfectly normal. It is the result of scabbing coming loose and some oozing associated with that. I wish, of course, that I had been made aware of this from the get-go so when it occurred I wouldn’t begin to question its occurrence. How about that for an idea, doctors fully informing patients of what to expect post surgery. If I live to be one hundred years old I wouldn’t expect that to actually happen.
I am also writing this much later than 11:11am Zulu time so it appears that the Mayans were wrong. If I had a nickle for every prediction that the world was going to come to an end I (and all of my family) would be financially secure for eons to come. When are people going to learn that these predictions are based on emotion and not on evidence? Probably never.
One of the things for which I am most grateful resulting from my prostate cancer and subsequent treatment is that I have been given an amazing opportunity to think about things that are important to me. Last night my wife, son and I met my niece for dinner. The conversation somehow came around to different ways of thinking and my niece asked me for a practical example of what I meant by “thinking in Greek” or “thinking in Jewish” or both. I responded, “What does an ethical life look like? Both philosophy and Talmudic discourse address this issue but they do it in quite different ways. I am interested in learning to “think in Jewish” as well as to continue to “think in Greek.”
She responded, “That is not practical.”
I think what she meant to say is that there is no direct connection to a lived-experience, to being-in-the-world. While in some strange way, she may be right, I am not certain that everything must be practical to be of interest. For example, one of the things that absolutely captivates me is the very nature of text. What did Derrida mean when he wrote, “There is nothing outside the text?” Is this even a practical thought? Perhaps.
For many years I spent a good deal of time arguing that writing derives from thinking and speaking, much in the same way that Emig wrote, “Writing is a unique way of thinking.” But writing is neither thinking or speaking; writing is a distinct signification; it is thinking made both visible and (semi) permanent.
Writing uses visible symbols, in our case the alphabet, organized into a representation of phonemes that is, in fact, a simulacrum of spoken language. At its core, the origin of writing is experience and the interpretation of that experience; the linguistic ability to make meaning from the lived-experience. Writing mirrors, but does not duplicate, speech while both have their origin in experience.
As speech, or orality, represents experience it is always already a text; a way of explaining experience as a derivative of the very experience it is intended to explain. At the same time, spoken language is always already removed from the experience it represents; it is distant from the experience it retells. It interprets events, choosing to report only those details deemed to be important to the meaning and deleting or omitting those that appear to contradict the meaning meant to be communicated. Speech is also a temporary solution to the problem of making meaning. Once an utterance is made it is lost, gone forever (unless it is recorded which presents an entirely different question, much in the same vein as writing). Spoken language is a face-to-face encounter requiring two or more people, a story teller and his or her audience.
The not so simple act of writing further removes the text from the experience in several ways. Written language has a grammar quite different from spoken language. In spoken language there is no visible punctuation; punctuation derives from pauses, grunts, um, y’know and the like. These mark the boundary of thoughts. In writing we make use of a variety of punctuation marks that separate, cause one to pause while reading and enclose the boundary of thought. Reading aloud does not sound at all like spoken language because the rules of written and spoken language are applied differently. Written text is speech formalized; archived in a (semi) permanent form. [I am using the term (semi) permanent to address the issue that written text may be lost or otherwise be unavailable so as to have no practical accessibility.]
Once written and published or otherwise made available for a reader, the archived written text lies dormant, removed still further from the experience captured in the sterility of the manuscript. In order for meaning to be made from written text, a reader is required; one who, through the act of reading, revives the text from its slumber thereby opening the text to a recursive, independent interpretation. Close reading of text requires one to independently make meaning from the squiggles and marks on the page in terms of a linguistic engagement with the text and the ability to make meaning through interpretation.
In both the case of text produced orally and text produced symbolically, the foundation of the text is that it is a recursive trace of an always already available experience.
- With Apologies to Bertrand Russell: Why I Am Not a Believer! (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)
- Adam Shatz: Derrida’s Secrets (lrb.co.uk)
- Thinking in Jewish II (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)
- Jacques Derrida and My Sister’s Dog (sketchingapresent.com)
- What is Deconstruction? (wordyweb.wordpress.com)
- Learning to “Think in Jewish” (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)
- Holy Cow, What Do I Do Now? (rogerpassman.wordpress.com)