Quotes on Partings

“Life is full of coming and goings that is the way of it.” – The wise sage Kermit the Frog

“Life consists of partings, said Arseny. But you can rejoice more fully in companionship when you remember that.” – Laurus

“Brother Hugo embraced the sea travelers at the dock. He wept and said:

Sometimes you wonder if it is worth getting attached to people if it will be this difficult to part with them later.

Arseny slapped Brother Hugo on the back as he embraced him:

You know, O friend, any meeting is surely more than the parting. There is emptiness before meeting someone, just nothing, but there is no longer emptiness after parting. After having met someone once, it is impossible to part completely. A person remains in the memory, as a part of the memory. The person created that part and that part lives, sometime coming into contact with its creator. Otherwise, how would we sense those dear to us from a distance?” – Laurus

Advertisements

What is wrong with athletics?

Josiah Royce on college athletics in 1908(!):

“The most unhappy features of the athletic, and in some measure of the fraternity, life in our colleges and universities are due to the false social prominence which the public opinion of those who have nothing to do with college life often focus upon our youth. The athletic evils, such as they are, of our academic world, are not due to the college students themselves nearly so much as the absurd social prominence which the newspapers and the vast modern crowds give to the contests which ought to be cheerful youthful sports.” – Philosophy of Loyalty

Signifying Rappers: I Dream of Jeannie and Black Rap

This section is by far the most enjoyable I’ve come across. DFW addresses a highly interesting concept that has been tickling my brain for weeks: why sitcoms and black rap are necessarily playing off each other and impossible to fuse. It’s gold.

Buy a copy for yourself.

It’s not that shit-talking blacks were barred from shows like Bewitched and The Munsters . . . rather, blacks never made it to the ‘60s sitcom because…what would they do there? The ‘60s sitcom was a overworld of witches, genies, Martians,ghosts, talking horses, thinking pigs, campy P.O.W. camps, patented mayhem as seemingly ruleless as a drama without genre. But ask yourself: is it more far-fetched that Jim Brown would guest-spot on I Dream of Jeannie, or that a show about an astronaut living with a bottled sexpot, one that made no reference to sex, much less racial strife, would rivet America’s attention in the summer of ‘67, when riots erupted in every major city? Which is weirder: an I Dream of Jeannie with blacks or without the,? Answer: they’re equally weird. Yet the second has haunted syndicated airwaves for two decades, while the first would punch a hole in the walls of rerun worlds as familiar to us as the little screen itself.

This division of experience into ‘weird’ and ‘normal, Them and Us, Terrorist and Freedom Fighter, voodoo and Roman Catholicism, is at the heart of white ambivalence about rap music. Just as N.W.A tell interviewers that their controversially violent Straight Outta Compton shocks only those who don’t live with violence every day, so I Dream of Jeannie’s mix of erotic chastity / magical science could only seem like ‘normal’ prime-time fare for suburbanites raised on sitcoms. Every travelogue is somebody else’s home movie. Every audience is two: that rapt because it finally hears its stories being told, and that rapt because it finally hears a story so utterly divorced from its own as to seem weird. These two groups—united nowhere else in life—share, in mass popular art, one audienceship, an illusion of union.

An episode [of I Dream of Jeannie] initially aired on June 12, 1967, features Tony, the space-age American, idly wishing aloud that he could live in the Old West, where men were Men. Jeannie, eager, all-powerful, and literal-minded (a deadly sit-combo), sends him and us back to Gopher Gulch, an old Rawhide set terrorized by rustlers led by veteran B-movie cowboy crooner Hoyt Axton. A High Noon spoof ensues, with Tony in good-guy white shooting his own foot but refusing Jeannie’s help: he must face Hoyt Axton alone. Tony finally ‘wins’ their burlesque gunfight, and he and Jeannie return to Cocoa Beach with a minute or so left in the episode (like suburbanites back from vacation the night before a workday) and just enough script left to savor, with an interrupting Roger Healey, their ended adventure.

Did anyone on the evening of June 12, 1967, snap off the set as the pseudo-Bedouin closing played to the roll of credits, turn to her hubby, and say, ‘What the hell was that’? The High Noon spoof certainly is a freaky premise for fantasy: Tony’s unwanted peril follows from getting his wish; but it turns out that this peril, this wish-gone-awry, is what he had craved without knowing it. All in a fantasy Florida never to be confused with the actual Florida of Walter Cronkite, itself the scene of some distinctly unfunny race riots in Tampa, which began the night before Tony Nelson went back to the Old West and raged at their worst between 8 PM and midnight Eastern Time, Monday, June 12, 1967, as the High Noon spoof aired.

The Tampa riots began on a muggy Sunday night when the falsely rumored shooting of a black youth by Tampa police brought aimless crowds onto the streets. Fires were started. Cops (who no doubt fantasized, like fellow Floridian Tony Nelson, that they could be cowboys) arrived and shoved a few kids. That’s really all it took: liquor and appliance stores were looted along the main drag of Black Tampa, TV’s presumably stolen and plugged in, perhaps to NBC’s local affiliate, just in time to see Tony Nelson wishing idly aloud that he could return to when men were Men. Mayhem came next . . .

A world would end if the mob at the foot of that Tampa offramp spilled into the Cocoa Beach of I Dream of Jeannie. Not onto the set of the television show, but rather, mystically, into the June 12, 1967, episode itself, posing a genre challenge the ‘60s sitcom never faced: absorb our riot; prove that you’re real enough. The NBC writers would brainstorm as the angry mob milled around on Tony Nelson’s Cocoa Beach lawn. Panicky calls from network and White House come in every five minutes: ‘Have you thought of anything yet?’ Tony Nelson would be hastily scripted to handle Hoyt Axton in five minutes instead of 25, then hastily flown by prop to Cocoa Beach to broker an overnight truce between the mob and the all-white Tampa police force, presiding at a Coroner’s Inquest to prove that the rumored shootings that sparked the riots had in reality never happened. Jeannie, eager if inept, would try to help by blinking Martin Luther King (the gracious civil rights leader agreeing to play himself in the interests of ending the violence) from Atlanta to plead for everyone to go back to their homes. King, however, is written to believe that the entire tableau is a product of a covert LSD dosing by the CIA, and tells Jeannie she isn’t real. ‘Oh, and I bet you’re Tommy Nelson, the famous astronaut,’ King says, pointing at Nelson. ‘That’s Tony,’ Larry Hagman corrects. (Laughter.)

The network, seeing that King has been scripted to refuse to help on the grounds that none of this is really happening, calls up the writers: ‘What the hell are you bastards doing down there? Have King speak to the goddamn rioters!’

But the writers cannot. This is a sitcom, after all, and they can no more violate genre than God can create something more perfect than Himself. THere must be a situation that is comedic, and they have resorted to that oldest situation: disbelief. Meanwhile, back within the episode, the Florida National Guard, pelted with rocks and epithets, are fixing bayonets. Tomy Nelson orders Jeannie to blink their rifles into cellos. (Laughter.) Malcolm X (portrayed by the versatile Nipsey Russell) is blinked back from Muslim Heaven, which looks suspiciously like the set used for scenes inside Jeannie’s bottle; and King and X argue about whose faults these riots (which King still maintains aren’t happening) are, until Jeannie intervenes. She pleads sweetly, looking straight at the camera (Barbara Eden smelling her first Emmy)

We must come together. Why can’t we come together? Come on, why the long faces?

[She tickles Malcolm X, who, in spite of himself, grins.] That’s right, Mr. X. And you, Dr. King? Can’t you give us a smile?

 

If this were an MGM musical, now might be an excellent moment for Barbara Eden to break into song, leading everybody … in rings around the Chryslers in the carport. Instead, the civil rivals are scripted to see the folly of their feud. Uniting, they placate the rioters. Order is restored, and a chastised Tampa Police Chief vows that in future things will be more just. His attack dog barks in cheerful agreement, prompting the inevitable sitcom close: ‘That makes it unanimous!’ (Uneasy Laughter. Applause.)

Rap’s sampling of I Dream of Jeannie blends homage and rampage, celebrating the open-ended transferability of shared cultured and attacking the segregation of the icon by mock-integrating it. – 69-73

DFW “Signifying Rappers” Part 2

Part 2 of my reading. It was published in 1990, so it has some distinctively dated elements.
I haven’t really had much exposure to intelligent exposition or claiming of post-Reaganism and white culture till this. Obviously part of the dated elements in someways but also why it is so charming. 

  Buy a copy for yourself.

 

Which is of course just to say that [rap] isn’t the O.E.D.’s—that bible of educated expectation’s—’music,’ this weird shit. Its values and foci are different, its precedents un-Anglo. Like the drum machine and scratch, sample and backbeat, the rapper’s ‘song’ is essentially an upper layer in the dense weave of rhythm that, in rap, usurps melody and harmony’s essential functions of identification, call, counterpoint, movement, and progression, the play of woven notes…until ‘rhythm’ compromises the essential definitions of rap itself: dance beats that afford unlimited bodily possibility, married rhythmically to complexly stressed lyrics that assert, both in message and meter, that things now can never be other than what IS. It’s the contrapuntal tension between the music’s celebration of freedom-in-Space (dance) and the rap’s tightly rhymed and metered rhetoric of imprisonment-in-Time, of a poverty of ‘set’ and self that only status and power as value and only neighborhood as audience…it’s this tension that gives rap’s ‘talk-on records’ their special and poignantly post-Reagan edge. – 57-58

For outsiders, rap’s hard to dissect, easy to move to. The command is: dance, don’t understand; participate, don’t manipulate. -59

Rap celebrates power, equating strength with style, and style with the ‘I’ in ‘Individuality.’ Rappers ‘dis’—dis-miss—the styleless, faceless. To ‘ill’ is to be weak or wrong; to ‘bite’ is to thieve another’s dope beat. And only the ill would bite.

But here’s the paradox out of which this sampler grows: def raps are only those bitten so def-ly as to cancel the source. In rap, existence is erection. The opposite of def is death. And the best proof of a right to use the phallic pronoun is to be so stylishly you that others (try to) dis or bite you, but cannot—repeat: cannot—ignore you. -60

Soon rap publicists will face a problem their porn counterparts encountered over a decade ago. Every single shocking act of sex or pain will have been ‘done’ symbolically, and, in the process, rap’s audience will have acquired a taste for bloody novelty. The result: our first ‘snuff’ rap record, which, rumor will have it, an actual person died making. Editorial writers will be appalled, giving the new snuff rappers the kind of jackpot of free publicity N.W.A. enjoyed in the spring of ‘89. -81

 

A lot of serious rap talks about the ends of things—illusions, lives, neighborhoods, rock ‘n’ roll, the World itself. If it is a true genre, it’s one conspicuous for the darkness of its vision: a kind of dystopian present from which no imaginative future can even emerge. Long-honored musical ‘messages’ of hope, faith, reconciliation, of the importance of basic compassion, peace, spirituality, political (dare one say economic?) equality have, here as everywhere in post-Reagan culture, been not just rejected but relegated to the status of an oh-come-on cliche, instant ridicule—c.f. The implications of those damned involuntary quotation marks around ‘messages.’ A roll of jaded streetwise eyes at one’s naivete effectively disses even the politest requests to hear about rap music’s ‘vision of the future’ or ‘program for change’—in the Scene such ideas are mutely regarded as either superannuated civil rights windmill-tilting or the glad-handing bullshit of the white politicians who, after all, built what rap lives in. – 82-83

 

Now, if Chucks’s cheek is tongueless, here*, he’s effected a weird (also brilliant, and scary) flip-flop of metonymy’s enabling lyric-function in the traditional war of rock/rebellion vs. censor/order. It’s well-known in pop history that slang and double entendre and even the tacit neologizing of innocuous words were used to make rock lyrics at once explicit or shocking enough to be ‘rock’ and suitable enough for the radio airplay rock needed— e.g. Baby, here is my love / I’d just love to love you equals Baby, here is my dick / I’d just love to fuck you —so that the traditional rocker can grin and look innocently around and ask well gee what’s so wrong with singing about love? Chuck D’s argument is a 180° on the pop-metonymy defense, here, and actually resembles closely a standard move in a different campaign, that of poststructuralist critics against the Thematic old guard in art and lit. Chuck D claims that ‘Uzi’ … is, in the lyrics, itself serving as nothing more than a metonym for self-reference. For Hard-rapper Chuck, something like I rap you my stuff / My lyrics take no guff …i.e., the song itself becomes the true deep referent in the meaning-layered lyrics of any music that wishes to enjoy the favors of outrage-hungry pop audience and conservative entertainment industry alike. This is the prototypical ‘80s-loop reversal, equivalent to arguing that singing ’Here is my dick’ is innocuous because ‘dick’ is actually functioning as a metonym for the ‘love’ that informs what are ‘really’ just love-song lyrics. That the obversion seems absurdly circular is a fact about semantics and usage, not about the ambition and neat creativity of a rapper who would strip artistic terms of contexts so traditional they’re pre-Greek.

*[Public Enemy’s Chuck D’s opening lines to Yo! Bum Rush the Show’s third cut: I show you my gun / My Uzi weighs a ton] -84-85

 

Octavio Paz: Paris Review Interview

Reading the interview (found here)  was excellent and very interesting. He jumped a little higher on my short list. This is the first few lines about the individual as a person and as a historical being as well. I found it eloquent and delightfully honest.

 

INTERVIEWER

Octavio, you were born in 1914, as you probably remember . . .

OCTAVIO PAZ

Not very well!

INTERVIEWER

. . . virtually in the middle of the Mexican Revolution and right on the eve of World War I. The century you’ve lived through has been one of almost perpetual war. Do you have anything good to say about the twentieth century?

PAZ

Well, I have survived, and I think that’s enough. History, you know, is one thing and our lives are something else. Our century has been terrible—one of the saddest in universal history—but our lives have always been more or less the same. Private lives are not historical. During the French or American revolutions, or during the wars between the Persians and the Greeks—during any great, universal event—history changes continually. But people live, work, fall in love, die, get sick, have friends, moments of illumination or sadness, and that has nothing to do with history. Or very little to do with it.

INTERVIEWER

So we are both in and out of history?

PAZ

Yes, history is our landscape or setting and we live through it. But the real drama, the real comedy also, is within us, and I think we can say the same for someone of the fifth century or for someone of a future century. Life is not historical, but something more like nature.

Robert Bly: My Father’s Wedding

My Father’s Wedding
1924

Today, lonely for my father, I saw
a log, or branch,
long, bent, ragged, bark gone.
I felt lonely for my father when I saw it.
It was the log
that lay near my uncle’s old milk wagon.

Some men live with an invisible limp,
stagger, or drag
a leg. Their sons are often angry.
Only recently I thought:
Doing what you want . . .
Is that like limping? Tracks of it show in sand.

Have you seen those giant bird-
men of Bhutan?
Men in bird masks, with pig noses, dancing,
teeth like a dog’s. sometimes
dancing on one bad leg!
They do what they want, the dog’s teeth say that!

But I grew up without dog’s teeth,
showed a whole body,
left only clear tracks in sand.
I learned to walk swiftly, easily,
no trace of a limp.
I even leaped a little. Guess where my defect is!

Then what? If a man, cautious
hides his limp,
Somebody has to limp it! Things
do it; the surroundings limp.
House walls get scars,
the car breaks down; matter, in drudgery, takes it up.

On my father’s wedding day,
no one was there
to hold him. Noble loneliness
held him. Since he never asked for pity
his friends thought he
was whole. Walking alone, he could carry it.

He came in limping. It was a simple
wedding, three
or four people. The man in black,
lifting the book, called for order.
And the invisible bride
stepped forward, before his own bride.

He married the invisible bride, not his own.
In her left
breast she carried three drops
that wound and kill. He already had
his barklike skin then,
made rough especially to repel the sympathy

he longed for, didn’t need, and wouldn’t accept.
They stopped. So
the words are read. The man in black
speaks the sentence. When the service
is over, I hold him
in my arms for the first time and the lat.

After that he was alone
and I was alone.
No friends came; he invited none.
His two-story house he turned
into a forest,
where both he and I are the hunters.

Buy Robert Bly’s book here.

Robert Bly’s “Words Rising”

 

I’ve been reading my way through

Stanislaw Wyspianski

The Man in the Black Coat Turns by Robert Bly. And I’ve had mixed responses to it. Some of his stuff is oddly specific or banal in tone or rhythm to my ears. Others are haunted by some presence of significance that belies the simplicity of his work. I’ll probably throw some more of his stuff up here soon. This poem in particular stapled itself to my stomach and forehead when I read it. It crystallizes some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve had or recalled. I think this poem ought to be read in conjunction to listening to George Cosby’s EP. Esp Vacant Grace, but really State of Undress would be best.

 

 

Check out George Cosby here.

Buy Robert Bly’s book here.

Words Rising

for Richard Eberhart

 

I open my journal, write a few
sounds with green ink, and suddenly
fierceness enters me, stars
begin to revolve, and to pick up
alligator dust from under the ocean.
The music comes, I feel the bushy
tail of the Great Bear
reach down and brush the sea floor.

 

All those lives we lived in the sunlit
shelves of the Dordogne, the thousand
tunes we sang to the skeletons
of Papua, the many times
we died – wounded – under the cloak
of an animal’s sniffing, all of these
return, and the grassy nights
we ran in the moonlight for hours.

 

Watery syllables come welling up.
Anger that barked and howled in the cave,
the luminous head of barley
the priest holds up, growls
from under fur, none of that is lost!
The old earth fragrance remains
in the word “and.” We experience
“the” in its lonely suffering.

 

We are bees then; language is the honey.
Now the honey lies stored in caves
beneath us, and the sound of words
carries what we do not.
When a man or woman feeds a few words
with private grief, the shames we knew
before we could invent
the wheel, then words grow. We slip out

 

into farmyards, where rabbits lie
stretched out on the ground for buyers.
Wicker baskets and hanged men
come to us as stanzas and vowels.
We see a million hands with dusty
palms turned up inside each verb,
lifted. There are eternal vows
held in the word “Jericho.”

 

Blessing them on the man who labors
in his tiny room, writing stanzas on the lamb;
blessings on the woman, who picks the brown
seeds of solitude in afternoon light
out of the black seeds of loneliness.
And blessings on the dictionary maker, huddled among
his bearded words, and on the setter of songs
who sleeps at night inside his violin case.

A new (but really old) ontology

Bob Sweetman, a ICS professor, was reflecting on Herman Dooyeweerd’s ontology in a comment to a recent ICS blog post. I found his ontology quite interesting:

The invitation to be in this and that way which I take to be a way of speaking about the divine active and creative presence that calls a world of creatures into being and that gifts that world’s creatures with capacities and possibilities that point it and them eschatonically is real in the sense that we do not make it up but it is not real in the sense of a philosophical realism: in the sense that it is not part of the concrete structure of this or that creature or of the cosmos as a whole. What that world is and is called and gifted to become is a response to the divine presence, the divine invitation, the calling and the gifting. [Cameron’s emphasis]

For me this is a new lens to look at ontology. It is an ontology not in an Aristotelian sense, but ontology as grace and love. To see how Bob fleshes this out read Dan’s article and then Bob’s comment.

Walter Benjamin: On Language as Such and on the Language of Man

benjamin So This is a more esoteric one. And will be published in installments. But only because its too long to digest in one sitting. His line of thought though is super clear once you get a feel for how he makes distinctions that any good German thinker makes.  He’s talking about the nature of language and the primary role of man because his language is one of naming. Walter Benjamin’s influence is far flung and a favorite of serious generalists, literary critics, and thinkers whose mouths and minds splash onto any available surface around them. (Much like coffee in my world). For the interested reader, I recommend the same version I have. It seems excellently translated by Jephcott, and is joyously bound. Click here for a copy.

 

“There is no event or thing in either animate or inanimate nature that does not in some way partake of language, for it is in the nature of all to communicate their mental meanings. This use of the word “language” is in no way metaphorical. For to think that we cannot imagine anything that does not communicate its mental nature in its expression is entirely meaningful;the greater or lesser degree of consciousness that is apparently (or really) involved in such communication cannot alter the fact that we cannot imagine a total absence of language in anything. An existence without relationship to language is an idea; but this idea can bear no fruit even within that realm of Ideas whose circumference defines the idea of God. – 314-315

 

…all expression, insofar as it is a communication of mental meaning, is to be classed as language. And expression, by its whole innermost nature, is certainly to be understood only as language; on the other hand, to understand a linguistic entity it is is always necessary to ask of which mental entity it is a direct expression. That is to say: the German language, for example, is by no means the expression of everything that we could — theoretically — express through it, but it is the direct expression of that which communicates itself in it. This “itself” is a mental entity. It is therefore obvious at once that the mental entity that communicates itself in language is not language itself but something to be distinguished from it. The view that the mental essence of a thing consists precisely in its language — this view, taken as a hypothesis, is the great abyss into which all linguistic theory threatens to fall,* and to survive suspended precisely over this abyss is its task. * Or is it, rather, the temptation to place at the outset a hypothesis that constitutes an abyss for all philosophizing?” -315

 

“What does language communicate? It communicates the mental being corresponding to it. It is fundamental that this mental being communicates itself in language and not through language. . . . which means: it is not outwardly identical with linguistic being. Mental is identical with linguistic being only insofar as it is capable of communication. What is communicable in a mental entity is its linguistic entity. Language therefore communicates the particular linguistic being of things, but their mental being only insofar as this is directly included in their linguistic being, insofar as it is capable of being communicated.” -315-316

 

“Language communicates the linguistic being of things. The clearest manifestation of this being, however, is language itself. The answer to the question “What does language communicate?” is therefore “All language communicates itself.” The language of this lamp, for example, does not communicate the lamp (for the mental being of the lamp, insofar as it is communicable, is by no means the lamp itself), but: the language-lamp in communication, the lamp in expression. For in language the situation is this: the linguistic being of all things is their language. . . . This proposition is untautological, for it means: that which in a mental entity is communicable is its language. . . . Or: the language of a mental entity is directly that which is communicable in it. What is communicable of a mental entity, in this it communicates itself. Which signifies: all language communicates itself. Or more precisely: all language communicate itself in itself; it is in the purest sense the “medium” of the communication. Mediation, which is the immediacy of all mental communication, is the fundamental problem of linguistic theory, and if one chooses to call this immediacy magic, then the primary problem of language is its magic. At the same time, the notion of the magic of language points to something else: its infiniteness. This is conditional on its immediacy. For just because nothing is communicated through language, what is communicated in language cannot be externally limited or measured, and therefore all language contains its own incommensurable, uniquely constituted infinity. Its linguistic being, not its verbal meanings, define its frontier.” – 316-317

 

“…the linguistic being of man is his language. Which signifies: man communicates his own mental being in his language. However, the language of man speaks in words. Man therefore communicates his own mental being (insofar as it is communicable) by naming all other things. . . . It should not be accepted that we know of no languages other than that of man, for this is untrue. We only know of no naming language other than that of man . . .” -317

 

“Why name them? To whom does man communicate himself? But is this question, as applied to man, other than as applied to other communications (languages)? To whom does the lamp communicate itself? The mountain? The fox? But here the answer is: to man. This is not anthropomorphism. The truth of this answer is shown in knowledge and perhaps also in art. Furthermore, if the lamp and the mountain and the fox did not communicate themselves to man, how should he be able to name them? And he names them; he communicates himself by naming them.” -317

 

“[The bourgeois conception of language] hold that the means of communication is the word, its object factual, its addressee a human being. The other conception of language, in contrast, knows no means, no object, and no addressee of communication. It means: in naming the mental being of man communicates itself to God.” -318

 

“Naming is that by which nothing beyond it is communicated, and in which language itself communicates itself absolutely. In naming the mental entity that communicates itself is language. Where mental being in its communication is language itself in its absolute wholeness, only there is the name, and only the name is there. Name as the heritage of human language therefore vouches for the fact that language as such is the mental being of man, alone among all mental entities, communicable without residue. On this is founded the difference between human language and the language of things. But because the mental being of man is language itself, he cannot communicate himself by it but only in it.The quintessence of this intensive totality of language as the mental being of man is naming. . . .Hence he is the lord of nature and can give names to things. Only through the linguistic being of things can he gain knowledge of them from within himself — in name. God’s creation is completed when things receive their names from man, from whom in name language alone speaks. . . . In terming man the speaker (which, however, according to the Bible, for example, clearly means the name giver: “As man should name all kinds of living creatures, so should they be called”), man languages imply this metaphysical truth.” – 318-319

 

“Name, however, is not only the last utterance of language but also the true call of it. Thus in name appears the essential law of language, according to which to express oneself and to address everything else amounts to the same. Language — and in it a mental entity — only expresses itself purely where it speaks in name, that is, in its universal naming. So in name culminate both the intensive totality of language, as the absolutely communicable mental entity, and the extensive totality of language, as the universally communicating (naming) entity. By virtue of its communicating name, its universality, language is incomplete where the mental entity that speaks from it is not the whole structure linguistic, that is, communicable.” -319

Octavio Paz’s — Claude Levi-Strauss: An Introduction

decretan_140314_gAdmittedly, it can get a little confusing here. Octavio Paz is writing a book about another thinker, and it can be hard to tell who is asserting what from the quotes. I don’t really care too much and am happy to clarify for the inquiring reader. The main thing is that there is a very interesting dialogue about the role of myth, social structures, and language all happening. For the interested reader, you can purchase a copy of this work here.

 

“Thus, speech is a mental and physical operation which rests on strict laws which, nonetheless, elude the mastery of clear consciousness.”- 13

“The sense of a symbol is its translation into another symbol.” – quoting Charles Peirce – 15

“The taboo [denying incest] is not purely negative; it does not tend to suppress unions but rather to differentiate them: this union is not permissible and that one is. The rule is made up of a yes and a no, a binary opposition similar to that of linguistic structures. It is a screen which directs and distributes the flow of generations. It thus fulfills a distinguishing and mediating function — differentiating, selecting, and combining — which turns sexual unions into a system of meanings. It is a scheme “by which and in which the transition from nature to culture is fulfilled.” The metamorphosis of raw sound into a phoneme is reproduced in the transformation of animal sexuality into a matrimonial system; in both cases the change is due to a dual operation (this no, that yes) which selects and combines — verbal signs or women. In the same way that natural sounds reappear in articulate speech, but now endowed with meaning, the biological family reappears in human society, but now changed. The “atom” or minimal kinship element is not the biological or natural one — father, mother, and son — but rather is made up of four terms: brother and sister, father and daughter. It is impossible to follow Levi-Strauss through his whole explanation, and that is why I limit myself to quoting one of his conclusions: “The primitive and irreducible character of the kinship unit is a consequence of the incest taboo. . . . In human society a man cannot get a women except from another man, who entrusts him with his daughter or his sister.” “-17-18

 

“The incest taboo confronts us, on another level, with the same enigma as does language: if language creates us, gives us meaning, what is the meaning of that meaning? Language gives the means of speech, but what does speech mean? . . . Levi-Strauss’ reply is a singular one: we are confronting an unconscious operation of the human mind which, in itself, lacks any meaning or foundation, although it does not lack usefulness: thanks to it — and to language, work, and myth –men are men.”” -20-21

“Myth is speech, its time refers to what happened and it is an unrepeatable utterance; at the same time, it is language: a structure which is actualized each time we tell the story again.” -26

“… I will offer this reflection: if myth is para-language, its relation to language is opposite to the relation of a kinship system with language. The latter is a system of significance which makes use of nonlinguistic elements; myth operates with language as if the latter were a presignifying system: what the myth says is not what the words of the myth say.” – 27-28

“…laughter, as is well known, dissolves a contradiction into a convulsive unity, one which denies both terms of opposition.” – 36

“A mediator corresponds to each opposition, so that the function of Messiahs is clarifies: they are incarnations of of logical propositions which resolve a contradiction. . . . The ambiguity of the mediator is explained both so much by psychological reasons as it is by its position in the middle of the formula: it is a term which permits the opposition to be dissolved or transcended. For this reason, a positive term (god, hero, monster, animal, plant, star) can be transformed into a negative one: its qualities depend on its position within the myth. No element has a meaning of its own; the meaning springs from the context: Oedipus is “good” when he immolates the Sphinx, “bad” when he marries his mother; he is “weak” when he limps, “strong” when he kills his father. Each term can be replaced by another, provided that there is a necessary relationship between them. Myths obey the same laws as symbolic logic; if proper names and mythemes are replaced by mathematical signs, the myth and its variants — even the most contradictory ones — can be condensed into a formula. . . . At the end of his study, Levi-Strauss assets that myth “has for its object the offering of a logical model to resolve a contradiction — something which cannot be done if the contradiction is real.” I note, as a result, a difference between mythical thought and the thought of modern man: in myth a logic unfolds which does not confront reality and its coherence is merely formal; in science, the theory must be subjected to the proof of the experiment; in philosophy, thought is critical. I admit that myth is logical, but I do not see how it can be knowledge. Levi-Strauss’ method forbids an analysis of the particular meaning of myths; on the one hand, he thinks these meanings contradictory, arbitrary, and to a certain extent insignificant; on the other, he asserts that the meaning of myth unfolds in a realm beyond that of language. The system of symbolization reproduces itself endlessly. Myth engenders myths: oppositions, permutations, mediations, and new oppositions. Each solution is “slightly different” from the one before, so that the myth “grows like a spiral”: the new version modifies it, and at the same time, repeats it.” – 36-38

“To a certain extent, Le Cru et le cuit answers my question about the meaning of myths: as with the symbols of Pierce, the meaning of one myth is another myth. Each myth reveals its meaning in another one, which, in its turn refers to another, and so on in succession to the point where all these allusions and meanings weave a text: a group or family of myths. This text alludes to another and another; the texts compose a whole, not so much a discourse as a system in motion and perpetual metamorphosis: a language. … Myth is a sentence in a circular discourse, a discourse which is constantly changing its meaning: repetition and variation.” – 38-9