Saturday, June 21, 2014

Walker Percy on escaping solipsism by means of language

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had read the section of semiotics in Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. As I read it, I was outlining a fairly lengthy post, making all kinds of connections. Semiotics excite me because back in my student days, when I was a Philosophy student, I was immersed in the Philosophy of Language. I was particularly engaged with the work of Jacques Derrida and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I still have books, notes and plans for a thesis on a comparative study of some aspect of language between these two philosophers.

The main reason I have not posted much here the past few months is simply a function of not having the time to do so. As summer gets underway, I plan to post more regularly. Like most people who have "blogged" for a long time, it was an evolution realizing that quality trumps quantity. But, since we love to quantify, with this post, I have exceeded last month's output by 1.

Jacques Derrida

Instead of the post I rigorously outlined, I simply copied and pasted my notes and highlights from the Notepad document I copied from my Kindle, on which I read Lost in the Cosmos. I hope I did this in a way that is coherent and comprehensible:

"The wonder to the scientist is not that God made the world but that the works of God can be understood in terms of a mechanism without giving God a second thought" Percy
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"Is it not indeed more wonderful to understand the complex mechanisms (dyads) by which the DNA of a sperm joins with the DNA of an ovum to form a new organism than to have God snap his fingers and create an organism like a rabbit under a hat?" Percy
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"The nearest thing to a recorded world of signs is the world of H. C. Earwicker in Joyce’s Finnegan's Wake Percy
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A note I made: language and the loss of wonder. Giussani saying new things with old words. John XXIII language and dogma, etc.
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"FIRST BIRD WATCHER: What is that? SECOND BIRD WATCHER: That is only a sparrow. A devaluation has occurred. The bird itself has disappeared into the sarcophagus of its sign... A sparrow can be recovered under conditions of catastrophe. The German soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front could see an ordinary butterfly as a creature of immense beauty and value in the trenches of the Somme" Percy
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A note I made: the twilight of Christendom, does it present us with such a possibility- the possibility of recovery through catastrophe?
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"A poet can wrench signifier out of context and exhibit it in all its queerness and splendor" Percy. Followed by my note: Tricia Lockwood does this
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"Scientists recover the inexhaustible mystery of the signified from the mundane closed-off simulacrum of the world-sign" Percy. Followed by my note: Yes, but scientists like Tyson also get confused and truncate this by reducing God to an endeavor undertaken by a sign user, namely science, which descriptive and which spurs creativity from something, not nothing. One of the worst mistakes is believing you can derive metaphysics from physics, or world from environment without triadic relation
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A note I made: we are creatures of meaning.which is why the question "Why?" is constitutive of our humanity. it is also a sure sign of the ontological barrier between God us, whom Von Balthasar dubbed the "humanum." See Lewis from A Grief Observed on Eucharist of signifier for Christ - effacacious sign
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"Then, like von Frisch and his bees, he discovered there is no end to the mystery of ants" Percy
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"What Descartes did not know: no such isolated individual as he described can be conscious" Percy
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Walker Percy

"It is no etymological accident that the prefix con- is part of the word, since the origin of consciousness is the initiation of the sign-user into the world of signs by a sign-giver" Percy
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"joyful concelebration of the world through an utterance in which the ancient environment of the Cosmos is transformed and beheld in common through the magic prism of the sign, it is also, semiotically speaking, an Eden which harbors its own semiotic snake in the grass" Percy
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"Semiotically, the self is literally unspeakable to itself" Percy. Followed by my note: Wittgenstein's private language. Indeed, one person is no person
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"You are not a sign in your world" Percy. Followed by my note: Descartes Kant, etc.

"From the moment the signifying self turned inward and became conscious of itself... As a consequence of the unprecedented appearance of the triad in the Cosmos, there appeared for the first time in fifteen billion years (as far as we know) a creature which is ashamed of itself and which seeks cover in exile from Eden is, semiotically, the banishment of the self-conscious self" Percy.
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"Might they not have achieved the world of signs without succumbing to the terrible penalty?" Percy. Followed by my note: The fall- oh happy fault? Becoming like God, but in a satanic, or hellish way. In other words, it is to be deceived about divinity and to pursue that- idol worship. God is a communion of divine persons, we are singular non-divine persons. Divinization, what ever that may entail, is something that can't happen on my own. Hence, loving my neighbor. Is it a turning from the concelebration of the world to a solitary absorption with self?
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"In a post-religious technological society, these traditional resources of the self are no longer available, leaving in general only the two options: self conceived as immanent, consumer of the techniques, goods, and services of society; or as transcendent, a member of the transcending community of science and art... That is to say, he stands in a posture of objectivity over against the world, a world which he sees as a series of specimens or exemplars, and interactions, energy exchanges, secondary causes—in a word: dyadic events." Percy. Followed by a note, which is a quote from C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed: “If H. 'is not,' then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren’t, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared"
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"The alienation of the artist puzzles many, both the scientists and technologists who are happy and busy and their lay beneficiaries who are happy in the immanence of consumption... it is no accident that, for the past hundred years or so, the artist (poet, novelist, painter, dramatist) has registered a dissent from the modern proposition that, with the advance of science and technology, man’s lot will improve in direct proportion" Percy
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"the self can be as desperately stranded in the transcendence of theory as in the immanence of consumption" Percy ==========

"The paradox comes to pass because the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment" Percy. Followed by my note: Intersubjectivity.
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"There is an almost intractable confusion about the terms sign and symbol" Percy
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"My own conviction is that semiotics provides an escape from the solipsist prison by its stress on the social origins of language—you" Percy
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Ludwig Wittgenstein

Just last night I read a very good and rather short article in Commonweal by Prof Scott Moringiello, who teaches at Villanova: "Perpetua, Feliciy, Ludwig." Moringiello discloses a plan (one I hope he carries out):
I’ve been playing around with an idea for a paper that would compare Wittgenstein’s dictum that following a rule is fundamental to a language game with Irenaeus of Lyon’s conception of the rule of faith as the measure of a proper interpretation of Scripture. I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like with the paper, but in my reading (and in many cases re-reading), I’ve been reminded about how seriously Wittgenstein took questions of witness. For him, doing philosophical work was part of living life as a fundamentally decent human being. Wittgenstein did not consider himself a Christian, but he famously said to a friend, “I am not a religious man, but I can’t help seeing every problem for a religious point of view.” I dislike the words “religion” and “religious” for reasons that need not detain me here. But Wittgenstein seems to mean that a religious person understands himself as ethically serious and he sees the world as a source of wonder

1 comment:

  1. "You are not a sign in your world" Percy.
    "I am you-who-make-me" Giussani.
    The awareness of my origin, which is mysterious, is something that can be signified, and therefore is the point where I becomes we.

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