Friday, August 31, 2007

The Semiotics: A bed of words

Of nature, angels, and gods;
Of untranslatable music;
Of oblivion never sweeter
Than upon a bed of words.
Alex Caldiero

Oh that Procrustian bed of words, sweet even though (especially because) it requires clarity and translation. Let nature, angels, and gods sing freely and absolutely. The dark impress of human language speaks us as we savor its flavors.

Alex's poem and my Goethe Yearbook article on language in Goethe's first novel are echoes of Herder's arguments in the essay "On the Origin of Language."

For instance: "If an angel or a heavenly spirit had invented language, how could its entire structure fail to bear the imprint of the manner of thinking of that spirit, for through what could I know the picture of an angel in a painting if not through its angelic and supernatural features?"

For instance: "What proof is there of the existence of a single word which only God could invent? Is there in any language anywhere a single, pure and universal concept that was handed down to man from Heaven?"

As Herder contemplates the human origin of language he contrasts the whirling and fecund imperfections of language with the cold universality of supposed angelic speech. God's language and the cold language of French philosophy pale, for Herder, against the rich tapestry on the bed of German words.

"Die, or create language."


Travis said...

Can you direct me to the full length article of "The Semiotics of Young Werther"?
Maybe I'm completely computer illiterate, but I can't find anything beyond the single page on this post.

Travis said...

Can you direct me to the full document of your "The Semiotics of Young Werther"?
Maybe I'm just computer illiterate, but I can't seem to find it online anywhere...and want to read it!

Scott Abbott said...

Travis, look at this site:

Under publications, find the article called "The Semiotics of Young Werther."

I'll help you with any of the German you're dying to have translated.

michael morrow said...

I feel compelled to jump and see where I land. As Alex alluded to coupl'a Friday's ago, at times he turns off all the lights, obeying the pencil's desire to speak. I will follow that lead.

Heriter ("i" added to remind me of the correct pronunciation)makes a comment on page 101 that is the sort of thinking that continues to divert me from Werther's exist choice. Heriter states, "In short, words arose because words had arisen before they arose. Methinks it will not pay to follow further the thread of our guide for it appears to be tied - to nothing." Native American elders have assured me of the purpose of life, that is, to learn. And to learn what? Again, according to NA observation, we have come to this life, quite simply to learn to be real human beings; and what do real human beings do? Feel. Quite simply, having said that, Heriter's idea tells me that since words had arisen before they arose, there's no reason to sweat small stuff such as mundane, temporal proof that some ole' boy name of "God" come up with the idea of language. Language, like so much in my life, just is......In fact, I see myself and most other humans creating language, moment-to-moment.

Heriter makes a very important observation about the central place of feelings in creating language, and providing humankind with a means whereby she may define and experience "THE" universe. He states, "At the basis of all the senses there is a sensation, and this established for the most varied forms of sensation so intimate, so strong, so ineffable a bond that from this interconnection the strangest phenomena arise." Oh this stuff is rich with innuendo, metaphor clearing haze. On page 108 Heritor speaks of human gaps and wants, one of the strange phenomena only humans deal with. He states, "It is not possible that gaps and wants should be the distinctive trait of the human species; else nature was to man the most cruel stepmother, while to every insect she was the most loving mother. To every insect she gave whatever and however much it needed: senses to form conceptions and conceptions shaped into drives; organs for language as far as it needed them and organs to understand this language. In man everything is in the greatest disposition--his senses and his needs, his powers and the sphere of endeavor awaiting him, his organs and his language.--We must be missing a certain intermediate link to calculate such disparate parts in the proportion." Yet, some how, some way, the purpose of the human exercise seems to deal with the challenge of gaps and wants. Sensations created when sex is desired just for fun found in the "chase," "defeat/success," and resulting experience in "either direction." Gaps and wants leave openings for experience called "religion," "gay," "vegan," "abuser," "user," "midnight toker, "stay-at-home-dad."
Goethe reaches into Heritor's astute observations with gusto, validity, and accuracy, bringing to human consciousness forefront gaps and wants art is responsible to reveal. Look at page 61-62 for a great example of Goethe's masterful expose’ of humankind's meager attempt to make sense of three dimensional existence and feeling's major role in making humans', human; languages', language; and experiences', experience.

Scott Abbott said...

it's a beautiful thing to see you responding so strongly to what we are reading. Can't wait to talk about Goethe's "Werther" in class.

grabloid said...

Throughout all of our classes I keep coming back to the image of a bed of words and your comment "All we have is the bed of words and if you have to cut your feet off to lay on it, then so be it." Incredible.

novichek007 said...

Can you direct me to the full document of your "The Semiotics of Young Werther"?

Scott Abbott said...

Under publications, find the article called "The Semiotics of Young Werther."

Alexander said...

Why the goalkeeper is on the front of the page?

Scott Abbott said...

It's a photo by my friend Zarko Radakovic of a goalkeeper in Austria during a game. And it reminds me of the Austrian writer Peter Handke's early novel, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, which is about the stabilities and instabilities of language, and hence of our identities. So I use the photo and the title of the blog to remind me how important it is and how hard it is to interpret language of all sorts.

Sai said...

"The Semiotics of Young Werther"? - I need it can you give. Music Lovers Place