a brief view on the possibility of language in The Dash

It is is clear that what we need from language most is the capacity, which is defined ever against its own formalisation (as some category which contains, in fact, anything within it), to go precisely into that zone, which is properly called thought, over and with respect to which there is no discursive bounding. This means that language must not only play the role of putting into words what no word can be prepared, at any level of formal content, to say, but that it must also put forward, by putting into question, itself in any act of speaking. There is, therefore, no pre-given, or qualified, act of speaking; no language which is prepared to do anything. It is this intersection between language’s lack of preparation and the breakdown of some discursive boundary (when submitted to language) which names in what precise sense we need something of language in the first place: what we need, at last, to talk about, and which thereby minimally defines language itself, is that about which we do not yet know how to speak.

This is what defines some formal difference between language and some idea of a discursive practice into which it goes or from which it comes: language is precisely what undermines the practice, and thereby the very content, of any discourse. It does this not by failing to fall within some discursive limit (and thereby showing out all discursive boundaries); but, by uplifting what is most, paradoxically, unsayable within any discourse and saying it. It pushes, furthermore, the discourse to the very edge of its own formal requirements of discursivity and supplements some term at the end (which remains the fetishistic core of the discourse; that about which we cannot speak which underlies the tentative contract of the horizon of discursive meaning). This also means that language is not simply intersectional with meaning; it is, rather, what allows meaning to appear in a formal discourse that has, more or less, confined meaning to some, nonetheless unspeakable or unnameable, instantiation, which is, when properly investigated, a core of inopportune meaningless for the discourse itself. It is some petty thesis, which has failed to play the role of an axiom (or a beginning), and has been relegated, instead, to the role of so-called discursive necessity which inevitably fails to carry reason with it, because, appearing always at the (unnameable) end, it is that which the discourse cannot let in without breaking open the precise sense in which discourse is itself a risk—a decision from within the constraints of formality itself. The radical thesis to be affirmed here is that what limits discourse, or agreements of meaning, is not simply some transcendental limit with respect to some unknown, but a limit whose name is meaning—furthermore, reason—and therefore which no discourse can either recover or fail to state as the absolute beginning of any true investigation.

Where language, then, brings meaning into discourse is by dragging the appearance of discourse’s own formality to the very edge of that formality itself and provoking its reversal. This consists either in reaching that core of meaningless, and naming it as the (positivistic) fetish which supplements the otherwise logically coherent discourse, or by simply pushing the constraint of the formality of the discourse itself; repeating the term it itself repeats ad nauseam until the core of resistance which defines the trenchantness of this term gives way to an insight into reason itself: there is no formal term which is not readily available to become its opposite, namely content, and interrupt the formal continuity of the system in which it finds itself. These gestures of language push and pull (out) the implicit idea of some fetishised, or hidden, primary content, which is nonetheless what is disavowed by every discourse. Even as they maintain some formal interest in a positivistic encounter, this encounter threatens formality with itself, i.e. with the extent of its reach. It is in this respect in which what is at stake, say, in logics which apprehend, or seek out, some logical consistency, which they nonetheless ambiguously place under the aegis of some equally ambiguous entity they call reason, and which, more importantly, pathologically refuse the entry of language (for we have exceeded the age, in many respects, of the naive entry of ordinary language in favour of some spectral and unending, newly metaphysical logicisation of everything) is the very question of formality. As noted in The Dash, the question, or the resolve towards, formality goes to the very heart of what they describe, following Hegel, as an externality with nothing to externalise; an encounter which posits interiority on the basis of how externality renders itself only with respect to its own incompleteness, i.e. it is so incomplete that it cannot, so to speak, over-positivise itself; every attempt at its appearance repeats its inconsistency.

The naive how of language rests, then, not on any formal requirement (discursive or otherwise), but on the precise lack of this very how which reflects something irreducibly incomplete about the formal itself. Its interaction with the formal is a reflection of what Ruda and Comay consider to be the (worst) option to be chosen between empty logical formalism and a philosophy of the everyday (which both announce themselves at the outset of Kant’s accidental completion of metaphysics). This logical formalism is taken to its end, and, tellingly, language states itself as the radically unformalisable term, which nonetheless grounds every logical formalism. The repetition, then, of logical formalism (higher and higher-order logics, etc.) is an attempt to extrude, not merely language, but the implicit idea of kernelity. It is a perverse union of an empty logical formalism with the kernelity, even still, it rejects. It is so interested in a total application of the formal, that it undermines the very reversibility of content into form. This is what, after all, defines the abstract process of attempting to define language (and its meanings) in the first place. It is, furthermore, this repression of this very reversibility which names in what respect, to extend one of The Dash’s opening theses, logical formalism as it stands (and as it was in Hegel’s time) is not formal enough. It is not ready to see the formal reversibility play out fully in language. It is this refusal, then, which defines what the precise meaning of The Dash’s partial claim regarding language is: one answers the un-how of language by pushing formalism to its very end, satisfying the historical claim regarding both Hegel’s juncture (as he writes at the beginning of the Science of Logic) and the present disjunction in which we find ourselves between an implicit kernelity to be formalised and the overdetermining power of that formalism itself.

This is also, therefore, a statement regarding language and history. It begins with a reversal: one must ask the question of history’s entanglement in language. It is not that language complicates itself with respect to the even more real kernel of historical events, or the purely formal term of historicity itself, but that language is very directly involved in historical events, not merely from the standpoint of their discursive formulation. Instead, language is that which provides the minimal boundaries of an historical moment by setting up in the first place the question of its formal appearance. There is no naive historical mode or movement, so that language is not the obversive, abstract practice of historical identification (nor even the unfolding compliment); it is the subtractive element with respect to which any historical event’s claim to its own historicity is interrogated. Every historical event is, in fact, reducible to this very claim itself. There is no naive interweaving of an event with some historical movement; rather, and this is the stake of language itself, the historical event, after a certain point, appears formally to itself without any hidden kernel behind it. Language is, then, that which sets up the historical claim itself as the decisive historical moment in itself, as that which naively “moves” history, i.e. the movement of history and language are curiously tied. This claim is, therefore, nothing but a formal apprehension, and so the investigation into the hidden kernel of a given moment’s claim to historical significance is caught up in the very struggle of language itself to articulate itself against, or from within, formal conditions.

It is these formal conditions, after all, which, qua the fantasy of formal logic, propose a strange contradiction; namely, language is at once that which must be formalised and, yet, that upon which formality is nonetheless supposed to base itself. The hard material, so to speak, of linguistic meaning is not simply an illusion of some material support to the abstraction of formal discursion; it is, in fact, a paradoxical opening in which formality’s open-ended, self-emptying search for hard meaning is what sets up the very conditions of a formal claim to meaning itself. The question is, then, what it means for language to struggle against the conditions of this formal claim: language must understand itself to constitutively work without the transcendental guarantee of even its own formality, i.e. its own higher-order rational functionality. This, of course, says something about the very guarantee in the first place of this formality in the first place and places “linguistic meaning” in the role of that which remains only ever formally asserted while formality itself is reduced to the concrete practice of its consistent assertability. All of this points to, once again, how language is not even a formal claim, so much as the very subtraction of this formal claim from within any prescribed domain of meaning in which it could finally realise itself. We are looking, after all, as the authors themselves note, for the point of collapse in this antinomy; a point where the only reason we have to go forward is because every available option has been radically displaced.

Language is, then, not the domain of meaning; it is that which stakes out where precisely we cannot go, where we cannot think, where we cannot speak. Meaning is, after all, an antinomic illusion, and we only ever reach its possibility in its destitution. This is the dimension in which language can be properly said to think and encounter reality: it is when we do not know what to say that we encounter the absolute limit of the object in thought. We see it at its most distorted, and it is our precise failure to merely recover this distortion which forces us, not simply to think, but to encounter the limits of thought in and as thought. The non-how of language, then, intersects with the thought that cannot be thought—the non-thought. It is, nonetheless, language, even in its formal distinction, which is able to go where we cannot go, or take us out of ourselves, because it is precisely not simply underwritten already by the thought it is going to have and contain in significant expression. It is the opposite: we have language on the basis that we have failure in the formal place we anticipated language to appear. This is a deeper reading of the proposed example of the Liar’s Paradox; that the way “everything is dialectical” fails to be dialectical, and thereby dialectises itself, is a precise example of how language goes into the unknown in the first place by being the first to fail itself. It is this failure, which, even as we cannot anticipate it, nonetheless more deeply contains and reads the dialectical injunction. The point, in turn, is that there is no meaning we are prepared to speak, except that meaning which, failing to anticipate, becomes the real ground of what we could have meant.

This non-anticipation of meaning is not simply the naive other of material reality encountering us in all of its resistance; it is the very kernel of non-resistance presupposed in the failure of meaning itself. This non-meaning remains meaningful, because the subtractive gesture of failure is not some separation that obscures the thing from us; rather, the non-access of failure is what we call the absolute knowledge of something, i.e. it remains within the category of “meaning” only insofar as it is this category which, so to speak, dissolves itself into itself. It is language, furthermore, which, when it does not know what to say, escapes the naive situation of discourse, and says something from the very disposition of failure: it comes after the sentence, paradoxically, and takes the form of its unintended result; the result which nonetheless non-appears, whose very appearance is, then, the question of language. When we produce, in turn, language, we do so in apprehension of staking out that place where we must go which we nonetheless cannot describe, and it is, first and foremost, the task of philosophical language to take the risk of articulating the productive existence of such places. It is this act of observation, after all, which, incapable of reducing the risk of its own assertion, inaugurates the absolute effect of language: we see first and speak second. The delayed impact of meaning is not the result of touching the real thing and then finding its true language; the delay is the precise effect of language itself. It is only this delay which can effectively capture what it is we do not yet know how to say—and say it.




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