Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | July 22, 2012

Illuminations on Benjamin’s Language as such


Mental construction is devoid of a corresponding object and is conjured up by knowledge which arises from words. –Yoga Sutra “शब्दज्ञानानुपाती वस्तुशून्यो विकल्पः”

Objects can only be named. Signs are their representatives. I can only speak about them: I can not put them in words. –Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico philosophicus

Benjamin was not a philosopher in the traditional sense of the word. He was a critic of culture and a journalist voyager in to truth and life. He lived his life in search of something originary and in many of his works on aesthetics we find new illuminations. Benjamin was maddened in esoteric and metaphysical longing like his famous author Goethe but he remained a faithful Marxist throughout his life. He was not an orthodox Marxist perhaps because he was a culture critic and theologically inclined, he was the first Marxist however who tried to infuse something that Marxism lacked.  In many sense He was like Karl Gustav Jung who did not agree to Freud’s Descartesian objectivism of psychoanalysis, Benjamin too did not agree with Marxist objectivist reason. Benjamin’s search after new theory of language is search for a metaphysical language in name.  His essay “On language as such and on the language of man” is possibly his first adventure into theology and language.  In it he doesn’t evolve a new theory of language rather describes what has been revealed in Judo-Christian tradition.  Jewish mystics used to endlessly rearrange the letters of God’s name to produce the one true name that could address God.  Benjamin seeks this language of man –the namer who produces names but cannot name, perhaps, because he cannot truly know, but we can, and must, gesture. Benjamin has followed the linguistic doctrine of the Kabbalists and Ecclesiastical tradition of Christianity in his theory of language of name.  What he has pursued and wanted to reveal in his revelatory essay has been revealed thousand year ego but his speculation and mystificatory writing makes it interesting. I have read it from Indian point of view but I haven’t written this post in scholarly manner like polemics but it is critical to his text and passage by passage illumines truths.  I wanted to follow my own tradition of criticism, hence, I have tried to explain in length what has been “said” in text, have tried to say what hasn’t been “properly said” and what remained ‘unsaid’ has also been explained.  It should be read however as a draft text as I have written it as such keeping in view that I will finish it later with some more illuminations. In my pointed illuminations I have tried to be fair to his texts in spite of obscurity of his terms and writing. Benjamin haven’t defined terms of the texts as usually theoreticians do, therefore few terms like “language of things” “mental being and language’, ‘mental being as  who expresses itself’ etc. are vague term, in his text there is also confusion of language and word, word and varna etc, it is frustrating initially but as you enter into text it becomes clearer. Such theory texts however should have been written in philosophical manner by explaining each and every term to readers but Benjamin finished it like a mystic. You have to extract the meaning and in it there is possibility to extract something new or rather to convert it in to a new text as he expects. I would like to tell my blog readers that Indian texts have been translated in western languages two centuries back as Hegel himself refers to it; it means western thinkers have been reading Indian scriptures for a ling time. They have gained insight from it; they have used it as sacred science and have enriched their culture.  They have taken a lot from it, written books according to their cultural needs but they did not recognize it and name it. In naming and recognizing others they are quite conservative. I haven’t referred any western texts on linguistics and its philosophy as my purpose was to read it in the light of Indian texts. Among Indian texts I have referred to Vakyapadiya, Sloka Vartika, and few Vedanta texts like Kalpa Taru, Vivaran, Panchadasi, Acharya Sureshvar’s Vartika, and others like Patnjali’s commentary together with Yoga sutras commentaries especially that of Vigyan Bikshu.  I have finished it like blog post therefore readers should not expect it to be scholarly stuff. It should be read like unfinished draft work. I can’t post it all at once as it is almost twenty eight pages long post. I have decided it to post in series as it would be easy to read for everyone. Enjoy the first part of iluminations:

Benjamin’s Point 1-To use the word “language” is in no way metaphorical. For to think that we can not imagine anything that does not communicate its mental nature in its expression is entirely meaningful; consciousness is apparently bound to such communication to varying degree, but this can not alter the fact that we can not imagine a total absence of language in anything. An existence entirely 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. All that is asserted is that all expression, insofar as it is communication of contents of mind, is to be classed as language.  An 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 always necessary to ask of which mental entity it is the 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 is direct expression of that which communicates itself in it.  This itselfis mental entity [..….] what does language communicates? It communicates its metal being corresponding to it. It is fundamental that this mental being communicates itself in language and not through language. Languages therefore have no speaker, if this means someone who communicates through these languages. Mental being communicates itself in, not through, a language, a language which means that it is not outwardly identical with linguistic being.
My Illumination:-  Benjamin considers two kinds of  being  that are mental being and linguistic being.  It is like vedantic seer and seen, mental being sees or speaks while linguistic being is spoken or named.  Benjamin’s mental being is like consciousness for in other passages he endows it revelation.  His conceptualization of a seer is clear from this line “(in mental being there is) someone who communicates through these languages”.  Benjamin however narrows the possibility of Mental being when he says that it is language itself. Mental being who communicates itself in language is language itself! Benjamin states something illogical however when he says, “An existence entirely without relationship to language is an idea”. Can idea exist without object, sign and language? Act of thinking and generation of idea only starts with sign, thinker is only interpreter of sign in which God speaks. Sign is name and name is in God, later Benjamin tells us. What Indian philosophers call sanklpa-vikalpa is idea of something formed in language or words. Yoga Sutra is not a Manuel of linguistics but it has clearly stated “Mental construction is devoid of a corresponding object and is conjured up by knowledge which arises from words.शब्दज्ञानानुपाती वस्तुशून्यो विकल्पः” It means every thought construct whether it is vikalpa or sankalpa arises only when an object is perceived and perception is expressed in words; but in this perception object perceived or cognized is not given, perception is devoid of object. Hence, in absence of word no idea can arise whatsoever“यतः शब्दानुबेधेनं न बिना प्रत्ययोद्भवः”, all worldly knowledge pertains to word. If everything is name then logically it must be an indisputable fact. In absence of language there is mental state devoid of thought constructs and mind modifications called as asamprajnata, for it has no support whatsoever except subliminal impressions of memories and ignorance.  In Indian philosophy it is not name but also object name is negated as both are manifestations of absolute reality and considered mithya. Cognition of object and its naming doesn’t bring knowledge as such in Advaita or Spiritual sense (parmartha satyam) however, objective and worldly knowledge is not denied because world is not denied.  Acharya Suresvara in his Vartika on “Murtamurta Brahman” states that from absolute Advaita point of view all three viz. concept of knower, object known and false comprehension of it (all vikalpas), are negated as nothing exist other than Brahman, “नेति नेतीत्यतो वीप्सा जिघृक्षितनिषेधतः। बुभुत्सितस्य कृत्स्नस्य वीप्सैवातो निषेधनी।। In Upanishad statement the repetition of ‘neti-neti’ proceeds to negate whatever is sought to be taken up ( or postulated by any objector) and, therefore, this repetition is the negator of all that is sought to be known.”  Moreover, it is name in the end that is negated if we consider it manifestation of word of God.
Now from above point of view, If Benjamin would have said that mental being is light of consciousness (संवित) whose nature is Gyana itself then it would be a metaphysically correct conceptualization.

He says later that man communicates his mental being in his language of words by naming all other things.  But Benjamin did not ask why man needs to communicate his mental being by naming? Also he should have asked, can merely by naming an object man is able to communicate his mental being? Isn’t this a fact that by naming an object one puts it into word and communicates it to others! In this case, mental being is not communicated rather object itself is communicated. If we believe what Wittgenstein formulates “name means object”, we can even say that object itself is given in name.  Sloka Vartik however says that “The cognition of object, as produced, are not in the form of identification with words. Nor can an object be said to be not cognized, simply because it has not been identified by word.” Therefore the question of man communicating object by naming is a false notion from another metaphysical point of view.  Naming an object and communicating it is just a worldly affair (loka vyavahar). Another important thing to be noted is that a knower or seer (if Benjamin considered it “mental being”) can’t be mere Idea or language.  If it has the potentiality of God or if it has revelatory potentiality, it should be possessor of idea or language; for idea or language is produced when object is recognized whether in past or in present.  If he considers language as innate quality of mental being who communicates, as he says “in language” not “through language’ then the case would be altogether different.  At this juncture of speculation he perhaps wanted to say that language as word is the ray of light of the subject (pramata) and one with consciousness. He should have more clear view on it.  What does he mean by “in language” not “through”? He distinguishes between language as such and language of mental being (of man)! And what does he mean by “someone” who communicates? Is this someone is “God” or “seer”? He must be thinking mental being and someone (other/god) who communicates in language.  At this point of speculation too he seems to reach at the notion of Advaita individual “I” consciousness which is said to be expanse of God’s “I” consciousness, as Bhagwad Gita says “The Lord resides in the heart of all creatures ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां हृद्देशेअर्जुनतिष्ठति…हृदिसर्वस्यविष्ठितिम”.  interestingly Krishna says “Hridaya” that means he is stating the same truth stated by Lord Shiva “हृद-व्योम्नि transcendental “I” consciousness”. The power which resides in the Heart is self-luminous, unsurpassable absolute not obstructed by sankalpah and viklapah “परं प्रतिष्ठास्थानं संविदात्म हृत्“. It is this Heart where all name comes to an end known as अ-कला. In later illuminations I have quoted from Upanishad that in अमात्र there is no penetration, no movement whatsoever. It is the power of one’s freedom; it is called heart in which God resides and reflects.  Benjamin had perhaps no idea of such nameless name.  He says however following Biblical tradition that name is in God but it is not clear.

Concerning mental being and linguistic being, perception and knowledge etc. another Indian linguist says: “वस्तुत एकैव ईश्वरस्य स्वभावप्रत्यवमर्शरूपा शक्तिः सा संवेदनरूपत्वात् ज्ञानशब्देन उच्यते, तावन्नमात्रसंरम्भरूपत्वात् क्रियाशब्देन च उद्घोष्यते” In fact there is one power of God that is the consciousnesses of his essential nature as “I”. The same power in the form of perceiving or feeling is known as Gyana or knowledge; in the form of its volitional activity, it is known as activity.”  If Benjamin did think “I” as language itself then he must be conceptualizing something else. There is no language and knowledge that is not name, all is name.  The modification is only a name arising from speech, as leaves are covered by arteries, so all name are pervaded by Aum ॐ. The essential nature stated above as “I” consciousness of Lord is reflected in individual consciousness as “I”; as Lord says in Gita “बीजं मां सर्वभूतानां I am (Supreme Being -Purushottam) the seed of beings.” In individual “I” He “पुरूषः परः अव्यक्तात्” is the ultimate seer and revealer of truth, as he would instruct later “तेषां सतत युक्तानां भजताम प्रीती पूर्वकं । ददामि बुद्धि योगं तं ..Those who recite my sacred name to them I endow the yoga of intelligence by which he enters in me”.

Since the essay is about name and name alone therefore I must state the absolute name of God before I proceed further.  In Hindu scripture the name God is ‘ॐ”, in its first feet all names and form end.  Every thing proceeds from it from Vedas to all other form of knowledge. He who knows or doesn’t know it, works through it alone; nothing is beyond its gaze. Pranava ॐ is the essence of existence.  Sun moves by uttering it, one’s Prana moves by uttering it. Pranava is absolute unity of speech and Prana; he who knows it enters in Pranava. The knower of science of Prana sage Patanjali too wrote this sutra: “God is denoted by Pranava” “तस्यवाचकः प्रणवः”.  It is eternal light and light of light “आदित्प्रत्नस्य रेतसो ज्योतिः पश्यन्ति वासरम्। परो यदिध्यते दिवि।।“. The Vakya Padiya, philosophical treatise on philosophy of grammar states thus:
सत्याविशुद्धस्तत्रोक्ता विद्यैवेकपदागमा।
युक्ता प्रणवरूपेण सर्ववादाविरोधिना।।
The true and pure knowledge alone proclaimed by that one word,  is stated there in Vedas in the form of Pranava (ॐ)- A truth which has accepted by all school of philosophies in India.

Western grammatology doesn’t go beyond Indian linguistics. As for Example, following Andre Martinet that “The fundamental traits of human language are often to be found behind the screen of words”, what Derrida subscribes to if not the other aspect of word, what Vakya padiya says Phonetic writing? Indian linguisticians have said even more clearly “शब्दस्वरूपमर्थस्तु पाठेऽन्यैरूपवर्ण्यते” that is, “when hymn is recited in spite of its meaning its own form is major meaning as Gayatri mantra.” Its meaning is great but greater than its meaning is its form and force. Name of God is not the meaning of name God rather that other aspect of word, its real form and force that leads one to God. If we consider this verse creation of meaning itself seems to be a fallacy:
शब्दः शुद्धविमर्शात्मतया स्वयं।
अर्थात्मना चावभान्तस्तदर्थप्रतिबोधका।
तेनास्य गलिताक्षस्य प्रबोधो जायते स्वयं।।
“Word itself is of the nature of reflective awareness hence they themselves are lit with meaning and capable to expose it, beyond it they possess a flood of energy as well that leads one to the Other.”
Derrida laments and emphasizes on force concerning writing, ‘form fascinates when one no longer has the force to understand force from within itself. That is, to create’.  Writing is not just form with force rather becoming form of force.

OUM as in Gurumukhi (Panjabi)

Indians have realized it long ego, what is form of Gayatri meter? Is it just a meter! If it would have been just a meter, a hymn, then entire Brahmastra vidya and others would not have come into existence and great people would not have practiced it. In Upanishad age it was considered everything and in Mahabharata we find several histories related to this divine weapon made of Gayatri .  Possessors of this vidya were invincible in those days. Form of Gayatri meter is the body of divine energy Savitri, and from its repetition God Savita is invoked.  It can dissolve entire universe if it is properly aroused.  We should remember this Sutra of Lord Shiva “by dissolution of wheel of energies (that is garlands of letters) into consciousness, world is dissolved”.

Second part after three days
illumination 2

illumination 3

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