Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | August 2, 2012

illuminations on Benjamin’s Language as such -three

..सोऽध्वनः पारमाप्नोति तद्विष्णोः परमं पदमं- कठ वल्ली तीन*1

In every name God’s name is invoked by knowing which one attains supreme state of Vishnu.

 Wakefulness of images is the realm of name.—Hegel

Benjamin’s point 3- Linguistic being of thing is their language; this proposition applied to man, means: 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.  But do we know any other language that name things? It should not be accepted that we know of no languages other than that of man; to identify naming language with language as such is to robe linguistic theory of its deepest insights—it is therefore the linguistic being of man to name things.
Why name them? To whom does man communicates himself?—but is this question, as applied to man, different when applied to other communications (languages)? To whom does the lamp communicates itself? The mountain? The box? –But here the answer is: to man. This is not anthropomorphism. The truth of this shown in human language ….further more and 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. To whom does he communicates?
Before this question can be answered, we must again inquire: how does man communicates himself? A profound distinction is to be made, a choice presented, in face of which an intrinsically false understanding of language is certain to give itself away. Does man communicates his mental being by naming that he gives thing? Or in them?  In the paradoxical nature of these questions lies their answer. Anyone who believes that man communicates his mental being by names can not also assume that it is his mental being that he communicates, for this does not happen through the names of things—that is words by which he denotes a thing.  And, equally, the advocate of such view can assume only that man is communicating factual object matter to other men, for that does happen through the word by which he denotes a thing. This view is bourgeoisie conception of language, the validity and emptiness of which will become increasingly clear in what follows. It holds that means of communication is words, its object factual and addressee a human being. The other conception of language in contrast knows no means, no object, and no addressee of communication. It means: in name, the mental being of man communicates itself to God.

My illumination: Before I start interpretation of this passage let me clear what I suggested in previous passages about Hegel.  In second illumination I pointed out that Hegel’s “I” as self consciousness is language itself. It is name in which Hegel’s phenomenology begins for it designates pure subject without concept and its discourse is universal. Discourse in its true form and force is universal, it is transcendental by nature whether it realizes it or not. Interestingly Benjamin’s mental being it not other than Hegel’s mental being (discourse of self-consciousness) and for both it is name and language itself.  If we read Hegelian “I” as language itself then we can very easily reach Indian linguistic point of view in which “Aham” is said to be substratum of language in its orginary form.  Vedanta’s “अहं ब्रह्मास्मि” is none other than this realization of originary language. In Hegel “I” has two ways, one is towards pleasure another towards dissolution or death that is its eschatological aspect knowledge, as it is said in Bhgagwad Gita “सर्वकर्माखिलं पार्थ ज्ञानेपरिसमाप्यते”. Knowledge is eschatology in the end; it can’t be other than eschatology. Now, “I” in its expansion is intention of “this” that Vedanta says the intention of “इदम” and it is sankalpa-vikalpa-sanjalpatmaka while towards dissolution the same “I” is called pure “अहं” that which is expressed in “Aham Brahmasmi.” There is minute difference in both form of “I”s, one is “in and on” and is limited “संकुचित संविन्मात्र रूपेति”, as Hegel would say victim of logic ( sankalpa-vikalpa) while other has completely turned itself to realize its true universal nature as it is by nature pure. According to Hegel when “I” is not turned towards itself, towards knowledge; it is victim of logic because it is subject to triad of ‘knowledge, knower and known”. Dialectic of logic exerts its force of self consciousness when self-consciousness is not this dialectic for itself. In both forms that “I as consciousness of idam” and “I as aham” it is language itself but difference is that in “Idam” level it has descended to the lower level, as Indian scripture says “अहम एव सततं सर्वं अभेदेन विमृशामि पराभूमौ At transcendental level it is “I”Consciousness itself that shines fourth (as pure knowledge) and in “Idam” form it is the same in its creative aspect.” “I” consciousness as अहं is transcendental as it has turned itself into its own discourse, thus, Hindu scripture describe it in short “संहारवेशविमर्शे अं इति“. When aham descends to lower state is rajas or its creative aspect dominates and when it turns back it is knowledge or sattva that dominates as Bhagwad Gita says “उर्ध्वं गच्छतिसात्विकाः”. Self-consciousness as Aham in its Idam aspect is “towards” and it is the discourse of its own expansion. If there is no language there is no discourse, it ends in “अं” the first feet of Pranava dissolving all Varnas from A “अ” to “ह “ H and establishes himself into transcendental Advaita nature.  “अं” is said to be seed of all Varnas and substratum all discourses. As I have already quoted a verse from Upanishad ““अकारो वै सर्वा वाक् all speech is A-kara” therefore if we believe in Biblical “In the beginning was the Word (and it manifested existence)” then logically all manifestations are dissolved in it. “  However in front of Advaita metaphysics “word” as cause of the world doesn’t sustain because discourse of “I” is not real from absolute point of view as it is not realized in sleep state. I am not going to expand it here but it is clear that ‘self-consciousnesses’ comes into being like “let me project” “let there be light”, it is in the form of ‘creativity’ of one’s own God nature.
Now In this passage Benjamin begins by saying that linguistic being of things is their language and similarly linguistic being of man is his language and he communicates his own mental being.  He would refute the bourgeois logic of language that man communicates other man through words and communicates some fact in words.  Benjamin tries to establish that language does not communicate anything other than itself. He says that the linguistic being of man to name things. […] he names them; he communicates himself by naming them.  Benjamin puts this statement forward that “Language lies in naming; it is name that is language.  It means: in name, the mental being of man communicates itself to God. “This is his most important hypothesis around which entire essay revolves.  Benjamin says that language is eternal hence name is eternal.  All expressions are language because one communicates contents of mind.  But question is, is language eternal? Perhaps not, Language is not eternal; word (rather varna) is eternal. Language is always produced by naming or in idea of object or subject.  Language is vikalpa.  Language is not eternal can be recognized by child’s first utterance, when a child utters words for the  first time it is no language rather it is an unrecognized sound of varnas to which mother  responds ‘what he is speaking?” and then she teaches him “speak Maa” and then he gradually learns to speak ‘Maa ‘. He recognizes later who is denoted by his play of word ‘Maa’ as we see child plays with the word (he repeats several time in playfulness) for the first time when he learns it.  Hence, Name ‘Maa’ and idea of Maa is produced. However important to note that according to Indian point of view sound is an attribute of Sky (आकाश-akash) which is created matter, hence, sound too is a product from metaphysical point of view.  According to Vedanta if it is not a product, scriptures would have taught that Speech reaches Brahman not “from where speech return without reaching it”, that means its potential is limited. Absolute “I” consciousness possesses multitude of letters in the form of supernormal sound or in the form of naad that originate from it like droplets of ocean and manifests gross forms of sound, hence it is also logical that it contains the potentiality of ‘I” consciousness.  Word never losses its potential in the same way as seer doesn’t loss its vision in any state of consciousness. To be precise, in the “I” consciousness unutterable highest sounds exists uninterruptedly, undivided and without succession in originary two alphabets अ AND ह like a bowl containing all remaining alphabets in its subtle form. Hence, Vakya Padiya says that Naad is eternal, what is produced is speech-sound in the form of words (word should not be mistaken with Varna as naad):
नादस्य क्रमजातत्वान्न पूर्वो न परश्च सः ।
अक्रमः क्रमरूपेण भेदवानिव जायते।।

Naad is neither a previous nor a subsequent because it is the speech-sound which is produced in sequence. But non-sequential is revealed as sequential as if it were divided”. From the originary Naad speech-sound is produced in sequence from अ to ह last letter क्ष is not counted in sequence as it is considered death of consonants. Sloka Vartika too says that Sound is undivided like space but appears to be divided like space as in jaar etc spoken in sutra such as “नाद वृद्धिपरा”.  Another fact about word is that even if it is undivided and changeless yet its utterance seems to be non-eternal because its order follows the will of the speaker.  To it Sloka Vartik responds that the order of words and the shortness, length, and acuteness (of vowel sounds) only mark different division of time; and thereby come to qualify the sound.  He further says hrasva and dirgha etc are not property of Varna or shabda but sound and are not any non-eternal properties of the word.  Interestingly in Brahman, word in its supernormal form called para exists not as sound rather as knowledge therefore naad ceases into shakti and then into Shiva who is said to be “सत्यं ज्ञानमनंत्तंम ब्रह्म”.  Sound in its various forms is just an expression of knowledge itself.  As in example of infant’s utterance we see how infants uttered sound is still unrecognizable as specific word.  In Indian cosmology, in macrocosm expression of naad is throbbing of “I” consciousness of lord in macrocosm that brings forth the first manifestation Sky. Sky is created and its attribute is sound, without sound it is not recognized.  Wherever there is sky, there is sound, as in our day to day life we experience that more solid has less sound while less solid has more sound. Sound is impossible without sky or space and since sky is the first matter it exists in all the rest hence fire sounds, water sounds, air sounds, earth sounds .  All the four matters are experienced directly with our sense organs but sky is experienced indirectly when sound is heard.  Hindus are habitual to worship alphabet as chinmaya that is full of ‘’I” consciousness of Lord.

Benjamin situates his essay in metaphysical zone by situating every thing into metal being whether it is language itself or formed of language. His mental being should be interpreted from both points of view. In his view it seems as if nothing is beyond mental being as it is language itself. Things have its linguistic being but that itself is mental being, for it is identical to it or linguistic being dwell in mental being and communicates itself to itself.  If Benjamin’s mental being is consciousness in its transcendental form as I have hinted in relation to Hegel then we can say that all language as well as its physical manifestations is rooted in it. It will be clear in his Biblical interpretation in later passages.  If we consider language as produced entity then from that point of view mental being is something else it would be formed of language, it is a produced linguistic entity.  It would be like Lacanian mental entity “subject “which is produced by language and a formed.  But Benjamin’s entity is different; it is certainly not like subject because he says language is not its means of communication rather it communicates in it. In language, means it is situated in it. It can not be produced by language rather it produces languages. He conceptualizes perhaps it as an entity that is pervasive as for as communication is concerned, for linguistic being of things and mental being are not distinguished entities rather both are united in language—in name. Language is of mental entity, it formed of language. What he says concerning the other of linguistic expression of mental being has been conceptualized by Indian linguistics long ego, Vakya Padiya says:
यो य उच्चार्यते शब्दो नियतं न स कार्यभाक्  ।
अन्यप्रत्यायने शक्तिर्न तस्य प्रतिबध्यते   ।
This word Agni(fire)  besides being related to word agni (meaning of fire) is also related to that referred to by word agni namely form agni. The word which is uttered (in every day use) is never linked with grammatical operation (but) its capacity to convey that its other form (that is, its own form as meaning) is not obstructed.
This is what exactly Benjamin says about expression of “mental entity” in language.  Elsewhere in passages when he says that “name’ expresses other than the “name’, same truth is illumined.

His formulation In the name mental being of man communicates itself to god.” Comes from Judo-Christian tradition in which everything revolves around name in God. However, one can ask, can man name God? नान्वात्माप्यात्मशब्देनाभिधीयते “Atma can’t be named by word ATMA.” And there are words of revelations “यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते अप्राप्य मनसा सह“ Or “यत्र नान्यत्पश्यति “. Sanat kumar has taught thus “ यद्वै कञ्चैतदध्यगीष्ठा अधीतवानसि, अध्ययनेन तदर्थज्ञानमुपलक्ष्यते, ज्ञानवानसीत्येतन्नामैवैतेत् “वाचारम्भणो विकारो नाम धैयम” नाम वा ॠग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदः…नामोपाससओव बह्मेति।“ Whatever you have studied and learned so far is NAME for manifestation is established on vaak and name alone”..This Rigveda, Samveda, Yajurveda is merely name …meditate on Name. But this is not higher, therefore, he taught higher truths and says “Vaak is higher than Name” since alphabet is name therefore vaak is said to be higher than this for it is vaak that manifests <विज्ञापित>name. Then he says mind is higher than vaak etc. Benjamin’s thinking was perhaps this that naming in other language that is more subtle forms of linguistic expressions, one precedes towards God.  He would try to explain revelation of this language from Bible point of view but that is quite backward from Vedantic point of view which says “यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते अप्राप्य मनसा सह from where mind together with speech returns without reaching it”. Another important aspect of naming is that in naming mental being doesn’t name itself rather it names object hence in naming it doesn’t communicate itself.  It communicates things in language but not things itself.  Question always remains however, is naming possible?


*1   In the beginning of the verse the word “अध्वनः” is used to indicate that every form, force and meaning refers to transcendental (परतत्वाभिधान प्रयोजनार्थे) that one should read through negation.
In verse the term “by knowing which” means (उपसंहारपूर्वकं विज्ञानं अपादयेति) that is by negation.

Note: The threads that I have remarked and put forward in these blog posts on Benjamin will be taken forward later on when I will start my own hypothesis on name. Discourse on name needs a pure theological turn.


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