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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Living Incoherently


Incoherence is the fundamental problem. It’s a life problem, but before that it is a language problem. And it’s irrevocable as far as language goes. Barthes suggests we eliminate the old bugbear, logical contradiction. It can take years to understand the necessity. Thinking narratively, we want to return to a time when contradiction caused little or no bother. We could find an arbitrary but expressive date for this, but then we’d be too much in the land of myth. Let’s say that the Cartesian pivot marks an adequate moment. It doesn’t happen at one time any more than Copernicus happens at one time. It hasn’t even happened yet in some places. But it began more or less at the time of Descartes—we could have chosen someone else for this—and has fallen through time like dominoes ever since, subduing the earth but never the whole earth. It’s the moment when the realm of knowledge became defined by the elimination of contradiction—and the discourse of science moved to the front as the model for discourses everywhere even ones unsuited to science, so that even Freud had to aspire to a scientific psychology.

                That as I say is thinking narratively. Then there is the fundamental dualism of language made famous by Derrida and others. This is older and more intractable than the Cartesian revolution. (I could have picked something else!) Love has to exclude Hate and God has to exclude Human.

                Reality is far too complex and interrelated and even interfused for these language systems (however necessary) to work. I heard this week of a brilliant man who died because he could not grant the concept “altruism” extension in reality. There are no purely unselfish acts. Christ’s death itself must have had something in it for God, or why would God do it?

                This is a problem of language. It’s not a problem of reality or God. We have words that don’t correspond to things, like having a word for a color that doesn’t exist. (I think all our color words are for colors that do not exist.) We have words for things that are not things, not only “unicorn” but also “permanent” and “love.” (People will argue “permanent,” but that’s the point, isn’t it?)

                Living in the world means being uncomfortable in language. Words never do their job. They can’t. The world is particular and language is general and even 2+2 only equals 4 within the contexts in which it does. Language is a rough guide at best. Necessary, wonderful, rough and frustrating.

                Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying coherence is impossible. That goes without saying. I’m saying that coherence is undesirable. The closer you get to coherence the closer you get to living within language alone and not what language sometimes wants to call “reality” (there is no reality without language of course. Reality itself is interfused with language) but which we want to apprehend as though it had no word because it exceeds all words. It’s where God is. (God had to become the word to talk to us and had to speak the word to made us but has to be beyond all words to be where and who and what is.)

                We make a fundamental error when we put on a language and step out with no other change of clothes believing this fashion we’re wearing is the only one there is, that it is adequate to the task, that it will last through the years. That it isn’t a fashion among others, that its time won’t go. Atheists proving there is no God via science. Science is a language that rightly excludes God as a premise.

                Logic is lovely, important, essential. Those who decide without it what is and then organize their language to create their conclusions have robbed logic of what power it has. They are the murderers of God. But those who rely on logic can only God where logic can take them, like the economist who write so cleverly on the economy of gift giving. In all his talk of value, he missed the whole idea of “gift.” Or Whitman’s Learned Astronomer.  When you thinking leads you to the conclusion that there is no God or that there plainly is, the problem is not in God but in your thinking. Shift the problem of evil.   

                Language can help us leave language behind—a little behind, attached to the ankle like a lifeline as we float from the ship. Cut the rope and we drown. Language can help us feel what it would be like to leave language behind, like a flight simulator. Language is always the glass that makes it possible to see what is outside as it puts a barrier between the eye and the skin and the world. (Even the eye and the skin are glass.) Break the glass and the world disappears. The words that can help most, I think, only two. The first is “is.” And the best is “love.”  

                A living incoherence is to be loved.

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