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The Mysterious Barricades

The Mysterious Barricades: Language and its Limits

ANN E. BERTHOFF
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442681774
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  • Book Info
    The Mysterious Barricades
    Book Description:

    The Mysterious Barricades criticizes the misconceptions of post-structuralism and then moves on to the reclamation of criticism as a philosophical activity concerned with how words work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8177-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    Ann E. Berthoff
  4. Introduction: Triadicity and Its Consequences
    (pp. 3-12)

    Before thenouvelle vaguebecame a tidal wave, some critics, foreseeing disaster, began taping windows and nailing on the plywood. Others simply deserted the shore, moving inland out of harmʹs way. Donald H. Reiman was braver. On the model of ʺeach one teach one,ʺ he made the following proposal:

    It may be necessary for many of us to submit to the duties of our age to the extent of mastering (say) two or three fallacious arguments apiece and demolishing them publicly, until the pressure of informed opinion drives these mountebanks back into literary studies of some validity ... In doing...

  5. I. Dyadic Misunderstandings

    • 1 Gangster Theories
      (pp. 15-18)

      I.A. Richards, who constructed more theories than most critics would ever see the need for, was also the man who reclaimed Coleridgeʹspractical criticism. Richardsʹ theory of theories was thoroughly pragmatic: ʺHow we use a theory best tells us what it is.ʺ One of the chief uses of a theory, he held, is to protect the estate of discourse from ʺgangster theories.ʺ What he had in mind on this occasion – a preface to his own poems in 1960 – was ʺacademism, punditry, fashion, faction, movements, modernities, and so forth.ʺ Elsewhere, he was more forthright: the gangster theories were ʺverbal...

    • 2 A Clean Machine and a Competent Operator
      (pp. 19-27)

      In the title of Walter Benjaminʹs essay ʺOn Language as Such and the Language of Man,ʺ theas suchsignals a phenomenological concern for essences, for whatever is universal, holding in all instances.⁶ ʺLanguage as suchʺ is Benjaminʹs term for symbolization: it iscode, in the sense of a system of codified meanings in terms of which the world can be apprehended and thus represented to the mind. It differs from the ʺlanguage of man,ʺ by which Benjamin means one or another code, in the sense of a formal grammatical system. Positivist linguistics and its progeny have muddled these two...

    • 3 Determinations and Indeterminacy
      (pp. 28-38)

      Like many a philosopher before and since, Husserl supposed that the phenomenon of the recognition and naming of colors could be analyzed and explained in simple terms and that the findings from experimentation could then serve as a ʺprobeʺ (as psycholinguists like to say), as a way of exploring other processes inaccessible to empirical observation. A probe in the experimentation of natural scientists is an observable biological or chemical agent, the characteristic activity of which can be measured according to one or another scale. The careful differentiation of the probe and what it allows the investigator to trace and monitor...

    • 4 Bottomʹs Semiology: The Duck-Rabbit and Magritteʹs Pipe
      (pp. 39-47)

      To define critical inquiry by analogy with vision is a commonplace. (The wordideaderives from a pre-Homeric Greek root meaning bothI have seenandI know.)³² But the scientistic impulse is to wake up the dead metaphor in order to model ʺcognitive processesʺ by drawing on supposed facts of the physiology of vision. Attention is, however, more complex than such modelling implies. Jacques Derridaʹs notion that we should attend to the fringes, to the margins, by somehow bringing them into focus simultaneously with the center does not take into account the fact that focus is determined by what...

    • 5 Gaps, Abysses, and the Mysterious Barricades
      (pp. 48-54)

      The idea that language is a veil between us and reality; that words erect barriers which prevent direct access; that any and all expression contains error – these notions are universal and perennial. We find them set forth by Karl Marx and Eastern mystics, by skeptics and sophists, as well as by the deconstructionists of the present day. Language is infected and unreliable or it is somehow to blame for the human condition. In myths of origin, language is somehow implicated in loss; somebody gets the message wrong or forgets it entirely. In later versions of a Fall, language is...

  6. II. Triadic Remedies

    • 6 Peirce and the Third
      (pp. 57-71)

      From the first, the general opinion has been that Peirce is hard to read.¹ As an old man, he recalled a conversation with William Dean Howells whom he had met on the way to the post office. Howells, he wrote, ʺbegan criticizing one of my articles from the point of view of rhetorical elegance. I said to him, ʹMr. Howells, it is no part of the purpose of my writings to give readers pleasure.ʹʺ² This was not simply a youthful sobriety: throughout his essays and articles and papers, Peirce is faithful to the principle he goes on to recommend in...

    • 7 I.A. Richards and the Audit of Meaning
      (pp. 72-81)

      The theory and practice of I.A. Richards demonstrate the consequences a triadic semiotics has for criticism. Richards defined rhetoric as both the study of ʺhow words workʺ and ʺa study of misunderstanding and its remedies.ʺ The first definition echoes what he and Ogden had said in explaining their call for a science of signs, while the second is virtually a paraphrase of Schleiermacherʹs conception of hermeneutics. If its dependence on a triadic semiotics is appreciated, then I.A. Richardsʹ philosophy of rhetoric could be a powerful antidote to the radical skepticism which infects contemporary theory.

      One of the interests Richardsʹ career...

    • 8 Schleiermacher and the Hermeneutic Enterprise
      (pp. 82-101)

      Hermeneuticsis not a term used by C.S. Peirce, probably for the very good reason that it would have been, in his mind, firmly identified with theology. The idea of a hermeneutic method would have been for Peirce a contradiction in terms. He once observed that the reason philosophy had for so long remained without a proper method was that philosophers had more frequently come from the theological seminary than from the laboratory. Philosophers had seldom proceeded so that assumptions could be identified, analyzed, modified, or rejected: disputation, Peirce held, was no substitute for experimentation or, indeed, for a logic...

    • 9 Sapir, Cassirer, and the World of Meanings
      (pp. 102-111)

      Edward Sapir continually formulated definitions of language as a symbolic form and a symbolic activity:

      Language is primarily a vocal actualization of the tendency to see realities symbolically.⁴⁸

      Language in its fundamental forms is the symbolic expression of human intentions.⁴⁹

      It goes without saying that in actual speech referential and expressive symbolisms are pooled in a single expressive stream. (1949:62)

      Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols.(1921:8)

      His understanding of the dialectic of form and function enabled him to establish the importance of linguistics...

    • 10 Susanne K. Langer and the Process of Feeling
      (pp. 112-124)

      For Susanne K. Langer, paradox is a symptom of confusion and as such should be resolved. She began as a logician and throughout her career argued with cogency and passion for the importance of feeling in any account of mind: to understand why that is not a paradox would be to understand the argument. Her third book,Philosophy in a New Key(1942), was widely influential (for a time it held the record for paperback sales); whereas her magnum opus, completed forty years later,Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling(1982), remains unread, uncited, and even though recognized as a...

    • 11 Walker Percyʹs Castaway
      (pp. 125-136)

      In his essays on the nature of language and the nature of man, Walker Percy amused himself with raising seemingly naïve questions, playing the fool in the face of other peopleʹs somber procedures, daring to speculate about ontology and servo-mechanisms simultaneously – all in the interest of exploring the human condition. His point of departure was to remark wonderingly ʺhow queer man is, how queer language is, and what one has to do with the other,ʺ the subtitle of the first collection of essays,The Message in the Bottle(1975). Percy enjoyed looking at things as an outsider – pretend...

  7. III. Kleistʹs Parables and the Fall into Language

    • 12 Marionettes and Automatons
      (pp. 139-152)

      Kleistʹs essay on the marionette theatre has long been regarded as one of the most important philosophical discourses in modern German literature and has been read – by Cassirer, among others – as emblematic of certain problems of Kantian epistemology. When an English translation appeared inPartisan Reviewin 1947, it found an audience ready for the fascinating argument that grace and consciousness are mutually exclusive. The dancer who attends performances at the marionette theatre in order to learn the secret of the puppetsʹ graceful movement argues his case in a tone and style found familiar from reading modern writers...

    • 13 The Journey to the Back Door of Paradise
      (pp. 153-158)

      When Kleist has the dancer-philosopher (Herr C.) claim that his argument cannot be grasped without an attentive reading of the third chapter of Genesis, I think we must take this seriously, but the guidance it offers does not suffice. ʺOn the Marionette Theatreʺ does, certainly, concern the consequences of the Fall, but the radical ambiguities in Kleistʹs images and in the explications he offers are not those familiar in the idea of salvation and redemption. The circular journey, whatever else it might be said to represent, is not an image of eternal life for the soul.

      When the dancer declares...

    • 14 Green Glasses, the Figured Bass, and the Brakeshoe
      (pp. 159-166)

      In an essay entitled ʺÜber die allmahliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Redenʺ (On the Gradual Fabrication of Thought while Speaking), Kleist invents a figure by which to represent the relationship of language and thought, a figure which illuminates both the narrative style I have been describing and the logic of the figures in his essay on marionettes. The dialectic of control and response is represented there, it will be remembered, by the polarity of theBewegungof the operatorʹs fingers and theBewegungof the dancing puppet. And the heuristic character of limits is represented by the momentary check (augenblickliche...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 167-188)
  9. Author Index
    (pp. 189-191)