Thoughts on language and truth

“All social conflicts have to be waged, ultimately, by means of language.”
–Boris Groys, Introduction to Antiphilosophy p.98.

By Richard Mather

Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that our intelligence is bewitched by language. Language weaves a magic circle around us and draws a veil over the Real. The further we move away from the Real, the wider the distinction between subject and object. This is what Walter Benjamin referred to as the fallen nature of language.

For Benjamin, “the Fall marks the birth of the human word.” No longer mimetic, words have become mere signs.

Benjamin yearned for a messianic break with (rather than in) history, and for a messianic language in which the post-Babel babble of tongues (multiplicity of languages) is superseded by a perfect language, wherein word and object are reconciled.

We vainly hope that one day there will be a “happy conjunction of idea and reality” (to quote Baudrillard), but the innocence of the Real is gone for good. Only with the coming of the messiah will meaning be restored to the world. Only with the messiah will language regain its purity of function by which the knowledge of things is made straight.

And they [the languages] will continue to be so confused until the coming of the redeemer, when the entire land will return to the only clear language, as it is written: ‘For then I will turn to all nations a pure language, that they may all call upon the Name of God and serve Him with one consent, with One Name.’ (Zephaniah, Tanakh, 3:9)

Media mediates reality for us and in doing so masks the truth of the thing-in-itself with a constructed appearance or simulacrum that may bear little relation to the thing-in-itself. The first thing we have to ask ourselves when we pick up a newspaper article by any left-wing publication is, ‘What is its agenda?’. Answer that, and then you’ll know the purpose of the mediation.

Languages are outposts on the outskirts of the wilderness of the Real. By means of language, we attempt to perform raids on the Real, but it is impossible to capture the Real in its entirety. That we know. But these language-raids hide a darker truth: Language is a kind of magic, a pantomime, a delirium, a bewitchment, used to conceal the truth of the Real. And the truth of the Real is this: there is no the Real. Media has killed the Real. Nietzsche declared the death of God. Now we must mourn the loss of the Real.

But is it enough to describe Truth? Evidently not. In a world where everything is commodified and packaged for consumption, so must the truth be re-presented and not simply presented. In other words, the Real must enter the world of ideas. With the death of the Real, we must recreate it, re-present it in a way that is distinguishable from the False. 

Truth is trans-being, the extra-being of being that rises out of the void of being. Truth is not being at all. Neither is it a being. Truth is an event that is perilously close to the nothingness of being. As a concession to truth, and to hide the fact that being is void, nothing more than an hypnotic incantation, language will occasionally try to reveal truth. Sadly, attempts to reveal truth often conceal more than it is possible to reveal. Indeed, apart from the occasional concession to truth, the concealment of truth is language’s main function.

We should not think of language, let alone any kind of reportage or medium as transparent. It is not like placing a perfectly clear screen over the Real. It may in fact be a screen in another sense: a screen that hides the Real so that the screen itself is the message.

The further away words are from the Real the more they take on the form of an incantation. Language, more often than not, is a kind of trick. Having said that, many people are only too willing to be duped by the magical properties of language and the way reality is manipulated, deformed, reformed by words and syntax.

My criticism of empty, communicative language is the abuse to which language is put in Palestinianist and Arab-Palestinian Nationalist propaganda. Here language becomes a means for producing a certain result; it becomes the ‘big lie’ for the sake of reactionary political gain. Anti-Zionism is reactionary because it is a move against the event of 1948, which was an event of pure difference, an event that that stands out (Greek: ek-static) from the sameness or indifference of history.

In a sense, what we have is a kind of dualism: being-in-general, which is indifferent, neither with nor without truth; and  the truth-event which ruptures and exceeds being.

In the ontology of Western metaphysics, Dasein is the shepherd of being (Heidegger). Moses, by contrast, is the shepherd of being-Jewish. The Burning Bush is a rupture in being, something entirely unexpected; in short, an event. Moses picks up on the ‘evental’ nature of the Burning Bush episode when he asks God’s name. The event is named literally in the sense that God reveals his name to Moses. Moses, although touchingly human in his uncertainty, shows himself to be faithful to the event by going back to Egypt to rouse the Israelites and confront Pharaoh.

The creation of the State of Israel was — and still is — an event: a radical and unique event that exceeded being-in-general by gathering all the elements (Jews) excluded from indifferent-being or being-in-general and then creating a new multiple that is at the same time one.

The truth-event, like the creation of the modern Israeli state, is a radical break from the normal course of being. Truth is a rarity, a singularity. It is not one mere occurrence among many. It does not belong to being-in-general. It is something that must be discovered among the ruins of indifferent-being and declared. And the one who declares the truth is himself true because he is willing to commit to the truth-event and live for something other than public approval.

Meanwhile Zionism has to be aesthetically, socially and politically recreated in order to be understood. In other words, truth has to enter the realm of fiction. Zionism has to take its place on the metaplane of ideas/discourses. It is not enough to point to the truth and say there it is! It must be re-presented. Only the idea of truth has any currency in our media-saturated world. And further: the work of re-presentation is ongoing; it never ends because the idea of truth (unlike truth-in-itself) is always contingent, always under construction.

[I will add to this blog post in due course. Think of it as a kind of ongoing scrapbook of thoughts]