The Horror of Philosophical Language

In a recent blog post entitled “Philosophical Language“, philosopher Levi Paul Bryant highlights the way in which certain fields and areas of study, especially and specifically philosophy, seem to participate in a kind of subversion of language, that is, the distortion of normalcy in everyday speech. Bryant describes this endeavor as “an athleticism of language,” explaining this to be “an inventiveness that challenges and disrupts  what the analytics call ‘ordinary language'”. To which I respond with an excitedly affirmative “precisely!” This can be witnessed in nearly every philosophical work of merited weight, importance, and vigor. Commonplace words, terms, phrases, and even ideas are packed and loaded with a plethora of seemingly extraneous ‘meaning’, significance, nuance, and subtlety, making language that was commonly and ordinarily understood anything but. Here, as Bryant explains, “Philosophy breaks language from its moorings, sending it flying in new trajectories…and unheard of directions.” We may think we know but, we have no idea.

In one regard, I think this is not so much the insidious desires of the philosopher alone but, may actually be the evolutionary nature of language itself. Here, it would seem that the subversiveness of language with its disruptive un-mooring and inventive new trajectories is indicative of its emergent properties as a ‘complex adaptive system’, that is, a dynamic and fluid system in which behavioral mutations and adaptations evolve, and continue to evolve, individually and communally in conjunction with alteration eliciting events in agency interactions. In other words, language, adapts itself to the necessities, requirements, and demands of changing events within the progressive interactions of agents. Language reflexively twists itself into new permutations aiding agency in its ability to adapt to changes within the environment.
Lacan’s theory of the symbolic order proves useful here when he explains that “language is not man’s creation and instrument, it is man who ‘dwells’ in language.” Said another way, Laurie Anderson supposed that “Language is a virus”. It continually replicates itself, spreading infectiously, and the more we try immunize ourselves with its understanding the more it mutates into ever more resistant forms. It would appear that we may be in a kind of parasitic relationship with language, language is a parasite and we are the host. If this is the case language was never ‘ordinary’, never safe but, always already twisted, disturbing, and disruptive.
This, in a way, seems to be in keeping with what Bryant is suggesting when he proposes that Philosophy’s ability to disturb the commonplace usage of ordinary language is “always a bit grotesque and shares a resemblance to science fiction; even before science or fiction existed.” In his book, In the Dust of this Planet, Eugene Thacker attempts to outline and explicate Philosophy’s ‘sci-fi’ underpinnings and methodology, which also seems to go a long way in uncovering and explaining philosophy’s ‘monstrous’ use of language. He does this through horror…
Thacker writes that “one of the greatest challenges that philosophy faces today lies in comprehending the world in which we live as both a human and a non-human world – and of comprehending this politically.” Thacker expounds,
On the one hand, we are increasingly more and more aware of the world in which we live as a non-human world, a world outside, one that is manifest is the effects of global climate change, natural disasters, the energy crisis, and the progressive extinction of species world-wide. On the other hand, all these effects are linked, directly and indirectly, to our living in and living as a part of this non-human world.

Zizek writes that “speech does not only register or express a traumatic psychic life; the entry into speech is in itself a traumatic fact.” Zizek continues saying that “speech tries to cope with the traumatic impact of speech itself.” However, Zizek goes on to state that this reciprocity should also be reversed, stating that, “speech does not simply express/articulate psychic turmoils; at a certain point, psychic turmoils themselves are a reaction to the trauma of dwelling in the ‘torture-house of language’.”  Thacker suggests that this seems to be illustrated by the ‘fear’ induced by horror, or, more specifically, the horror genre. Here, Thacker proposes that “horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).” Horror is indicative of the unknowable, the ineffable, “the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hidenness” (Thacker, 171). This is the experience of the confrontation with an ecological totality that is ultimately and primarily ‘non-human’. Thus, Thacker proposes that this is “the paradoxical thought of the unthinkable” and “In so far as it deals with this limit of thought, encapsulated in the phrase of the world-without-us, horror is ‘philosophical’.” As such, horror is nothing short of an “attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically.” Here, philosophy is horror, and horror is philosophy, in so far as it bears an air of mysticism, becoming a kind of ‘secularized/atheistic’, negative or apophatic theology.

If this is the case, as Thacker suggests and Byant alludes, then how else could such a realm be explored or thought about but by the contagion of an infectious linguistic viral fluxing, the grotesque mutations of philosophical speech, the twisted and tumultuous inexpressibility of traumatic trajectories, and the whole new, ‘wholly other’ disturbing directions of a mysterium tremendum. Language, in symbiosis with philosophers, becomes like elves transformed to Orcs, once serene, beautiful, majestic, and regal creatures “taken by the dark [daemonic or daimonic] powers, tortured and mutilated” evolving into a brand new species aimed at ending the reign of man, that is, revealing the ecological essence of the world. As Thacker elucidates, this is not “the world-for-us” of the ‘World’, nor is it the “world-in-itself” of the Earth, but a nebulous in-between, “impersonal and horrific,” it is the “world-without-us” of the Planet.
Zizek suggests that “Language, by itself, is lying.” “[H]ow” then, “does one rethink the world as unthinkable? – that is, in the absence of the human-centric point of view, and without an over-reliance on the metaphysics of being,” as Thacker asks? Here, Zizek expanding upon Elfriede Jelinek answers, saying “‘Language should be tortured to tell the truth.’ It should be twisted, denaturalized, extended, condensed, cut, and reunited, made to work against itself.” In between gods and monsters may we summon challenge and disruption, invention and subversion, with the horror of philosophical language.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Over nine months ago I was laid off from my employer of nearly ten years. In the period that has followed life has been marked by a tumultuous cavalcade of loss and psychological and emotional trauma. Our family home was but one of the many things we were forced to bid farewell to and since, in the wake of the absence, we have been left broken, hurt, at times fearful and frail, sifting through the ruins of what remains in the aftermath of a life violently disrupted, hoping to piece together some sense of normalcy. I have now returned to work but, to a far more menial and labor intensive form of work then the position once held, which has also included a radical change of hours, not to mention a dramatic reduction in wages. Now working a night shift position, physically exhausted and somewhat sleep-deprived, I have begun to contemplate the importance of sleep, not only physically but, also psychologically, philosophically, and politically. Unfortunately, however, I have not been able to devote the time and rigorous contemplation necessary to really delve into the depths of sleep’s psychologically linked relationship to the socio-political sphere. But, this in some sense is precisely my point in writing this. Consider the following passages taken from Freud’s A General Introduction to psychoanalysis in which he discusses the psychic necessitation of sleep and dreaming:

Our relation to the world into which we came so unwillingly, seems to include the fact that we cannot endure it without interruption. For this reason we revert from time to time to the pre-natal existence, that is, to the intra-uterine existence. At least we create for ourselves conditions quite similar to those obtaining at that time—warmth, darkness and the absence of stimuli. Some of us even roll ourselves into tight packages and assume in sleep a posture very similar to the intra-uterine posture. It seems as if the world did not wholly possess us adults, it has only two-thirds of our life, we are still one-third unborn. Each awakening in the morning is then like a new birth.

Freud goes on to say that
The psychic processes of sleep, for example, have a very different character from those of waking. One experiences many things in the dream, and believes in them, while one really has experienced nothing but perhaps the one disturbing stimulus. One experiences them predominantly in visual images; feelings may also be interspersed in the dream as well as thoughts; the other senses may also have experiences, but after all the dream experiences are predominantly pictures.

Sleep creates the parameters for being born-again, for being birthed a new. This is to say that that there are parts of ourselves that are always still to come, portions that are ‘not-yet’ and the sleeping dream is what beckons them forth into a messianic-like arrival.

We constantly speak of the need to be awakened from an apathetic slumber, “we need to wake up and smell the coffee.” But, one can’t help but notice that we are in the throes of a culturally induced insomnia. We live in an ‘always-on’ society of social media, smart phones, 24-hour pharmacies, drive thrus, and 7-11’s, bars, clubs, raves, we are hyper-stimulated, overwhelmed by a never-ending, relentless supply of distracting stimuli. Every city has now been transformed into “the city that never sleeps.” This is, then, also, true of our own homes and even our psyche. Slavoj Zizek notes that “In our ‘society of the spectacle’, in which what we experience as everyday reality more and more takes the form of the lie made real.”  Yet, Sleep and dreams have the capacity to  ‘awaken’ us to the traumatic Real of who we are, what we are, and the way things really are. Peter Rollins writes the following,
Here obsessive late night partying, drinking, drug taking and socialising are not to be thought of as attempts to make mundane reality more interesting and exciting (a common misunderstanding). Rather they can often be futile attempts to ward off the real that awaits [us] in [our] dreams…

Rollins goes on to say that “‘reality’, however dissatisfied with it we are, can act as a screen which protects us from a direct encounter with the horrific Real. In short, reality is structured as a fantasy.” Zizek concurs stating that, “our ordinary reality enables us to evade an encounter with true trauma.” In other words we use the fiction of our waking ‘reality’ as a means and mechanism for escaping the Real of our dreams.

“[T]he Truth,” as Zizek explains, ” has the structure of a fiction: what appears in the guise of dreaming, or even daydreaming, is sometimes the truth on whose repression social reality itself is founded.” We need the space to dream new dreams, no matter how traumatic or disturbing, no matter how jarring. We need to proclaim that “I have a dream…” It is not the  phantasmal or fantasmic ‘reality’ of the waking world that we need to infiltrate our dreams but, rather what we need most is the anguish and upheaval of the dreaming Real to overtake the fictional lie of rousing ‘reality’. 
When we deny ourselves access to sleep and dreams we are denying their revolutionary potentiality to radically alter the everyday ‘life-world’ and we are inadvertently accepted conceding to the status quo of the way things are. It is not the dream that we must awaken from but, the sleepless slumber of repression and mediocrity that we have accepted as being ‘real’.