Before I began, I wish to publicly thank your Student Union of Philosophers and Fathers Mirek Bozek, S.J., and Michal Wilski, S.J., for the invitation to meet with you and talk about a theme that has become, to paraphrase J.G. Hamann, “the bone that I continually gnaw on.” This topic is important to me because I believe that new understandings about what we mean by the terms “speech” and “reality” may contribute towards an improvement in our ability to work together with peoples of diverse backgrounds in order to create a more caring and humane planet. This will be my third visit to your lovely city. I have fond memories of my first visit in 1993 and the friendships that I developed with my guide, Pawel Fudali, S.J., and my interpreter, Pawel Kapusta, S.J.. As you can perhaps appreciate, Cracow is quite a change from where I live in humid Florida where we have three dogs and a pond behind our home that contains alligators, turtles, a wide variety of snakes and fish, and in the winter, a family of playful otters.
I hope that some of you had an opportunity to read my article about Rosenstock-Huessy’s metanomics and Bakhtin’s metalinguistics that appeared earlier this year in Forum Philosophicum, T. 2, 1997, (131-158), thanks to the interest of your gracious and learned Provincial, Dr. Adam Zak, S.J., in the writings of these men. The article in Forum Philosophicum was presented in 1993 as a lecture at the Seminary where I was Father Zak’s guest when he was its Rector. I consider that paper an important complement and background for this presentation and wish to quote a small portion from it before beginning my presentation.
“My interest in Bakhtin and Rosenstock-Huessy stems from the fact that both discovered that the religious power of speech and language arose out of life crises — that their theoria stemmed from their praxis, from the encounter of their minds, intellects, and spiritual autobiographies, with the revolutionary circumstances of their times. My papers [was] an attempt to begin a dialogue with persons of similar interests and concerns and to engage the attentions of such persons by exploring the relevance of the metalinguistics of the ”unorthodox“ Orthodox Christian literary theorist and philosopher of language, Mikhail Bakhtin, and the metanomics of the ”revolutionary conservative“ Christian speech-thinker and social philosopher, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, to those interested in the role that religious social philosophies and sociologies based on speech and language can play in creating peaceful and productive planetary co-existence.”
As I approach my four score and ten years of life and think about the importance for future generations of the legacies of my teacher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Mikhail Bakhtin, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, two Christians and two Jews, whose lives and writings have influenced my own life and thinking, I would single out their insights into speech and language as worthy of serious attention by future generations. When asked by students and colleagues if there is a single unifying theme that we should focus our energies on, I without hesitation say: speech and reality.
Allow me to begin by making a number of assumptions and then ask you to respond. My teacher, Rosenstock-Huessy, often began essays with mihi propositum est to engage the reader. This is what I want to try to do with you: to provide an outline of some basic assumptions in my approach to our topic that provide a background or framework for discussion.
Whatever we call or mean when we use the term the “real” or “reality” is a speech/language creation. We give meaning to that which is over and around us through our powers of speech, through names, memories, and recorded history — which Walter Ong, S.J., calls “arrested dialogue.” Similarly, the language-shaped-reality which we consciously or unconsciously exist has coined us or left its stamp or imprint on us, and in turn shapes our view of reality, informs our minds and shapes our use of speech: how we speak, the words we use.
From the perspective of speech/language created realities, our histories, empires, and the world’s great religious communities as well as the smallest community of I and Thou, are the creations or affirmations of language.
Implicit in this approach is the assumption that all of what we call “true” or “real” is in some sense relative because human language by definition, is limited and concrete.
I invite you to understand these language-created “realities” and/or “truths” in terms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Cross of Reality” — namely that each and every language-created community has a past and future in time, and an inner and outer face or dimension in space.
In terms of language creations what we call “the true,” “the real,” even “our God”, is so by virtue of oaths, pledges, acts of faith, on the part of those making such affirmations.
To sum up, whatever we mean when we use terms like “truth,” “the real” or “reality” are or are speech/language creations within the space/time life of humans.
We give meaning to that which is over and around us through our powers of speech, through names, memories, and recorded history — what Walter J. Ong, S.J., calls “arrested dialogue.” Similarly, the language created reality with which we consciously or unconsciously exist which has left its imprint on us, in turn shapes our view of reality and informs our minds and shapes our use of speech and language how we speak, the words we use.
I offer you some statements by J.G. Hamann and Rosenstock-Huessy to focus our thinking. Rosenstock-Huessy said that: “Language is wiser than the one who speaks it. The living language of people always overpowers the thinking of individual man who assumes he could master it.” Elsewhere he said that from 1902 until 1941 “… speech made me the footstool of its new articulation… Since 1902 I have lived under the banner of speech.” (Stahmer: 63)
Like J.G. Hamann (1730-1788), Rosenstock-Huessy gnawed continually on the bone of language. Although addressing two radically different social and intellectual climates, the similarities in their writings about the power of human speech are striking. Compare for example, the following statements. The first by Hamann: “I know of no eternal truths save those which are unceasingly temporal. I speak neither of physics nor of theology; with me language is the mother of reason and revelation, its Alpha and Omega. With me the question is not so much: What is reason? But rather: What is language? ”
And now Rosenstock-Huessy: “And this temporal character of my thinking is in fact the Alpha and Omega from which I grasp everything afresh. Speech reflects this mode of procedure, even for someone who has been influenced by philosophy. For that reason I prefer to talk about speech rather than about reason.”
For both men, speech (or as Hamann put it, verbalism) constituted a via media between the Scylla and Charybdis of philosophical and theological discourse. Each regarded speech as sacramental and each saw in language the answer to their age’s obsession with artificial and abstract systems reminiscent of the Enlightenment and 19th century German idealism, historicism and positivism.
2. Martin Buber: “Spirit is the word/Word”
Martin Buber expressed sentiments similar to Hamann and Rosenstock-Huessy in I and Thou when he said: “Spirit in its human manifestation is a response of man to his Thou Man speaks with many tongues, tongues of language, of art, of action; but the spirit is one, the response of the Thou which appears and addresses him out of the mystery. Spirit is the word And just as talk in a language may well first take the form of words in the brain of the man, and then sound in his throat, and yet both are merely refractions of the true event, for in actuality speech does not abide in man, but man takes his stand in speech and talks from there; so with every word and every spirit.” And then, Buber’s familiar statement, “Spirit is not in the I, but between I and Thou. It is not like the blood that circulates in you, but like the air in which you breathe. Man lives m the spirit, if he is able to respond to his Thou.” (Buber: 39)
For Buber, we creatures relate to the “world,” to that which is over against us in its multiple forms, in two distinct ways depending on which of our “twofold attitudes” our speech comes from.“To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude. The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks. The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words one primary word is the combination I-Thou. The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It. Hence the I of man is also twofold. For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different 1 from that of the primary word I-It.” These primary words neither signify nor describe things; rather “they intimate relations.” Primary words when spoken “… bring about existence. Primary words are spoken from the being. … The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.” (Buber: 3)
The world over against us consists of three “spheres in which the world of relation is built: ”First, our life with nature, in which the relation clings to the threshold of speech. Second, our life with men, in which the relation takes on the form of speech… Third, our life with spiritual beings, where the relation, being without speech, yet begets it.“ In each sphere, in the process of reponding to that which is ”present to us, we look out toward the fringe of the eternal Thou… Every sphere is compassed in the eternal Thou, but it is not compassed in them." (Buber: 101)
Like his friend, Franz Rosenzweig, in Book One of The Star of Redemption, it is entirely possible for us to “remove each sphere from the present,” from the relational experience, isolate it, and in the process, lose contact with the Eternal Thou, whether it be the “physical,” (the Cosmos), “psychical,” (Eros) or “noetic,” (Logos) — Buber’s terms, or “theology,” “cosmology,” or “anthropology,” — Rosenzweig’s terms. For Buber, “… there is a Cosmos … for man only when the universe becomes his home, with its holy hearth whereon he offers sacrifice; there is Eros for man only when beings become for him pictures of the eternal, and community is revealed along with them; and there is Logos for man only when he addresses the mystery with work and service for the spirit… Form’s silent asking, man’s loving speech, the mute proclamation of the creature, are all gates leading into the presence of the Word… But when the full and complete meeting is to take place, the gates are united in one gateway of real life, and you no longer know through which you have entered.” And of the three spheres, it is the second, “our life with men,” where “language is consumated as a sequence, in speech and counter-speech. Here alone does the word that is formed in language meet its response… Only here does the primary word go backwards and forwards in the same form, the word of address and the word of response in the one language, I and Thou…” (Buber: 102-103)
Buber concludes I and Thou with a discussion of how God reveals himself to his creatures “Man receives, and he receives not a specific ‘content’ but a Presence, a Presence as power. … Meaning is assured. Nothing can any longer be meaningless… this meaning is not that of ‘another life,’ but that of this life of ours, not one of a world ‘yonder’ but that of this world of ours, and it desires its confirmation in this life and in relation with this world… The meaning that has been received can be proved true by each man in the singleness of his being and the singleness of his life. As no prescription can lead us to the meeting, so none leads from it… . As we reach the meeting with the simple Thou on our lips, so with the Thou on our lips we leave it and return to the world… I do not believe in a self-naming of God, a self-definition of God before men. The Word of revelation is I am that I am. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which is is, and nothing more. The eternal source of strength streams, the eternal contact persists, the eternal voice sounds forth, and nothing more.” And later in this chapter, Buber says, “Meeting with God does not come to man in order that he many concern himself with God, but in order that he may confirm that there is meaning in the world. All revelation is summons and sending. But again and again man brings about, instead of realization, a reflexion to Him who reveals: he wishes to concern himself with God instead of with the world. Only, in such a reflexion, he is no longer confronted by a Thou, he can do nothing but establish an It-God in the realm of things, believe that he knows of God as of an It, and so speak about Him.” (Buber: 111-112)
Buber seldom speaks about any kind of exclusive revelation. He says that: “The mighty revelations to which the religions appeal are like in being with the quiet revelations that are to be found everywhere and at all times. The mighty revelations which stand at the beginning of great communities and at the turning-point of an age are nothing but the eternal revelation.” Nor does revelation “… pour itself into the world through him who receives it as through a funnel; it comes to him and seizes his whole elemental being in all its particular nature, and fuses with it.” Revelation involves meeting and a Presence, but never a direct correspondence between God and his creatures. “The man … who is the ‘mouth of the revelation,’ is … not a speaking-tube or any kind of instrument, but an organ, which sounds according to its own laws; and to sound means to modify.” (Buber 116-117)
There is a great tolerance and recognition by Buber of the fact of the ability of “the mighty revelations,” the world’s religions, to co-exist. A month before Buber began his correspondence with P. Caesarius, Buber wrote to Karl Thieme, an editor of the Freiburger Rundbrief, and stated his position on the relationship of Jew and Christian “Judaism and Christianity stand with each other in the mystery of our Father and Judge: so the Jew may speak of the Christian and the Christian of the Jew not otherwise than in fear and trembling before the mystery of God. On this foundation alone can genuine understanding exist between Jew and Christian.” (Friedman, III: 84-5) In his first letter to Caesarius, dated July 30, 1949, Buber acknowledged the integrity of their respective traditions when he said that he had received Caesarius’ letter as a greeting exchanged “… zwischen den Exilen des Menschen [… between the places of exile left to mankind].” “Hochwürdiger Pater Caesarius — Ihren Brief vom 24.1 habe ich heute erhalten — und als einen der Grüsse aufgenommen, die in dieser Zeit, mit höherer Sinnespotenz wohl als je geladen, zwischen den Exilen des Menschen Getauscht werden.” [“Dear Father Caesarius — I received today your letter of January 24 — and as one of the greetings received, which in this moment, no doubt resonant with greater potential for meaning, than may ever have been exchanged between the places of exile left to mankind.”] Buber’s description of religion as an “exile” was a stance Buber had already adopted when he and Joseph Wittig, a Roman Catholic, and Victor von Weizacker, a Protestant, founded Die Kreatur (1926-1930). For Buber,
Every religion has its origin in a revelation. No religion is absolute truth, none is a piece of heaven that has come down to earth. Each religion is a human truth. That means it represents the relationship of a particular human community as such to the Absolute. Each religion is a house of the human soul longing for God, a house with windows and without a door; I need only open a window and God’s light penetrates; but if I make a hole in the wall and break out, then I have not only become houseless but a cold light surrounds me that is an exile into which man is driven; here he is in exile more clearly than elsewhere because in his relationship to God he is separated from the men of other communities; and not sooner than in the redemption of the world can we be liberated from the exiles and brought into a common world of God. But the religions that know that they are bound together in common expectation, they can call to one another greetings from exile to exile, from house to house through the open windows. (Friedman, III: 228-229)
But there are also times when there is an Eclipse of God where “Disintegration of the Word has taken place. The Word has its essence in revelation, its effect in the life of the form, its currency during the domination of the form that has died. This is the course and the counter-course of the eternal and eternally present Word in history.” And just as there are times when “… the living Word appears … in which the solidarity of connection between I and the world is renewed,” there are also times “… in which alienation between I and the world, loss of reality, growth of fate, is completed,” when “… there comes the great shudder, the holding of the breath in the dark, and the preparing silence.” (Buber: 119)
3. Franz Rosenzweig’s “The New Thinking — ‘Speech-Thinking’”
The terms speech-thinking and New Thinking are practically synonymous. For Rosenzweig — as for Hamann, Rosenstock-Huessy, and all other speech-thinkers — experience, speech time, and an awareness of the importance of names are man’s primary means of discovering life’s secrets and of realizing one’s creaturely potential. Together, the way, the measure, and the rhythm of existence are revealed to those who can truly listen to the “music of existence”; only in this way can thinking recover its proper tone and sense of mission. Note that those associated with the Patmos group and with speech-thinking have taken seriously the reality of history, of their respective religious traditions, of creation, revelation and redemption — without proclaiming to others that the true keys to the Kingdom are to be divined by the cloven hooves of theologians. The Johannine setting, the Age of the Spirit, of the Word/word, shared by these speech-thinkers enables them to meet one another under the aegis of the Spirit, of the word — in speech, within their own unique, experiential, temporal situations. Mother phrase Rosenzweig uses to describe the New Thinking is “experiential philosophy” (erfahrende Philosophie). This orientation is apparent from Rosenzweig’s account of those who influenced his discovering the new thinking and his writing the Star of Redemption.
“Whatever the The Star of Redemption can do to renew our ways of thinking is concentrated in this method.” Feuerbach first discovered it and Hermann Cohen introduced it to philosophy.“The main influence was Eugen Rosenstock; a full year and a half before I began to write I had seen the rough draft of the now published Angewandte Seelenkunde. Since then, the new philosophy has been expounded by Hans Ehrenberg and Victor von Weizsäcker, Rudolf Ehrenberg’s work was ”… the first work to subordinate the doctrine of organic nature to the law of real, irreversible time. Martin Buber in his I and Thou, and Ferdinand Ebner in Das Wort und die geistigen Realitäten, written at exactly the same time as my book, approached the heart of the new thinking (I dealt with that in the middle section of the Star) independently of the aforementioned books, and of each other. The notes to my Judah ha-Levi give instructive examples of the practical application of the new thinking.“ The unpublished works of Florens Christian Rang reflect a ”profound knowledge of all this."
Two classic passages from Rosenzweig’s essay, The New Thinking, written in 1925, describe speech thinking and highlight the importance of time and timing as its essential ingredients: “In the new thinking, the method of speech replaces the method of thinking maintained in all earlier philosophies. Thinking is timeless and wants to be timeless… Speech is bound to time and nourished by time, and it neither can nor wants to abandon this element. It does not know in advance just where it will end. It takes its cues from others. In fact, it lives by that other is the one who listens to a story, answers in the course of a dialogue, or joins in a chorus; while thinking is always a solitary business, even when it is done in common by several who philosophize together.”
In real conversation, minds are open and ears willing to allow the mind to be affected by the other’s words. Even the initiator of conversation never fully knows in advance what he will actually say until he “sizes up” the situation — literally, plays it “by ear.” Meaningful conversation is invariably linked to proper timing, the moment is seized by speech and an event happens Similarly, Our words are seized, drawn out, created by the moment, as was the case for David, Jeremiah, and the Gospel dialogues. Just as speech can create a new time sense, create future and meaning, so too, a certain time may elicit verbal responses even against our will or even against our “better judgment.” Productive thinking is tied to speaking and timing it is thinking geared to a mandate, a command, a question, frequently merely a glance, a nod, as is the case where one is addressed although no spoken words were uttered. We think because we have been addressed; our minds are servants of speech. Schleiermacher noted that he needed his students and his classroom in order to be able to think. In the case of the Sophists, it was the agony (agones), the strife of words, which governed the Sophistic mind; whereas for Plato and Socrates dialogue was a tool for enabling the mind “to see” the immutable and eternal forms of truth, beauty, goodness, and justice. For Homer, for the Israelites, for Sophists and rhetoricians like Isocrates and Cicero, as for the early Christians, the word, tone and timing were critical to meaning and understanding. Shakespear’s, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” illustrates the way words touch, reach, confront our most private and sacred regions when and only when they are uttered at the right time and with appropriate intonation; occasions where one never knows in advance whether or not it will turn out to have been a kairos.
In the next passage from the New Thinking note that logical thinking for Rosenzweig is identified with the tradition of the solitary thinker, for Buber, the “monological thinker,” for whom time and timing are nonessential elements. The logical thinker “knows his thoughts. in advance, and expounding them is merely a concession to what he regards as the defectiveness of our means of communication.” In actuality, this defectiveness is not due to speech, but rather to time. “To require time means that we cannot anticipate, that we must wait for everything, that what is our’s depends on what is another’s.” This truth, so basic for the speech-thinker, is, for Rosenzweig, beyond the thinking thinker’s comprehension Rosenzweig says:
“I use the term ‘speech thinking’ for the new thinking. ‘Speech-thinking’ is, of course, still a form of thinking, just as the old thinking that depended solely on thinking could not go on without inner speech. The difference between the old and the new, the ‘logical’ and the ‘grammatical’ thinking, does not lie in the fact that one is silent while the other is audible, but in the fact that the latter needs another person, and takes time seriously — actually, these two things are identical In the old philosophy, ‘thinking’ means thinking for no one else and speaking to no one else (and here, if you prefer, you may substitute ‘everyone’ or the well-known ‘all the world’ for ‘no one’). But ‘speaking’ means speaking to someone and thinking for someone. And this someone is always a quite definite someone, and he has not merely ears, like ‘all the world,’ but also a mouth.”
The new thinker is one who will “employ the method of sound common sense as a method of scientific thinking.” What is it that distinguishes sound from unsound common sense? Again, the answer lies in a sense of time and timing. “Common sense waits, goes on living; it has no fixed ideas; it knows all: but only ”in due time.“ This is the secret of the new thinking; it enables us to grasp the meaning of Goethe’s ”understanding in time" when he said:
Why is truth so woefully Removed? To depths of secret banned? None perceives in proper time! If we But perceived in proper time, how bland The truth would be, how fair to see! How near and ready to our hand!
As Hamann attacked Kant’s rejection of common sense experience and time-bound everyday language in favor of the artificial and abstract world of impersonal reason and mathematics, so too, Rosenzweig, like Hamann, asserted that all cognition is time-bound. Rosenzweig states this most dramatically in the opening Book of the Star entitled, “On the Possibility of the Cognition of the All” — “Against the philosophers!”. “All cognition of the All originates in death, in the fear of death. Philosophy takes it upon itself to throw off the fear of things earthly, to rob death of its poisonous sting, and Hades of its pestilential breath.” In Understanding the Sick and the Healthy, a popularization of his Star, Rosenzweig repeats this theme: “Life is not eternal. It flows from birth toward death… Life lives itself toward death.” His friend, Rosenstock-Huessy, would say, “The tomb is the womb of time.” In Understanding the Sick and the Healthy, the doctor at the sanatorium diagnosed the symptoms of the patient as “acute apoplexia philosophica,” which results from being separated from his everyday “experientially” controlled life-situation. The patient begins to recover his sanity after responding to “environmental/experiential therapy” which is time-and speech-bound. It is only after exposure to this treatment that the patient is again able to see God-man-world in their proper relationships as they are revealed to him by speech and time. The cured patient realizes that “… reality… has its present, its past, and its future, without which it cannot be… properly known. Reality… has its past and its future, an everlasting past and an eternal future. To have cognition of/God, the world, and man, is to know what they do or what is done to them in these tenses of reality, and to know what they do to one another or what is done to them by one another.” As for Hamann in his discussion of the mysterious thread that unites and gives meaning to the Biblical narrative, so too with Rosenzweig, we take our cue from speech and time, not from thought.
The “new thinking” occasions a new type of thinker, one who “stands between philosophy and theology.” While “theological concerns have assisted the new thinking in coming to the fore,” the method and its focus is not with “religious problems,” although these are dealt with side by side with “problems of logic, ethics and aesthetics.” If one wishes, despite these protestations, to call the method theological, then he insists, that is “no less new as theology than as philosophy.” God did not, after all, create religion; he created the world.“ Originally, Judaism and Christianity were something quite a-religious; even after their institutionalization, each realized an ”impulse to overcome the fixity of a religious institution, and to return to the open field of reality."
For Christians open to the challenge of speech-thinking, I offer the following insights from my teacher, Rosenstock-Huessy:
“All things were made by the Word In the beginning there was neither mind nor matter. In the beginning was the Word. St. John was properly the first Christian theologian because he was overwhelmed by the spokenness of all meaningful happening. ”
“Hence the third article of the Creed is the specifically Christian one: from now on the Holy Spirit makes Man a partner in His own creation. In the beginning God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’ (Gen. 1:26). In this light, the Church Fathers interpreted human history as a process of making Man like God. They called it ‘anthropurgy’: as metallurgy refines metal from its ore, anthropurgy wins the true stuff of Man out of his coarse physical substance. Christ, in the center of history, enables us to participate consciously in this man-making process and to study its laws. ”
“The cogito ergo sum, for its rivalry with theology, was one-sided. We post-war thinkers are less concerned with the revealed character of the true God or the true character of nature than with the survival of a truly human society. In asking for a truly human society we put the question of truth once more, but our specific endeavor is the living realization of truth in mankind. Truth is divine and has been divinely revealed-credo ut intelligam. Truth is pure and can be scientifically stated-cogito ergo sum. Truth is vital and must be socially represented Respondeo etsi mutabor (I respond although I will be changed).”
“Whenever we speak, we assert our being alive because we occupy a center from which the eye looks backward, forward, inward, and outward. To speak, means to be placed in the center of the Cross of Reality.”
“The grammatical method is the way in which man becomes conscious of his place in history (backward), world (outward), society (inward), and destiny (forward). The grammatical method is, the, an additional development of speech itself, for, speech having given man this direction and orientation about his place in the universe through the ages, what is needed today is an additional consciousness of this power of direction and orientation. Grammar is the self-consciousness of language, just as logic is the self-consciousness of thinking. ”
“Although I believe that the Church is a divine creation and that the Athanasian Creed is true, I also believe that in the future, Church and Creed can be given a new lease on life only by services that are nameless and incognito. The inspirations of the Holy Spirit will not remain inside the walls of the visible or preaching Church. A third form, the listening Church, will have to unburden the older modes of worship by assembling the faithful to live out their hopes through working and suffering together in unlabelled, undenominational groups, thereby to wait and listen for the inbreak of a new consolation which shall redeem modern life from its curse of disintegration and mechanization. By this penance we may hope to rescue our hymns and Creeds and historic Churches from destruction in times to come. Christianity itself may rise from the dead if it now discards its own self-centeredness.” (ER-H: CF: 127-128)
5. Insights From Other Voices: Richard Rorty, Isaiah Berlin, and Walter J. Ong, S.J.
Let us be ever mindful of Tennyson’s words, “Our little systems have their day and cease to be; they are but broken images of Thee, O Lord,” and Nietzsche’s, “The will to a system betrays a lack of honesty.” Basil Willy’s The 17th Century Background, Ernesto Grassi’s Rhetoric as Philosophy: The Humanist Tradition, F.H. Heinemann’s Existentialism and the Modern Predicament and Richard Rorty’s, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, build on these assumptions and are worth your attention. Although I do not approach my subject as a philosopher like Rorty, he and I have been trained in traditions from which, at some point, each has broken rather dramatically. The titles of chapters in Part Three of Rorty’s work: “ such as ”From Epistemology to Hermeneutics,“ ”Hermeneutics and Edification, “and ”Philosophy in the Conversation of Mankind, “ are suggestive of the direction of the changes in his own thinking. This kind of work might be useful to those who approach our topic from a more traditional philosophical perspective — depending on one’s definition of ”philosophy. "
Rorty’s “Introduction” is a particularly useful place to begin since it clears the air, sums up the assumptions or “foundations” of traditional Western philosophizing from Descartes to Kant, and suggests as an alternative, what Rorty calls “edifying philosophy” — doing philosophy as open- ended conversation. I basically agree with Rorty’s basic criticisms except that, rather than turning to Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Dewey for answers, I prefer the more open-ended formulations based on speech and language in Rosenstock-Huessy’s Metanomics and Mikhail Bakhtin’s Metalinguistics, supplemented by insights from Rosenzweig, Buber, Walter J. Ong, S.J., and Isaiah Berlin.
I offer the following statement by Rorty, a formerly fairly traditional and highly repected American philosopher, as a kind of via negativa, as a good summary by a traditional American philosopher of what Rosenstock-Huessy and other “speech-thinkers” spent their lives trying to refute. Rorty concludes his Introduction with:
“I hope that what I have been saying has made clear why I chose ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature’ as a title. It is pictures rather than propositions metaphors rather than statements, which determine most of our philosophical convictions. The picture which holds traditional philosophy captive is that of the mind as a great mirror, containing various representations — some accurate, some not — and capable of being studied by pure, nonempirical methods. Without this later notion, the strategy common to Descartes and Kant — getting more accurate representations by inspecting, repairing, and polishing the mirror, so to speak — would not have made sense. Without this strategy in mind, recent claims that philosophy could consist of ‘conceptual analysis’ or ‘phenomenological analysis’ or ‘explication of meanings’ or examination of the ‘logic of language’ or of ‘the structure of the constituting activity of consciousness’ would not have made sense. It was such claims as these which Wittgenstein mocked in the Philosophical Investigations, and it is by following Wittgenstein’s lead that analytic philosophy has progressed toward the ‘post-positivistic’ stance it presently occupies. But Wittgenstein’s flair for deconstructing captivating pictures needs to be supplemented by historical awareness — awareness of the source of all this mirror-imagery — and that seems to me Heidegger’s greatest contribution. Heidegger’s way of recounting history of philosophy lets us see the beginnings of the Cartesian imagery in the Greeks and the metamorphoses of this imagery during the last three centuries. He thus lets us ‘distance’ ourselves from the tradition. Yet neither Heidegger nor Wittgenstein lets us see the historical phenomenon of mirror imagery, the story of the domination of the mind of the West by ocular metaphors, with a social perspective. Both men are concerned with the rarely favored individual rather than with society — with the chances of keeping oneself apart from the banal self-deception typical of the latter days of a decaying tradition. Dewey, on the other hand, though he had neither Wittgenstein’s dialectical acuity nor Heidegger’s historical learning, wrote his polemics against traditional mirror-imagery out of a vision of a new kind of society. In his ideal society, culture is no longer dominated by the ideal of objective cognition but by that of aesthetic enhancement. In that culture, as he said, the arts and the sciences would be ‘the unforced flowers of life.’ I would hope that we are now in a position to see the charges of ‘relativism’ and ‘irrationalism’ once leveled against Dewey as merely the mindless defensive reflexes of the philosophical tradition which he attacked.” Earlier, Rorty said, “In chapter eight I use some ideas drawn from Gadamer and Sartre to develop a contrast between ‘systematic’ and ‘edifying’ philosophy, and to show how ‘abnormal’ philosophy which does not conform to the traditional Cartesian-Kantian matrix is related to ‘normal’ philosophy. I present Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey as philosophers whose aim is to edify-to help their readers, or society as a whole, break free from outworn vocabularies and attitudes, rather than to provide ‘grounding’ for the intuitions and customs of the present.” In another passage, Rorty describes the “traditional Cartesian — Kantian pattern,” i. e., traditional philosophy as “an attempt to escape from history” (Rorty: 9-13)
In 1938, fifty years before Rorty’s work, Rosenstock-Huessy offered his own alternative to the Cartesian legacy in his Metanomics which he outlined in Out of Revolution: Autobiography tern Man, and in his essay, “In Defense of the Grammatical Method.” “Metanomics, then, might be interpreted as the search for the omnipresence of God in the most contradictory patters of human society. No wonder that though they all concur, they also must use different methods; the logical, or dialectcal, is in use for explaining the contradictions of propositions…; the mathematical and physical… The grammatical or dialogical: all men are identifiable; no, all men are different. In this latter proposition, I feel that we are in the center of all social problems of the future. The paradox of the human being in society is just this: that man is a separate unit with separate interests, and that he is a fellow with identical interests as well.” (R-H/IDGM: 42)
In support of Rosenstock-Huessy’s view of society as consisting of contradicting patterns of behaviour, I would like to cite Isaiah Berlin’s sense of reality which he describes as “agonistic liberalism” or “agonistic value pluralism.” According to John Gray, Berlin believes that “… ultimate human values are objective, but irreducibly diverse, that they are conflicting and often uncombinable, and that sometimes when they come into conflict with one another they are incommensurable; that is, they are not comparable by any rational measure… Political life, like moral life, abounds in radical choices between rival goods and evils, where reason leaves us in the lurch and whatever is done involves loss and sometimes tragedy.” Gray calls Berlin’s political outlook “… agonistic liberalism, taking the expression from the Greek word agon, whose meaning covers both competition or rivalry and the conflicts of characters in tragic drama. By contrast with the dominant liberalism of our time, which in their claim that fundamental liberties, rights or claims of justice are (or indeed must be) compatible and harmonious are Panglossian in their optimism, Berlin’s is a stoical and tragic liberalism of unavoidable conflict and irreparable loss among inherently rivalrous values. Because it does not share the hopes (or illusions) of the dominant liberalisms, of our own day and in the past, about the compatibility of basic liberties and equalities, or subscribe to the Whiggish philosophies of history with which these liberalisms are associated and upon which they depend, Berlin’s political thought offers the liberal intellectual tradition anew lease on life.” (Gray: 1-2)
In his Chapter, “Voice and Opening Closed Systems,” in his work, Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture, my friend Walter J. Ong, S.J., says that: “The place at which independent systems meet and act on one another or communicate with one another is called an interface. The concept ‘interface,’ so defined, presents difficulties, for if the systems are independent, how can they be interacting? The difficulties are due not merely to the concept of ‘interface’ itself, but more directly to that of ‘system’ and especially that of ‘independent system,’ for the independence of a system is in the last analysis always relative independence. In Paul S. Weiss’s definition, … a system is a ‘rather circumscribed complex’ of ‘relatively bounded phenomena’ which retains a ‘relatively stationary pattern’ despite a ‘high degree of variability, … among its constituent units.’ The ‘rather’ and ‘relatively’ are deliberate and crucial. In short, no system is ever totally closed, ever totally independent. They all interact with something other than themselves.” (Ong: 334-335)
I will end with an appropriate quote from Walter Ong who not only was an avid reader of Rosenstock-Huessy’ writings, but visited him in Vermont almost forty years ago Father Ong concluded his Yale University Terry Lectures (1964), The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultual and Religious History, with these words:
"The word remains for us at root a mystery, a datum in the sense-world existing in closest association with that other mystery which is understanding itself The word is a datum with a history, and a complex one… Through the spoken word… man’s capacities for reflection are actualized as he enters into further and further communion with the universe around him, with his fellow man, and with himself.
"In presenting himself to man in his Word, God as known in the Hebrew and Christian tradition has thereby entered into man’s process of self-awareness, of reflective presence in the world, into the interior structure of history within the human psyche. The word of God in the Old Testament was his manifestation and his action and his power. In the New Testament it is all this and also more specifically his Son, Jesus Christ, God himself, whom Thomas the Apostle addressed as ‘My Lord and my God’ (John: 20:28). The Incarnation itself is an event not only in the objective world but also in the history of communication, in the mystery of sound.
“Those with faith read history differently — and, as I believe, more completely — than do others, but faith or no, we must all deal with the same data, and among these data we find not only the elaborate transformations of the word which follow upon its initial spoken existence but also the permanent irreducibility of the spoken word and of sound itself. The mystery of sound is not the only mystery among the sense. There is boundless mystery, of another sort, invision, too, and further mystery in touch, as well as in taste and smell. But the mystery of sound is… the most productive of understanding and unity, the most personally human, and in this sense closest to the divine.” (Ong: 323-324)
At the front of his work, Father Ong had a single quotation; it was from Rosenstock-Huessy: “Erfahrungen ersten Grades, ersten Ranges, werden nicht durch das Auge gemacht.” [Experiences of the first order, of the first rank, are not realized through the eye.]
I close with a quote from Hamann which I used for my book: now, my friends and listeners, “Speak! That I May See Thee!” Thank you.
The Jesuit Student Union of Philosophers, Cracow, Poland, November 11-13, 1997