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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Words and Images 6

Here’s one of the frames of this essay that I especially like:

Un mot peut prendre la place d’un objet dans la réalité:

A word can take the place of an object in reality

OK, I’m not sure what “in reality” means in this context. My best estimate suggests that if one doesn’t want to point to the sun in discourse, one can use the word “sun”/“soleil” and (generally) be understood.

Subsequent frames will emphasize the principle that the word “soleil”/“sun” can intelligibly substitute for the sound (the woman in the picture seems to be speaking) or an image. Now, obviously, “soleil” (as a word) won’t give you a tan — otherwise I’d be much less pale than I am. But part of what agitates me about the topic of this whole seminar is the mystification of words —and once you open up the fluidity of meaning-gestures as this frame does (a word can take the place of an image or a sound), you get a much sounder perspective on what’s going on with words anyway. So long as you reserve for words a special, distinct quality of communicative puissance, you’ve already ensured that they’ll come out of your analysis as having a unique meaning-bearing function.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're probably right to pause at "dans la réalité" - it's not an exaggeration to say that a lot of theoretical real estate gets carved up in the act of deciding what that phrase means, esp. in linguistics and psycholinguistics.

A question: does the choice of "soleil" make a difference in the level of agitation? If he'd used "poing," "boite" or any other noun instead, would it be any different?

January 08, 2007 7:55 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

This one sends me straight into eucharistic theology.

My gut reaction is to say "no, it can't. Words can only represent. They can't make the thing really present." A word can stand in for an object, but it's less really present than if the object is right there in front of me, ready for other kinds of sensual perception.

But as soon as I start thinking in terms of real presence, I have to reckon with what that means in the context of the eucharist. I'm pretty insistent that Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the sacrament. But that's not because the human person Jesus has just shown up. We have a different understanding of what it means to be really present when we're talking about Christ being really present in the mass or me being really present in class. For me to count as really present, my professor is going to expect me to be visible, audible, tactile, etc.

Somehow, Christ's presence in the eucharist is related to the words of the eucharist. Of course, God is the only and ultimate source of Christ's presence - but it's also related to the words that we say. Do words, then, have the power to conjure a presence?

Of course, eucharistic theology is way more complicated - we have to account for matters of intention, and gesture, and the tradition and authority of the church, and so on. Still, my claim of Christ's real presence gives me pause in the face of my initial reaction that a word can't be just as real as the object.

March 28, 2007 11:48 AM  
Blogger AKMA said...

Bracketing extended usages of the verbal-ity of “the Word” — this, I think, gets very much to the heart of the issue. Magritte points to the extent to which words and images and things relate to one another in connections of standing-in-for in particular contexts, to differing extents, with innumerable possible consequences. The word sun can indicate the “actual” sun effectively, without reproducing its full solarity. Indeed, the world of communication works better that way.

But some of our discourses seem tacitly to require either that words and entities bear an unalterable, precise, essential relationship. Even when they offer explicit disclaimers, they trade on the sense that “if it’s not essential, then it must be entirely whimsical and meaningless.” That forced choice generates the sense of hauntedness in hermeneutics, the sense that something’s not quite right if it doesn’t issue in absolute, transcendent results.

But (to return to your point) if eucharistic bread is the Body of Christ, it clearly is so in a non-obvious sense; it’s substitutable but different, in a way congruent with the word-“sun” standing in for the heavenly-body-“sun.”

Or I may have missed your point.

Either way, George Steiner’s Real Presences pertains to the discussion, as does someone’s observation that I was powerfully present at Mass yesterday.

March 29, 2007 10:53 AM  

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