From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
19.1 (1999): 177-97.
Copyright © 1999, The Cervantes Society of America
||HENRY W. SULLIVAN|
For Charles Presberg, Il miglior ingegno
rofessor Howard Mancing has written a very gracious and courteous Response to a recent article of mine in Cervantes 18 (Spring 1998), in which he defines his areas of agreement and disagreement with me. I'm delighted this has happened, because his criticisms have forced me to think harder about the terms in which that article was framed and how it was possible for me to have perpetrated such a spectacular mistransmission of my intentions. As the case set out below will attest, Jacques Lacan was passionately anti-Cartesian throughout his career, regularly deploring and dissecting the Cogito for its bogus logic.1 This, obviously, is a position I share. Beyond that, I am also
commented in his seminar 11 on the Cretan liar's paradox from Antiquity (Lacan
1978, chap. 11). When the Cretan makes the statement: I am lying,
is he telling the truth? Or, if he is telling the truth, how can he really
be lying? The answer lies in the difference between the statement
(énoncé) and its utterance (énonciation).
The utterance (with its implied subject, the Cretan) is truthful, while his
statement is merely that, a statement: I am lying. Lacan practiced
a similar operation to expose the fallaciousness of the
cogito by [p. 178] placing a simple
colon after Descartes's first verb. In the following repunctuation, the first
I is then the subject of the enunciation, while the second
I is the subject of the statement. We see that the two
I's do not refer to the same subject in the reformulation, I
think: Therefore I am (Sullivan 1996, 180-81). Again, in the
sentence: I have read Christopher Isherwood's I am a
Camera, the two I's are clearly not the same, the second
I of the book-title being he subject of a statement in its own
right. Similarly, in a simulacrum of the Cartesian use of two I's
joined by a coordinating conjunction (ergo) that would supposedly
have a causative relationship and render the I's coterminous,
we might offer this example: I am a true believer in Jesus Christ,
therefore (ergo) I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life is true.
While the citation from the New Testament (John 14: 6) would normally require
quote marks within quote marks on the printed page, such a finesse of distinction
could never be heard in daily speech, and yet no one would reasonably suppose
the two I am's referred to the same subject.
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delighted about the resultant misunderstanding, because there is no one I'd
rather disagree with than Howard Mancing whom I genuinely admire. I mean
that I have respected his judgment and scholarship for decades; his work
on Cervantes in particular; and, most recently, his impressive attempts to
crack the stubborn problem of any possible taxonomy for the Novelas
Now Professor Mancing states in the conclusions to his remarks that: My aim in this response has been less to criticize Henry Sullivan [. . .] than to suggest that there is, outside of the narrow confines of the predominant paradigms of poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theory, an important and largely ignored (by literary scholars) view of the human being that is grounded in modern research in biology and psychology (1999, 167). I think this desire to stay on the issue itself as a problem, setting all personalities aside, partakes of the true spirit of academic debate: what our public discussions should always be, but frequently fail to be. It is in the same spirit that I here offer my own Response to him, with thanks to Editor Michael McGaha for the opportunity to do so. I shall subdivide the Response into the following sections: 1) Areas of Consensus, 2) To the Lighthouse: Inseparable but Distinct, 3) Duo, cum idem dicunt, non sunt idem: The Body and the Organism, 4) The Third Term as
2 I am
thinking principally of Howard Mancing's book The Chivalric World of Don
Quijote: Style, Structure and Narrative Technique (1982) and the paper
he read in late January, 1998 at the Annual Meeting of the Cervantes Society
of America held at UCLA. There, he took the traditional categories of novel
and romance and created Venn diagrams showing how much or how little
each novela ejemplar fit in either or both categories:
a new departure.
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Solvent of Binary Dualisms, 5) Sapient Man & Cognitive Science, 6) On
the Origins of Human Language, and 7) Conclusion.
1 - AREAS OF CONSENSUS
Howard Mancing rejects the dualism of many
literary critics usually, I would add, of an aesthetic-formalist or
a words on the page bent who insist on a water-tight,
hermetically sealed distinction between the worlds of real life and of fiction.
According to this critical dualism, the two are never the same thing and
they must be approached by making a supposedly absolute difference
between fact and fiction, ascribing to fictionality a unique
ontological status different from that operative in the real world
(Mancing 1999, 159). Mancing concurs with me that what we can know and
how we know it of fictional characters, historical personages, and
living human beings is in most cases very similar. Then he adds: I
would extend that argument to say that what we can know and how we
know it of anything, regardless of whether it is fact or
fiction, is in most cases very similar. I base this assertion
on what we have come to know about how the human mind works in perceiving
and understanding the world and, by extension, in perceiving and understanding
texts, as a part of our world (159). To psychoanalytic arguments based
on Lacan's case that there is only one signifying system of human language
and discourse operative in fictional or real worlds, that the unconscious
is structured like a language, that the division(s) of the human subject
can be reduplicated in fiction, or Humberto Eco's arguments for the small
worlds of fiction as subsuming our assumptions about the empirical
world of sense experience, Mancing adds and approves of arguments drawn from
Richard Gerrig, Baruch Hochman, Robin Dunbar, Nicholas Humphrey and Mikhail
Bakhtin to agree that the clues that we take in and use to construct
an image of a person are virtually identical in literature and life
(160). Mancing concludes his preliminary remarks by stating: All of
this suggests that Sullivan is correct in his assertion that fictional characters
are every bit as susceptible to psychoanalytic understanding as are human
beings of flesh and blood. In this measure, then, Howard and I are
in full agreement.
2 - TO THE LIGHTHOUSE: INSEPARABLE BUT DISTINCT
To my I must confess truly stunned surprise, Howard subsequently alleges that I am guilty of falling into the old Cartesian mind
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and body dualism in the process of erecting a case for legitimately
psychoanalyzing Don Quixote or other literary characters. I have fought
passionately all my adult life against the tyranny of the res cogitans/res
extensa travesty and its catastrophic, long-range impact on Western society
and, now, on our global society in general. This is not the place to explain
the whys and wherefores, though some of my anti-Cartesian objections may
be inferred from what follows and from the footnotes. Suffice it to say that
I also agree whole-heartedly with Howard that the mind/body dualism is untenable,
that he is perfectly correct in asserting that the mind and the body are
inseparable, and that it is more profitable to ponder how they are related
than to cleave to the absolute or abyssal Cartesian separation
of the two. All this being the case, how could two intelligent, critically
sympathetic and well-intentioned people be apparently so much at odds in
their reading? Like Howard, I think there is far more at stake here than
simple personalities. I believe the disagreements set out in these pages
go to the heart of a current crisis in how we, at the turn of the millennium,
are grappling with, or not grappling with, the concept of mind. I should
like, in the balance of this Response, to try and set out as carefully
as I know how in what I think the true distinctions between mind and
body consist. At the same time, I should like both to corroborate and modify,
in psychoanalytic terms, the insistence of cognitive science that the two
are connected and inseparable.
In the first place, mind is inseparable from body but also distinct from it. More pertinently for matters of cognition, mind is inseparable from brain but also distinct from it. Mancing adduces a number of terms suggested by neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists to try and bridge the gap or difference between mind and brain. He approvingly cites Varela's embodied mind, as well as other coinages such as the body in the mind, the mind-brain, the brain-mind, mind/brain, brain/mind, and so forth. In a footnote, however, Howard admits that there is a problem here: Hobson argues persuasively for some term that includes both of the concepts of brain and mind, and more, in a single word. Lacking such a term, which would more realistically and effectively describe the reality of biological cognition, he settles on this hyphenated version [i.e., mind-brain] (163, n. 10; emphasis mine). The reason that such a term is lacking (i.e., one that would include both brain and mind) lies in the temptation of cognitive science and of other historical attempts that would eliminate Cartesian dualism to collapse the very distinctions that are so troublesome: to try and solve the problem by explaining away one side of man's psycho-physical union. It is very important to note here
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that a mind-body distinction is not the same as a mind-body
dualism. The overcoming of the problem should depart from stating
more precisely in what such a mind-body distinction consists.
Throughout the remarks contained in Howard's Second dualism: Mind/Body section, I sense a very strong temptation to adopt this solution: to explain away one side of psycho-physical union by collapsing it into the other. It is enlightening to browse through a compendious reference-work, such as The Oxford Companion to the Mind edited some decade ago by Richard Gregory, and see this same temptation at work. The whole volume gives us an immense quantity of interesting information on brains, neural synapses, the nervous system, brain damage, etc., but virtually nothing on mind as distinct (but not separate) from brain, arguably the reason that the reader would consult the book in the first place. The article on Genius, for example, is a bare couple of paragraphs in length and pretty much throws up its hands at any attempt to account for a Mozart, for example. An extremely lengthy article, however, is devoted to the Nervous System and explicitly given pride of place by the editor in his Preface. The author, Peter W. Nathan, goes all the way in reducing mind to the biology of the nervous system as early as his opening sentence: For the neurologist, there is no such thing as the mind [sic]. There are certain activities of the brain endowed with consciousness that it is convenient [sic] to consider as mental activities (1987, col. 514a). Convenient perhaps, but hardly a theory of consciousness. . . .
This may very well be an extremism to which Howard Mancing would never subscribe. But the intrinsic danger in cognitive science construed as modern biology, neuroscience, evolutionary science, and linguistics (Mancing 1999, 162) is that it demotes the particularity of human mind (as active discourse in language, non-material symbol formation, interpretation and misinterpretation, or what we may broadly term human culture) to a function of brain, rather than to view mind, in a variety of unique respects, as being distinct from brain.
Perhaps the most basic point to establish is that mind is dependent on brain as its physical support, but is not coterminous with it. Of course they are inseparable. When the brain is dead, the mind ceases to function. Human minds are more than mere brains, however, but quite how and why this should be the case is a dilemma which cognitive scientists have yet to solve. Species across the evolutionary scale from chickens to primates all have brains, but they have no cultural memory or recuperable traces of their past
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comparable to those possessed by humans. The materiality of Cervelle de
veau is prized as a delicacy in France, but no one would maintain that
calves' brains supported a mind in the sense that humans exercise
it in every aspect of daily life. I have chosen the analogy of a lighthouse
to try and make this point more tangible and comprehensible.
The stout turret of a lighthouse, placed on a promontory or some dangerous area of rocks near shipping lanes, supports a warning beam powered by electricity. The physical structure, the power lines, the reflecting surface of glass, the extremely high wattage, the mechanism that controls the piercing beam's rotations and the regular periodicity of the flash are all inseparably connected, or else the lighthouse would not and could not function. But the flash sends a message. It is not a random light. Not only was the whole structure a production of the subject in the minds of architects and engineers prior to its physical existence, but the structure of the lighthouse's message is also a product of mind. Moreover, the encoded message is intelligible to the navigator or the captain on any ship's bridge. The lighthouse warns of dangerous waters and/or functions as a landmark by which to check or plot a course. As regards the distinctness of the beam from the physical structure that supports it, this may be understood in the very literal sense of distinctly visible in the darkness or, more to the point for our argument, visible as a light flashing every ten or twelve seconds atop a tower invisible to the naked eye in that same darkness. In other words, the beam is distinct from its physical support, while being wholly inseparable from it in real terms.
To pursue the analogy with brain (tower) and mind (light), we could also point out that the two are composed of a different substance, if light rays may be scientifically designated as a substance. The tower is constructed with solid materials, cables, mirrors, motors, etc., but the light is a series of electro-magnetic waves. It is a digression here to dispute the physical properties of light as a wave or a particle; the matter is treated in any good high-school textbook. Evidently, however, the tower and the light have a divergent materiality, while always remaining inseparable from one another. The light could never function on its own. But, as Lacan has argued, there is also a materiality of language, inasmuch as its power to impact can be measured (what I have elsewhere termed the fifth dimension of effect) (Sullivan 1991, 47). Neither mind nor light are some non-existent entity of non-corporeal substance (like ghosts or angels).
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But mind like light as to tower is distinct from brain matter
in a variety of unique respects, while remaining inseparable from it. The
question is: how?
2 - DUO, CUM IDEM DICUNT, NON SUNT IDEM:
THE BODY AND THE ORGANISM
The old Latin tag holds that: Two, when
they say the same thing, are not the same thing. In the 1998 article,
I stood on my hands to make a tripartite distinction among the Lacanian orders
of the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic (with some brief remarks on
the Symptom). These three orders are different and independent at times,
more usually overlap (as the figure of the Borromean knot illustrates) (Sullivan
1998, 11), and at their center combine in a threesome as the locus of the
Symptom, the object a forming our connection to the Real, the psychic
binding and metaphor-creating functions of the Name-of-the-Father, etc. Following
Lacan, I distinguished the human organism (as an equivalence of the Real)
from the body (as an equivalence of the Imaginary), and both from the divided
subject (subject of being + subject of speech) as an equivalence of the Symbolic.
The human organism and the body, I claimed, are not the same thing (non
sunt idem). Howard, with a stroke of the pen, obliterates the carefully
delineated distinction. He writes: First, there is the supposed distinction
between the body and the human organism. Apparently such a distinction is
important for Lacan, but as far as most of the rest of the world is concerned
the word body is a perfectly acceptable in fact, the
preferred term for the human organism (1999, 162).
In throwing out this difference forthwith, Howard is actually the author
of the mind and body dualism which he claims to detect in my paper. It
receives no further consideration from him. The a priori rejection
takes a single sentence: In what follows here I use the term
body specifically in its straightforward, standard sense as referring
[to] the organism of flesh and bone the living, breathing human being
who exists in the material world: the human organism whether that usage
is acceptable to Lacan (and Sullivan) or not (ibid.). By throwing out
the third term (organism as distinct from body), body and organism
are collapsed into one, the two-in-one is then contrasted with the other
side of the binary: mind. Et voilà! Cartesian dualism. Now
this is Howard's thinking, not mine.
Twenty-three years of defending Lacan's theories having resigned me to the fact that, in the face of the firmly entrenched North
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American episteme (or, indeed, the whole tradition of Anglo-Saxon philosophy: Late Medieval nominalism, Lockean sensationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, logical positivism, etc.), it is very difficult to get to first base in outlining an alternate episteme to received ideas. And Howard is certainly not to blame for that. Clearly, what I failed to do was to explain adequately what semantic value I was attributing to body, as distinct from organism, and I accept the responsibility for it. In this section, I would like to differentiate some key connotations that the term body may have, in order to show that it really does differ from the organism in important respects and actually helps form the bridge between the organism and the mind. So, when Howard and Henry were saying the same thing, they were not actually saying the same thing. . . .
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coherent language for the first time. This is the phase where Lacanians talk a great deal about separation, alienation, division, castration by the pure signifier of language, etc. It is also this Imaginary phase which gives rise later to culturally determined judgments.
Whatever the objective reality of their physical
organism as such, human beings gradually begin to form conceptual and cultural
interpretations of the body which spill over into areas of social desirability,
aesthetics, and erotics. The organism is interpreted as a body which is fat
or thin, tall or short, beautiful or ugly, and so on. Or again, as too
fat and too thin, too tall and too short, etc. If we
say, for example, that a woman has a gorgeous body or a man has
an awesome body, we are certainly making a subjective, aesthetic
judgment, colored in all probability by sexuality. Dominant cultural
determinations (e.g., Cindy Crawford on the cover of Vogue) and the
infinite complexities of individual human desire shape notions of what a
body should be, as against what the physical organism actually is.
Thus, bald men have hair transplants, go to the gym to work out and become
more muscular, wear elevator shoes to seem taller; women have breast implants,
face lifts, cosmetic surgery, liposuction, all in the name of being more
beautiful or more desirable. In other cultures and
traditions, it is considered socially desirable if not mandatory
that small boys be circumcised or small girls undergo clitoridectomy and
infibulation. But whatever the symbolics, aesthetics or erotics of these
procedures, we are talking of modification of the physical organism in the
name of a cultural imperative. It is this body I am talking about,
and it is clearly not coterminous or identical with the organism plain and
I do not remember if the Miss America Pageant is still celebrated annually on TV. But that spectacular parade of the more, or most, desirable of women has clearly moved the Imaginary body into the Symbolic order. The show has millions of dollars invested in it, corporate sponsors, vast viewing audiences, hopeful contestants, music, commercial breaks: all of it good, solid Symbolic-order meshing, cultural exchange, and bestowal of prestigious prizes produced on a vast communicative scale. And we are now in the realm of mind. Everyone involved has made, or will have to make, critical decisions (which swimsuit? Which TV staging strategies? Which contestant? Which partner in the married household controls the remote?). And though some cognitive scientists might have it otherwise, making critical decisions actually having to act on the
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basis of interpretation about matters concerning the perception of beauty
belongs to the world of mind. By now, we have left the brute organism and
even the Lacanian Imaginary body behind.
4 - THE THIRD TERM AS SOLVENT OF BINARY DUALISMS
The poststructuralists used to torment themselves
mightily in the 1970s and 1980s about binaries. Perhaps I am guilty of a
tautology in referring to binary dualisms. Surely they are the
same thing? Nevertheless, dualism has been applied across history
to such divergent systems as the Zoroastrian dualism between Ormuzd and Ahriman,
Gnostic dualism, Manichaean dualism, Cartesian dualism, and so forth. I refer
here to the kind of binary opposites that, to Jacques Derrida, seemed to
imply hierarchies (man and woman; high and low; bread and butter) and which
for him needed to be deconstructed, their hegemonic implications inverted,
and thereby subverted. One of the favorite poststructuralist headaches was
the inside/outside binary. In a circle on a plane surface, there was an inside
and an outside. But these notions could be valorized in hierarchal or political
power terms. Following this reasoning, it was politically preferable to be
an insider, not an outsider. Inside was generally more coveted (shelter,
warmth, security) than outside. I even remember debates about sexual politics
and the binary opposition of inside as referring to female sexual organs,
as against male organs outside. But a more interesting question to ask is:
how do these binaries get set up in the first place?
According to Lacan, the mirror stage is a period when the small child lives in an illusory symbiotic union with its mother/main caretaker. In Imaginary terms, the child supposes itself to be in a species-specific merger or identification with the imago of the mother, making no distinction between the continuum that is itself and her. It believes itself, in other words, to form a One with the mother. The illusory Oneness of this dyad is broken up by the intervention of the third term, which may be defined variously as the signifier of language per se, or the phallus as first, pure signifier (i.e., without any particular signified as such), or, later, the Law of the Name-of-the-Father as signifier. The child now realizes not without anguish that One is really two, through the intervention of three. It is the third term that establishes such fundamental human distinctions as difference, differentiation, lawful and unlawful, good and bad, etc. It also gives rise to such psychic phenomena as separation anxiety, castration fears (understood as the diminishing of the subject's power),
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or the sense of taboo, and so forth. What is lost from sight in the
poststructuralist (or other) discussions of dualistic binary oppositions
is how the two of the binary came into being in the first place. Let's go
back to the circle for an illustration.
A person stands in front of a completely blank chalkboard. S/he then draws a good, freehand circle on the board with chalk, such that the area within the chalkboard's frame has now been divided into an inside and an outside of this circle. Thus there are the only two possibilities for the locus of any given point within the frame: either inside it or outside it. How did this limitation of choice arise? Why are there only two places to be?
What is lost from sight in this exercise is that the binary is the result of a distinction, whose agency is no longer visible. By focusing on the resultant binary, the onlookers forget that the person in front of the board actually produced it with a grand, circular flourish of the chalk. This, in Lacanese, was a pure, phallic gesture of division without any specific signified entailed. The motion of drawing the circle was equivalent to the action of the third term in dividing, separating, and distinguishing one thing from another, which in and of itself means nothing. Interpretations may be imputed to the binary, but that's a matter of subjective determination. The phallic agency here is so elusive, because everything happens so quickly. The deed is done, but the agent is gone. All that remains is the trace of its passage across a chalkboard.
Thinking in binaries is pre-eminently an Imaginary process and highly entrapping. The way out of the trap is to keep the third term constantly in view, as a function of effect as well as perpetrator of result. The third term thereby acts as a solvent of these binary dualisms. The distinction between the organism and the body is not a specious one, as I hope the above argument will have shown. But, more importantly, Lacan's uncommon piece of common sense in establishing his tripartite distinction (Real, Imaginary, Symbolic) releases us from the unnecessary prison of binary dualisms. It prevents us from having to view mind and body as some kind of either/or choice. Even more importantly, it relieves us of the temptation to be rid of the dilemma by collapsing the one into the other, as some cognitive scientists have done. This move is actually the ultimate Imaginary gesture. Behind the anguish of contending with the Two of phallic separation lies the even deeper nostalgia for the One (the center of Plotinus's philosophical system, for example). The desire of many serious scientists and psychologists to have away with the opposition of mind and body has led them to level this distinction
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completely, making mind a function of brain and no more than that. Neuroscience
can teach us many fascinating things about the way the organism functions,
but it cannot serve as the basis of a theory of mind sensu
5 - SAPIENT MAN & COGNITIVE SCIENCE
The term Homo sapiens is one of a plethora of fanciful names coined
in the 1800s to describe postulated species of prehistoric man. Its customary
translation is wise or sapient man. Yet one does
not need to be a Latinist to recognize here the root of sapere, one
of the Latin verbs meaning to know. Now cognitive
science as the name for a field of inquiry takes two more Latin verbs
meaning to know, cognoscere and scire (whence
scientia or science), as its act of self-definition. So when we inquire
about the cognitive-scientific study of Homo sapiens, we are
tautologically asking the same question three times over: what do we know
about knowing what man knows. Or, to jump to the Greek verb epistemo
meaning to know, we are really asking an epistemological question,
traditionally a philosophical one, not one about the natural sciences and
the biology of man. But few questions troubled Lacan more over the years
than the status of what the subject can actually know. In Lacanian algebraic
notation, the formula S2 refers to knowledge as such, or the sum
of all signifiers in the culture. The divided subject precisely did not
know its own inner division; lived in a state of perpetual misrecognition
(méconnaissance); and attributed to the analyst in the transference
the status of the supposed subject of knowledge (le sujet
supposé savoir). The goal of analysis was to increase the subject's
knowledge of such things as his or her unconscious desire, his or her repetitious
identity question, his or her fundamental phantasm. In trying
to transmit his years of clinical experience to young training analysts,
Lacan elaborated an aetiology of the human subject, which at the same time
and of necessity was an epistemology of the subject.
Whole books have been written on Lacan's theories of the subject. I cannot possibly cover such an immense thematic here. Some of the moments in the aetiology of the subject have been touched on above (mirror stage, Imaginary symbiosis, castration and division, alienation in language, the division of the subject, etc.). But what has always struck me as odd in discussions of Homo sapiens and the beginnings of human society is what I would regard as the glib use of the term intelligence. Man the toolmaker, the hunter, or the bone carver, we are told, demonstrated a superior intelligence to
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that of species lower down in the evolutionary scale. This is often then
linked to considerations of cranial capacity, brain size, and so on: familiar
territory in the present debate. Intelligence is simply assumed as a given,
and never linked in my experience to language. Yet, to perform
another turn of etymologies, intellegere is really
inter-legere: to read between. On this intuition, intelligence
is already a form of reading, beyond even mere oral use of language. Furthermore,
an interesting crux is discoverable between the root of legere, to
read, and the third-declension noun lex-legis, the law. In fact, the
third-person singular form of the perfect tense of legere is lexit
(s/he read). Depending on context, legis could mean you
read (sing.) or of the law.
Here, I would submit, we are in Lacanian territory properly speaking: the connections between law as something written that can be read, and the need to read between to have the fullest knowledge and understanding. In other words, intelligence is a function of human language, not simply a function of the brain, which as we have said inseparably supports mind, but is distinct from it. We also may discern in these cruces the Lacanian case for the dependence of law (prohibition, taboo, the Law of the Name-of-the-Father) on the divisive impact of language sublating the small subject at about the age of one and a half years into the Symbolic order.
I presume that no one disputes the presence of this Symbolic capacity in sapient beings, whether they can actually read or not (illiterates still outnumber literates in the contemporary world). The point is that the vast majority of humans do master their mother tongue and speak, thus enabling them to participate and function in their particular society. Exchange of words is actually the most fundamental form of all Symbolic exchange. But if we all accept that humans possess a brain and if we also accept that there is a human symbol-system active in and supported by the brain (as this printed page would suggest), then the fundamental question remains: how does the human symbol-system come to rely for its physical support on the brain in the first place?
Noam Chomsky, an avowed Cartesian, looks to genetic transmission for the answer. He has stated: . . . it seems that many of the fundamental properties of these [language] grammars are part of innate endowment, so that the child in effect knows in advance what kind of grammar he must construct and then must determine which of the possible languages is the one to which he is exposed (1987, 421a; emphasis mine). Lacan, as we have seen, could not possibly accept this view. It is a self-evident statement that Homo sapiens has an
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innate capacity for language acquisition, since s/he (with tragic and rare
exceptions) always goes from being an infant (< Lat. in-fans, not
speaking) to a child speaking. But what is the process by which the symbol-system
(with no template or precedent in nature) comes to reside within this speaking
subject? The answer, in my view, lies in the aetiology of the human subject
as it (always for the first time) enters the particularity of the
world of speech and symbol. This always unprecedented journey yields necessary
and wonderful benefits, but castrates and traumatizes the individual in as
many ways as there are people. There can be no know[ing] in advance
what kind of grammar he must construct (Chomsky) when we speak of the
impact of speech and culture on a subject that has yet to become a speaking
6 - ON THE ORIGINS OF HUMAN LANGUAGE
We have perhaps suggested an answer to the
question: what does Homunculus sapiens know and when does he know
it? That is an ontogenetic question. But the phylogenetic question on
the cause of the cause may also be asked: what did Homo sapiens
know and when did he know it? In a long study still on the stocks, I
devote the fifth and last chapter to this question of the origins of
language.3 It's an old chestnut (Condillac,
Herder, Rousseau), but the question has to be asked. If we have human language
now and, before the appearance of upper primates there could not ex
definitione have existed any such language, then fully developed human
language must have had a date, or time, of inception. It coincides, in the
view of many archaeologists, palaeoanthropologists, and prehistorians, with
the Big Transition (Mellars) or Great Leap Forward
from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic (c. 35-40,000 B.P.), the rapid
diffusion of the earlier Aurignacian industries throughout Southern and
Southwestern Europe, and the entry into Europe of Cro-Magnon man during the
fourth or last (Würm) glaciation.
Fossil records from Neanderthal remains, those of earlier hominid species, or those of anatomically modern humans (traced in Israel to 90-100,000 B.P.) (Mellars, 402) give us very accurate data on skull size, cranial capacity, and the mass and weight of brains that
5, The Origins of Human Language, forms the last section of my
The Anatomy of Deity: On God as the Transformation of Nothing, presently
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occupied them. But this data does not tell us directly anything about fully
developed language, which in Lacanian terms is a necessary condition
for mind and subjectivity as we know it. A possible narrative for the appearance
of fully developed language might be summarized as follows.
The Middle Palaeolithic came to an end after a period of around 200,000 years showing little change and remarkable stability. About 100,000 B.P. an emigration of anatomically modern humans took place from Africa to the Middle East (approximately the region now known as Israel). This population seems to have been settled for approximately 50-60,000 years before its rapid dispersal into the more northern regions of Europe and Asia. Around 40,000 B.P. there occurred a revolution in improved blade technology; new forms of stone tools; bone, antler and ivory technology; personal ornaments; and art and decoration. Of the last, Paul Mellars observes: The appearance of complex and sophisticated representational art provides the most dramatic reflection of the explosion of symbolic expression associated with the earliest stages of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe (397). This is the period of the famous cave-paintings of Altamira in Northern Spain and Lascaux in the Dordogne. Homo sapiens sapiens clearly co-existed with Neanderthal and other archaic populations for a lengthy period, until the latter died out for reasons that are still hotly contested.4
Now from a Lacanian perspective, the achievement of complex and sophisticated representational art and symbolic expression necessarily presupposes the fundamental capacity for complex, sophisticated representation and symbolic expression in language. The capacity to achieve this in art must logically be subsequent to, and not prior to, the human capacity to represent anything in the first place. Representation of objects in their absence, the transfer from one mind to another mind of real referents by means of acoustic signifiers for them, as well as a complex syntax, are pre-eminently features of fully developed human language.
Specialists are divided as to whether language had a slow and evolutionary origin or an abrupt and catastrophic origin. (Lacan
4 I am
deeply indebted to a conversation with Paul Mellars on July 16, 1996 at Corpus
Christi College, Cambridge. He warned me then that a cave with parietal art
had recently (i.e., in summer 1996) been discovered in the Middle East, dating
back to 35,000 B.P. He pointed out that such a dating did not preclude the
existence of caves slightly older, closer to the 40,000 B.P. date of such
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was a creationist on this issue and would obviously have favored
the latter view). But Derek Bickerton has argued for a fundamental distinction
between proto-language (such as that used by very young children
or in pidgin dialects) and fully developed, true language, the
latter being characterized by its structure of complex syntax and grammar
(1981, 1990, 1995). He claims that the transition between the two is abrupt
and achieved within a remarkably short time. That Cro-Magnon populations
already possessed such fully developed, true language is further
supported by the evidence of their effective organization and coordination
of economic and social strategies, as well as their rapid colonization of
some of the more extreme and unpredictable periglacial environments in central
and eastern Europe which seem to have been occupied for the first time during
the Upper Palaeolithic (Mellars 390).
7 - CONCLUSIONS
Anyone patient enough to have read thus far will, hopefully, be receptive to if not yet entirely persuaded of the following propositions:
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In closing, I should like to thank Howard once again for the characteristically intense scrutiny to which he submitted my recent contribution. I apologize for elaborating distinctions that required a far greater degree of clarification than I realized. I do not for a minute think that cognitive science has nothing to teach us; quite the contrary. And I must admit I was staggered by the erudition on that subject displayed in Howard's Bibliography. It looks like the fruit of 5 to 10 years' worth of dedicated study. Clearly I have no business telling people what they should write, but I believe Howard should be urgently encouraged to write up the book he has inside his mind. Everyone in our critical profession will be the beneficiary for it.5
5 I am indebted to countless conversations with Charles Presberg on this and closely related issues, and especially for a long and enlightening conversation of October 7, 1998.
Andrew, R. J. 1963. Trends apparent in the evolution of vocalization in the Old World monkeys and apes. Symposium of the Zoological Society of London 10: 89-101.
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Benveniste, Émile. 1971. Communication animale et langage humain [in Diogène no. 1]. Reprinted in Problems in General Linguistics . Trans. M. Meek. Coral gables: U of Miami Press: 49-54.
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Derrida, Jacques. 1967. De la Grammatologie. Paris; Éditions de Minuit: 272-78 [on Rousseau's Essai].
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. 1998. Prototypes of Genre in Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares. Paper read at the Annual Meeting of the Cervantes Society of America held at UCLA on January 22-24. Forthcoming in Cervantes.
. 1999. Against Dualisms: A Response to Henry Sullivan. Cervantes 19.1: 157-76.
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. 1996. Grotesque Purgatory: A Study of Cervantes's Don Quixote, Part Two. University Park, PA: Penn State Press.
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. Neuter and Nothing: Two Extrapolations from Post-Lacanian Theory. Fernando de Toro ed. Post-Theory: Towards a Third Space. Frankfurt: Klaus Dieter Vervuert-Verlag. In press.
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|Fred Jehle firstname.lastname@example.org||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|