Monday, April 09, 2007

Silence

The New Yorker has an amusing write-up about a recent documentary Into Great Silence about the lives of Carthusian monks in their monastery :

It can be hard to find a quiet spot to think in this town, and movie theatres generally don’t top the list. Lately, however, Film Forum has emerged as an oasis of silence, owing to the runaway success of a nearly three-hour documentary, by the German filmmaker Philip Gröning, about Carthusian monks, titled “Into Great Silence.”
I wanted to see it this weekend but couldn't go. I was reading some gloomy books (in silence, sort of). Interesting that the more I read, the more pessimistic I become about language, specially in the way we use it in our everyday life, how easy it is to manipulate and invent lies and how hollow all these fancy words and expressions are. Occasional vows of silence will do a lot of good to many of us. Ah, how paradoxical, I am writing all this in a blog!

14 comments:

KUBLA KHAN said...

Language can NEVER allow us to express anything.that is why perhaps there are so many books. it is all a lie....these words. even this comment.Silence yes, but we forget, like now.
As Conrad wrote.....It is impossible to convey the given life sensation of an epoch of our existence. we live and dream alone.
However, lately, i am getting converted into the idea of ONLY watching movies. that is where expression can come into flow. i can see from your blog that you like cinema.....
have you watched the seventh seal?

Vidya said...

Continuous zipping and unzipping! LOL!

I find that it's quite easy to be silent with words but almost impossible with the assault of thoughts. I want to ask that monk if being silent with words ever helped quiet burgeoning thoughts that never seem to stop!!

Antonia said...

you want to make me to write a post on trust in language...one day I do that. maybe we all want too much from language while we forget to neglect the wonderful aspects. We want to go directly to the things and language is an obstacle, not precise, a lie and so on, it has to be improved etc. I roughly cite Humboldt: "Language leads us into a wonderful country, but it never leads is totally into this country" It is a bit it shows us things, but we never can grasp them copmpletely. Therefore we are dissatisfied and want to dismiss it. It may be that language never can express everything, but we can indicate everything.

Alok said...

kubla: it is claimed that music is a purer language and the same argument can be applied to movies too, as it a some kind of composite language with visual, verbal and aural elements. I wasn't really thinking in these terms, just that sometimes there is this realization that words don't mean anything, that they just refer to other words, that exist only in dictionaries and we are somehow trapped in this dictionary which we mistake as the real world when we are reading or communicating, because of our dependence on language. I know some philosopher must have put it in better terms but that's how I feel. Not always though, I still like reading even if just to appreciate this play and illusion and trickery of words...

vidya: yes, that's what the monk also says. its the din in the head! that's the real tough job. retreating into silence just makes it worse for me.

antonia: i wanted to ask you about a good philosophy of language book. wittgenstein? someone who is skeptic about the capabilities of language....

Antonia said...

haha someone who is sceptic about the capabilities of language, this is easy, that's the whole (ok almost the whole) philosophical tradition. I go looking here in my library and get back to you.

Antonia said...

philosophy of language

against:
Bacon 'idola fori' chapter New Organon
Hobbes ch.5 Leviathan
Descartes
and so on and so on...

pro:
writings of W.v.Humboldt, Herder, Collingwood (in the 'New Leviathan' the chapter on language).

general overview: Eugenio Coseriu (history of language or so, but don't know whether it is translated, but it exists in french and italian also - yet this book stops after Leibniz) Another very good one and easy readable is a history of language by Juergen Trabant which also covers the new stuff and the problems between analytical and continental approaches.

for Wittgenstein: the introduction by Joachim Schulte which is a general introduction into W., but the best I know and it has some about philosophy of language in it and from there on you can find other secondary literature.

Alok said...

thanks antonia. i don't think i will able to find all of them but will look for them. will try to look in some history of philosophy type books too.

i got some wittgenstein related books too yesterday including his tractatus... let's see if i understand anything.

Cheshire Cat said...

Nice list by Antonia, but it's rather Euro-centric. There's a great divide between continental philosophy and English-language philosophy; the philosophy of language is taken much more seriously in the English-speaking world. Russell, Austin, Quine, Kripke and Davidson are all key figures. Most of them are interesting stylists as well.

Wittgenstein has had much more influence in the English-speaking world than in Europe. Continental philosophy is indebted to tradition, while Wittgenstein was a radical, he didn't care about hsitory.

Antonia said...

agreed cheshire, it is a list from this side of the ocean.
But I entirely disgaree. and disagree with all my heart, that philosophy of language is only being taken seriously in the english speaking world. One could add that in the english speaking world only certian aspects are being covered regarding the philosophy of language...which one being polemical probably even couldnt regard as philosophical from continental point of view but rather as subdisciplines of logic and linguistic. Just saying. Which is why I recommended the Trabant-book who in my opinion draws a balanced picture of both sides. Wittgenstein had influence in Europe, too, still has. Most fruitful it probably is to see continental and english speaking approaches as complementing each other, but this is a whole minefield....and complementing is not always possible.
And it would be also interesting, now that we are at it, if you could point me to questions of philosophy of language in the works of Austin, Quine, Kripke etc that have not already been covered by Humboldt 250 years ago? Or what the analytics do in general with the 'proper names' apart from dismissing it? Walter Benjamin had offered more plausible answers here. Wittgenstin did care about history too, because big parts of his tractatus are designed to be answers to problems that have been posed by Russell and Frege and others. It is a bit short-sighted to always think that one can do without history.

Cheshire Cat said...

Antonia, by "tradition" I meant the narrative of philosophical thought beginning with the Greeks. Continental writers situate themselves, sometimes self-consciously, in this narrative, while analytical philosophers do not concern themselves with it as much. Especially the positivists and their ken, with their allegiance to Science.

antonia said...

cheshire I think if we once meet in the pub and get drunk we could have lots of formidable & elaborated exaggerated arguments on such stuff :)

Alok said...

pub idea sounds cool. I will do the watching/listening part ;)

Cheshire Cat said...

It's only noon, and I'm thirsty already...

antonia said...

well I am sitting here on the balcony, evening sun, beer.....what can one want more.
Alok has to bring each of us home if he does not join the discussion...