An Interdisciplinary Journal of Social Thought










Number Four


















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Negations is an interdisciplinary journal of social thought dedicated to expanding the realm of discourse. Our methodological approach is to draw on directly relevant work by scholars, poets and artists from across the arts and humanities to create a wide ranging synthesis of critical assessments of the current realm of discourse and a range of proposals synthesized from the traditions and experts of the collective arts and humanities.

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Editorial Board

Alex Argyros — Literary Studies, University of Texas at Dallas

William S. Babcock — Director, Graduate Program in Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University

Charles R. Bombach — History of Ideas, University of Texas at Dallas

David Channell — History of Ideas and — Philosophy of Science, University of Texas at Dallas

William Gibson — Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara

Susan Heckman — Dean of Graduate Program in Humanities, University of Texas at Arlington

Frederick Hotz — Philosophy, Collin County Community College

Lorraine Kahn — Formerly Visiting Scholar in Film, Institute of Industrial Relations, The University of California at Berkeley

Barry Katz — Formerly Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University

Marcia Landy — Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

Kevin Mattson — Ohio University; formerly, Rutgers University

Greg Miller — Communications, San Diego State University

James O’Connor — Professor of Economics, The University of California at Santa Cruz

Jim Perkinson — Historical Theology, University of Detroit

Brian Spitzberg — Communication, San Diego State University

Trudy Struenegle — Kent State University

Theodore Walker — Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Victor Worsfold — Ethics, University of Texas at Dallas



Special Thanks

Giselle Gazda

James Davenport
























Table of Contents


Weaver’s Culture Doctor 6
uring the Commodification of the Word
Roger Thompson

C. Wright Mills 18
A Political Intellectual For Our Times
Kevin Mattson

Heidegger, Technology, and Television 33
Reflections on Reception
Dan Scoggin

Consuming Beauty: Art, Commodification, 49
and the "Hot-House Babble"
Jim Bratone

The Hard Sell of Human Consciousness and the Recovery of 66
Consciousness in the Nature of Language, Part II: The Key to
Consciousness in the Trick of Language
Lantz Miller






Weaver’s Culture Doctor

Curing the Commodification of the Word

Roger Thompson



Read today, Richard M. Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences seems to be nothing more than a harangue against liberalism. Weaver’s assertions are often ad hominem attacks on leftist agenda makers and are frequently made without any sort of significant warrant. The result is that Weaver has been virtually excluded from contemporary debates on politics and on language. Nonetheless, Weaver is important, and his significance rests in his attempts to rescue language from a certain form of de-humanizing power which he variously labeled nominalism, empiricism, and liberalism, and which he felt essentially commodified truth and divorced language from transcendental value.

In all cultural domains, Weaver believed that society was fragmented through a subtle objectification of goods and wealth which elevated those goods and wealth to the status of transcendental power. American society as a whole, therefore, had become too materialistic, and the entire globe was now a vicious market which commodified all aspects of society. The world, according to Weaver, was barbarous. Weaver’s primary concern, therefore, was "humanizing" mankind, with reconnecting man with transcendental truth and God.

Weaver felt that the primary arena that could be used to reconnect man with the transcendent was the realm of language. He felt that language theory in mid-century America had been perverted and used to commodify truth: no longer was language used to connect truth to transcendental principles; instead, rhetoric had fragmented truth and made it essentially subjective and individualistic. This paper is an exploration of how Weaver attempted to reconnect language use and truth. As such, it will focus on Weaver’s formulation of a true rhetoric and will establish that Weaver both emerges from and alters a tradition of rhetoricians primarily concerned with using language in a way which combats the commodification of knowledge and centers on the pursuit and communication of transcendental principles. Furthermore, this paper argues that Weaver’s doctor of culture is a unique formulation of the true rhetor espoused by Plato and St. Augustine and that Weaver’s "culture doctor" provides a rubric for rhetorical theory which centers on social reform and ultimately offers a rival to post-modern conceptions of language as a reformational tool.

The Stereopticon

Weaver’s critique of language must be situated within a broader view of Weaver’s skepticism of American society and politics. Writing at a time in mid-century America which was profoundly changed by World War II, Weaver was hyper-sensitive to the power of mid-century evils such as fascism and communism. Moreover, Weaver’s professional field, the academic disciplines of rhetoric and communication, were at the time steeped in studies on the malicious power of propaganda. The resulting mood in Weaver, therefore, is one of skepticism and distrust of ruling powers of American politics and culture, and not infrequently in the people being ruled as well.

This skepticism led Weaver to develop a framework with which he could explain the deterioration of American culture, and that framework he erected around the metaphor of the Giant Stereopticon. Weaver’s analysis of culture rests on this vast analogical model which demonstrates the serious doubts Weaver had concerning the cultural powers in mid-century America. Weaver describes the power of the Great Stereopticon in Ideas Have Consequences:

It is the function of this machine to project selected pictures of life in the hope that what is seen will be imitated. . . . .[Modern man] sees the events of the day refracted through a medium which colors them as effectively as the cosmology of the medieval scientist determined his view of the starry heavens. The newspaper is a man-made cosmos of the world of events around us at the time. For the average reader it is a construct with a set of significances which he no more thinks of examining than did his pious forebear of the thirteenth century–whom he pities for sitting in medieval darkness–think of questioning the cosmology. The Stereopticon is a malicious influence in American culture, focusing the elements it views down to minute particles, divorcing the mind from its object of inquiry; indeed, divorcing the mind from any act of inquiry. The Stereopticon’s power is best described as a dulling of the senses; its primary goal is the separation of humanity from humanness through a commodification of the truth.

The Stereopticon achieves its goal by packaging information in ways which are readily accepted as truth by a consumer-oriented American public, and it works by a crafty division of labor. The Stereopticon is divided into three primary components, each of which conspire against free-thinking through packaging its view of the world into small, digestible bits of information which the American public apparently accepts as truth. The Press, the radio, and motion pictures, (and we can add by extension today the television, which during Weaver’s time was only beginning to expand its realm of influence) all participate in destroying man by alienating his thought from his action, his idea from its consequence. The Press, in particular, bears the brunt of Weaver’s condemnation: "So journalism becomes a monstrous discourse of Protagoras, which charms by hypnotizing and thwarts that participation without which one is not a thinking man." Weaver further asserts that newspapers of the time are largely responsible for the destruction of dialectic: they break down any process of rational inquiry by simply objectifying truth and conveying that truth in easily consumable bits of information. The result is a commodification of knowledge which distances man from thought and actions.

Weaver’s concern with this commodification of truth descends from his concerns as a socialist thinker early in his career. Weaver, as has been well-documented, shifted his allegiance from socialism to conservatism around the end of World War II. His shift in political thinking, however, occurred not because he disagreed with the ideals of socialist thought, but because he felt that the people who represented socialism where petty and power hungry. Despite his well-publicized conversion, therefore, his view of capitalism should be seen as cautious at best, and it should be noted that he is quick to condemn the bourgeois class of his time. Ultimately, his overriding concern that man is being de-humanized results in harsh critiques of what are often considered capitalist machinery, most notably the press with its "bourgeois righteousness" and industrialization with its anti-agrarian stance. Both are cogs in the machinery of the Stereopticon and perpetuate the materialism which Weaver disdains.

Ultimately, the commodification of information and knowledge and the separation of man from his thought which Weaver describes results from what Weaver labels nominalism. Weaver dates the advent of nominalism with William of Occam and suggests that it has slowly come to dominate world cultures, including American. Weaver believed that the result of the burgeoning of nominalism has been fragmentation (and he describes this fragmentation as a force) which leads to a sense of nothingness. Society responds to the sense of nothingness by assigning value and a sense of being to commodifiable objects. Having transferred the sense of being to material objects, society becomes obsessed with possessing anything that can be tangibly collected and quantified as proof of being. This obsession with commodification perpetuates in society, ultimately reducing even education to a cycle of fragmentation and obsession with material gain: "the prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plane of the bourgeoisie."

The cycle of materialism perpetuated by the Stereopticon leads to a culture commodifying all knowledge. The Stereopticon seizes control of truth and reality and makes it capital to be bartered; all domains of human experience become an object to be reduced and sold as a commodity. For Weaver, however, the most important domain threatened by materialism and the Stereopticon’s gaze is the domain of language. As a rhetorician, Weaver focuses many of his essays and lectures on how language had slowly come to participate in the commodification of truth. In response, he came to see his mission as rescuing and revisioning the role of language and reconnecting it to transcendental values. In language use, Weaver saw the possibility of humanizing mankind.

Debates on Language

Weaver felt that language had been disconnected from any transcendental value, so that truth was no longer the object of communication. Instead, language had been reduced to a system which focused on personal persuasion, on providing an individual an opportunity for material gain through the power of discourse. This was an ugly rhetoric which Weaver disdained, and Weaver’s response was to offer a "true" rhetoric.

Weaver’s initial statements on the development of a true rhetoric arise from his debates with S. I. Hayakawa on the proper uses and philosophical basis for language. Weaver’s debates with Hayakawa are infamous in rhetorical circles. The debates, in fact, re-vitalized a course of study, rhetoric, which seemed at the time destined for extinction. The passion with which the debate raged salvaged the academic discipline and, more importantly, placed debates about language and language use as the primary place of conflict between Weaverian belief in transcendental principles and a liberalism which led ultimately to materialism.

In 1953, Weaver published "The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric," an essay on language which should be seen simultaneously as a direct assault on commodification of truth and a confrontation of the philosophical underpinnings of S. I. Hayakawa’s linguistic and rhetorical theories, underpinnings which Weaver felt were inescapably materialistic. Weaver contends that Hayakawa’s theories implicitly separate language from transcendental truth and commodify that truth just as the Stereopticon objectified information. Language under Hayakawa’s system was simply a packaged object to be digested by a materialistic audience instead of a dynamic system to be enacted.

Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action details the General Semanticist theory of language by which Hayakawa is known. Perhaps the most important aspect of the view of language outlined is Hayakawa’s "ladder of abstraction" which explains the process by which a thing is named and gains its meaning. The process of abstraction which Hayakawa outlines focuses on ensuring that language be rooted in material or empirical fact, so that meaning in language be derived from its correspondence to a material and empirically verifiable reality. Weaver abhorred this type of empiricist approach to language. Language, Weaver believed Hayakawa was saying, is scientifically dissectible, so that if we simply empirically account for all the elements which make language work, we will understand language. Hayakawa, Weaver insisted, failed to account for those aspects of language which are not accessible to scientific inquiry, such as human emotion. Language was not simply an object to be studied and quantified; it was an active force in human nature which functioned at times outside the realm of scientific certainty. Indeed, language escaped any type of logical systematization.

Weaver and Definition:

Weaver, of course, offers a counter system to Hayakawa’s, and the most detailed formulations of that system are found in Weaver’s essay "Language is Sermonic." In this essay, Weaver offers his hierarchy of argument, a hierarchy which is essentially an attempt by Weaver to reconnect language use with transcendental truth.

Weaver recovers Aristotelian topoi in forming his hierarchy of argumentation. He uses Aristotle’s "locations" of argument as a basis for making ethical judgments and adjudicating the validity of arguments. Unlike Aristotle, however, Weaver hierarchizes topoi, elevating some to reflect more ethical forms of arguments, such as definition and analogy, and lowering others to represent less ethical forms of arguments, such as arguments from cause and effect and arguments from circumstance. More importantly, Weaver connects and even conflates types of arguments with the arguers, so that those speakers who attempt to persuade from definition and analogy are considered to be more ethical than speakers who attempt to persuade from cause and effect and circumstance. What Weaver has done in formulating this hierarchy is to reconnect language with the language user and to ethical obligation. This is an attempt to connect transcendental truth to language through an ethical appeal.

According to Haskell and Hauser, Weaver’s conception of language functions as an axiomatic system, not unlike a mathematical system. As a "classical idealist," Weaver establishes a transcendental truth principle which governs his entire system. Once that principle is accepted, his system works like a mathematical system, generating new rhetorical forms which can and do correspond to that transcendental truth. Haskell’s and Hauser’s article suggests that Weaver creates a new paradigm of rhetoric which establishes a Platonic and transcendental truth and places language and rhetorical arguments as analogical forms of that truth.

The significance of the hierarchy, then, is its attempt at a systemization of language which centers on truth. Weaver creates a format which he believes escapes the commodification of truth through language of which Hayakawa was allegedly guilty. Such a systemization, however, presents some problems; most significantly, the fact of its being a system works counter to some of Weaver’s primary concerns that language escapes logical systemization. Richard Johannesen, in detailing the similarities and shortcomings of Weaver in relation to General Semanticist theory, has adroitly demonstrated that Weaver’s concern with Hayakawa is at times over- reaching, that indeed Hayakawa and Weaver shared many traits in respect to the role of language in a society. Johannesen, however, fails to recognize that Weaver at least in part organizes a logical system to explain language use, that Weaver’s system of hierarchized argument parallels Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction. Part of Weaver’s quarrel with Hayakawa was that Hayakawa’s system was overly empirical, and Weaver can clearly be critiqued for logically systematizing language use by breaking argument down into four general headings which attempt to account for all forms of ethical claims. Nonetheless, Weaver’s system cannot be characterized as logical or empirical in the same way that Weaver labeled Hayakawa’s system. Weaver’s critique of Hayakawa rests on Hayakawa’s failure to account for transcendental values so that what Weaver called logical in Hayakawa’s system was its total divorce from reference to transcendental truth. So, even though Weaver can be critiqued for a type of commodification through systematization of argument, Weaver’s system nonetheless centers on a reconnection to a source of validity unaccounted for by Hayakawa. Weaver attempts to wed Truth and rhetoric, a connection severed by the General Semanticists.

The Re-Emergence of the True Rhetor: The new Pardigm of the Culture Doctor

If Weaver’s hierarchy of argument topoi can be seen as participating in a type of commodification through systematization, it can nonetheless be seen as offering powerful alternatives. The most important alternative is the conception of language as sermonic. Weaver’s idea of language as "sermonic" directly contradicts the system Hayakawa offered and should be seen as both a response to semanticist conceptions of language and a response to the commodification Weaver sees in the world. Furthermore, it establishes Weaver’s primary goal to establish a true rhetoric which would remove the schism between language and truth and escape the materialism which generated the schism.

When Weaver claims that language is sermonic, he is insisting that language be intimately related to the values of the language user. As such, language carries an emotive force which is essentially impossible to account for within a semanticist framework. More importantly, language is charged with spiritual import; the language user becomes a type of priest, bound by duty to seek and communicate truth. Weaver, therefore, revives from classical rhetoric a special type of language user, the true rhetor. The true rhetor invokes classical precepts of rhetoric in a mission to cure the ills of society ; thus, Weaver’s true rhetor became the "doctor of culture." This renaming is significant because it indicates the obligation of the true rhetor to a culture. The culture doctor’s duty was rather straightforward: to communicate truth in order to change the social system of commodification. This truth-based rhetor speaks outside the realm of commodity and gestures to a spiritual realm. The doctor of culture, therefore, cures society through lifting his audience out of the realm of materialism.

To fully understand Weaver’s culture doctor, he must be situated within a long-standing tradition of true rhetors. Weaver’s culture doctor is, in fact, especially Platonic. Several critics have labelled Weaver as Platonic in terms of epistemology, both Plato and Weaver sharing the conception of a spiritual and material duality governing existence and knowledge. More importantly, however, Weaver’s doctor of culture descends from Plato’s true rhetor. For both, the search for truth and meaning is the purpose of rhetoric, and anything which falls short of the quest for truth falls into the realm of eristic babble, a babble Plato associates with sophistry and Weaver associates with political liberalism. Plato compares it to pastry baking and flattery which destroys the soul and that "wears the mask of medicine," and Weaver asserts that the loss of true rhetoric results in the illness of society. Weaver, however, diverges from Plato in his sense of obligation to reforming a culture. Plato’s true rhetor is under no obligation to work to change an entire culture; Weaver’s is. The Platonic true rhetor’s quest for truth need not expand to societal reformation: Plato’s philosopher/rhetor quests after truth, not reform. On the other hand, Weaver’s culture doctor is in every sense a missionary, sent into the world to change it. Weaver demands the doctor of culture work within a culture to sever materialism and reconnect a society to transcendental truth.

In his responsibility for the reformation of a society, Weaver’s culture doctor more closely resembles St. Augustine’s true Christian rhetor than Plato’s. Few critics have indicated Weaver’s debt to St. Augustine in the realm of rhetoric; indeed, despite common consent that Weaver’s ethical systems are Christian, no critics have explored in any depth Weaver’s connection to St. Augustine’s Christian rhetoric. Weaver’s doctor of culture, however, is a descendent of St. Augustine’s priest. Both utilize the conception of language as inherently sermonic and suggest the goal of rhetoric is to communicate transcendental values and to drive humanity away from the material realm and toward a spiritual realm. St. Augustine’s rhetor, therefore, is obligated to connect a Christian society to God, an obligation which is implied in Augustine’s guiding rhetorical principle, charity. Augustine ends each chapter but the third of his De Doctrina Christiana, his most detailed exposition on rhetoric written for the Catholic priest, with an admonition for the priest to keep in mind always the principle of charity, and even in the third chapter charity remains a guiding principle. Charity is basically the Christian duty to love others as oneself and to love God above all others, and its function is to "hold men together in a knot of unity." As a rhetorical principle, it implies a responsibility on the part of the Christian rhetor to help in a reformation of society through the guidance of God’s love. St. Augustine’s Christian rhetor must "labor in sound doctrine, which is Christian doctrine, not only for himself, but also for others." His works cannot be divorced from responsibility for social change. Though not explicitly Christian, Weaver’s culture doctor bears an Augustinian obligation to a society governed by a concept of charity. Augustine’s rhetor, more than Plato’s, has an obligation to fight the materialistic impulse in a society. He is essentially a reformer.


Weaver wrote in the hopes of reviving rhetoric as a reformational tool, one geared toward turning a society toward transcendent principles which were, in his mind, fixed and eternal. In this respect, his thought parallels Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, who saw in rhetoric the potential for changing society through transcendental appeals. The final chapter of Emerson’s small book Nature, entitled "Prospects", suggests that a true man, a poet, an eloquent speaker, is essentially a reformer. Weaver reflects this idea and transforms it into a new theory on the function and role of rhetoric.

That Weaver creates a new paradigm of rhetoric is largely uncontested; exactly what constitutes the new paradigm is a more contestable issue. For Haskell and Hauser, it is Weaver’s axiomatic and analogical system, and for Johannesen it is Weaver’s attempt to reconnect language to transcendental values. While these positions are important, they undervalue the way Weaver juxtaposed the notion of a simultaneously social and transcendental rhetoric. Weaver’s contribution to rhetoric is this wedding of the transcendental and social through his conception of a culture doctor whose guiding principle is truth and whose only tool is rhetoric.

The paradigm of the culture doctor offers an alternative vision to many post-modern social epistemic rhetorics, whose intent is to sever language and transcendentals in order to ensure social progress. Social epistemic rhetorics, such as those offered by James Berlin, intend to wed the responsibility for social reform with rhetoric, but to do so abandon the notion of transcendental principles and rely on a conception of language as inherently and completely self- referential and truth as created in process by the activity of language. Berlin even suggests that wedding transcendental principles to rhetoric results in a divorcing of rhetoric from social responsibility: "From one perspective, the postmodern theoretical turn is an attempt to recover the services of rhetoric, the study of the effects of language in the conduct of human affairs. . . . After all, the primacy of signifying practices in the formation of subject and society means that language can no longer be seen as the transparent conduit of transcendental truths."

Weaver combats this notion; he shows that transcendental principles need not be abandoned to ensure that reform be the focus of rhetoric. Weaver, like Berlin, views language itself as a social construct, but, unlike Berlin, maintains that the significance of language is that it refers to principles beyond the language system itself. Reform, therefore, becomes a social obligation of the rhetor because language’s value is wrapped up in language’s capability to communicate truth. Weaver, therefore, offers a vision of rhetoric which relies on the notion of transcendental truth in order to ensure responsibility and obligation for social reform. The culture doctor, the reformer, need not see language as solely and completely self-referential for rhetoric to maintain its social function, as Berlin would insist. Language’s reformational power rests outside its own realm; the culture doctor cures a culture by using rhetoric to gesture to some ideal outside of the domain of language.

Because Weaver’s system demands that language refer outside itself, it escapes the materiality which he feared. Language’s importance rests outside the realm of materialism, thereby ensuring that it not participate in the commodification of truth. Indeed, Weaver would undoubtedly see in theories such as Berlin’s an implicit participation in a commodity-driven culture; language comes to encapsulate knowledge and truth so that possession of language becomes the key to knowledge. What Weaver demands, however, is that language be used not as an ultimate end, that language not be seen as the key to possession of truth, but that language be used as a means to understand something greater than language, something which forever eludes the firm hold of language. This kind of Platonic slipperiness amounts to a perpetual escape from commodification: language ensures proximity or aspiration to truth, but never possession of it. What Weaver’s theories suggests about post-modern theories such as Berlin’s is that an endlessly self-referential system of language ultimately possesses truth, makes truth an object forever locked in its system, and which, despite statements from Berlin that truth becomes a negotiated objective, ensures truth becomes a certainty and thus commodified.


1)Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1948.

2)See Chapter 5 of Ideas, 92-112.

3)Ideas, 93.

4)Weaver clearly recognized the threat of commodification television posed; it simply did not yet have the power which radio and newspaper retained at the time.

5)Ideas, 97

6)A nice summary of Weaver’s political aspirations and allegiances can be found in Sonja K. Foss, Karen K. Foss and Robert Trapp, Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric, Prospect Heights, IL, Waveland, 1991.

7)Ideas, 98.

8)One of Weaver’s hobby horses is the advent of nominalism. His best description of this advent is in Ideas, 3-5, and continues with an analysis of how Locke and Darwin participated in the cultural decline Weaver called nominalism.

9)Ideas, 49.

10)Weaver does not use the term "commodify," but his concern is clearly that knowledge of any type becomes a commodity to be bartered. He calls the capitalists in charge of running the machinery of the Stereopticon, the "materialists in control" (104) who perpetuate the notion that the American dream is "happiness through comfort" (105).

11)"The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric," Ethics of Rhetoric, South Bend, IN: Regnery/Gateway, 1953. This essay contains little with explicit references to Hayakawa, but the impetus behind it is clearly the "scientistic" impulses of Hayakawa’s theories. It is important to see this essay as an early attempt to combat the General Semanticist notions of language because this essay ultimately offers Weaver’s initial formulations of a competing view of the role of rhetoric in the understanding of truth. In it, Weaaver suggests that Plato confronts and dismisses "neuter language" and "semantically purified speech;" actions which Weaver would copy in the final chapter of Ideas.

12)S. I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, New York, Harcourt, Brace and World, 1939.

13)"Language is Sermonic", Language is Sermonic: Richard M. Weaver on the Nature of Rhetoric, Ed. Richard L. Johannesen, Rennard Strickland and Ralph T. Eubanks, Baton Rouge, LA, LSU Press, 1970. Weaver also explains his hierarchy of arguments in Ideas.

14)Robert E. Haskell and Gerard A. Hauser, "Rhetorical Structure: Truth and Method in Weaver’s Epistemology," Quarterly Journal of Speech 64.3 (1978), 233-244.

15)Johannesen is by far the most significant Weaver scholar, and this article in particular is useful for an overview of Weaver’s and Hayakawa’s debates. "Conflicting Philosophies of Rhetoric/Communication: Richard M. Weaver Versus S. I. Hayakawa," Communication 7 (1983), 289-315.

16)For more of Weaver’s statements on "true rhetoric" see "The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric."

17)Plato, Gorgias, Trans. Donald J. Zeyl, Indianapolis, Hackett, 1987, 26.

18)St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, Trans. D. W. Robertson, Jr., New York, Macmillian, 1958, 6.

19)Augstine, 169.

20)Significantly, Weaver invokes charity in the final chapter of Ideas. 154 ff.

21)Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836.

22)Johannesen’s concerns are certainly more far-reaching and varied han simply the reconnection of language use to transcendental principles, but I find his work generally has as an underlying theme Weaver’s exploration of the transcendent in language.

23)James Berlin, Rhetorics, Poetics and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies, Urbana, IL, NCTE, 1996.

24)Berlin, 68.






C. Wright Mills

A Politcal Intellectual For Our Times


Kevin Mattson



Who reads C. Wright Mills today? Ironically, not those who consider themselves to the left of center – certainly not those in academia. Young "critical thinkers" are too busy genuflecting before postmodern theorists who write obtusely about abstract conceptions of power – not the way Mills dissected power in America. Derrida and Foucault stand out big among the names glorified by the academic left, and Mills won’t be found in books about these so-called critical thinkers. Though Mills stands as a great grandfather to the New Left, as a thinker who clearly influenced major political activities of the 1960s, there are few who seem interested in reassessing him today. We on the intellectual left ignore indigenous sources of radicalism – suffering, as we are, from a bad case of what Russell Jacoby termed "social amnesia."

There’s plenty of reasons why C. Wright Mills is ignored. Prime among them is the fact that academic sociologists consider him irrelevant. As a sociologist at Columbia University, Mills kindled early interest in two of the greatest social theorists of the twentieth century – Max Weber and the younger Karl Marx – but that does not help his case today. Academic sociologists have grown even more reliant upon statistical methodologies and increased specialization that Mills (and the thinkers he admired) detested. In fact, if Mills ever draws attention from academic sociologists, it is as a harbinger of another minuscule subset alongside the other specialized subsets of academic sociology – namely, what is called, in hackneyed terms, "radical sociology." Mills’s worst nightmare has come true: academic sociology has become a professionalized specialty that rarely speaks to bigger public questions. As academic sociology has become what it has, it has buried the scattered remains of Mills’s legacy.

We shouldn’t try to evaluate Mills from the perspective of academic sociology. That would be a classical game of apples judging oranges. Mills was much less an academic sociologist – as we understand that term today – and much more of a public and political intellectual. He wrote for publics about pressing political issues and tried to help citizens understand their world and commit themselves to changing it. This much is clear. Unfortunately, the term "public intellectual" – which has garnered a certain amount of interest today – often generates simple sermons about the good old days, providing an easy pat on the back to writers in the past who wrote without academic jargon. Certainly Mills was a public intellectual and therefore more lucid than many academics today; but the bigger question remains: In playing this role, what did Mills leave behind as his legacy? What exactly did Mills do as a political thinker that we can learn from today?

The immediate answer is: quite a bit. Mills thought hard about what a future left would look like during the Cold War – an increasingly conservative time when the expanse of American public discourse was shrinking rapidly. He evaded the drift of many intellectuals towards neo-conservative ideas but also resisted the descent into irrational rejections of the Enlightenment project (Mills criticized the "angry young men" of England and the Beats – both, to a certain extent, predecessors to the recent postmodern fads in academia). He serves as a model intellectual since the context in which he wrote parallels ours. And due to Mills’s influence on the New Left – he was often called "the big daddy of the new left" – we can reassess the wreckage left behind by that movement through a critical reexamination and reconstruction of his work. At the same time, we can rethink what it might mean to reconstruct a future left today. Mills’s work – and he would have wanted it this way – provides us with a marvelous starting point to think about our own intellectual and political possibilities – the possibilities both of radicalism and social criticism.

Mills in Historical and Intellectual Context

In order to understand the significance of Mills’s work, we must first place his ideas in context – namely, the period stretching from World War II to his death in 1962. This period of time was marked by an increasingly rigid confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, when American foreign policy focused overwhelmingly on the threat of communism. Domestically, communism crept into the American imagination, and accusations of communist subterfuge became a tired mantra – embodied in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the devastating trial of Alger Hiss; Senator Joseph McCarthy’s manic witch-hunts; and the Hollywood blacklists which ruined the careers of many directors and actors. Alongside this obsession, Americans embraced "the blessings of prosperity," as one historian put it, as they moved to the suburbs, worked in centralized corporate bureaucracies, watched television, and seemingly became more conformist in all aspects of life – symbolized for many of us in "Leave it to Beaver" re-runs. Though Americans seemed to paint a happy face over the anxieties of living in a nuclear age, anxieties could never really disappear. This was truly a time of "mixed messages" and "many paradoxes," when, as John Patrick Diggins remarks, "suburban contentment with lawns and station wagons" grew alongside "middle-class worry about money and status," a time when "high expectations of upward mobility" accompanied "doubts about the meaning and value of the age’s own achievements."

These anxieties grew most cogently in the work of American intellectuals at the time. In the world of ideas, writers expressed deep concern with the conformity of the 1950s – concern which helped inspire much of the rebellion of the 1960s and the critical theory of Herbert Marcuse (whose "one-dimensional man" thesis echoed many of the critical voices of the 1950s). Though Mills himself would condemn the conservative tenor of many American intellectuals who worked alongside him, there is no mistaking the fact that other writers expressed anxiety about American culture during the Cold War. William Whyte and David Riesman, though conservative in some of their conclusions, fretted about the loss of autonomy among white collar workers – what Riesman called "other-directed" social behavior – and the decline in creativity and character they saw in the homogenized suburbs dotting America’s landscape. They worried about bureaucracy, passivity, and the corroding effects of economic prosperity. In doing so, they engaged difficult questions about the future of American culture.

Mills entered this world, and his intellectual work can only be understood within it. Mills held special admiration for a group of thinkers known as "the New York Intellectuals," a set of writers including Alfred Kazin, Daniel Bell, Lionel Trilling, and others. As Richard Pells describes their work, "Their essays were at once polemical and pessimistic, cosmopolitan and self-consciously flamboyant, theoretical and impatient with abstractions." Mills knew that he could never fit into these thinkers’ world – after all, his Texas background did not play well against their New York City, Jewish cosmopolitanism – but he adopted their muscular writing style and focused on many of their intellectual concerns. At the same time, he distanced himself from their rigid anti communism and remained committed to the left. This way, he followed the democratic socialist and literary critic, Irving Howe, who admired Mills’s independence (even though he eventually fell out with him over debates surrounding Third World revolutions). It was Howe who accurately described Mills as "a native American radical who could speak with indigenous accents and high sophistication."

The difference between Mills and other American intellectuals becomes clearer when examining the shifts and transitions in one of America’s most important and famous social critics during the 1940s and 1950s – Dwight MacDonald. Mills and MacDonald began as friends; in fact, Mills provided the name for MacDonald’s independent magazine of the 1940s – Politics. MacDonald eventually distanced himself from Mills by writing a scathing and unfair book review of Mills’s White Collar for Partisan Review in 1952. But the substantive difference between these two thinkers had come long before the review. By the early 1950s, MacDonald had drifted away from his earlier Trotskyism towards an assorted variety of outlooks, including anarchist individualism, pacifism, and, finally, an embrace of high culture against the sordid world of mass culture. It was this last view that he shared with Theodor Adorno – the leading thinker among the Frankfurt School of critical theorists. MacDonald found himself upholding high, modernist art in opposition to the degraded world of mass culture. In essence, culture replaced politics.

Against the neo-conservative drift towards anti-communism and MacDonald’s and Adorno’s celebration of elitist, modernist culture, Mills believed in political alternatives to the emerging mass society of modernity. Whatever differences came between them, Mills still shared some of MacDonald’s pessimism. As he assessed the political and social landscape, Mills drew up a gloomy picture. Political, economic, and military power had become thoroughly centralized – reducing democratic participation in public life. Along with Riesman and Whyte, Mills saw the new middle classes as conformist flotsam and jetsam floating passively amidst new social developments. Mass culture encouraged political apathy among large numbers of people. To add insult to injury, Mills asserted, intellectuals refused to examine the inequalities in their own society and went along with what he called "blind drift." A gloomy depiction of American society, indeed, especially since Mills, as the historian Robert Gillam shows, had given up on any optimistic notion of progress – the liberal faith that all things improve in time. But if Mills had given up on progress – a belief in objective forces beyond his will – he still thought in political terms (rather than cultural ones) and had hope – a subjective sense that things could change. He tried in his own way to reconstruct a future American left that could do battle with the political and social trends of his age.

Mills’ Intellectual Reconstruction of the Left

Mills’s reconstruction of the left came largely from the way he engaged his own intellectual work. Too much has been made of Mills’s colorful personality – his gruffness, his love of motorcycles, his fallings out with women – but he certainly did become something of a lone voice crying out to shatter the Cold War stalemate (Harvey Swados, a close friend, called Mills "combatively exhilarating" in his style). By rejecting "the politics of anti-Stalinism" that had "trapped" many conservative intellectuals, he articulated an anti-anti-communism which clearly provided fertile ground for radical politics. In loosening the stranglehold of anti-communism, Mills opened doors for the future New Left. Mills declared, in "The Decline of the Left," that "we, personally, must refuse to fight the Cold War," a practice he pursued himself. In essence, Mills led by example.

He also drew from indigenous and native intellectual sources to reconstruct a future left. As Rick Tilman has made clear, Mills embraced the intellectual trajectory of pragmatism, especially the work of William James and John Dewey. In fact, Mills’s doctoral dissertation was a long rumination on the relationship between the modern university and the intellectual ramifications of pragmatic philosophy. By embracing this tradition, Mills adopted an experimental outlook which made him a reformer – not a revolutionary. It also made him open-minded but, in the end, rejectful of Marxism. Though Mills appreciated (as many social critics of this century have) Marx’s earlier works on alienation, he lambasted the objectivistic qualities of Marx’s later thought: his economic determinism, faith in class polarization, and belief in the inevitable crisis of capitalism. He stated flatly that "the model Marx left is inadequate." He then elaborated: "One can use it only with great intellectual clumsiness and wasted sophistication, and often only with doubletalk. For us today, the work of Marx is a beginning point, not a finished view of the social worlds we are trying to understand." Though Mills saw insights in other European social thinkers (especially Max Weber), he mostly drew from indigenous traditions in his own intellectual background (i.e., Thorstein Veblen) to put together a critical understanding of society and political possibilities.

As much as Mills rejected Marxism, he had no sympathy for liberalism. From his perspective, liberalism was a tired creed, an ideology which propped up America’s form of centralized power. Though liberalism was dominant in America – Mills called it "our official political philosophy" – it was a lifeless set of ideas, little more than a hollow and technocratic ideology. As he saw it, "The New Deal turned liberalism into a set of administrative routines..." Not surprisingly, Mills turned this general venom towards liberalism against its key representatives in politics – organized labor. Mills’s attitudes towards organized labor – which changed greatly from the 1940s to the 1950s – need to be understood, for they are more complex than many historians and critics believe. They speak to an important legacy in the history of American social criticism and radicalism.

Mills began during the 1940s squarely within organized labor’s camp. Not surprisingly, he became especially fond of the more radical, social activist-oriented United Auto Workers (UAW) led by Walter Reuther. Writing for Commentary, Mills glowed with excitement about the UAW meetings he had attended. He praised the rank and file – "home grown radicals" in his words – for how they captured "the old populist mood of the frontiersmen from the Southern and Western border states" (Mills calls up his Texas homeland in this passage). He believed the union helped form a democratic culture that grew out of meetings and discussions: "These men combine trade-union experience with political sophistication; and it is the union that supplied them with both. They carry the beginnings of a non-middle class culture: from their most attenuated self-images to the casual songs they sing when they are together, they are working-men and union men." Mills made clear that he saw unions as the institutional muscle behind any revival of the left during the 1940s. He explained the significant (if only potential) role that labor leaders could play: "The labor leader is now the only possible link between power and the ideas of the politically alert of the left and liberal publics." But at the same time that he saw the need for labor, he was not terribly hopeful that labor would live up to these demands. In fact, he saw another alternative for labor: that it would become just another special interest group, its leaders joining the rest of America’s power elite.

In fact, Mills is typically remembered as rejecting the radical capacity of labor (and thereby laying the groundwork for the new versus the old left). Certainly his writings during the 1950s justify this interpretation, for they reflect a shifting tone in his thinking on labor and politics. He wrote pessimistically in a 1954 essay, "The Labor Leaders and the Power Elite," that "the new unionists may in time become administrators of disciplined and contented workers for large bureaucratized corporations." Mills went further than this sort of institutional analysis of labor as a special interest group. Developing his critique of Marx’s "labor metaphysic" and mindless glorification of labor as the sole agency of historical change, Mills then turned it against unions. As Mills saw it, the working class had become more content with the status quo, and this required intellectuals to stop thinking of labor as the agency for political change. He explained in his 1960 essay on "The New Left" that he did "not quite understand" why some "New Left writers... cling so mightily to ‘the working class’ of the advanced industrial societies as the historic agency, or even as the most important agency, in the face of the really impressive historical evidence that now stands against this expectation." In Mills’s formula for a future new left, labor fell from the center of the picture. In fact, Mills suggested that – at times – labor might become an impediment to social change.

Mills’s critical reading of labor squares well with the recent studies of labor historians. As Steven Fraser and Nelson Lichtenstein have shown, labor faced enormous pressures from the late 1930s to 1950s. Anti-communism – embodied in the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) which required unions to purge suspected communists – pressured labor into a conservative role, as did the need to satisfy members in already unionized sectors of the economy. Union leaders settled for the prosperity of the 1950s to be thinly distributed to the already organized, and they left behind their grander visions of social democracy and the challenge of creating a more progressive voice in American politics. So in many ways, when Mills turned his back on labor, he was reacting to some very real institutional developments.

But to stop here would be to interpret Mills as completely dismissing the importance of organized labor. Clearly with his reaction against the "labor metaphysic" he did not place labor at the center of any future left. But nor did he give up all hope in labor. For Mills, the labor movement had to do two things to revive itself: organize the unorganized (and Mills included white collar workers in this category) and speak to bigger public questions. Even in the 1950s, Mills still believed that labor might be transformed into one actor – among many – working for progressive change. The historical winds could shift and realert labor to its radical potential. Mills speculated in White Collar (1956) "whether in being watchdogs over the economy, as against being merely an interest group within it, the unions will be forced to take on a larger cultural and political struggle." As he saw it, this was still an open question. And as he made clear, here was where he placed his hope: "If the future of democracy in America is imperiled, it is not by any labor movement, but by its absence, and the substitution for it of a new set of vested interests." Spotting this possibility, Mills articulated a reasonable but contingent vision for organized labor. It could not determine all of the programs and ideas of a future left, but it could work to organize the unorganized (as the United Farm Workers tried to do during the 1960s), democratize the workplace, recreate a progressive culture among its rank and file, and address wider social issues when it turned its attention to public life. In many ways, Mills argued cogently for the sort of labor movement that many still hope for today.

One reason Mills did not place an emphasis on labor – the way the old left did – was because America needed not only a progressive voice in politics but more importantly a public sphere within which that voice could be heard. The crisis of the left was one that went much deeper than just the lack of a labor movement. America needed a healthy democratic public where citizens could participate in debates and confront different viewpoints. Though Mills was certainly a "radical," it is important to note that he rarely spoke of socialism. That is because his starting point was not socialism but democracy. And to revive democracy required, most importantly, "a public as... the very forum within which a politics of real issues is enacted." As Jim Miller points out, the starting point of the democratic public was "Mills’s great ideological gift to the left..." The idea (though it was not quite as original as Miller seems to assert) showed both the complexity and power of Mills’s political thought.

The idea of the public had deep roots in American history. After all, America was remembered – in the minds of thinkers like Alexis de Tocqueville – for a tradition of town meetings and local governance. From the Puritans onwards, American citizens gathered in public to discuss pressing matters. Mills himself recognized that the idea of a public "is the loom of classic, eighteenth century democracy..." The public was to judge the decisions and actions of its leaders; that, essentially, was democracy from a classical liberal perspective. As this ideal conflicted with the institutional centralization of the modern world and the ascent of expert-based politics, it found new expression precisely in the political thought of one of Mills’s major predecessors – John Dewey. For Dewey, in his classical work, The Public and its Problems (1927), set out the primary outlines for what would become Mills’s vision of democratic publics. Mills practically plagiarized Dewey when he explained what he meant by democracy and the need for a public: "For democracy implies that those who bear the consequences of decisions have enough knowledge – not to speak of power – to hold the decision-makers accountable." Mills believed that the idea of the public stood squarely within the mainstream of democratic theory and American history.

Mills argued that something had happened historically to displace the idea of the public from democratic politics. The centralized forms of power that Mills was known for criticizing displaced local publics. Not only centralization, but also the power and influence of the mass media, a growing emphasis on "expertise" in political affairs, and an educational system dedicated less to promoting critical reflection among citizens than to vocational training – all of these forces helped diminish the role of small publics in political decision-making. Therefore, the challenge to recreate publics was not solely a prerequisite of democratic politics, it was essentially radical. Mills wrote with stinging words: "Our public life now often rests upon... myths and lies and crackbrained notions. When many policies – debated and undebated – are based on inadequate and misleading definitions of reality, then those who are out to define reality more adequately are bound to be upsetting influences. That is why publics of the sort I have described... are, by their very existence in such a society, radical." Therefore, radicals --- before anything else – needed to get busy recreating such publics.

At the same time that Mills believed publics were radical, there was a certain conservative side to the idea. Here is where the complexity of his thought becomes evident. For Mills did not call for tearing down America’s political system and unleashing anarchic forces. He was far too much of a rationalist to do this. Instead, Mills championed what contemporary political thinkers call "deliberation." Deliberation itself is a slow process since it encourages what Mills called "the free ebb and flow of discussion." This was no model of Leninist revolution; instead, it prized critical inquiry and rational dialogue. Nor was it a romantic call to participatory democracy unmediated by political leadership. Mills was no radical republican, Rousseau fanatic, or anti-Federalist. He believed in political leadership, and his idea of the public could be easily squared with representative politics. As he explained, "Two things are needed in a democracy: articulate and knowledgeable publics, and political leaders who if not men of reason are at least reasonably responsible to such knowledgeable publics as exist. Only where publics and leaders are responsive and responsible, are human affairs in democratic order, and only when knowledge has public relevance is this order possible." And as he saw it, there was still a possibility of resuscitating a public even in the face of the mass society that seemed to bulldoze it over. Therefore, Mills articulated a reformist and realistic vision for repairing the central institutions of a revitalized left. Contra Irving Louis Horowitz, Mills was no "utopian."

This idea of the public led Mills to emphasize the role of intellectuals in reviving the left. For if discussion and critical thought were now taken as radical acts, it is no surprise that intellectuals and writers needed to lead the way. Mills explained, "If men hope that contemporary America is to be a democratic society, they must look to the intellectual community for knowledge about those decisions that are now shaping human destiny." Intellectuals had an enormous responsibility to play, as Mills saw it, because they had to "combat all those forces which are destroying genuine publics and creating a mass society" and "build and... strengthen self-cultivating publics." This was no small feat, especially since so many intellectuals had become increasingly conservative or ensconced within the safe world of academia. Nonetheless, Mills grew increasingly optimistic about the potential for intellectuals to recreate a vibrant left committed to reopening American public discourse about pressing matters. By the end of his life, Mills believed that "the young intelligentsia" might just become an "agency of change." Of course, the recreation of a critical public engaging in discussion of political ideas would be their major challenge as they formed what Mills himself coined "The New Left."

As all of this makes clear, Mills’s reconstruction of the left had many elements. He battled the rigidity of his age – neither trapped by the logic of anti-communism nor cultural elitism. He rejected both liberalism and Marxism and challenged the supremacy of labor in left-wing thought while preserving a potential role for it in a revitalized left. Understanding the importance of rational discussion – for the need of a forum where left viewpoints could be heard – he argued for radicals to commit themselves to resuscitating "self-cultivating publics." Still believing in a historical agency of change, he hoped intellectuals might become such a source. Mills – in all of these ways – argued for a viable, realistic, and vibrant left.

Reassessing Mills

In rethinking Mills, we rethink numerous strains of New Left intellectualism and activism – a crucial first step in reformulating what a future left might look like today. Mills’s intellectual work had a profound impact on leaders of the New left, including Tom Hayden. This line of influence is clear, but when reassessing Mills’s social criticism, we must recognize that things have changed since the time in which he wrote. We cannot hold him accountable for the changing terms of American politics and society – especially not the turbulent times of the 1960s and their aftermath. On the other hand, we can assess where his thinking went wrong and draw out some of the consequences of his ideas for practical politics. In doing this, we can reengage and perhaps reinitiate a relationship between social criticism and the American left.

One of the grounding principles of Mills’s reconstruction of the left – his critique of liberalism – becomes problematic when put to examination. In certain ways, Mills shared more with the intellectuals of his time than he thought. Like Louis Hartz, Daniel Boorstin, and Richard Hofstadter, Mills believed American history exhibited a one dimensional tendency towards classical, property rights-based liberalism. Mills and these other thinkers were certainly right to see America as a country which lacked the conservative tradition of thought that we associate with Edmund Burke and de Maistre. As Mills pointed out, that was precisely because America had no special elite or aristocracy that could serve as "natural" leaders. Mills argued that in America "the middle classes have been predominant – in class and in status and in power. There is one consequence of this simple fact that goes far to explain why there can be no genuinely conservative ideology in the United States." In addition, Mills was right to assume that the Republican Party had, during the 1950s, made its peace with the New Deal welfare state. Conservatives seemed quite content with the liberal presumptions of regulated capitalism.

But Mills was wrong in asserting that liberalism served as America’s "official political philosophy." That liberalism was prominent was certain, that it suppressed all other political languages was not. After all, the dominant form of anti-communism during much of the 1950s was not that of the New York intellectuals – those trapped by what Mills termed "the politics of anti-Stalinism." Rather it was that of Joseph McCarthy who was clearly an opportunist but no liberal. More importantly, as recent history shows, America might not possess a tradition of classical conservative thought, but that does not mean it lacks a set of ideas that threaten liberalism. Pure market libertarianism has done just fine recently; so has a certain form of Social Darwinism espoused by conservative intellectuals (i.e., the ever-influential Charles Murray) who have successfully argued against our meager welfare state. Mills mistakenly believed that liberalism would always be around and would deserve the brunt of his critique – serving as America’s "official political philosophy." New Left thinkers continued to make this mistake when they focused most of their attention on "corporate liberalism" as the primary enemy of radicalism. Once the heyday of the 1960s passed, it was no longer clear that liberalism would be around for such criticism.

At his worst, Mills caricatured liberalism. Mills might have been right to argue that the New Deal turned liberalism into a technocratic and administrative ideology. But this ignored the moral dimension of modern liberalism: its belief in social justice, civic responsibility, and political equality – ideas which undergirded the American welfare state and ones that many philosophers have recaptured today in debates over political theory. Even in the political thought of Mills’s liberal contemporary – Arthur Schlesinger – can be found a sense of morality that transcended administrative technocracy. Schlesinger – a devote and celebratory historian of the New Deal – called for a "sense of humility" and an understanding of human evil (embodied in Hitler and Stalin) to inform the liberal spirit. Mills could understand this tradition of Calvinism and Puritanism and its tragic sensibility – a tradition stretching from Jonathan Edwards to Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King – solely as defeatism. Mills denounced "the development of a tragic sense of life" as "a personal reaction" on the part of intellectuals "to the politics and economics of irresponsibility." This was simply too pat of a response to a long and complex intellectual tradition, and it illustrates Mills’s cursory reading of the moral depth of modern liberalism.

What Mills missed in liberalism was not solely its moral language, it was the necessary relationship between liberalism and the sort of radicalism he tried to rejuvenate. Liberalism should not be conceptualized as an enemy of radicalism – as Mills and the New Left critics of "corporate liberalism" argued. In fact, liberalism provides a necessary moral starting point and fertile ground for a more radical critique that stresses the need for social and political equality coupled with democratic participation on the part of regular citizens (not simply political administrators). Without liberalism, as we have found out recently, radicalism falls off the map of political possibilities – appearing as pure fanaticism or simply academic marginalization. By aiming his critique against liberalism and assuming that liberalism had a staying power it simply did not, Mills began an unhealthy tradition – picked up by New Left intellectuals – between liberalism and radicalism. Today, we need to rethink what this relationship should be; unfortunately, Mills’s ideas do not help a great deal here.

If Mills made mistakes in thinking about liberalism, he also failed to make clear why he believed the "young intelligentsia" could displace the proletariat as an "agency of change." Unfortunately, Mills articulated this hope close to the time of his death, so he did not have the opportunity to explain it more fully. Nonetheless, on first appearance, the idea suffers from numerous problems. First, this concept – which was taken up by New Left intellectuals in some of their arguments for students as a "new class" capable of waging revolutionary struggle – promoted intellectuals to a status they simply did not deserve. Though Mills was clearly a small-d democrat, when he invoked the "young intelligentsia" as an "agency of change," he veered towards a form of vanguardist Leninism. By making knowledge and educational background the key determinants in forging a new agency, Mills set a dangerous precedent. What would check the power of the young intelligentsia? Why would it not become just another self-interested group – a vanguard for its own power? Mills never thought through what it meant to see the young intelligentsia as the future agency of change.

This raises questions about the concept of historical agency in and of itself. By retaining an interest in locating a new agency of change, Mills became too quick to pass the torch to groups purporting to represent radical possibilities. Not only did he place his hope in a young intelligentsia, he also cited Third World revolutionaries in Cuba as leaders of new things to come. In identifying Castro’s revolution as a third way between Soviet communism and democratic capitalism, he projected his wishful hopes which – as history bears out – were undeserved. Logically, the idea of agency forced Mills to identify actors who deserved the mantle of liberation. Here Mills ignored another intellectual option: that of his intellectual predecessor, William James. For in opposing the Spanish-American War (1898), as Mills came to oppose American imperialism later, the great pragmatic philosopher focused his attention not on the revolutionaries fighting American expansion but on what imperialist expansion had done to America’s culture and intellectual soul – arguing that it made America "puke up its ancient soul." He called for Americans to learn tolerance, but he did not call for them to extend open arms to new revolutionary actors. This sort of stance seems to come closer to the "politics of truth" that Mills himself hoped to practice.

The tendency to retain faith in agency led directly to Mills’s taking some bad intellectual paths. And down these same paths went many New Left intellectuals who searched for new agents during the late 1960s – choosing among Black Americans, women, the lumpenproletariat, and Third World revolutionaries. For example, in One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse – another guru of the New Left – argued along Mills’s lines that "‘the people,’ previously the ferment of social change, have ‘moved up’ to become the ferment of social cohesion." After this clear swipe at the working class growing comfortable in the suburbs, Marcuse cited "the outcasts and outsider, the exploited and persecuted of other races..." as the future "opposition" that could become "revolutionary" and unleash "the great refusal." Mills’s mistake became Marcuse’s mistake. What these thinkers did was to impute universalistic qualities – the ability to achieve justice for all members of a society – from proscribed identities. Entire strata of people were crammed into a conceptual framework projected by intellectuals. In the case of Marcuse, residual Hegelianism backed him into this corner; in the case of Mills, it was the desire to find an agency to replace the older proletariat. Unsuspectingly, these thinkers laid the groundwork for the bad form of identity politics – the tendency to prescribe roles based solely upon a person’s ethnicity, race, or gender – that has emerged in our own times. The error of "agency" left numerous problems for radical intellectuals. Mills was best when he gave up on agency and simply evaluated the role different actors could potentially play in progressive change – resisting the pressure to make one group the force of salvation.

If Mills showed weakness in relationship to questions of liberalism and agency, his central conception of a democratic public also suffered from problems. The idea of a public was central to Mills’s social thought, and it fortunately prevented full-fledged vanguardist tendencies since it decentered intellectuals, making them one set of players in a larger circle including citizens and political leaders as well. But it was unclear just why Mills’s had any faith in resuscitating the sort of publics he hoped for. After all, Mills often had a negative assessment of the American public – seeing it composed mostly of "cheerful robots" suffering from political apathy. He explained, in sweeping terms, "If we accept the Greek definition of the idiot as an altogether private man, then we must conclude that many American and many Soviet citizens are now idiots." But somehow, while believing this, he hoped for the revival of publics – for some miraculous turn away from idiocy towards civic engagement. This seemingly contradictory stance extended to Mills’s thoughts on intellectuals. Mills argued that intellectuals themselves were proletarianized – divorced from the means of broadcasting their viewpoints to others as the mass media became more centralized and universities more bureaucratized. At the same time, he called on intellectuals to become "independent craftsman" and renew a meaningful commitment to public life. At times, Mills sounded like he was setting up great hopes for the future that he himself already believed were impossible.

The recreation of a democratic public – the central task of any future left in Mills’s mind – became, at times, almost existential. While Mills showed how limits were placed on human beings by social and political institutions, he nonetheless had faith that people could will a different future. But rarely did he set out what sort of counter institutional possibilities existed for his prescriptions, arguing that if leaders, citizens, and intellectuals wanted something, they could have it – an odd sentiment on the part of a social critic such as Mills. For instance, after dissecting academic conformity and the stifling power of the "mass market" which stressed entertainment over critical thinking, Mills would suddenly berate his fellow intellectuals with these words: "If we want to, we can be independent craftsmen.... [We] are free to decide what [we] will do or will not do in [our] working life." But these sorts of declarations contradicted his previous analysis of the proletarianization of intellectual life – which, as he showed so astutely, limited intellectuals’ options. Just how could publics be recreated when the mass media was so centralized and bent on commercialized entertainment? Just how could a public of citizens rise again if so many citizens were idiots? Mills’s resort to existentialist revolt is bizarre when placed alongside his thorough institutional analysis of power and apathy.

Rarely did Mills speak in concrete institutional terms regarding the creation of democratic publics. Only when pressed by the situation did he speak in this manner. For instance, in a speech for the Center for the Study of Liberal Education for Adults, Mills stated that the adult school should serve as an institutional basis for the formation of a critical public. He explained, "In the absence of... publics, these schools ought to become the framework within which such publics exist at least in their inchoate beginnings..." Unfortunately this sort of remark on the part of Mills seems haphazard – sparked by the occasion and little else. Why, after all, didn’t Mills look for other possible institutional sources of a reenlived public? For instance, he rarely spoke of the civil rights movement and the ways citizens forged new public institutions within that movement. Nor did he spot any institutions that could seriously be expected to counteract the increasing power of the mass media.

Mills therefore seemed comfortable having the central linchpin of his future left – a democratic public – remain vague and unfixed. Perhaps his pragmatic temper prevented him from defining the solution too tightly. Perhaps his historical period simply did not offer enough institutional sources of renewed publics. Perhaps he believed citizens and political leaders should be the ones to create new institutional possibilities while social critics like himself simply waited off stage. Whatever the case might be, Mills’s weakness on this count represented a broader problem: he did not define the contours of the future left well enough. Instead, he left many intellectual problems behind – an overburdening critique of liberalism which assumed liberalism’s staying power, a search for new historical agents that could easily devolve into identity politics, and an ill-defined and almost existential call to recreate democratic publics.


Ironically, Mills’s weakness was also his strength. For what he failed to accomplish remains our challenge today. He left behind not only intellectual quandaries but also living demands that should reawaken us to the project of social criticism as it relates to practical politics. If we take Mills as a starting point and face up to our own day and age, we are presented with the most pressing questions for any future left. How can we create institutional possibilities for progressive decentralization to counteract the conservative tendency of devolution? How can we ensure both democratic participation on the part of citizens and equity across different communities at the same time? How can we truly engage citizens in community-problem solving – the essence of John Dewey’s form of politics that Mills adopted – while not overburdening communities or relinquishing the need for social equity and a fair distribution of resources? How can we recreate publics and a progressive voice in American politics? Mills started to ask these questions, and in doing so, he left to us a live, though unfinished, project.

Mills showed us the promise of radical democracy. He made clear that a social critic needed to do two things at once: analyze the way power and inequity operated and point to possibilities for political reform and sources of radical hope. Rejecting the easy paths of neo-conservatism, cultural elitism, or academic comfort and irrelevance, he tried to spell out what could be done to make American society more democratic. By speaking to publics about pressing matters, he tried in his own way to reenergize such publics against the increasing pressures of mass society. He understood that the most important element for progressive change was the creation of a public sphere in which dialogue and debate could be heard. That demand still exists today – even more so as the mass media grow both in power and superficiality. Though he failed at times to make clear just how this recreation could in fact take place, Mills deserves our praise for making this the central challenge of any future new left. It is up to us to see if we can find ways to live up to the challenge that Mills left us – the challenge of radical democracy.






Heidegger, Technology and Television

Reflections on Reception

In the idiom of Heideggerian insight, TV cannot think the essence of TV which, however, it is constantly marking and remarking.

(Avital Ronell)

Dan Scoggin

Martin Heidegger suggests, in a lecture titled "The Thing" (1949), that the atom bomb is "the grossest of all gross confirmations" of modern technology’s destruction of the essence of "thingness." Speaking at the advent of the nuclear age, Heidegger claims that the universal implications of the bomb represent the historical culmination of technology’s erasure of an older form of Being maintained by the nearness of earth and its objects. Despite the philosopher’s use of apocalyptic language in reference to such a singular threat –language that leads some to misread Heidegger as engaging in a reactionary rebellion against technology–he is not suggesting that technology is some sort of objective evil. The bomb itself is not the threat. Rather, an older order of Being is challenged by the universal implications underwriting the bomb’s very existence, a form of human perception that is wholly modern.

Now fifty years later, we should reexamine Heidegger’s subtle reading of technology by keeping in mind his emphasis that the "greatest danger" may not figure as an atomic flash, but concerns our day-to-day approach to the things around us. On the one hand, the current phenomenon of television, with its privileged status as a cultural event, serves as an excellent example by which to explore Heidegger’s complex notion concerning how technology becomes intertwined with our Being. On the other hand, we can start to unravel the complex existence of the event of television today by returning to his notion of Enframing (Gestell)–which proposes that the essence of technology is not technological, but a way of life. In either case, the first step of bringing Heidegger and television together involves an overcoming of the instrumental logic that suggests that television is best thought of as a home appliance, a window to the world, a marketplace, a piece of furniture, a companion, or something fully human. After all, if we label technology as either neutral, evil, or outside human thinking altogether, Heidegger warns, we are handed over to its powers in the "worst possible way" (TQCT, 4).

The value of Heidegger’s theory of technology consists in its ability to offer us an alternative way to conceptualize a rupture between a technological past and present. The user friendly ease of today’s most advanced mediums–from the internet and CD ROM of home computing, to CAT scans, MRI imaging, sonograms, and computer-enhanced photography–lead many users away from a reflection on the mechanical sources that underwrite their existence. Yet Heidegger stresses in his landmark essay of 1955, "The Question Concerning Technology" ("Die Frage nach der Technik"), that it is nonetheless important for us, when thinking about the seeming dislocation of the technological present, to recognize that the destiny of technology was set in place long ago: "That which is primally early shows itself only ultimately to men. Therefore, in the realm of thinking, a painstaking effort to think through still more primally what was primally thought is not the absurd wish to revive what is passed, but rather the sober readiness to be astounded before the coming of what is early" (TQCT, 22). In terms of our discussion, then, television exists within the "destiny" of technology, and is thus the latest object to embody the paradox of his insightful claim that "technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology" (TQCT, 4). The viewer’s unparalleled desire to see through the medium of television, which reinforces our inability to interpret its essence, is itself a part of the enduring (and often troubling) connection between techne and knowledge in Western metaphysics.

I The Dissembling of Mediation

Our reflection begins with an awareness of the switch from film to television. Christian Metz, an influential media philosopher, points out how the older order of film involves a unique (but symmetrical and systematic) interaction between viewer and screen. Because the viewer both projects his or her gaze onto the movie screen and introjectively receives the screen’s projection, Metz describes the viewer (in this case himself) as the symbolic equivalent of the camera: "Releasing it [the film], I am the projector, receiving it, I am the screen; in both these figures together, I am the camera, which points and yet which records." The equipment of cinema–camera, projector, film-strip, screen, etc.–becomes then a metaphor (as well as the real source) for the mediation involved in the mental process of film. Clearly, however, at the heart of television’s appealing revision of its more fixed, technological predecessor (i.e. the introduction of home viewing, self-timed watching, the remote control, and a spectrum of channels) is a new sense of subjectivity which advertises the removal of the mediation of content by a technological (or necessarily ordered) engagement. One contemporary philosopher, Avital Ronell, for instance, describes the transition from film to television by comparing it to the symbolic move from the polite formalism of the Bible’s Old Testament to the image-laden intimacy and personal revelation of the New.

Although the medium is always ready to stress its interactive translucence, we must remember that television is a more complex technological proposition than film. In different contexts, several critics of the medium notice that television’s complex extension of its event restructures the nature of viewing habits and awareness. Fredric Jameson remarks how turning the television set off has little in common with the grand finale of a feature film, when the "lights slowly come back on and memory begins its mysterious work." The steady glow of television’s "attenuated visual data" does not "haunt the mind or leave its afterimages" in the manner of the great moments of film with its more leisurely sense of viewing combination; rather, it invites a certain amnesia regarding its own process. Not only does television watching often lack demarcation from other events, according to Ronell, "it is a sight of evacuation, the hemorrhaging of meaning, ever disrupting its semantic fields and phenomenal activities of showing." Perhaps Stanley Cavell summarizes a variety of critical remarks about television best when he says that, in television, "meaning is dictated by the event itself." The sum of these various insights into the process of television watching suggest that the event of television does not remove the mediation of images, but dissembles it; in short, the meaning of television is intensely determined by a highly technological (and thus increasingly ordered) interaction between viewer and the screen’s flow of images.

How can we better comprehend this undercutting of the awareness of an event by its very extension? Although Heidegger only momentarily touches upon the television in his writings and speeches, I would like to show how the medium’s present function serves to destabilize some of his basic philosophical categories while, at the same time, his commentary on technology serves an illuminating reflection on the palimpsest of reception. Heidegger’s understanding of the essence of Being, Dasein ("being-there"), suggests that the possibility of meaningful human existence is contingent upon the individual determination of the being of entities and how they are originally "revealed" (brought into a position of human judgment). In translating Heidegger’s two key terms of Sein and Seinde as "Being" and "entity," Michael Zimmerman illuminates a crucial dimension of Heidegger’s ontology.

For Heidegger, Sein meant the event in which an entity reveals or shows itself. Hence, "to be" meant not an eternal metaphysical foundation or first principle, but instead the "presencing" or "appearing" of a thing. Such presencing or appearing, so Heidegger argued, could not take place without the "clearing" which constitutes the essence of human existence. Without humans, entities would be unable to reveal or display themselves; in this sense, they would not "be."

Our rationale for labeling Heidegger as an existentialist philosopher becomes most apparent when we examine his idea of "the clearing." The presence of entities is dependent upon the subjectivity of human perception, while, simultaneously, the very content of human existence is made up of these entities. As Hubert L. Dreyfus writes, "...the understanding of being creates what Heidegger calls a clearing in which things and people can show up for us. We do not produce the clearing. It produces us as the kind of human beings that we are."

But what occurs when the ontological categories of a so-called existentialist philosopher are challenged by a technological extension of visual and auditory images? What happens when a philosophy of awareness is threatened by heightened sensation itself? Following the terms of Heidegger’s ontological equation, television complicates (and brings to a crisis) a long history of representation: entities originally "reveal" or display themselves while the viewer is engaged, contractually, so to speak, in the dynamics of reception. If television, in a sense, explodes a basic understanding of the "clearing" by both expanding the horizon of visibility and limiting vision to a rectangular space, it will be up to us to determine if Heidegger’s ontology can be extended in order to incorporate this shift, thus bringing this privileged modern genre back within the scope of Dasein and the being-at-hand of Being.

II Techne and Television

Of technology is truly a destiny for the West, as the philosopher claims, how does the event of television retain the old with the new? How does the philosopher’s theory of technology step in to speak when his basic ontology cannot? Perhaps we can answer these questions by keeping in mind Heidegger’s etymology of technology. "The word stems from the Greek," he writes. "Technikon means that which belongs to techne ... techne is the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman, but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts. Techne belongs to bringing-forth, to pöiesis; it is something pöietic" (TQCT, 12-13). Akihiro Takeichi clarifies the connection Heidegger is making here between pöiesis and modern technology: "The function of setting-up in ‘enframing’ (Gestell) is derived from the functioning of setting up in poiesis in ancient times. The functions of these settings up are essentially related, because they are both revealing (Entbergung)." Both techne and technology figure as negotiations, then, of the clearing, manipulations, both physical and perceptual, of the things around us. As an event of technology, television, despite its relative newness in terms of the technological, holds within its essence the sense of the original techne–"the activities and skills of the craftsmen." In fact, the newness of television’s "revealing," and it presentation of interactive translucence, is also, ironically, a return to what is oldest, craft and art. The viewer, for instance, does not just flip on the set to watch what Raymond Williams calls television’s "total flow," although this is certainly a part of television’s appeal, but as Umberto Eco noticed, the viewer often uses the "incontrollable plurality of messages" evoked by the event of television "to make up his own composition with the remote control switch." By channel surfing the viewer intimately participates in a technological sketching of his or her own environment; often eschewing a fixed content, the viewer is given the tools to engage in a process of artistic creation.

As such, the format of television has a long history as a mode of pöiesis and revealing. However, to the extent such a format combines the old with the new, reception overtakes the awareness of the "open space" of techne’s revealing because in television, techne is put at the service of the medium’s fresh, technologically advanced flow of images. In effect, the viewer is forced to aggressively push-on with the craft of television instead of stopping to see what he or she has evoked via the hand-held remote control. Surfing the channels with the remote control is both a creative process and mentally benumbing; it is an expression of televisual boredom or restlessness and the moment when the viewer takes reception most forcefully in hand. In this way, the older, interactive sense of techne is increasingly handed over to the maintenance of television’s technologically advanced reception, its dissembling of mediation.

One might say that in relation to techne, television plays out the following paradox: television will not let the viewer hold onto (visually or otherwise) what he or she has made because it demands that you see within the domain of the already-made. Heidegger warns us of the danger involved in such a setting, one which marks the transition from techne to technology: "What is dangerous is not technology," he writes. "There is no demonry of technology, but rather there is the mystery of its essence. The essence of technology, as a destining of revealing, is the danger" (TQCT, 28). The revealing that takes place at the hands of the event of television is forced not only to occur within the modern domain of re-presentation, the medium sets such re-presentation technologically in place by, so to speak, institutionalizing liveness. The medium’s event often advertises its freshness by portraying itself as the modern embodiment of techne’s two primary features–interactive creation, and the original being-there of craft– but this experience of techne is made possible by a technological reification, the "destining of revealing" involved in television’s materiality and its flow of re-presentation.

Heidegger writes in "The Age of the World Picture" that "To be new is peculiar to the world that has become picture" (WP, 132). In terms of television, the dissemination of the message of newness and liveness only occurs when seeing is especially destined. Because of the continued importance of techne to Being, when revealing becomes re-presentation, the medium quite logically presents itself as translucent, a broadcasting window to a world of constant liveness. As if to denote how far we have come from techne’s original revealing, Cecilia Tichi remarks that the "The screen shape is culturally naturalized, no longer the face of the cathode ray tube but an inscription of safety and security [an electronic hearth] to be deployed throughout the culture."

III Gestell

Despite modern technology’s overwhelming connection with the past, Heidegger suggests that a strange and different spirit pervades the present. "The essence of modern technology," he writes, "shows itself in what we call Enframing."In one of his most succinct moments in "The Question Concerning Technology" he defines Enframing ("Gestell") as "the way in which the real reveals itself as standing-reserve" (TQCT, 23). This essence is our new way of perceiving the world as orderable, the way in which the natural and manufactured sum of the corporeal environment is understood as instrumental parts (a "standing-reserve") of technological progression. Heidegger provides an example of this modern brand of perception. He states that in former times the Rhine was conceived of as a river in the landscape, but now the river is understood in the context of the "interlocking process pertaining to the orderly disposition of electrical energy," or the river is imagined "in no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry" (TQCT, 16). What is different, then, about the environment of Enframing, as opposed to earlier times, is this notion of a larger process, the very possibility of environment and constellation. Heidegger uses the term Enframing, as opposed to techne, to describe the state of affairs in the modern epoch because the revealing of the "standing reserve," as almost exclusively a form of perception instead of an act of creation, has become mysteriously intertwined with our Being. Within a picture-frame perception, one forgets the earth as an abode for the spontaneous interaction between one’s self and things, an open space for Da-sein’s Being there. The earth is perceived for ordering’s sake, or as Heidegger puts it "everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct" (TQCT 27).

The sacredness of careful revealing–the erecting of a statue in the temple district (TQCT, 21), to use Heidegger’s example–is replaced by the modern desire to watch all possibly orderable things come into existence, a misperception that does indeed make modern revealing fundamentally different. The interplay between an aggressive, perceptual stance towards the world and the consequences of the material presence it brings forth into "unconcealment" turns out to be technology’s true essence. In taking Heidegger’s logic to its final destination, what comes to pass is that Enframing, as a new form of technological perception in which the corporeal world is comprised of a standing-reserve only of objects, ironically, blurs, and ontologically confuses, the foundation of the current environment that it makes possible. In simplest terms, technology cannot think technology. "Enframing is the highest danger in this fundamental respect," John Sallis writes, "in that it threatens most radically to deny man’s entrance into a domain in which can be heard the call which, withdrawing from man, sends him on his way. The forgotteness of Being reaches here its highest point."

How does the television, as a highly technological object, take part in this modern mystery of Being? To ask such a question, to move beyond reception to reflection, we must first fathom what is involved in calling the television technological. On the most basic level, the encased materiality of the television itself is an outcome of the "challenging ordering." Its material structure (plastic, glass, circuitry, and electricity) could only be fashioned when various countries achieved a certain stage in technological advancement. As Raymond William remarks, "The invention of television was no single event or series of events. It depended on a complex of inventions and developments in electricity, telegraphy, photography, and pictures and radio." Hence, television was unavailable until 1936 in Britain and 1939 in America because a material network of successive inventions (one dimension of Heidegger’s concept of a "standing-reserve") was not ordered enough for it to be "challenged-forth" until this time. Yet the television’s encased materiality is only one dimension of the television’s identity as technological. At another important level, the material process of making a television show represents the subject’s aggressive stance (stellen) towards the environment. For instance, cameras, actors, scripts, sets, and props are all perceived as orderable parts, and indeed themselves forged, in the complex process of "challenging-forth" a televisual image. Moreover, it is here, at the point where the technological and the standing-reserve move into a heightened engagement with the visual and perceptual, that one can glimpse the mysterious link between the technological and the essence of technology. Through the subject’s new, aggressive approach to "the real," the televisual image is the "revealing," both visually and technologically, of the Enframing of the standing-reserve itself. Because the viewer sees through the liveness and living color of the technological object (while the object seen is dispersed both here, there, and elsewhere), the event of television figures as a "revealing of the real as standing-reserve" while, on another important level, such seeing is simultaneously an orderable, technological part of television’s "total flow." In dissembling its mediation by, in effect, setting-up a mediation of the way we see, television becomes an indispensable component of the viewer’s supposedly uncensored perception of a world of orderable parts, while at the same time, television’s images are technological, and thus a part of the dissembling process they help perceptually inform.

IV The "very brink of a precipitous fall"

In prophetic tone, Heidegger states in "The Question" that "Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of Enframing, that he does not apprehend Enframing as a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he exists..." (TQCT, 27). A reflection on television offers a way for us to better understand what Heidegger means by the split between simply being "spoken to" and the self awareness of listening and comprehension. I have already suggested that the viewer’s inability to apprehend Enframing as a claim is based in his or her attendance and fixation on the technological content of the medium’s images. But what is the character of television’s content? Not only does the viewer unavoidably participate in a technological language while watching television, in addition, the content of the medium–from talkshows, to sports, to sitcoms–is made up of an endless stream of human images. In the event of television, we watch ourselves and the viewer is literally "the one spoken to." If we apply Heidegger’s reflection on technology to this phenomenon of a stream of human images, the content of television may present us with the situation in which human beings may simultaneously exist as both the subject and object within Enframing: we stand as both the perceiver of technological images and the material of them. (In a very reduced formula, we "challenge-forth" ourselves in perceiving human images as another portion of the real that is revealed as standing-reserve; in other words, we become what we perceive technology to be.) Heidegger refers to such a danger as the summit of Enframing as a destining:

Yet when destining reigns in the mode of Enframing, it is the supreme danger. This danger attests itself to us in two ways. As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but does so, rather, exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct. This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion. It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself. (TQCT, 26-27, my emphasis)

The nature of television accelerates this perceptual sequence. The human engagement with Enframing taking place in the event of television may be the "point" where human beings "will have to be taken as standing-reserve" because the television "no longer concerns man" as the object "television," rather, it interests the viewer as the flow of human images that make up the standing reserve of the medium’s material discourse. What Heidegger calls the "objectlessness" of this advanced point of Enframing is exemplified in the current inability to understand what television is because of the uninhibited stream of images that come out of it.

In response to the rise of objectlesness, Heidegger forges a counterpoint in his philosophy between earth and world. Michel Haar remarks that, for Heidegger, the earth is the "unfathomable and untamable background of a meaningful historical structure...a [place where] thinghood is there gratuitously, for its own sake." Yet when Enframing reaches the point where things are perceived of in terms of technological becoming, the older thingness of earth fades away into the objectless totality of world. As such, Heidegger uses the term world to denote the totality of environment; the earth is abolished when the thingness of the technological is liquidated and dissembled in a receptive state of mind.In his essay "The Turning" Heidegger describes the results of Enframing’s attempt, as a human endeavor, to bring the world constantly closer in technological picture-making: "Enframing disguises the nearness of world that nears in the thing. Enframing disguises even this, its disguising, just as the forgetting of something forgets itself and is drawn away in the wake of forgetful oblivion" (TT, 46).

V The Forgetting of Home

By dissembling its mediation, the event of television often portrays itself as a utopian move beyond the restrictive layers of distance. This overcoming of the fields of older space relations has been a part of the medium’s identity from its inception. In the initial DuMont advertising campaign in the mid-1940s television was described as "the biggest window in the world," the "magic carpet ride," "university," and a "gift: the answer to man’s ageless yearning for eyes and ears to pierce the barrier of distance." However, from a Heideggerian perspective, the human desire to see far–a desire denoted by the "tele" of television, and the "Fern" of the German Fernsehen–is linked to the mistaken assumption that television is a pure conduit in the viewer’s perception of world.

In the first of his two brief treatments of television, Heidegger addresses the dangerous state of "objectlessness" that such far-seeing produces. At the beginning of his essay "The Thing" (1950) Heidegger states,

The peak of [technology’s] abolition of every possible remoteness is reached by television, which will soon pervade and dominate the whole machinery of communication .... Yet the frantic abolition of all distance brings no nearness; for nearness does not consist in shortness of distance. What is least remote from us in point of distance, by virtue of its picture on film or its sound on radio, can remain far from us. What is incalculably far from us in point of distance can be near to us. Short distance is not in itself nearness. Nor is great distance remoteness. (PLT, 165)

In his work on technology, Heidegger calls the human desire to overcome distance the "challenging revealing." In the case of the event of television, which he illuminates for us here, the medium threatens presence and nearness because it concerns itself with the challenge of revealing as "real" what is continually further away. Bringing always live (but always re-presented) television images into the home in this world picture-making only forges an objectless distance regarding what is truly near. As suggested earlier, one might say that with the rise of an aggressive re-presentation, the event of television takes away the essential proximity to things that allows us to see through them nothing less than their being as entities. In the paradox of the dissembling of mediation, the viewer is unaware of the arrival of "remoteness," the forgetting of what is near.

But what is the primary object lost in far-seeing? In his other treatment of television–an address to the Schwartzwald peasants in 1955–Heidegger connects the dangerous inversion in distance that television undertakes, and its mysterious "objectlessness," with the destruction of the home and habitat of earth:

Many Germans have lost their homeland...And those who have stayed on in their homeland? Often they are still more homeless than those who have been driven from their homeland. Hourly and daily they are chained to radio and television. Week after week the movies carry them off into uncommon, but often merely common, realms of the imagination, and give the illusion of a world that is no world. Picture magazines are everywhere available. All that with which modern techniques of communication stimulate, assail, and drive man–all that is already much closer to man today than his fields around his farmstead, closer than the sky over the earth, closer than the conventions and customs of his village, than the tradition of his native world. (DT, 48)

In this passage Heidegger dramatically asserts that the television, and other ubiquitous modes of modern communication, threaten the German homeland even more so than the dislocation brought about by the Second World War. Dreyfus points out that Heidegger’s statement lamenting the appearance of television antennae on rural dwellings mistakenly suggests that the philosopher is "a Luddite who would like to return from the exploitation of the earth, consumerism, and mass media to the world of the pre-Socratic Greeks." But there is a philosophical message here deeper than a simple longing for what has passed away. We should note Heidegger’s specific association of the inversion in distance generated by television’s dissembling, "the illusion of a world that is no world," with the passing away of earth and home. Heidegger’s two treatments of television taken together suggest that the medium’s preoccupation with far-seeing disguises its being-at-hand, and thus allows the domestic space, formerly thought of as a retreat from overwhelming technological progress, to move into the forefront of human naturalization to the ordering of the technological. Consequently, television’s hand-held remote control is an emblem of how the world is "ordered to stand immediately at hand." More precisely, in terms of the Heideggerian paradox described above, the nearness of home is dissembled by the (home-sick) remoteness at hand.

VI The Saving Power

As a dislocation of awareness, Enframing threatens the essence of humanity; Heidegger writes: "where Enframing reigns, there is danger in the highest sense" (28). A profound feature of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology, however, involves the reversal of this "danger in the highest sense." Despite his claim that Enframing is an inescapable part of life in the modern period, Heidegger believes, nonetheless, in the possibility of human freedom, and an overcoming of the restrictive logic of reception. In many of his essays on technology Heidegger cites a passage from Holderin’s hymn "Patmos":

But where danger is, grows

The saving power also.

By suggesting that the "saving power" grows where Enframing’s danger is greatest, Heidegger emphatically avoids all connection with the technological. John Sallis explains this argumentative reversal by relating it to the back-and-forth movement that pervades all of Heidegger’s reflections on technology. The question behind Heidegger’s "Question Concerning Technology," his ambiguous refusal to state exactly what technology is, figures as a reversal of the instrumental revealing of Gestell. In other words, Heidegger’s claim that the saving power grows where the danger is highest (his shunning of a determinist definition of technology as an unavoidable danger) confirms his careful avoidance of receptionist thinking. As such, his incessant questioning is a turning away from the "productionist metaphysics," to use Steven Heine’s phrase, that established the destiny of technology long ago.

Yet what is this "saving power"? The "saving power" is the purity of human thought. Heidegger closes his essay "The Age of the World Picture" with an invocation that illuminates his use of Holderin:

Man will know, i.e., carefully safeguard into its truth, that which is incalculable, only in creative questioning and shaping out of the power of genuine reflection. Reflection transports the man of the future into that ‘between’ in which he belongs to Being and yet remains a stranger amid that which is. (WP, 136)

The questioning embodied in reflection is the "saving power," the bringing of the "clearing" back into focus. While the receptive thinking of Enframing involves the naturalization and deshaping represented by the standing-reserve, genuine reflection recovers an awareness of the strangeness of the technological. The "saving power" is then a return to the "between" of Da-sien’s Being-at-hand. But why does this "saving power" emerge at the height of Enframing and its dangers? It is found here because in reflecting on the reception which pervades Enframing, the subject awakes a "stranger amid that which is." The "saving power" grows where the stakes of reception are highest, so to speak, because of the possibility of a resounding reflection which may revive the essential difference "between" Being and the technological. In a very important sense, Heidegger is directing us to the emotive path of spiritual conversion. As he writes elsewhere:

The turning of the danger comes to pass suddenly. In this turning, the clearing belonging to the essence of being suddenly clears itself and lights up. (PLT, 44)

In terms of television, the detection of the dissembling of mediation emerges as a heightened realm of awareness. Seeing the strangeness of our attachment to television’s glowing event emerges as an unparalleled opportunity to see into the essence of Being, what the television set is not. For we should recall, in the spirit of the "saving power," that the stranger in a strange land prophetically knows what is lacking.


Cavell, Stanley. "The Fact of Television." In Themes Out of School: Effects and Causes. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.

Dreyfus, Hubert L.. "Heidegger on Gaining a Free Relation to Technology." In Technology @ The Politics of Knowledge. edited by Andrew Feenberg and Alastair Hannay, 97-107. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

Heidegger, Martin. "The Question Concerning Technology." In the Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, translated by William Lovitt, 3-35. New York: Harper Torch-books, 1977.

__________. "The Age of the World Picture." In the Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, translated by William Lovitt, 115-154. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

__________. "The Turning." In the Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, translated by William Lovitt, 36-49. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

__________. Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

__________. Discourse on Thinking, translated by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

Heine, Steven. "Philosophy for an ‘age of death’: The critique of science and technology in Heidegger and Nishitani." Philosophy East and West 40.2 (1987).

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism: or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier. Translated by Cecilia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Ronell, Avital. "Video/Television/Rodney King: Twelve Steps Beyond the Pleasure Principle." Differences 4.2 (1992): 1-15.

Sallis, John. "Toward the Movement Of Reversal: Science, Technology, and the Language of Homecoming." In Heidegger and the Path of Thinking, edited by John Sallis, 161-192. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1970.

Takeichi, Akihiro. "On the Origin of Nihilism–In View of the Problem of Technology and Karma." In Heidegger and Asian Thought, edited by Graham Parkes, 175-186. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.

Taminiaux, Jacques. "Heidegger and the Earth." Diacritics 19.3-4 (1989): 76-81.

Tichi, Cecelia. Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Williams, Raymond. Television. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.

Zimmerman, Michael E.. Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.


Avital Ronell, "Video/Television/Rodney King: Twelve Steps beyond The Pleasure Principle," Differences 4.2 (1992) , 2.

Martin Heidegger, The Thing. Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1971) 166, 170. Heidegger originally delivered this essay as a lecture at the Club at Bremen on December 1, 1949. "Das Ding" was presented, with three other lectures, under the title "Insight into That Which Is."

Quotations from Martin Heidegger’s works are cited in this essay using the following abbreviations:

TQCT: "The Question Concerning Technology." The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays , translated by William Lovitt, 3-35. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

WP: "The Age of the World Picture." The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays , translated by William Lovitt, 115-154. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

TT: "The Turning."The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays , translated by William Lovitt, 36-49. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

PLT: Poetry, Language, Thought, translated Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

DT: Discourse on Thinking, translated by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 51.

Ronell, "Video/Television/Rodney King," 10.

Jameson, Postmodernism, 70-71; Ronell, "Video/Television/Rodney King," 6; Stanley Cavell, "The Fact of Television," in Themes Out of School: Effects and Causes (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), 258. Related to Jameson’s notion of historical amnesia is the fact that in television, unlike movies, there is less the sense of there being masterpieces. Raymond Williams notices that "We do not say: ‘I saw the best newscast that I have ever seen last night.’ We usually just say that ‘we watched television,’ rather than that we watched ‘the news’ or ‘a play’ or ‘the football’ on television." Comprehension and demarcation of event is exactly what the whole or total flow of television prevents. Raymond Williams, Television (New York: Schocken Books, 1975), 74.

Zimmerman, Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity, xxii.

Heidegger on Gaining a Free Relation to Technology," in Technology and the Politics of Knowledge, edited by Andrew Feenberg and Alastair Hannay (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 100.

Akihiro Takeichi, "On the Origin of Nihilism –In View of the Problem of Technology and Karma," Heidegger and Asian Thought, ed. Graham Parkes (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987) ,181.

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986),148.

Tichi,Electronic Hearth, 29.

John Sallis, "Toward the Movement of Reversal: Science, Technology, and the Language of Homecoming,"Heidegger and the Path of Thinking, ed. John Sallis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1970), 167.

Williams, Television,14.

Jacques Taminiaux, "Heidegger and the Earth,"diacritics 19.3-4 (1989): 79. This article is a review of Michel Haar’s Le Chant De La Terre: Heidegger Et Les Assises De L’Histoire De L’etre (Paris, L’Herne, 1985).

Tichi, Electronic Hearth, 13.

Hubert L. Dreyfus, "Heidegger on Gaining a Free Relation to Technology," 98.

John Sallis, 161-167.







Art, Commodification, and "the Hot-House Babble"

"Ideas cannot be owned. They belong to whomever understands them."

(Sol LeWitt, Conceptual Artist.)

Jim Bratone

Whether involved in the controversies surrounding Warhol’s Campbell Soup can paintings and Brillo boxes of the 1960’s, or Jeff Koons’s framed Nike posters of the 80’s, commodification has been one of art’s most contentious issues. 1 In the post-war boom years, elements of mass culture grew into what was considered a kind of virus blanketing the industrialized world. Artists and writers attempted to immunize themselves against this virus by initiating a lively discourse about the commodification of culture. A central aspect of this discourse was their asking, in effect: can or should art resist commodification, and if so, how? This inquiry remains as pertinent today as ever, though no longer pursued in the hope of definitive solution. Grasping the historical development of this discourse and its questioning is necessary before one can begin even the most tentative answer. These questions are particularly relevant now that ‘commercial’ artists such as Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kincaid ("The Painter of Light"ä ) are the subjects of serious analysis and praise by respected critics.

Things were fairly simple once; for modernists, art and other ‘elevated’ pursuits were to be preserved against even the slightest taint of commercialism. Those still clinging to this notion tend to regard the fusing of culture and the marketplace with concern.

But upholding the modernist conviction that there be a sacrosanct oppositional realm to bourgeois culture, including commodification, is no longer a simple matter. Such sights as an MTV camera crew eagerly interviewing a kid screaming "MTV sucks!" become commonplace; the feedback loop between ‘reality’ and ‘marketing’ grows so rapid and finely tuned that the two appear to blend into one. The most eccentric ‘outsider’ art or music of today can always end up seamlessly incorporated into a Madonna video tomorrow. In response to this shifting cultural terrain, postmodernism has taught us to problematize all hierarchies; the boundary between high and low cultural registers and the fine and popular arts has consequently blurred, if not vanished.

The dialogue about art’s relation to the market can be approached through the writings of four men: the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Herbert Marcuse, and the art critics Leo Steinberg and Dave Hickey. Kant is now widely recognized as one of the founders of modernist aesthetics. Steinberg and Marcuse, who were both in the modernist tradition, criticized the tendency within capitalist societies of the commercial to absorb the cultural sphere. Steinberg diagnosed the penchant, at least in the United States, to reduce art to an economic instrument. Using Marxian analysis, Marcuse conceived of art as having an innate capacity to transcend its commodity status. Contemporary art critic Dave Hickey, unlike the previous three thinkers, strikes an inclusionary stance as he encourages a freewheeling, promiscuous merger of art and commerce.

Hickey stands at the vanguard of a growing number of writers and artists challenging us to rethink the whole problem of ‘art’ and ‘commodity’. He is as adept at exploring the allures of Titian as of low-rider car culture; his prose is fluent in both historical erudition and a hip 1990’s patois. 2 In his passionate support of Norman Rockwell, Hickey is no doubt playing agent provocateur; low to middlebrow art, he implies, can be a handy tool for tunneling under the barricades of the Art Institution. The premise is that commercially successful art is often more alive and in closer touch with desire than its publicly funded, anemic counterpart. For Hickey, art must ‘win it in the streets,' where he foresees little bands of artists and art fans gathering to create neighborhood galleries, free of the deadening grip of the university and museum, the foundation and government agency. He argues for a bottom-up approach in which artists find support in freely formed ‘communities of desire’; these artists would then later be institutionally enshrined, after ground-level constituencies have taken root. The current situation, Hickey argues, is exactly the opposite, a top-down power flow in which institutions pick the ‘winners’ a priori, whether or not such artists have any public support.3 For Hickey, commodification is the inevitable turbulence a vital art leaves in its wake. Though flawed, his advocacies represent a healthy challenge to entrenched notions about commercialism and its impact on art.

For most artists and critics, commodification no longer poses the monolithic threat it once did. A growing number have self-consciously embraced it, most notably Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. For many contemporary artists, the commodified environment is a raw given - it is simply more ‘stuff’ appearing on the phenomenal screen. Even when an artist, such as Agnes Martin, avoids any hint of mass-culture influence, the work is still defined negatively, in terms of what has been renounced. Most serious artists, however, are in the world of commodity values but not of it; these values are often placed in artworks that involve personal and highly ambiguous attitudes toward mass culture.

To better grasp the current situation, its groundwork must first be established, in this case in its pre-history. "Art" as a distinct category did not appear until proto-capitalism and its new merchant class emerged in the fourteenth century Italian city-states. Even then, art only slowly disengaged from its identification as church decoration and Bi ble for the unlettered. Art was gradually ceded a separate domain, a process codified in the late eighteenth century by the philosopher Immanuel Kant.

In his three Critiques, Kant portrayed the human subject as divided into three independent functions: the cognitive, the ethical, and the aesthetic.4 Like the senses, each function is separate, he thought, communicating with the others only through indirect inference and analogy. Due to a general impulse in European thought that Kant was one of the first to systemize, artistic judgment came to occupy its own realm of timeless validity; art was regarded as sealed in an impermeable bubble of universal standards and values that were, or at least ought to be, purely aesthetic; color and form were to be preeminent, cognition and ethics, negligible.

Because of its supposed autonomy, art, from the fourteenth century onwards, became increasingly elitist and the private property of the wealthy. Because its ideal was to be purely aesthetic, the artwork, no longer solely a means of moral or religious instruction, became a source of idle delectation. Unfettered by mundane thoughts and ethical concerns, it rose to an exalted position as a super-luxury commodity buoyed in its own aesthetic atmosphere. Walter Benjamin referred to this atmosphere as the unique artwork’s "aura" which "clung to the original masterpiece as to a holy relic."5

Benjamin noted that, due to the widespread use of mechanical reproduction, this aura eventually dissipated. With photography and other mechanical printing processes, disembodied 'auraless' images proliferated. Inexpensive prints of paintings were avidly bought and displayed. Mass reproduction, although in one sense undermining the artwork’s aura, and thus its status as haute-commodity, also increased art’s potential for being absorbed into the production/consumption system. But because the aura’s spell had weakened, in another sense the work of art in the mechanical age also gained an ability to resist the system. Widely copied and distributed, photographs and prints came to be thought of less as objects owned than as intangible reflections and bearers of a common, if often vulgarized, cultural heritage. But at the same time, mass reproduction prepared the way for a potent new aspect of image commodification.

This new form became known as ‘kitsch’. Jenny Sharp described kitsch as "all those cheap, vulgar, sentimental, tasteless, trashy, pretty, cute objects the vast majority of people…like to live with." 6 Kitsch is black velvet Elvises, plastic Venus de Milo's, sad-eyed puppy paintings; it is all of the beautiful junk filling outlet malls, flea markets, and most middle-class homes.

Like 'real art,' kitsch is a product of modernity; without the modern developments of capitalism, mass production, and the middle class, kitsch would not be. Almost always manufactured en masse, like cars or toasters, it is the product of the belief that beauty can be distributed and consumed, either according to economic advantage, as in capitalist societies, or political expediency, as in totalitarian ones.

Because it is so easy to consume, and to profit by, kitsch’s diffusion in capitalist democracies is all but total. Alexis de Tocqueville noted as early as the 1830’s the tendency of democracies to commercialize the arts and to lower artistic standards.7 Referring to the citizens of democracies, de Tocqueville wrote: "They ask for beauties self proffered and easily enjoyed". 8 For the middle class of such societies, to consume becomes an overriding ideal, even a civic and economic duty; one consumes in order to give life meaning and to position oneself in social space.

Kitsch reflects a nostalgia that is reactive to aspects of contemporary life. Late capitalist modernity appears to lurch into a chaotic, frenzied stage. No longer patterned after notions of rational, orderly progress envisioned by Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant, late modernity is marked by anomic drift and historical rupture. In response to the anxieties such forces trigger and to pressures exerted by a market-driven society, the 'citizen' becomes the 'consumer.' This consumer finds identity and security in the infantile 'now' of compulsive consumption. The easy predictable comforts of kitsch are sought as a nostalgic haven and as a means to fill the spiritual and temporal void that hyper -consumption leaves in its wake.

When T.W. Adorno wrote about the receptivity of the middle class to kitsch, he echoed Marx’s theory that the mode of production creates not only certain commodities but also the need for those commodities: consumers become as much the commodities as the goods they buy. Adorno wrote: "The customers of musical entertainments are themselves objects, or indeed, products of the same mechanism that produces popular music."9 Though such economic determinism may seem reductive, Adorno’s analysis provides a way to conceive of commodifying forces as inscribing themselves into the consumer’s inner life. For Adorno, such forces operate both from without, as external economic influence, as well as from within, shaping subjectivity. Following this analysis, commodification is considered as an intrinsic set of qualities within the artist and the beholder, as well as in the artwork. Adorno and Max Horkheimer called the mode of production that creates kitsch and kitsch consumers the "culture industry."10 This industry, according to them, manufactures products that induce relaxation, which in turn increases the consumer’s passivity, insuring his/her susceptibility to easy beauty and predigested images.11 According to Leo Lowenthal, what characterizes kitsch, and all of mass culture, is their reducibility to these extrinsic causes and motives, whereas ‘true art’ is autonomous and irreducible.12

The relationship of kitsch to the avant-garde, however, has grown more problematic with time. The art critic Clement Greenberg typified the modernist attitude in considering kitsch as radically opposed to "advanced art," calling it art’s "rear guard."13 Members of the Frankfurt School anticipated this view, referring to kitsch as a form of aesthetic lying, a degraded and tawdry burlesque of the avant-garde.14 But recent art history has complicated this modernist hierarchy. Beginning with Duchamp’s ready-mades and continuing with Pop artists and up to today, artists' use of kitsch and other popular culture influence for subversive and critical purposes has become commonplace. Kitsch likewise uses styles and images from the avant-garde as aesthetic advertising and legitimacy. The relationship continually grows more involved; one finds printed on a coffee cup, for instance, the image of a Roy Lichtenstein painting of an abstract expressionist brushstroke. A pregnant signifier for avant painting in the 50’s, ironically kitschified by Lichtenstein into the Pop idiom, which in this case also ironically borrows from the kitsch of comic book art, is finally, and genuinely, kitschified into three dollar kitchen ware. High art, ironic ‘high’ art, and kitsch feed from each other so freely as to seem more like symbiotes than the separate beings that modernists had imagined.

Modernist aesthetics, beginning with Kant and continuing through the Frankfurt School and Greenberg, represented an essential feature of one form of art’s commodification while also contributing to the conviction that art should be kept immune from commodification. In America, these contradictory urges each became identified with America’s native puritanism. This association of puritanism with both modernism and capitalism makes sense in the light of Matei Calinescu’s observation "that modernity was largely the product of the Protestant work ethic (in which Weber saw the main cause of capitalism.)"15

The American Leo Steinberg exemplified the modernist distaste for the implication of commerce into art. Though occurring in all industrialized countries, in the U.S. this process was less hindered by history and tradition than it had been in Europe. According to Steinberg, Americans regarded art primarily as an economic enterprise (an activity consonant with puritan values). He writes of how New York artists heartily endorsed Buckminster Fuller’s observation that the greatest 20th century artist was Henry Ford.16 Steinberg wrote of a Fortune magazine article that advised its readers of the massive returns of awaiting the savvy investor. He comments on and quotes from the article:

The metaphor throughout is "the hard coin of art," the goal,

to rise above soft-headed sentiment…"General Motors has done a little better than Cézanne, but not so well as Renoir." A Vermeer recently sold turns out to be worth "$1,252 per square inch," as against the land on which the House of Morgan on Wall Street stands - valued at only $2.10 per square inch..."The ownership of art offers a unique combination of financial attractions. From the broadest point of view, art is an investment." 17

If classical European painters and sculptors linked art with desire, for their American counterparts, art was work.18 The puritan conscience was salved. For Americans,

to be workmanlike is an absolute good. Efficiency is self-justifying: it exonerates any activity whatsoever. It is the active man's formalism - a value independent of content.19

Another modernist highly critical of the tendency to compromise the autonomy of the arts was Herbert Marcuse. He believed that art could drive a critical opening through the grid of an instrumentalized world. Marcuse referred to this capacity as art's transcendent critical potential, 20 which it shares only with religion and philosophy. (Lest the term 'transcendence' be misread as referring to some actual condition or goal, Marcuse envisioned art's transcendence as more like an empty space, a fertile, productive void beyond any possible determination.) In the lineage of Kant, Marcuse thought of the arts as autonomous and transcendent of any kind of reductionism. But whereas Kant believed that art and the aesthetic were hermetically sealed in a self-validating domain, Marcuse imagined the aesthetic as inherently linked back to the cognitive/critical faculties; thus his definition of art as transcendent and critical, its criticality and transcendence being, in fact, functions of each other.

But far from being a transparent window onto some 'beyond,' for Marcuse the artwork was essentially concrete embodiment. He thought the artwork's physicality, conveyed through its form, is the medium through which it can touch and move us bodily. Without the artwork's material pole (fully integrated, however, with its conceptual pole), the work can tend toward pale abstraction, theory or political praxis, in which case art denies its transcendent critical ability to see beyond not only what is given, but what could ever possibly be given.

For Marcuse, art possessed a dual nature, criticality one hand, and eros or pleasure on the other, these two sides forging an essential unity in the artwork through beauty.21 The beautiful was, for Marcuse, as it was for Kant, the object of a totally disinterested apprehension. Thus the artwork and its beauty exist for their own sake, but they can invoke, as an incidental effect of their transcendence, a better future "in absentia" i.e. without drawing specific diagrams on how to achieve such a future.22

But Marcuse believed that art does not always fulfill its transcendent/critical potential; it does not always escape commodity fetishism. For Marcuse, the buying and selling of art objects as commodities is the "deformed realization of this 'other' order," i.e. the transcendent realm to which art ideally refers.23 .

Though thought-provoking, Marcuse offers little help in evaluating the level of commodification in a particular artwork. The majority of artworks have been, and will likely always be, produced for sale, so in that sense they are commodities. But certainly not all these works are 'deformed realizations' of transcendence. Art has always had an instrumental dimension, but as Marcuse points out, it also has at least the potential to transcend. The work's purpose, function, and context will disclose a great deal about the nature and extent of its commodification. The question seems to turn on whether there are qualities in the art object sufficient to redeem it from its economic circumstances. Because, as Adorno observed, people and the cultural objects they produce and behold can carry commodified values within them, these values can also be superseded, both within the individual and in the work.

Just as financial failure cannot guarantee that an artist's work lacks redeeming qualities (see Van Gogh), neither can financial success. The artworks of Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol are among the 'blue chip stocks' of today's art market; individual pieces of theirs routinely sell for seven figures. Although commodified in this sense, the commodification of these works seems to be a more or less incidental effect of their passage through the market process rather than attaching to their 'substance.' The crucial question seems to be whether the values of mass-consumer culture are uncritically internalized by the artist into the art. To some extent, the answer is inevitably 'yes' for all artists living in late capitalist culture; consumerism helps shape the medium we live in, infecting even our unconscious. In addition to this 'subliminal hum,' most artists, there two included, are to some degree financially calculating and careerist. (In Johns's case this is clearly less so than in Warhol's.) For Johns, this introjection appears to be minimal. (Warhol's works from the 1960's being largely about commodification and converting art into sign, into empty icon of want, maintain the critical distance necessary to avoid actually being commodified themselves.) A Johns painting as it is in the market is mostly extrinsic to that painting 'itself,' as it is nearly always experienced in museums and through reproduction.

To draw an admittedly stark distinction, consider two specific images: White Flag, a painting by Jasper Johns, and a silk-screened poster by Peter Max of a brushy, rainbow-hued visage of the Statue of Liberty.24 Thirty-five years after the making of White Flag, there is still no ready conceptual niche into which it will slide. A grisaille picture of the U.S. flag built up of visible brushstrokes of oil and impasto; the painting's size and dimensions coincide with those of the U.S. Flag. Is this a painted portrayal of the flag, or is it a variant of the flag portraying a painting? The layers of paint and wax create a translucence and depth. One finally sees this image that has been so common as to be virtually invisible. Questions arise over the relationships of surface to recession, object to image, representation to sign. In the case of the Max poster, to use an appropriately tired expression, 'what you see is what you get.' This piece has a pleasing, reassuring presence. Every line, color, and brushstroke seem consummately 'right,' professionally designed and executed like an advertisement. Indeed, like kitsch, which it indirectly draws on, the poster is an advertisement for itself. Though fine art, it presents primarily as an object for purchase. In the surely drawn, photographic outline of Liberty's face, the image seems to affirm a bedrock value of patriotism. Behind this stolid but beloved edifice, a tasteful color swoop adds a dash of brio; bold individualism teems within our collective pieties. A key difference between the two works lies in their manner of addressing the viewer. An analogy could be drawn, in terms of evocative depth and the range of creative responses allowed for, between a line of ad copy and a line of 'poetic' language. In a sense, one cannot ask what the line of poetry or the painting means, because, in the words of Marcuse, "they are redefining what is."25 In short, they ask us what they mean; by inviting dialogue, they breathe the erotic/critical life that can point beyond given structures. Where the Johns piece provokes us to question, the Max poster's answer seems implicit in its question. Marcuse could have been referring to the poster when he wrote, "It is another utensil, a vehicle for profit-making on the supply side, escape, diversion, on the demand side."26

Artists have made countless attempts to elude the commodifying effects of the market. The motivations for these efforts, nearly as numerous as the individuals themselves, range from sheer love of anarchy (the Dadaists), a fascination with the workings of the unconscious (the Surrealists), or aleatory systems (John Cage and Allan Kaprow), to an ambivalent embrace of commodification itself (Warhol, Oldenburg, and Koons). Regardless of their incentives, these artists' works have had the effect of decoupling art practice from the marketing of art objects.

Around 1960, reactions became widespread against aestheticism, long the dominant ideal in the visual arts, as well as against the period 's rampant commercialism. Pop Art, Minimalism, Happenings, and Conceptual Art represented the most serious challenges to commodification at the time. Through the irony of bathos, Pop iconicized commercial imagery in order to scramble what had, up to then, been the codes of 'commercial' and 'fine' art. Cognition began to seep through the Kantian wall erected around the aesthetic. Pop introduced criticality of consumer values into art rather than merely symptomizing them, as kitsch and commodifed art do. The haute bourgeoisie tied themselves into reflexive knots over whether to love Pop or hate it. The minimalists attempted to disinfect art of those qualities making it marketable. Judd, Andre, and others made huge, austere, non-expressive objects from industrial steel, works impractical for most people to own, in which taste, craft, color, and relational design played little part. Allan Kaprow began staging Happenings that were raggedly orchestrated group events involving all of the senses and usually teetering on the brink of pandemonium. Conceptual artists such as Joseph Kosuth, On Kawara, and Sol LeWitt sought to purify art out of material existence altogether by distilling artworks to ideas. The conceptual art objects that were actually displayed were often nothing more than the residuum and documentation of the thought processes that had generated them. The theater of action shifted from objects to cognition - the lock that Kant's aesthetic norm had held was loosened, if not broken. In the cases of Happenings and Conceptual Art, it seemed that commodification had been trumped; with no substantial entity there, nothing could be bought or sold. Not all of these artists deliberately set out to interfere with the art market system, but held as their larger goal to realize Rodchenko's charge of "Art into life" and to answer Harold Rosenberg's call for "sovereign acts over consumable images." In the utopian spirit of the times, many artists of the 60's sought to explode the wall dividing the gallery from life on the street. These longings were fueled in part by the anti-materialistic idealism of the period, and in part by the innate American distrust of artfulness that Steinberg had written about.

In the 1970's, commodification grew into the fashionable bugaboo of the art world. Seen as implicated in each other, aesthetics and commodification became demonized together. According to the new doctrine, art was to serve purely conceptual and ethical ends - Kant was consequently turned on his head. Of conceptualism and performance, of the manipulations of the human body, or massive heaps of earth in the desert, purchase was impossible; the "hard coin of art" went chasing phantoms. Art had a higher purpose than being bought and sold. The moral urgency of this era characterized the life and work of Joseph Beuys. He conceived his role in creating his performances or "social action sculptures" as that of a shaman who sought out the sensitive fault lines of a cultures' psyche; he then created an 'action' in which ideas and energies could interact to mend the rupture. Who could talk of money when a nation's soul needed healing?

From the late 1950's to the late1970's, artists attempted, often confusedly, to frame an idiom that the market culture could not speak. Inevitably much of this impulse grew out of a purist urge to quarantine art against 'filthy lucre,' to provide art with a set of ideals unsullied by financial interest.

Pushed into retreat in the 1960's and 70's, the force of commodification staged a comeback in the 'go go' 80's. The period saw a speculative craze that drove art prices beyond reckoning and lured a broader than ever spectrum of investors into the market. This glut of cash and ready buyers seeking art for financial return rather than pleasure was answered by Neo-Expressionism, which was largely an easy, unchallenging style. Many among the newly minted rich collected art for investment and social legitimization. For this emerging class of image traders the artist was little more than a brand name, as collectors strove to buy 'a Basquiat' or 'a Haring' - any one would do. Buyers tried to purchase entire oeuvres of individual artists, in order to corner that particular market as well as for the pride of owning an entire 'line,' like having every original Armani gown hanging in one's closet.

Counter currents to this torrent began forming, fed in part by the commodity fetishism of the day and in part by post-structuralist theory, then becoming the vogue. In response to the era's glut of money and Neo-Expressionism's angst-to-order, one group of artists attempted to expand the critical and cognitive territory already staked out; they questioned traditional notions about the subject and its relation to consumerism and desire. Haim Steinbach, Asley Bickerton, Jeff Koons and others, loosely gathered under the 'Commodity Sculpture' rubric, challenged the idea of critical distance; to criticize commodity hegemony, they believed, implied that the critic assumed a super-human vantage-point detached from actual experience. The Commodity Sculptors made art featuring consumer goods, but recontextualized them: a stuffed toy puppy built twenty feet tall and covered in flowers or an inflatable rabbit cast in stainless steel. Kitsch consumer goods thus became the routine occasions for social and self-critique. These works were offered as desirable consumer goods, but with a reflexive note attached. As Steinbach observed, these artists owned the fact that they themselves were "complicit in the production of desire."27 Acknowledging Adorno's theory, these sculptors owned the fact that they were, in some sense, cogs in the mass culture machine. Desire-production, they implied, no longer thought of as happening solely out there to others, churns within each of us, in part constituting who we are and how we view the world. But it is clear from the theoretical underpinnings and the ambiguous presentations of their 'consumer goods,' these sculptors stand somewhere between complicity and criticality.28 What separates a Peter Max poster from the works of these sculptors is that the latter attempt to thematize commodity-desire; if their work is positioned partly within such desire, this only serves to add another layer onto the texture of meanings. There is no ideal site from which to survey all of commodification, but this does not lessen the potential or the need for critique. A pliant, uncritically desiring consumer is a far more dismal prospect, it seems, than that of the 'omniscient' critic. Regardless of how complicit we may be in the commodifying process, the possibility always exists to question and challenge that complicity.

In contrast to this auto-critique, in the late 1980's and early 90's a siege against dominant ideologies swerved art toward the narrowly political. The attempt was made to shut the door to transcendence that artists in the 1970's had tentatively opened, by implicating the idea of transcendence itself in the crimes of Western culture. Art splintered into political agendas, and the subject, into membership in various identity groups. Post-structuralist theory became de riguer, teaching artists and writers to deconstruct all hierarchies, especially logo- and phallocentrisms. A variant of late modernist purism that, paradoxically, sought to eradicate many elements of modernism, this wave of fervor resembled a Third Great Awakening as it swept through the arts and humanities. Such central tenets of art practice as painting, beauty, and even quality became synecdoches for a multitude of sins, such as capitalist exploitation, patriarchy, and the 'male gaze.' Content became paramount - if the content were 'correct,' then the form was all but superfluous. Critique of consumer culture, though still active, was muffled under the din of identity politics.

What resulted was a stringent art of renunciation and cleansing officiated by an army of secular missionaries. Beauty, color, design, commodification, and sensual pleasure were all ruled retrograde. There spread over the art world what Thomas McEvilley alluded to as "a puritanical abreaction"29 to many aspects of modernism and to the Western culture that spawned it. The art was often strident and badgering, though visually bland. One often went away from viewing such art not having judged the work, but rather feeling judged by the work. General boredom ensued.

This ideologically approved art flourished in the artificial womb of public institutions. Fed increasingly by Continental theory, art turned inward. Artists and academics spoke almost exclusively to each other. Art was fast becoming an inbred orchid. The academic "hot-house babble" 30 grew deafening to those inside, but rarely did a sound escape to the outside.

Hickey argues for breaking the grip that the public sector holds over art. If the institutional stream were to dry up, he claims, its 'correct' art would blow away like withered leaves. Certainly the arts have been burdened with an institutional regime and ideology, but are those of commerce any less constricting? And because of its profoundly greater power to seduce and to insinuate itself into the fabric of life, doesn't the market exert incomparably deeper influence? Wafting from Hickey's program is a hint of Social Darwinism- only the successful need survive. In fact, "Darwinism" is precisely the term he uses to describe his philosophy. In a sense, Hickey is correct in his claim that commodification is inescapable, at least as an external economic condition. But he never seems to acknowledge it as an internal force. This lacuna enables him to maintain the simplistic dichotomy of institutional art, bad; free market art, good. The rhetoric tends, therefore, towards tautology; his notion that good art is that which "embodies desire" seems little more than an elaborate echoing of whatever art happens to be winning at the moment.

Reflecting Kant's tripartite division of the human subject, art was sequestered largely within the aesthetic domain for two hundred years or so. Beginning on a massive scale around 1960, artists attempted to free their practice from this confinement by claiming it for cognitive and ethical interests. (As far as artworks are concerned, their ethical aspect can be grouped under their cognitive heading, since both deal with the ideational content of the work.)

In America, the aesthetic and the cognitive spheres each became associated with a variant of puritanism, a dominant American creed. In recent decades, American art has buffeted between these dueling puritanisms, one usually linked with the aesthetic and consequently with commodification; the other, the cognitive/ethical, seeking to protect art from any commercial or ideological taint. (To the average consumers, this debate must seem elitist and trivial. For them, the war was won long ago by the market, which embodies their desires through its total surround of kitsch and pop culture. But, as Adorno pointed out, these desires are partly market products, organic links in an increasingly incestuous loop. Consumers have thus been offered the bleak choice of either two versions of an arid puritanism in the fine arts, or an immediately gratifying but ultimately vacuous pop culture industry. One possible solution would be to expand 'high' art's narrow puritanical discourse.) The fine art dialogue, therefore, has been between two sides of one coin: salvation through wealth or through sanctity, self-gain or self-righteousness, flesh or spirit, works or grace. Regardless of the aim, both puritanisms have the practical effect of reducing artworks to expedients. Each camp slices up the work, and concomitantly the beholder into its own type of commodity, either praxis or commercial product.

Since the 1980's, some trails have been tentatively marked between these two heavily traveled roads. The specter looms, though, of the two roads merging into a single highway as commercial interests seek to annex the public art realm. There is the growing perception that museums are selling out to glitz, hype, and money. Even university art departments are rapidly commercializing. Deborah Solomon writes of how this development fuels the trendy 'gender and patriarchy' art still so widely seen and how the stylish, theory-driven art departments of universities are coming to dominate art.

(Their) invasion of the art world has been abetted by the commercial galleries, where an obsession with novelty and art-as-investment makes every recent graduate a potentially hot's not unusual to find dealers trolling the school's halls in search of the next 20-something sensation. "These dealers are like 16th century Dutch traders," says Paul Schimmel, Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los

Angeles. "They're ubiquitous."31

Art's private domain threatens to swallow its public realm, rendering moot any either/or dichotomies such as Hickey's. Museums increasingly focus on the bottom-line, as universities apparently take on the role of the art market's 'R&D' branch. This absorption of public art by private interests results in certain anomalies - much of today's art seeks to deconstruct social norms in the attempt to enfranchise itself into a hyper-commercial gallery system, the chief product of which is packaged subversion.

Because of this amalgamation, notions such as Hickey's that art's problems are rooted in one sector seem fundamentally wrong. Every area of the art system- universities, the government, galleries, dealers, buyers, and artists, entwines in an arrangement of mutual influence. Profoundly informing this process are the new technologies which are the results of, as well as crucial new stimuli for, the trends toward globalization and global capitalism.

As mass culture reaches planetary saturation, modernism's ideal of an aesthetic order completely untouched by consumerism becomes untenable. There is no longer any position for a modernist avant-garde to occupy outside of this global culture. The old dreams of modernist purism dissolve in the fluorescent glare of a worldwide culture industry. As deplorable as these developments may seem, they hold a promise; the old modernist ideals collapse of exhaustion, but the strictures that accompanied modernism die with them.

In the wake of fading ideologies, many artists grant themselves a broader range of positions than in the recent past. Outside the either/or of Kant's partitioning and its associated puritanisms, they explore a more full-bodied, supple, and generative range of permissions. Art proliferates, at least for the moment, with almost luxuriant abandon. Many artists, through use of video, installation, computer, and related media, for instance, investigate abstract systems and processes. Rather than being discrete objects for purchase, these works disperse their physical presence or "aura" into means of contemplating aspects of the world. But this is just one of many flourishing directions. Amidst canonical groupthink, eccentric visions bloom through the cracks. Painting has returned in force, as have figuration, and especially beauty. But one thread that connects much of the best, and even the most lushly gratifying, of this new work, is that it somehow draws on all of Kant's components while also synthesizing Marcuse's categories of criticality and pleasure. Appealing to the senses and the mind, works inspired by these fitful permissions suggest ways to move past the present morass.

Spaces are tentatively being cleared beyond Norman Rockwell and Peter Max, on the one hand, and shrill slogans spray-painted on gallery walls, on the other; a space for art that entertains and gratifies, as opposed to art endured in order to atone for sins. But rather than merely assuring, such art, through its cognitive body, queries the viewer attuned to it.

In the Introduction to his Philosophy of Fine Art, G.W.F. Hegel wrote that art is addressed fundamentally to the mind.32 As Johns's White Flag suggests, art's capacity to elude social determinants, such as commodification, can lie in its cognitive address. But White Flag is an incarnate cognition, enacted, that is, in and through matter and could therefore have been given in no other way. Because it stands, as a human being does, as a unique dialectic of thought and matter, it engages the entire person responsive to it.

The distinction between the Max poster and the Johns painting can be thought of as one between the monologic and closed, speaking at an undifferentiated beholder, and the dialogic and open, calling for response and participation. The painting's beholder, in other words, is conceived as non-instrumental and autotelic.

Certain artworks keep calling us back. Their rewards and challenges seem inexhaustible. They are like real people made of contrariety and contradiction. Sigmar Polke's canvases resemble dense archaeological sites. He layers various symbolic and pictorial codes, such as crudely drawn graffiti and commercial printing techniques; their juxtaposition creates a new sign-language that questions how knowledge is structured and conveyed. In her paintings, Monique Prieto echoes the fluid grandeur of the Color Field painters. And yet her lushly colored, expansive forms also read as lumpish characters engaged in mysterious cartoon narratives: sublimity and buffoonery blithely intermingling. The form and the content of enduring art are probably as diverse as real people are, as ambiguous and stubbornly irreducible.

What has been outlined here is not meant as an exhaustive description of what non-commodified art should be, but rather as an exploration of a few facets of what it can be like. All great art, it seems, will possess a dimension that is not commodifiable, but certainly not all uncommodified art will be great, or even necessarily good. Art, especially now, resists facile generalizations.

At this uncertain juncture, none of the old reference points, including even deconstruction's slippery coordinates, seem to fit. Postmodernist polemics, which long dominated art writing, no longer compel. One way to broaden the commodification dialogue beyond the current quandaries and impasse might be to reach back to earlier discursive fields, such as 18th Century aesthetics, and to the ancient world's tradition of rhetoric. Another way could be to attempt to hold in mutual tension the numerous oppositions that have hobbled recent criticism, such as beauty vs. theory, discourse vs. market. Even certain strands of modernism may be salvaged.

Marcuse's Kantian notions of art's autonomy and transcendence, though sketchy and imprecise, offer fertile soil for cultivation. Marcuse grounded art's autonomy in its criticality, which he in turn grounded in pleasure, desire, and the physical, and these factors ultimately provided an anchor and foundation for transcendence. For Marcuse, art's transcendence was inextricably bound up in its immanence, in this or that physical art object. He offers a way, though far from perfect, to think these categories into a reciprocal and dynamic whole. We may apply elements of his thought to attempt to leverage free a model of art conceived apart from its commodity status.

Art resists compromise not by its position in the market, but by how it addresses the beholder and what it asks of him or her. "The work of art," Hegel wrote, "is essentially a question, an address to the responding soul of man." 33 The question posed by most successful art galvanizes the viewer into response, stirring dead sediments and breaking up the automatism of perception and thought. To paraphrase Jasper Johns from his written tribute to Marcel Duchamp, it changes the condition of being here.






The Hard Sell of Human Consciousness and the Recovery of Consciousness in the Nature of Language, Part II:

The Key to Consciousness in the Trick of Language


Lantz Miller



2.1. Where is the Object?

Even in science, it may not be possible to develop and present a theory without deep-seated personal biases coloring that theory.1 Still, one way to help defuse this bias, when approaching a topic that both may influence individuals’ notions of what kind of beings they are and that remains –by most professionals’ admittance– still very primitive and inchoate, might be at least to put aside the potential applications and worldly rewards of a successful theory for the moment. If our theory proves wrong, we may not have our pharmaceutical or robot or immortality machine empire, but we could have many individuals’ lives affected by the promulgation of our misguided ideas. Social science ideas –and consciousness studies, being a branch of cognitive science or psychology, arguably comes under the rubric– have a history of affecting society, even when wrong. Despite the sentimentality some researchers may find in this concern, the problem of needless harm done remains. Certain psychological research findings early in the 20th century –specifically, from investigating human intelligence– led to the forced sterilizations of tens of thousands of Americans later in the century (Jacoby and Glauberman, 1995). Contemporary cognitive scientists who don the cloak of punditry for television may not advocate such overtly cruel policies, but their insistence before the public that, for example, the subjective inner life is an illusion and we humans can transfer whatever is useful in our minds into a computer and be done with the rest, will at the least, no matter how counterintuitive and contrary to daily experience –coming as it is from cognitive "scientists"– help to alienate people from trust in or valuation of their own inner lives. Or, if the public trust in one’s own common sense and personal experience prevails, it may laugh the researchers out of its living rooms and lower scientific credibility, at least concerning this topic.2

Social scientists, then, have a dual motivation in wanting to purge their hypotheses of epistemological3 impurities not only for the sake of some elusive, even ephemeral, ideal of purity of scientist as truth-seeker, but because social science findings once disseminated into society almost become inseparable from that society and thus, in turn, define it. That is, the theory becomes part of what it studies, and so social scientist becomes moral arbiter. In this way, social science can never be as "pure" as physical sciences; thus, it is even more incumbent upon the social scientist to retain respect for the integrity of the object of study as it is –the whole entity– not to snatch it from its place and tear off some fragment and coax that piece into a prestidigitated representation of something more complete. Although anyone can barrel into the temple of social studies and trample this injunction and establish any rule by might over those who will succumb –just as, in turn, voters can vote in a dictator– the best we can do is to continue to enjoin researchers to disturb the object of study as little as possible.

So how may consciousness be approached most ingenuously? In §1.2, the need for an investigation into consciousness from basic principles became apparent: Until there is some crude approximation of consensus as to what this object of study is, writers on the topic can make no detectable progress of the sort that occurs when interested parties meet within intersected understanding and thorough, concerted efforts expand those boundaries of understanding. In the meantime, as §1.3 made apparent, consciousness writers come off as peculiarly individuated opportunists. Whatever Searle’s philosophical approach may be labeled –Dennett (1991) calls him a "phenomenologist" and Edelman (1992) labels him an "analytic philosopher"– John Searle (1992) at least does not assume that careful delineation of his object of study is unnecessary before proceeding to build a theory that rivals that of the Big Bang in ambition –because he builds no such theory in his somewhat motley work, which is more of a collection of related essays than a single, developed thesis. Searle's purpose rather is to position consciousness’ place with nature (to borrow from the Chapter 4 header) and thus within cognitive studies. He also makes assertions of consciousness’ irreducibility into non-conscious components and of its structural properties, such as unity, intentionally, and subjectivity. But towards these purposes, Searle first attempts to delineate what this object4 is (83-105) sufficiently to substantiate his later discussion about consciousness, which in turn is further delineation of the property and character of the object of study. It could be argued that by so positioning and characterizing consciousness, he is in fact theorizing about it because theorizing consists in precisely such positioning –but this argument would hold only in the trivial sense in which any statement, such as, "I have two blankets," is a theory. The sort of theorizing in question is more in the sense of Popper (1959), in which a theory, a discrete statement within a system of research and problem-solving, is worded in such a way that its assertions can be disproved by proper empirical procedure, making science deductive, not inductive. It could also be argued that Searle is taking simply the philosophical, not scientific, approach, somewhat like a scout might search out the next hole on a course and shout to the others, "It’s here," while scientists such as Edelman and Greenfield are already whacking balls. The trouble is, many people –including philosophers such as Dennett and Chalmers– are whacking balls before anyone has determined where in the 360° the hole is. Searle has said, in so many words, he has a hunch it is in such-and-such quadrant. Unfortunately, he has since gone to the other fields instead of narrowing his search any further in this one. Fortunately, some writers, such as Güzeldere, have partly continued the mission of trying to find out just what is this beast consciousness –or where it is in the context of the n-dimensional universe of concepts. Bernard Baars makes a deliberate stab at delineating consciousness by differentiating it from related concepts through "contrastive analysis" (Baars 1994; for commentary and criticism, see Allen 1994, Bringsjord 1994, Davis 1994, Mangan 1994, Newman 1994, Velmans 1994). But there is not yet any evidence among the consciousness community as a whole that it has need for a concerted, preliminary investigation into just what are the parameters and frontiers, the neighbors in the universe of mentalistic concepts, of this creature, consciousness.

Even in Baars’ work, though, already emerges the underlying assumption that a small self-appointed committee of cogitators can sit at table and determine the nature of terms that, in fact, we all use for experiences that we each appear to have in unique, individual ways –as if this select group were saying, "The smell of cooked turnips is made up of five parts parsnip smell and one part mustard green." Terms such as "awareness," "perception," and "sensation" come alive –have meaning– only by means of each individual’s use of them. As Baars’ critic Mangan states,

Baars’ reading of Nagel shows, I think, a feeling on Baars’ part that philosophy in itself is a source of confusion, not help. Yet for the great consciousness researchers active just before the rise of behaviorism (e.g. William James, Ernst Mach, Ewald Hering) philosophy was part of a very catholic method of investigating consciousness and, notably, its relation to neural activity. In retrospect, their method turned out to be very successful; certainly more successful than behaviorism turned out to be... Significantly, they each brought a version of first-person method to science and achieved substantial results with it. (2)

In discussing the method of heterophenomenology, or the third-person method of objectively assessing first-person (subjective, phenomenological) experience, Dennett points up the centrality of verbal communication in the cognitive scientist’s data extraction from subjects (Dennett 1991, 77-78). Instructions to subjects concerning performance of cognitive tasks must be clear and precise to ensure uniform performance among subjects, and many times, the subject’s responses themselves are bits of natural language, such as, "I see pink haze." Generally, this tool, language, is taken for granted in cognitive science, similarly to how it is treated in everyday experience, though perhaps with more care to consistency and precision. However, so taking the tool for granted may not be in consciousness researchers’ best interests. After all, language apparently is the only route5 into human consciousness6 for the objective researcher.

There is something peculiar in this fact. We have one main route into others’ consciousness. The route or tool itself is not conscious, and it does not generate consciousness. Somehow, when one interlocutor listens to another, he or she gets a "glance" into the other’s consciousness: "My left big toe is cut and hurts." The interlocutor neither feels the other’s pain nor necessarily experiences his or her own corresponding pain upon the communication. Somehow, pain is understood without feeling pain. So far, we have no evidence of how this understanding takes place or what this understanding even consists of –yet cognitive and consciousness researchers proceed with their theories, taking that understanding for granted in the same way the speaker on the street does. That is, the consciousness researcher assumes that, whatever that understanding is, it is sufficient for the purposes of the work at hand, just as the cobbler, the drug dealer, or physicist, probably without thinking, assumes that understanding is sufficient for each of their tasks at hand. But here’s the rub: That understanding is at least a subset (if not the whole?) of the object of study in consciousness research. So, the peculiarity lies in the one-way manner with which, in cognitive studies, this tool is used: The field assumes understanding in order to try to understand understanding. As with a fishing rod, the lines may go out to hook and pull up the fish, but it makes no sense for the fisherman to swivel that hook back and hook himself and wind himself in. Because of the particular object of study in this field, consciousness research appears caught in a paradox due to language that other fields, such as physics and cobbling, do not face.

Though without an overt attack on this paradox, one effort in the last few decades that may circumvent it has been the structure of language itself. Behaviorism, before modern linguistics, may be said to have been –at least originally– a way to characterize the mind without resorting to language; thus, its founders may have been, in part, instinctively thrashing about for a way around the fishing-pole paradox (beside rebelling against the horrendous, disorganized mass of evidence gathered by their verbal, verbose predecessors, the "Golden Age of consciousness research," as Mangan (1994, 2) characterizes them). The school of linguistics championed by Chomsky sought to return language to the center of the study of mind, as well as mind to the center of psychology (Chomsky 1968, 1975), especially after behaviorism had to contort itself to account for language purely behaviorally (Skinner 1957, reviewed in Chomsky 1959). Apparently seeing language as the tool by which one consciousness gains access to another, this school of linguistics reasoned that language must then be a reflection of the structure of the mind and that by uncovering the structure of language, one may then gain understanding of the structure of the mind (Chomsky 1968). Another presupposition held that languages are readily comprehensible between individuals and readily learned by –not taught to– children because of the brain’s genetic predisposition to language. Because language itself reflects mind reflects brain and because of this universal genetic predisposition in the species, the structure of language must reflect a universal structure of the brain, and in turn, there must be a universal structure or grammar underlying all human languages, or so the reasoning went.

In forty years or so, reviews of structural linguistics’ accomplishments toward this goal of universal grammar and mental structure remain mixed, even among its practitioners (Newmeyer 1997). What exactly is universal in grammars, which level of transformations are universal, and how semantics is introduced into syntactic structures remains unclear and contested (Stamenov, 1997, 308, 315); even the primitive splitting of a sentence into noun and verb phrase (S→NP + VP) –the logic that a linguistic unit breaks into the concept of an actor and an action– is contested as a universal. Certainly, continued research into universal grammar may eventually be fruitful and yield a structure that is common to all languages, elegantly stated, and simple enough to enlighten students of psychology as to the common structure of mind and brain. Yet experimental data concerning the neuropsychological reality of generative grammars has been negative (Fodor, Fodor, and Garrett 1975). Certainly, the universal grammarian’s original argument that the structure of the tool, language, may reveal the structure of the tool-user –the mind or brain– no more holds up than to say the structure of a hammer may reveal the structure of the user. Of course, language appears to be much more integrated with our minds than do hammers; and the history of philosophy –besides our everyday intimacy with words– reveals how difficult (if not impossible) it is to disengage many of our thoughts from words. But it still remains to be shown why the syntactic structure of language should reveal anything more about the structure of mind or brain than the part of the mind/brain that generates syntax.

This caveat does not mean that language is not so intimate with the mind/brain that the whole machine generates the tool nor that consciousness studies cannot benefit greatly by the study of language. Many researchers have already noted the intimate tie-in between the evolutionary development of language and human consciousness (Edelman 1992; Bickerton 1995). More directly to the purpose here of our investigative access to consciousness via language and what language can reveal of the nature of consciousness, several writers have geared their research into what can be learned of consciousness through language (Stamenov 1997b includes several, especially Langacker 1997; Hillert 1997; Chapman & Ulatowska 1997; Markova 1997; and Stamenov 1997a). These studies vary drastically in methodology and scope, from Chapman and Ulatowska’s clinical studies of dementia patients to Stamenov’s (1997a) discourse –in the tradition of structural linguistics and philosophy of mind– on what syntactic structures can say about consciousness structure. These two studies also come to incompatible, even opposed, conclusions:


With regard to organization, consciousness is not organized in the same way as we expect language to be organized (Chapman and Ulatowska, 1997, p.184). We saw that the structure of consciousness is 'mirrored’ in multiple ways in language structure as a ‘product’ accessible to conscious experience. (Stamenov, 1997a, 330)

So is it even determinable whether consciousness is organized like language? For language, we have recourse to an ancient system of linguistic representation in writing systems, which facilitate our investigation of its structure, but no such manual/visual representation exists for consciousness. Unless the arbitrary and yet-to-be-justified assertion that language and consciousness are one is made, there is still a need to determine just what consciousness is and how it is structured. Somehow, we know what consciousness is when we "see" it; we just do not know how to put it into words –other than the one word, "consciousness."

Whatever the structural relationship between consciousness and language, language itself has the peculiar relation to consciousness in that the concept of "consciousness," as well as of "language," exists within language. But not all concepts within language have proven equally expoundable. For instance, "language" has been relatively expoundable because graphic representation has aided investigation of language’s components. "Electricity" has proven expoundable because a community of humans can witness which situations bring electricity about and how it creates regular effects upon objects. "Beauty" has proven more elusive because individuals have their own notions of what is beautiful, thus it is difficult to ascertain which characteristics about objects lead individuals to declare objects beautiful; we indeed attribute beauty to the beholder’s figurative eye –that is, to some response within the perceiver’s mind/brain. Traditionally, the division between these three concepts¾ "language," "electricity," "beauty"¾ might have been between concrete and abstract nouns, but this partition is insufficient. Although electricity has an extendable existence and thus is concrete, language does not have an extendable existence and thus is arguably not concrete except for the ink or electrons of its graphic representations (which are arguably no more concrete items of language than the written form, "beauty," is a concrete form of beauty). Although language has not been as well elaborated as electricity, it is no more extendable an object than beauty yet has proven more amenable to structural elucidation than has beauty. While it may seem intuitively obvious why these two concepts differ in how readily we may expound upon or elucidate them, to explain exactly why these concepts differ would require cogent theories of both. The fact remains: neither is extended.

Linguistic philosophy attempted to examine everyday language usage for ways humans order and construe the world, in a sort of housecleaning of philosophical pursuit, to return to the way humans in general –thus including philosophers– actually respond to the universe. But examining language for the way it processes different kinds of concepts would be another kind of pursuit with a different aim. Such examination grows out of linguistics and out of advances in syntax and semantics, expanding on the goals of semantics to explain how meaning arises out of utterances. As one part of explaining the functionality or operation of meaning, it asks how categories of concepts must be ordered by meaning-processing mechanisms, eventually relating these functions to different categories of neurobiological function. Success in such a study of language could be a boon for consciousness research because "consciousness" itself is a concept and the vagueness of that concept –which becomes an object when, subjected to research– is now a hindrance to understanding. That concept is in every human’s brain and is accessible only via language; elucidating that concept as an item within language can thus only clarify and perhaps sharpen the delineation of the object of consciousness researchers’ study.

2.2 Focal Point for the Linguistic Magnifying Glass

Linguists have taken the lead from linguistic philosophers and philosophers of language to investigate particular problems in language through use of sample sentences as springboards for discussion, such as the well used "John is seeking a unicorn" or one of its variants. For linguists, the sentence is a complete specimen, like the cell for a biologist; sufficient in itself (almost as if one sentence could contain all there is to know about a language if one could only analyze it properly). Chomsky (1957, 1965) also promoted the idea that any average speaker has full linguistic competence and so the linguist is sufficient as an informer or data-source for specimens from his or her own language; thus, one linguist could bring up a set of sample sentences for analysis, and because the difficulty that is the subject of that analysis would often never be solved, other linguists would dredge up the sentence or sentence set until only a stagnant pool of a very small universe of sentences was floating among linguistic discussion. Eventually in this pursuit, "John is seeking a unicorn" and its fellow denizens wore so much more deeply than clichés that they no longer even grated on the gut but passed smoothly as rancid oil. To further ensure this shrinkage of the linguist’s waters of viable discussion, the field has partitioned itself into the specialties of phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics long before there is any evidence whether the brain so neatly packages and ships on to the next station the buds of language as they grow into a full communication. The sentence reigns in syntax and most of semantics; anything bigger is kicked into the cloudy reservoir, pragmatics.

The problem with this division is that of context and to what degree context adjusts meaning at each of these levels and at which levels it adjusts meaning (besides the problem of to what extent idiolect is context). Anyone knows from experience how an ambiguously mis-heard sentence may be correctly construed –perhaps after a pause to reflect– according to syntactic context: A speaker from Brooklyn might say:

(1) Do you need dose?

For a moment, you might think she is asking if you need medication, except the syntactic anomaly of "dose" without an article cues you to search for a better construal, which is:

(2) Do you need those?

So, syntactic context clarifies phonology. Similarly, a syntactic context might clarify semantic context, particularly in cases of homonyms, and cull out anomalies such as (3) to show (4) is what is intended:

(3) *Cane is here.

(4) Cain is here.

Semantic context may also serve to clarify syntactic construal.

(5) *That board has been lint on the wall.

(6) That board has been leant on the wall.

Pragmatic context may also clarify construal of semantics. If a chairman for a committee, planning the ceremony for the arrival of a prestigious physicist, knows a song, "Arise for Her," he may construe the oral instructions variously:

(7) "Arise for Her" is all we need.

(8) A rise for her is all we need.

- according to the pragmatic circumstances, such as whether entry music has been discussed.

All the artificially delineated levels that linguists have partitioned into their specialty areas interact in everyday language use to employ context to aid the construal of what is spoken. Although the specialty areas may be convenient for linguists to begin to characterize the structures of, say, phonology or syntax, real understanding of one cannot get far without incorporating how the other levels feed in to enable language comprehension. Furthermore, it is not clear how much one can sterilize all context of the other levels’ "contamination" and still say anything meaningful about that level.7 For example, how is the idiolectical lexicon to be characterized? On the one hand, it may be at the pragmatic level, when it becomes part of the context for the listener. Or it may be semantic, particularly for the speaker, for whom, it may be argued, all semantics is idiolectical. It may be argued as well that for the listener, the speaker’s idiolect must somehow be part of the listener’s semantics, for how else could comprehension take place? An attempt to answer these questions may lead to a way to penetrate the problem of contexts between levels of linguistic analysis, particularly semantics and pragmatics; and if the paradox of how idiolects are understood ¾ if there are idiolects – can be resolved, then there may be clues to how apparently inaccessible concepts within the human brain are communicated.

2.2.1 A Philosophical Consideration of a Linguistic Problem: How Is an Idiolect Understood?

A linguistic act in which idiolect is fuzzy between semantics and pragmatics can illustrate the problem of comprehension. Imagine a typical situation in the soap-operalike real world between four people: Alan, Barbara, Carl, and Dennis, or A, B, C, and D. B has had many romances – with C and D in the past, currently A. It turns out that B had been very attracted to C at first but had been (reluctantly) involved with D only after D persisted and flattered B. Now A and C are returning to town. A tells B,

(9) I am jealous of D, not of C.

B does not think she has heard right: C is the one she had been attracted to, not D. Why would A be jealous of D, not C? The self-knowledgeable A tells B:

(10) When you give in to D’s persistence, I cannot figure out why you do: There are no realms of possibilities to explain why. You do not like him. When I go over each possibility in my mind, you grow more elusive, and whatever might satisfy you becomes more mysterious. There must be something D offers that overcomes your lack of attraction. So my jealousy is boundless. But I understand why you stay with C –because you are attracted. So my jealousy of C is bounded and in control. But infinite jealousy for D makes the finite jealousy for C as good as nil.

At the beginning of (10), A is seemingly in a different world than B. B is in the world where people are more jealous of someone to whom a lover is attracted than of someone to whom a lover is not attracted because the latter is less threatening than the former. A is in a world where at least one individual (himself) is the opposite. However, the factors that make A’s world different are contingent upon at least one factor that defines B’s world: Namely, threat underlies jealousy. In one world, the threat is attractiveness; in the other world, threat arises from another feature (as (10) attempts to explain).

The linguistic act in (10) may be a matter of one of at least three processes:

(11) making a one-to-one correspondence between A’s world and B’s, so that B understands by analogy,

(12) Sublimating A’s world into B’s, that is, A’s world becomes part of B’s,

(13) Searching for those factors that underlie both worlds, so that communication occurs upon mutual (though possibly tacit) accession to those factors.

One objection to (11) may be apparent violation of Wittgenstein’s dismissal of the possibility of private languages (Wittgenstein, 1958). Establishing a complete one-to-one correspondence between worlds implies that neither A’s nor B’s world is more extensive than the other. Because these two worlds are the same size, then (whether or not one is shared by anyone else) on this particular set, both are on equal standing as to their "privacy": Both are equally private. Because this linguistic act –or "language game"– is only one instance of all possible instances between A and B, and only one instance of infinite possible correspondences established between A and B between their worlds, does not sidestep Wittgenstein’s preclusion of private language. He noted that, because language is something that, by its public act of designation, defines objects, a private language can have no meaning because there is no public consensus, the very act of which is requisite for giving objects meaning. However, by (11), language is a function that establishes correspondence between one private world or language (idiolect) and another. It would not be the case that "understanding the meaning... consists in nothing more than participating in the practice of the community with respect to the expression in question," but instead falls prey to that "view about language... attributed to St. Augustine... that in learning language one first learns to categorize and name one’s inner sensations" (McMullen, 1980, 24, 30-31; italics mine) –a view Wittgenstein shows to be specious.

To support (11), these Wittgensteinian objections would have to be met. McMullen (1980) has partially done so: "Wittgenstein’s objection to ‘private’ language can be attacked on his own ground, i.e., without questioning the claim: meaning is use." She asks what representations of mental phenomena consist in and insists that they are different from representations of physical phenomena. She asserts that he rejects "the idea that there could be representations about which premise one of epistemological dualism8 is true along with the view about representation in general; as if these two views were connected." (22; italics mine)

... in his concern to show how phenomenological character could not figure in the use of mental concepts, Wittgenstein failed to provide an adequate account of how phenomenological character can and does figure in the use of mental concepts. (31)

The problem is in the lack of (public) criteria for private sensations. McMullen gives two example situations (31-34) that suggest how the nature of one’s own private sensations "enters the language game of sensation words" and concludes that "what one learns initially is to apply mental concepts to oneself on the basis of nonconscious –or subconscious– cues.... In this sense, then, one first learns to apply mental concepts to oneself." (34,35)

With McMullen’s answer to Wittgenstein’s objections, (11) can be partly accepted –insofar as we let the private worlds extend only to the representation of mental but not of physical phenomena. Thus, (11) might explain the linguistic act in (10), though not with the generality needed, just in case the discussion were instead not concerning the domain of "jealousy" but of, say, "redness." Continued support for (11) would then require countering Wittgenstein’s whole philosophy of language, even as amended by McMullen. Before such an ambitious endeavor, it would be best to examine possible merits of (11).

Assume that Wittgenstein’s characterization of "meaning, in the sense of use as practice with a function" has been shown invalid.9 Meaning, then, must consist in something other than the act of agreement among the community. Maybe language could work like the following:

(14) Humans are genetically programmed to categorize both physical and mental phenomena in a certain way. On top of this categorization program, there could be a mechanism that can decide which categories, category, or subset of category is referred to by the linguistic community’s designations.

Such a mechanism would be feasible because the ideal forms that are the initial categories could be matched with sensory perceptions. For instance, I may have already categorized redness, purpleness, and brownness, but my language community may refer to all these merely by "mneh," and I myself could not use that term until I had come to perceive redness, purpleness, and brownness, as opposed to, say, yellowness. It may seem that practice somehow establishes a word’s meaning, but to couch the situation in those terms would cause unnecessary confusion with Wittgenstein’s idea of meaning. He meant that meaning established perception (by categorization); here, meaning must be something different.

Under such a model as (14), (11) would be an empty description of the linguistic act in (10). Granted there would be an establishment of one-to-one correspondence between two speakers’ worlds, but this fact could be inferred from the model, which says that nominal words are agreements of a range of ideal forms. Under this model, meaning is some sort of "family resemblance concept" (McMullen, 1980, 36), but (11) cannot explain what happens when speakers convey meaning when their representations fall outside family resemblance –not that (11) disallows such errant behavior, but it says nothing about what speakers do when such errancy is the case. (11) only reiterates the model and says little about how meaning is conveyed in a particular situation, such as (10).

(12) also comes up against Wittgenstein’s objections. The sublimation of A’s world will somehow become more "socially acceptable," that is, will become a part of a bigger world (of which B is a representative). This approach implies that A’s world is idiosyncratic or private (or idiolectic) and that B’s world is that of the community. So, (12) says in essence that in the linguistic act, a private world becomes a part of the public world. Wittgenstein’s objections to this scenario would be obvious. (There is also the inverse problem of A’s world being the public world and B’s the private, as well as the indeterminacy of which is which.) What would be any advantages of (12)?

Within the language model in (14), (12) allows there to be meaning that can be conveyed outside the "family resemblance concept." If there are private worlds that must be sublimated into a public world, then there must be something distinct about these private worlds, so that they are considered not merely a subset of the public world. But for there to be a process of sublimation, there must be a universal set, from which the public and private worlds draw, such that the two intersect, without one necessarily containing the other. For example, the universal set for the color red will be the visible spectrum above a given wavelength, say λ ± 50 Å. This universal set is the ideal of focal color boundaries.10 The public representation of red may stop at, say, λ + 100 Å, but I perceive λ + 25 Å to be red. In a given linguistic act, there may be a difference of 75 Å that I may need in order to communicate that what I sense is red.

However, (12) still does not accurately describe the linguistic act (10). "Sublimation" connotes that the private world becomes a part of the public, yet that becoming does not always occur with linguistic acts. When I explain that I feel λ + 25 Å is red, in order for someone to understand, the whole community representation of "red" need not shift to λ + 25 Å. Similarly, B’s representation of "jealousy" need not expand to include A's for her to understand that what he is experiencing is indeed jealousy. On the other hand, (12) does call attention to the fact that an integral part of the linguistic act (10) hinges on the differentiation of A’s and B’s worlds, though (12) cannot be accepted as complete.

The same difficulties with private worlds might be leveled against (13), for it implies there are differences between two speakers’ worlds that need to be sifted through to find the similarities. However, (13) emphasizes that it is the accession to similarities that makes the linguistic act successful. Supposedly, then, B will understand that A’s feeling is indeed jealousy, however bizarre the circumstances surrounding it as compared with those usually surrounding jealousy. This scenario under (14) allows some headway into explaining how meaning is conveyed in the linguistic act. In the example of "red," what helps people understand that what I call "red" is validly so designated by me is that both they and I at least have λ ± Å in common, and I do not go below the limit of the ideal form (I do not call λ - 2000 Å "red"). Because the assignment of words to the internal representations is arbitrary, there will be some differences among speakers as to the exact representations of words according to each person’s experiences. In A’s and B’s case, communication is accomplished when B sees (perhaps intuitively) that what B is talking about is in essence the same "jealousy" or jealous sensation that she is acquainted with. The whole linguistic act involves sifting though the facts to find a common denominator.

On its own, though, (13) still cannot fully account for the linguistic act (10). To establish where exactly are the common grounds in the two worlds is certainly necessary, but such establishment cannot be done unless one or both parties know where the grounds need to be, or can be, established. In other words, the linguistic act involves a delineation of the differences so that the similarities may be discovered and comprehension accomplished. A synthesis of (12) and (13) is needed, then, to give a complete picture of how the linguistic act succeeds.

A model, such as (14), that presupposes language is a structure superimposed upon a system of preprogrammed categorization of mental and physical phenomena runs counter to what McMullen calls "Wittgenstein’s insight," which "was to reject the idea that there is something about knowing the meaning of a word which somehow determines the correct use of a word in each new situation." (McMullen, 1980, 30) His insight precludes linguistic acts such as (9) and (10). If there were no "knowing the meaning of the word," but instead meaning were created by use, then A may never have come up with his peculiar application of "jealousy." Instead, all his life, he might have encountered only language games that taught him to be jealous of a person to whom one’s lover is attracted or, say, be jealous of someone who has a trait you want.11 Wittgenstein would probably reply that A had encountered the peculiar use; otherwise, A would be using "jealousy" incorrectly. That scenario, though, would mean that everyone in the language community knew the peculiar use and therefore there would be no idiosyncratic uses of words –only correct and incorrect uses– which seems counter to everyday experience; and thus there could be no metaphoric or any other truly innovative use and meaning– and perhaps no language change whatsoever.12

A meaning theory synthesized from (12) and (13) would not be a blanket theory of meaning but likely only one of a whole set of rules of semantic mechanism– more like one amongst the many of Grice’s interconnected pragmatic rules for conversation13 rather than like one of Searle’s many types of illocutionary sets (Searle, 1969). The method of looking at a single linguistic act and determining what at least must be happening, with a generality that pertains to language in general, may seem incomplete or too broad: There seems to be some degree of (12) and (13) at work in any linguistic act. Take a mundane example –the greeting act. When I ask, "How are you?" I am in a world where you are in some condition, and you are in a world where you are in some condition, which you call "sleepy." The two worlds are distinct, but they have a common denominator, and the communication succeeds when we both know where these similarities and distinctions lie, according to the "loci" in the two worlds that the linguistic act brings up for examination. That is, the question "How are you?" points to the loci in the two worlds that are to be examined in this way: "Both our worlds are similar in that, in both, you are in some condition, but they are distinct in that, in mine, your exact condition is less likely known."

The major ramification of an approach synthesizing (12) and (13) and assuming a model such as (14) is in the role word-semantics play in linguistic acts. In (9) and (10), "jealous" was at the core of the linguistic act. If A had simply told B, "I am more jealous of D than I am of C," the key word "jealous" might have a certain representation for B that would not jibe with the circumstances, so that she might question whether A had reversed D and C. It was A’s explication, according to his own representation of "jealous" –the process of pinpointing similarities and distinctions between A’s and B’s worlds– that made his use of "jealous" meaningful to B. This process of clarifying similarities and distinctions points to the question, "What amount of universality in a word is needed, and what degree of relativity is permissible, for a successful linguistic act?"

2.2.2. Semantic Concerns with Universality and Relativity

The question of minimal universality and maximal relativity permissible in a word’s meaning or whether the property is attributable to the object or a state of the subject arises in daily encounters.

(15) "When I am camping in the Sierras, there is an incredible beauty I see," [computer composer David Cope] said. "But it is unintended by nature. The plants are not trying to express things to me, and the mountain is not trying to communicate. But I’m inspired anyway." (Johnson, 1997, F1-2)

(16) It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know [this tradition] can hold that to call children delightful or old men vulnerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. (Lewis, 1957, 29)

These two views represent two opposing sides in potential answers to the question, "What is the deciding factor in determining the truth-value of words of ‘value’ –the subject or the object?

Descriptive linguistics long ago dropped the idea that standardized languages were "more correct" than parochial dialects. Later, Chomskyean theory acknowledged that there were mistakes in linguistic performance that erred from the innate grammar yet were still understood; however, there are borderline cases about which one would be hard put to deem grammatical or not. Semantics must be similarly concerned about limiting its description and avoid saying that everything outside of a "standard" usage is incorrect (or ungrammatical), especially with vague words. (Vague words will pose the most difficulty in distinguishing what is permissible for an idiolect and what is indeed ungrammatical.) People differ drastically as to objects with which they would predicate "is beautiful." At one extreme, some iconoclasts may possibly believe (17).

(17) Ugliness is beautiful.

(17) sounds like a paradox, but one can see that it is not when one considers it is saying (18) or maybe even (19), but not (10).

(18) P has the property B, where all u ∈ U have the property P, where not necessarily P∈ U (or, not necessarily P = u), and where

u is an ugly thing

U is the set of ugly things

P is the property Ugliness

A is the property Beauty.

(19) U has the property B, where U and B are as in (18)

(20) All and only v ∈ V have the property B (all w ∈ W that have the property B are ∈ V); all and only u ∈ U have the property P (all w ∈ W that have the property P are ∈ U); where u, U, B, and P are as in (18) and

v is a beautiful thing

V is the set of beautiful things

w is any thing

A is the universal set15

P ∈ U

B ∈ V16

These last two lines of (20) prevent P from having the property B, and vice versa.

A view such as that in (16) might uphold (20). But a linguist aims to describe how humans successfully communicate, instead of inculcating what is not beautiful. Analogously, a prescriptive grammarian may assert certain syntactic constructions as optimal representations of reality, while the linguist must take for granted that all speakers in a community, whether that language is standardized or not, can communicate. Likewise, while a philosopher may say that certain things are universally beautiful and others universally not, the linguistics stance holds that such a philosophy represents only a subset of speakers, while the rest of the speakers must be accounted for. Thus, the linguist wants to account for how two speakers in the same language can say, truthfully and without self-deception, contradictory sentences such as (21) and (22), while somehow speaking about the same thing ("beauty").

(21) Beethoven’s Opus 110 is a work of beauty, especially that fugue, which is a skillful interweaving of anachronism and romantic harmony.

(22) Beethoven’s Opus 110 is no work of beauty because of that obnoxious fugue at the end whose very anachronism does not mix with the romantic harmony.

If the linguist cannot make use of a Platonic-type approach to universals of beauty, as in (16), it is not to disprove such an approach but only to say it is not appropriate for linguistic accounts of meaning. On the other hand, the linguistic approach cannot be that of absolute relativity: If there were not something similar about what speakers of (21) and (22) mean by "beautiful" –even though they may disagree as to which objects are beautiful– then they could not communicate at all. Section 2.2.3 discusses how, for there to be meaning in a linguistic act, there must be at least some sort of delineation of each speaker’s idea of each linguistic entity in question, i.e., the distinctions and similarities among the speakers’ ideas of the linguistic entities. Such delineation applies to the speakers of (21) and (22): The speaker of (21) will know that, for the speaker of (22), something like "Baroque superimposed on Romantic is not beautiful" is the case; but the speaker of (21) could not know this distinction without the fact that something similar between both speaker’s idea of "beauty" is presupposed.

It may not always be possible to tell what exact degree of universality or relativity is permitted in various words. With those such as "beautiful," something tacit17 must always be understood, but over the remaining aspects of meaning in peculiar uses of the word, there are variables. With other words such as "four-legged," certain well-defined criteria must always be met, with hardly any variables. Nonetheless, it seems that in all cases –all words– there are some criteria that must be (universally) met. Relativity is then defined as the variability attainable between the subject, the object,18 or the subject’s perception of the object, and this variability may range from none for words such as "four-legged" to almost unlimited for words such as "beautiful."

2.2.3. Meaning and Individual Judgment Existential Sentences

Wittgenstein suggests that it is only people’s confusion about certain questions that makes up most of philosophy and that this "illness" is cured by investigating the limits of ordinary language and showing that real philosophical questions are the result of manipulating ordinary language. As Pears (1970) encapsulates this approach:

[Wittgenstein] has come to think that the only way to understand the limit of language is to try to cross it and to return to language in its ordinary human setting only after a genuine but of course necessarily unsuccessful attempts of this kind. (126-127)

Statements out of religion, ethics, and aesthetics are therefore beyond the limits of language, in Wittgenstein’s system. Perhaps the best way to interpret "beyond the limits of language" is as "impossible to assign meanings to." Thus, sentences such as (23) are out of religion, beyond the limits of language, and impossible to be assigned a meaning.

(23) There is a God.

However, the linguist cannot afford to dismiss so arbitrarily a set of natural-language utterances. Within, for example, a Montague-style model-theoretic semantics, it might seem possible to assign a meaning to (23): In some possible world, there is a God. However, (23) is not in an intensional context, such as (24) or (25).

(24) John believes in God.

(25) John is seeking a unicorn.

(26) John believes there is a God.

(26) is similar to (23), but it is definitely ambiguous whereas (23) arguably is not. "There is" constructions can have at least two meanings: One is to point out an object that may or may not exist; the other is "existential," to declare that an object exists in the real world. The first meaning is intensional; the second is extensional. In the first, the locative "there" can be in some other possible world; in the second, "there" selects the real world as the set for which the predicated object is to be a member. However, the usual reading of (23) is extensional19 and therefore cannot be assigned an intensional meaning –an obvious problem, for it is hard to point to God.

The problem here is related to what has plagued philosophers in the quandaries of attitude reports (such as believing, seeking, wanting) but is distinct. Attitude reports take on the form:

(27) John believes that X.

And the problem arises in establishing meaning according to the truth value of the sentence –when (27) could thus give the same meaning for many substitutions of X, an approach that would not seem correct (Carnap 1947). The debate invariably led to a squabble over intensionality, with Carnap presenting an intensional solution and Quine (1960) arguing that intensions –"creatures of darkness"– are not a viable mechanism to rely upon. Davidson (1968) offers an ingenious nonintensional solution by saying such sentences are just an amalgam of two extensional sentences:

(28) X.

John believes that.

Then Kripke (1979) showed how hopelessly confused all characterizations of attitude reports are, with his puzzle about the Frenchman, who at first had lived in Paris, where he believed "Londres est jolie," then moved to London –never knowing it was "Londres"– to a bad part of town, and believed "London is not pretty" while still believing "Londres est jolie." A flurry of similar puzzles of ambiguity within the contexts of all kinds of attitude reports have followed (Crimmins and Perry 1989, Larson and Ludlow 1993, den Dilken, Larson, and Ludlow 1996). However, none of these discussions involve sentences of the form (23) but instead tackle structures such as (24)-(26). There is a significant difference in meaning between John uttering (23) and someone saying (24).

Sentences of the form (23) are hazards for the linguist because it seems that an answer to ongoing philosophical or metaphysical problems must be reached to assign a truth-value or meaning. Yet there may be a way to account for the meaning of such sentences as well as those of the form in (17), (19), (21) and (22).

Note that there is a sense in which (27) clearly is not false.

(29) There is a Valhalla.

Sometimes, "is" is predicated of objects in the world of myth, legend, and the imagination. (30) is certainly true, but surprisingly enough –considering (23)– so is (31).

(30) There is a god.

(31) There is a god Thor.

(31) provides an interesting contrast to (23): (31) seems at once less contestable than (23), but this fact holds only because in contemporary ways of thinking, we usually assume the "is" of (23) and the "is" of (31) are predicating different levels or worlds of existence, (31) being that of myth, so we more readily acknowledge, Yes, there is a god Thor (in the world of myth). However, when (23) and (31) are both considered at one level –call it the human conceptual level– both (23) and (31) are incontestable; but considered at the level of the real world or the physical universe, both (23) and (31) are at least contestable.

These different uses of "is" in (23) and (31) and the parallel uses of "exists" are not a case of ambiguity when tested by the pragmatic-identity tests of Zwicky and Sadock (1975, 20-21). Using "exists," (33) illustrates that a crossed understanding of (32) is possible.

(32) God exists, yet so does Thor.20

(33) Thor comes alive in the Nordic legends and tales. God is the first cause of the Universe who intelligently planned and retains all order. Thor and God illustrate two levels of existence. God exists, yet so does Thor.

"Exists" is vague (likewise the "is" of (23) and (31)), not ambiguous. Ambiguity, Vagueness, and Contradiction

Vague words and ambiguous words create different sorts of results in contradictory constructions. An ambiguous adjective such as "light" makes (35) confusing, while (34) makes perfect sense (if a bit odd).

(34) The heart is heavy, though not dark.

(35) The heart is heavy, though not light.

Although it could be clarified by further explanations, (35) is anomalous because it makes a pragmatic violation, such as Grice’s maxim of manner from the Cooperative Principle (Kempson, 1977, 69). Another type of ambiguity, discussed by Seigel (1977), involves an adjective phrase. (36) is anomalous, whereas there is a reasonable reading of (37).

(36) Marya is a beautiful dancer, though (she is) not a beautiful dancer.

(37) Marya is a beautiful dancer, though (she is) not beautiful.

(37) might be a contradiction, except the "though" serves to set up a contrast in the reading of the two clauses: Because "beautiful" by itself can apply only to Marya, the first "beautiful" must apply to "dancer." In (36), the "though" is not successful because there is no syntactic contrast in the two clauses. Unlike with (35), an attempt to clarify (36) just by further explanation does not help, as (38) demonstrates.

(38) Marya has a gorgeous face, just so you do not watch her dancing –it is horrid. Mayra is a beautiful dancer, though not a beautiful dancer, if you know what I mean.

Vague words are puzzling. With ambiguous words or phrases, clarification (disambiguation) is a matter of pointing to which lexical item is intended or which noun is to be modified, respectively. With vague words, none of these two types of clarification is possible, although some sort of contextual clarification is called for. (32) and (33) exhibit two different readings of "exists" (or two different levels of existence). These two readings can be combined in an apparently contradictory sentence:

(39) Thor exists and does not exist.

(39) could be a contradiction,21 or it could be asserting, in the first clause, that Thor exists at the human conceptual level but, in the second clause, that Thor does not exist in the real world. Such an assertion cannot be given a truth-value –because it cannot be established whether Thor exists in the real world– though it can be said it is not a contradiction. Couching (39) as (40) brings to light a further problem.

(40) God exists and does not exist.

If we take both clauses to mean that God exists at the human conceptual level and that God does not exist at the human conceptual level, then we have a reading that is not only not contradictory but is true, because there are theists and atheists alike. There are other sentences, judgments about judgments, or judgments concerning the "human conceptual level" that similarly seem contradictory yet are not. Let us say there is a panel of judges at a play contest; it takes a unanimous vote to win the prize; there is yet another person who reads out the judges’ verdict; and a play has just lost by a 50-50 vote, so the playwright is told (41) and (42).

(41) Your play is good and not good.

(42) Your play is beautiful and not beautiful.

Sentences (41)-(42) differ from the reading of (39) because the speakers are not saying that the respective existence, goodness, or beauty is and is not predicated of its subject because of qualitative levels differing from one clause to the next, but possibly the same levels of criteria have been used. For example, a speaker of (40) may be saying that if God exists in some minds and does not exist in others’ minds, then that fact is all he or she can say about God’s existence.

Because enigmatic sentences such as (40)-(42) are real sentences in English, any semantic theory must be able to characterize them. Currently, no syntactic or semantic theory stands as the linguistic paradigm; instead, linguistic theory is undergoing steady turmoil of reevaluation, ammendation, and rejection of several existing theories (Newmeyer 1997). In the process, semantics would profit by addressing the problem of how to account for sentences such as (40)-(42), as well as (10), (17), and (21)-(23), because lexical items such as "beauty," "good," and "God" point up peculiar roles of apparent extensionality of construction that have not been treated before; can be too easily considered intentional constructions of the kind of oft-discussed attitude reports covered in §; and bring to fore the curious and complex relation between the idiolect and the language at large and how language can emerge or work among idiolects or how the two can be bridged. Such constructions and lexical items then pose a strong challenge to any hypothesis of how these entities are generated at the neurological level.

While a possible-worlds semantics remains controversial as to whether it can say anything about natural languages, it is a well-developed system and may serve as an example of whether at least one semantic theory can account for these constructions and lexical items. Certainly, what exactly is a "possible world" remains undeveloped, but a possible world of contradictions is definitely not allowable. The class of cases of concern here is not actually a class of contradictions but only superficially seeming contradictions. Something more than possible worlds (or possible times?) is needed. Luckily, tools are already available in the model-theoretic framework. The Extended Index

In "General Semantics," David Lewis defines "an appropriate intension for a common noun" as "any function from indices to sets" (Lewis 1975,6). Indices are finite sequences of coordinates that "enter into determining extensions." The coordinates include a possible-world, contextual, and an assignment coordinate; the contextual coordinates are time, place, speaker, audience, indicated objects, and previous discourse, and in the appendix, Lewis includes prominent objects, causal-history-of-acquisition-of-names, and delineation coordinates. Lewis’ nine-tuple contextual coordinates compare with Montague’s single contextual coordinate (Montague 1974, 257). Since Montague was dealing with only a tiny fragment of English, it is understandable that he did not add more coordinates; nothing in the mathematics of his "Universal Grammar" precludes such additions. As David Dowty (1979) states,

The fact such a complete expansion of an index [as Lewis’] would be exceedingly complex is of course an objection to the method in itself; however, some people have worried that the number of ways expressions of possible human languages may depend on context is not only complex but in principle unlimited. If so, a revision of the coordinate method will be required. (91)

The worry that Dowty says some people have about the possibilities of running up an infinite amount of coordinates may be ameliorated by remembering that Montague’s whole mathematical system is a superstructure of which actual human languages use only a minuscule part; for example, the semantic categories, which are infinite in number because of their recursive definition, yet natural languages use only a few of these. There are psychological parameters that limit what the mind can even deal with, and such parameters will probably not allow ridiculously many contextual coordinates. (Here is an area –and indeed it concerns Montague grammar– where research into psychological universals of language is pertinent.

Appendix A shows how Lewis’ extended index allows an operator that can account for sentences such as (40)-(42) in a linguistic theory. Semantic Universality Hinges on Tacit Knowledge

The discussion of relativity and universality in word semantics in §2.2.2 suggests a direction to take in characterizing certain peculiar classes of sentences. If the assumption had been that "goodness" and "beauty" predicated absolute values, these sentences would have to be classified as anomalous. Assuming that the applicability of qualities is relative not just to the object to which the quality applies but also to the person who applies the quality, leads to using the speaker coordinate as a way to reflect such relativity. And that use, in turn, points to the need for something like the obj operator in possible-worlds semantics, as discussed in Appendix A, which can account for sentences (40)-(42).

The relativity of qualitative terms that Lewis’ extended index permits might make a difference in certain other areas of semantics, such as the theory of adjectives;22 the other indices he proposes –and the ones that have not yet been proposed– could have significant impact.

As for the question, "If some words are relative to the extent ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ are, then what is similar among all uses that makes it possible for us to communicate with these words at all?" –§2.2.2 noted that there must be some tacit knowledge that holds the "absolute part" of these words, but if these words are indeed relative to the extent proposed, psycholinguistics or neurolinguistics must answer, "What is this tacit knowledge?"

2.3. The Universality of Neurosemantic Structures Meets the Peculiarity of the Individual: Meaning Needs Both

The quandary of how sentences with vague lexical terms, such as (10), (17), (22)-(23), and (40)-(42), manage to communicate successfully has ramifications for consciousness studies as well as linguistics. Not only is language somehow interwoven with consciousness, but "consciousness" itself is a concept in language, and thus its characterization within syntax and semantics may aid the consciousness researcher in understanding the nature of the beast being studied.

For a word such as "red" or "redness," it would be possible to question all speakers, have them point to objects that reflect certain wavelengths, and derive something like the range, discussed in §2.2.1, that generally covers the wavelengths speakers will call red, such as λ ± 100 Å. However, for a word such as "beauty" or "beautiful," "true" or "truth," or "good" or "goodness," while we could get all speakers to point to items they think are good or beautiful, we would be hard-put to extract a quantity that would limit a range that includes all objects that may be qualified by these words and excludes all others. Potentially, all objects in the universe could be included in the range, as a speaker might feel any particular object is good or beautiful in a way that all objects (except under special light conditions, generally) cannot honestly be called "red." Although redness is certainly a construct of the brain responding to certain wavelengths of light, the property is still attributed to the object: It is reflecting the light. As §2.2.3 made apparent, though, at least from a linguistic standpoint, it makes little sense to say beauty in an object is attributable to the object; beauty does not exist due to a particular quantifiable, physical parameter in the object, such as wavelength of reflected light. Even if a speaker were to utter (43)

(43) The redness of that object is beautiful.

– the beauty would likely not be the redness alone but the redness as emerging from that particular object necessitating a certain relation between the object, the color, and the speaker’s perception of that color as emerging from that object. In a more extreme case, the speaker might say,

(44) That red is beautiful in any object.

In such a case, it is ambiguous whether the red is beautiful as perceived as emerging from any particular object –since it must always arise from an object– or as abstract red of wavelength λ. Even in the latter case, the beauty does not exist due to the particular physical parameter of redness or wavelength λ but due to a way the speaker interprets that redness. In other words in this most simple case,

wavelength λ → redness → beauty.

A more usual, complex case, by contrast, might involve:


If the beauty does not lie within the physical parameters in the same way redness does, then where is it? The only other choice is to say it is within the speaker –but still, in a different sense than the redness is within the speaker. The speaker’s perceptual processing system attributes pain signals from the thumbnail quick to the quick itself, the redness to the rooster comb; but it is not this perceptual processing that perceives the beauty in the face. The perception of the face’s attributes is made; beauty is attributed to a construal of those attributes. For example, a painting or a face or a color can be perceived for all their physical attributes; but at some later time, the perceiver may realize she or he finds that object beautiful (though the attribution of beauty can arise upon initial perception as well). Beauty, then, arises from a neurophysiological response to sense-stimulating physical stimuli but is of a different organization than the neurophysiological response to those stimuli. It is a certain understanding of the brain’s perceptions. What exactly is that understanding is not the purpose here (in fact, see §2.4 below); it is certainly not an understanding of these perceptions of the sort that would perceive a blob of perceptual data in the nighttime and then slowly discern that blob as a woman walking a dog. It is a not yet characterized inner reaction to the perceptual data; in other words, an inner state. As one writer witnessed in §2.2.2, the nature of such an inner state as beauty or sublimity is to attribute the quality to the object, but linguistically, it would be impossible to make sense in communication if such attributes were a quality of the object and not the subject.

If beauty arises from some kind of a not yet- named construal of perceptions, what kind of construal would that be? It is not clear that it is necessary to answer this question in order to characterize this lexeme sufficiently for linguistic purposes. Part of the philosophy of aesthetics has been devoted to trying to answer just what this one word "beauty" means. Joyce (1916) described one that has become well known, derived from Aquinas:

Aquinas says, ad pulchritudinem tria requiruntur, integras, consontio, claritas. I translate it so: Three things are needed for beauty, whole, harmony, and radiance. (212)

Joyce then describes the perception of a basket, first separating the basket from its background (wholeness), apprehending its internal structure or rhythms (harmony), then comprehending its "whatness" or the sort of object it is in the universe (radiance). The problem is, again, this theory can apply to any object, and what exactly beauty is remains undescribed. What may be more telling than any particular aesthetic theory is the tradition’s lack of success in deriving a definition that would predict or at least characterize what every individual would find beautiful. (Similarly for other difficult lexemes, such as "truth", "goodness", and "sublimity".) Undoubtedly, discussions of the word may help the reader reflect on what he or she considers beautiful and perhaps sharpen the range of objects deemed beautiful. But to concretize a definition that fits all cases and nothing but those cases and thus allows an algorithm by which an objective third-person party may calculate when any or all speakers may deem an object beautiful may be of dubious value. Indeed, we have a tool that has sufficed for precisely latching onto the internal state in question: the word "beauty."

The question persists: How can we be communicating something when the objects the word applies to are potentially completely different from speaker to speaker? How could we possibly even learn such a term? As young speakers, we may see it applied to a hundred objects but then decide to apply it to none of those objects yet to objects that have never been deemed beautiful by anyone. For other internal states, such as pain, other people may help us label because they see us when we respond to pain, which makes itself violently obvious to our awareness, so we have little problem applying the term to the correct sensation. Beauty, though, is not such a perceptual internal state but a construal of perceptions. How could we possibly understand that term is to be applied to a given internal state if there is no algorithmic way to formulate it?

Dennett (1992) and Chalmers (1996) have speculated that all brain processes are algorithmic and calculable. However, powerful theories have successfully characterized certain physical phenomena as nonalgorithmic (Gleick, 1987), and the possibility remains that some brain processes are nonalgorithmic. There are at least two possible scenarios for what happens in the brain when a sentence such as (21) is spoken, with a word such as "beauty": either "beauty" is configured as a class of nonalgorithmic neurophysiological processes, which the brain "understands" by classifying them by this term; or the term is configured by a set of algorithmic processes, such as those for "red." The latter scenario seems less likely because it is inconsistent with the complete failure over the last few millennia to derive a definition of beauty, whereas an algorithmic process, such as the perception of red, is simply defined. The first scenario, though, is highly counterintuitive besides offensive to the ego of the mission to atomize every brain process: How could we possibly not understand something that we apparently do understand because we do use the word "beauty" all the time? The paradox of this protest, though, is only reflected in the fact that we do, in fact, employ the term every day and no one over the centuries has been able to derive a definition of it, and similarly for "good," "true," and certain other vague lexemes. Past failure to define these lexemes does not necessarily mean that someone in the future will not derive a successful definition; it only points up the unlikelihood of such success and that all definitions like Joyce’s Thomist one, will continue to apply to all objects. The only way to halt this failure23 is to introduce an operator, such as that in Appendix A, that diverts definition to individual tacit judgment and acknowledges that such tacit judgment is all that is necessary to know about such a term.

Still, how could a word signifying nonalgorithmic processes ever be learned by a speaker of the language? Certainly, not simply by using tools deployed in earlier linguistic acquisition stages. This scenario would predict the child would first learn a few basic words for algorithmic perceptual processes, such as colors or sounds. More complex internal states, such as jealousy, must slowly be apportioned within the speaker’s idiolectic linguistic "space" through context. Here, there must be some distinguishing between the core meaning and its variability, so that communications such as (9)-(10) or (21)-(22) are possible. The speaker learns that the word "jealous" applies to a certain range of emotions –the core of the meaning. The idiolectic use of the term arises out of not only variability of that range for the individual, similar to the range of wavelengths for red, but also for the different kinds of situations that may arouse the emotion and that become a part of the speaker’s idiolectic connotation for the word, as in (10). The emotions, not being discrete entities like the gallbladder or pineal gland, are a wide set of limbic system and other brain area responses (Wilson 1979) and so have vague boundaries and blend into one another. Thus, "love" can be almost indistinguishable from "like" in certain cases or from "lust" in others; "envy" may seem like "jealousy" sometimes, close to "lust" at others; "lust" in turn may border on "greed." Indeed, one might imagine terms not with discrete cores with well-defined borders but as having for cores a set of coordinates within n-space, those coordinates being parameters of associational context, such as phonological definition, syntactic properties, and semantic characteristics, such as "emotion" and kinds of emotion, and pragmatic contexts. The actual usages of the word, have a probability of falling within some distance of the coordinate that defines the center of the n-dimensional object –but falling closer to it than to a neighboring term. The characterization of the word can be thought of somewhat like a gaseous planet. Thus, in 3-space, the semantic coordinates might show a few related lexemes for emotion:




If A were the coordinates for "lust," B for "greed," and C for "love," most usages of lust would fall close to A, but some would fall close to B and be almost indistinguishable from it; similarly for C and A, but C and B are too far from one another for a usage of one or the other to be confused. Of course, in real brains, words are likely coordinated by more than three dimensions, and likely some words need more coordinates than others do. How exactly the neurons establish the kind of links that designate such coordinates is worthy of investigation (see Appendix B), and it is not imaginable that one neuron would "contain" one word but instead that meshes of neurons feeding throughout the brain likely generate a single word, so one neuron may play the role in encoding thousands of words. The fact the brain does manage some kind of network of lexical items is obvious from the fact language arises from the brain. Many lexical items, if not all –even articles such as "the"– have a certain vagueness and meld into neighboring items.

Such a network would not have to be in one place but, as studies of neural network functioning already show in general (Perretto 1992), would likely be spread throughout the brain, so interwoven as to be inextricable. In fact, one could imagine meaning, with its intricate lattices of connotations, would have to be interstitched with the rest of brain function to engender all the profound associations that are part of understanding a sentence. The evocation of images, sensations, and ramifications upon the simple utterance of a word, such as "lollipop" or "adultery" or "brother," must mean lexemes are complexly meshed with many parts of the brain. When these lexemes are combined with others in a sentence, the context allows them to excite more elaborate streams of associations: "The green lollipop was sweet and luscious as a tree-ripe Granny Smith."

The debate continues over whether there is an innate language acquisition device or the brain simply fits language into its scheme as it would any other complex mental structure (Chomsky 1968, Edelman 1992, Dennett 1991, Pinkerton 1996). By either method, the child develops its lexical network. Some lexemes apply to genetically programmed states, such as the emotions, others to completely cultural items, such as "book" or "Top-40 hit." This scenario of some lexemes applying to genetically programmed states would not mean that these states are discrete units for each of which there is a word in every natural language. Certainly, just as languages vary in how they divide the color space, they may vary in how they partition the emotional space. Through not only situational context (what is happening around the child) but also context of lexical state, the young speaker learns to which internal states to apply the term "beauty" for some perception of a real object or even just a thought. The inner state may be genetically programmed, as the emotions are. But just as the different divisions of emotional space according to language and culture may influence how the individual speaker categorizes these emotions –besides the speaker’s own eccentric inhibitions and preconceptions about the emotions– so may culture and individual preconceptions alter the kind of perceptual configurations or patterns that lead the speaker to apply the word "beautiful." The listener can then understand the speaker, even if none of the objects to which the speaker applies the term are those to which the listener would apply it, because both have homed in on a similar range of internal states or types of responses to configurations.

The speaker attributes the quality to the object as if it were a property of the object, but from the linguistic viewpoint, it makes sense only to say that the quality arises as a physical state in the speaker. Yet the speaker cannot see that state as a state, but only as if it were a property of the object, no more than the speaker can see his or her own consciousness as such but only be "conscious of" certain things at a given time –which would mean consciousness is a property (of mental states) for the speaker but, as with "beauty," a state for the linguist.

Obviously, there are significant differences between the lexemes "consciousness" and "beauty." The latter is considered an abstract noun denoting not a "real" thing but some kind of ineffable quality common to all things beautiful (a characterization that begs the question). "Consciousness", though, is considered as real a thing as the mind; it even has medical meaning (Merck Manual, 1992, 1399-1400),24 a prestige in this technoscientisic age that "beauty" may never glean. But the question remains whether "beauty" and "consciousness" really do apply to entities of such different class. Analogous to "beauty," "consciousness" may be considered an abstract noun denoting some quality common to all conscious mental states. It has medical meaning only because it has a practical significance for how the body is operating that "beauty" does not. Linguistically, though, the two words are not treated quite parallel. A construction parallel to (44) is anomalous:

(44) A wonderful new odor came to my consciousness.

(45) *A wonderful new painting came to my beauty.

However, (46) shows that the language community has a concept of such a "beauty organ" that is parallel to that for consciousness.

(46) A wonderful new painting appealed to my sense of beauty.

There are other significant differences, as in the adjectival forms, because the one modifies mental states only.

(47) I had a conscious thought.

(48) *I bought a conscious painting.

(49) I had a beautiful thought.

(50) I bought a beautiful painting.

A significant similarity between the two lexemes and their adjectival forms

is the way lexical meaning is conferred upon them in the idiolect. With "beauty," the speaker must apprehend the kind of perceptions or mental states to which she or he can apply the term; similarly for "consciousness." Another significant difference may be that for "beautiful," there is no parallel to (51).

(51) I am conscious.

("I am beautiful" does not have the parallel sense of being in some at least minimal mental state of "beautifulness" –that is, capable of apprehending beautiful things.) An unconscious person could conceivably utter (51), though falsely. (51) is problematic because it is predicating the whole being of the speaker to mental states. While (51) is arguably idiomatic25 it does reflect the fact that the language not only equates the speaker with the whole of the mental entity to which the modifier "conscious" applies (that is, the speaking thing is the conscious thing)26 but also puts the speaker in the seat of determining when the speaker is conscious. Language itself implies that the speaker is crucial in determining the extent and therefore the meaning of consciousness. Similarly to the situation with "beauty" or "beautiful," the speaker may have individual interpretations as to which mental states merit being called "conscious," and sociocultural forces may also influence interpretations. Also similarly to the case of "beautiful," the linguist finds that "conscious" applies to a class of inner states;27 and though to the speaker, those states appear to be properties of things to which they apply, to the linguist, they are a state of those mental states.

Meaning and successful communication of many lexemes, such as "red," "jealous," "beautiful," "conscious" and "good," appear to depend upon a core or universal range of states, from which the speaker selects an idiolectic range. Meaning and communication also appear to succeed because both speaker and listener share a sufficiently similar matrix of linguistic contexts within the "space" in inner states –that is, for both parties, "lust" has a certain distant relation from and to "greed," "love," and other lexemes within the emotional area, while the range of overlap and distance, and, perhaps to some degree, the relational configuration can differ (so, for example, one speaker may find no overlap between "lust" and "love"). If the metrical configuration becomes too different for speakers, communication fails; but the steady interaction of speakers in a community generally seems to keep individual speakers constantly conforming their matrices with one another’s.

Somehow, these lexemes are stored in the brains of speaker and listener, and when the speaker has spoken, a set of impulses goes off in the listener’s brain, which has similar enough structures to that of the speaker –despite the vast documented differences in individual brains (Ackerman 1991)– to make the passage of meaning complete. Somehow, there is sufficient conformity between brains for the complex inner states that designate a perceived object to be beautiful to be mutually excited in speaker and listener even when there is no agreement between the two as to which object this lexeme applies to, as in (21)-(22). Any semantic grammar must take into account this neurophysiological component if it is to have any currency because the neurophysiological component lies at the basis of what is common between speaker and listener and makes the communication succeed. It is useful not only to ask if the neurophysiological component cannot simply be introduced at some point into a semantic grammar but if it can also, in fact, serve as the very basis for the grammar. Such a grammar might then answer how it is possible for the brain to store such a complex vague lexeme as "beautiful" that designates a certain response to perceptual states, ascribing it to the object of perception while being a state itself. Such an approach to grammar might show how it is possible for two brains to communicate about something nonalgorithmic such as "beauty" and "goodness," as well as algorithmic entities such as "red."

Appendix B describes how it may be possible to account neurophysioloically for the production of lexemes. Certainly, a morpheme or a complex morpheme, such as a lexeme28, must have some commonality for both when a person is listening and when speaking, although different sets of traces are activated. When a speaker sees a colored object and calls it "red," he or she must somehow refer to the idiolectical ranges of received wavelengths of light and determine that it is "red" and not "orange." But upon hearing the word "red," the listener likely does not have to activate the entire stored sets of traces that correspond to the stored range of wavelengths –though a few of these may be activated upon hearing the word if mental imagery of redness occurs. Some words are so thick in their neurophysiological associations as to make it difficult to distinguish, with all the word’s connotations, where, according to the gaseous structures outlined above, the word and its meaning cease and another begins. A word such as "red" is relatively discrete and –not counting such meanings as "communist" or "angry"– has little meaning beyond its denotation of a range of wavelengths. This range, in turn, corresponds to a certain set of algorithmic perceptual processes. However, it is conceivable that designated neurons could fire on the event of certain classes of noncomputable brain processes and that such processes could correspond to the inner state that the speaker attributes as "beauty" to a perceived object. Even if these events are calculable, they only may be determinable by the morpheme M that "organizes" them in such as way as to label them as, say, "beautiful" or "conscious." The machinery that would be involved, first, to find the morpheme M in the brain, then to trace its possibly billions of connections to other sets of neurons, then to decipher what the some 1010_º or more potential circuits are, and to ask what each of them means to the person, would be very elaborate. It might be easier to talk to the person and find out what she or he finds beautiful. This method has worked before.

2.4. The Breadth of Consciousness Within Individual Judgement

If "beautiful" and "conscious" indeed make sense to the linguist only as the kind of inner states discussed in §, deriving meaning –somewhat similarly to the way emotional terms capture a loose range of emotional space– by capturing a certain range of particular kinds of inner states, some students of machine language may protest: The emotional terms, after all, apparently depend on the limbic system, which is integrated eventually with the autonomic system and the rest of the body. Anger may sometimes involve the burning of HCl on the stomach walls, the opening of capillaries flushing the cheeks, the rush of countless hormones to parts of the body in ways that are hardly known because we still need to do controlled experiments on humans in which every biochemical level is measured before and after bouts of anger, and each of those that are significant to anger are determined, as well as how each of those contribute to (or are merely a result of) anger. For the machine to understand "anger," of course, all this information will have to be translated into how each factor affects the neurons and what sort of signals it brings to the brain. The sensation of HCl burning the stomach lining is only a neural signal, but the machine linguist will have to decipher exactly how burning HCl turns into neural firing and what that firing does to countless thousands or millions of neurons in the brain. The machine linguist will have to do the same for all the other physiological responses in the body and all the biochemical shifts, then input this signaling into the machine and hope that the machine’s circuits have some way to interpret that data in a way that is perfectly analogous to the way a human would; that is, if the machine’s circuits are different, the data may not make sense. For the word "beauty," the machine linguist will have to go a little further, having to go into a human subject with an apparatus, mentioned in §, to discover the morpheme M for beauty and its neurophysiological correspondence. Even then, the machine will only have that particular subject’s meaning of "beauty." The machine linguist might not want to go to all this trouble and would prefer relying on "scientific" experiments that say beauty is symmetry. Fine –but the machine would not be speaking human language.

Another route for the machine linguist might lie in a device like Darwin III, which Edelman (1991) discusses. Such a machine evolves on its own. The problem is, such a machine becomes like an "animal" in its own right. And like an evolving animal, it evolves to what it may: It is out of one’s control –it must be, by definition, so that it can become a lifelike thing and develop the ability to solve new problems as a life form might. One might never know whether this machine would evolve language, or if it did develop it, whether that language would be translatable to human language– as the evolved form might be a vastly different sort of being from us. The researcher could then attempt to calculate every single move, environmental response, and evolutionary adaptation the machine made and run these calculations on a computer but would only have a replica of the machine and its environment. In other words, the researcher must either take the machine-language approach and gain complete control but then have a large task, as outlined, or rely on artificial life and –as with natural life, even with highly controlled conditions– have only surprises. The researcher might try to control all the conditions the artificial life form may evolve in, but then the thing would not be a thing like a life form. Surprises, after all, are what the research wants in creating artificial life –the unpredictability that makes life adaptable, defines life, and creates intelligence. To ask for controlled accidents, sadly, is like begging for black white.

Consciousness researchers can turn to the lexeme "consciousness" itself to find the nature of their object of study: Consciousness exists in so far as each individual deems he or she can predicate a mental state as "conscious." There is, then, no single extent or definition that applies to humans. There may be a range of possible mental states, from which each individual selects his or her subset. This scenario appears to reflect William James’, Crick’s, Greenfield’s, and other researchers’ dismissal of the need to define consciousness before discussing it, since we all know what it is. In fact, the opposite is the contention here. There is a delineation of consciousness: it is within each individual. To discuss consciousness at all in public language, we must bring that delineation to the fore, outline the universal set from which all persons derive their own. Without such delineation, consciousness studies are as meaningless as theories of beauty have been to this point; such delineation merely faces the obstacles described in §1.2.

This scenario also does not deny that nonhuman animals may have consciousness, just as some of them also likely have anger and other emotions. It means that the definition of human consciousness can be accessed only through the individual. If the researcher has delineated the complete range from which the individual derives her or his subset, then extrapolates some of that range to other animals, some guesswork about nonhuman consciousness may be made, and similarly for machines. But anyone who wants to build a candidate consciousness machine faces three dilemmas –two if building an algorithmic machine and one if a Darwin II-style machine. For an algorithmic or computing machine, the researcher might simply have the machine arbitrarily label all processes that look like human consciousness or all those that are at the forefront of the machine’s working space –perhaps one day, consciousness researchers will have determined why some of our thoughts are conscious and others are not– the whole range that humans call "conscious." But the researcher still has not answered whether these thoughts are truly conscious or the machine is just saying so. The researcher can circumvent this dilemma by going to a human subject, asking which thoughts are conscious or not, tracing that thought through its hundred million or so neurons, disentangling it somehow from all its associated thoughts –thus artificially and arbitrarily and thus falsely severing it and making it discrete– then asking the subject to help decipher it and explain all that was involved in that thought so the researcher can interpret its neurophysiological tracing among the entire rest of the subject’s thoughts and memories. Once the researcher has gone through this procedure for the entire range of kinds of thoughts that may be conscious, she must measure all the electrical signal processing of all the relevant billions of neurons, translate it into signals that the computer can read, and then assure that the computer’s design is such that it can translate those signals into what is assuredly conscious thought. But the researcher is left with a dilemma, because she was testing the human subject to get those patterns that assure conscious thought.

The researcher can avoid this dilemma by building an artificial-life machine but is faced with the dilemma already discussed: creating the controlled accidents that will assure development of consciousness, especially human-type consciousness that will lead to human-type language so the researcher may ask the machine which thoughts are conscious, an honest answer to which is still the surest way to assure which thoughts are conscious.

This inspection of language for the nature of consciousness does not mean building a conscious machine is impossible. It just means the engineers will have to expend more effort than they let on while they ask for money for their projects. From the foot of a mountain on a clear day, the summit often looks like you can just touch it. If the science of language and of consciousness proves that a project to build a conscious machine is very costly (or might necessitate some unethical experimentation on humans) to get some of the data, as discussed in §1.2.4, to do it right, consciousness researchers must not sour-grape the science and say it therefore must be wrong. There has been a tendency toward a faith in technoscientism –that is, a belief that something cannot be true unless you can extract a technology from it– which deserves some investigation and elucidation as to why it has such a grip on us. Perhaps in early hominid days, intelligence that led to stone-throwing and other technology increased adaptability and was selected for. But warlike nature was also apparently selected for. A trait with strong selection value in our past does not mean that trait predominates or should predominate in modern society. The adaptive advantage of inquiry has also given us the ability to keep asking how things really are and reject conjectures that do not fit, especially when those conjectures try to tell us what we are and do not fit. If science were to lead to a theory of who we are and we could not make one buck off it, would that theory be any less beneficial? If the Big Bang Theory, with the rest of physics, never allowed a way to go back and change the Big Bang, or even, as Darling (1991) wants, create new universes, should we reject the theory?

Appendix A: The Obj Operator

It could be that one of Lewis’ contextual coordinates might assist in accounting for sentences such as (40)-(42). One hopeful prospect is the speaker coordinate. Lewis’ example sentence for this one is "I am Porky," which will be true only for a limited amount of speakers, depending on whether their names are Porky. This coordinate is not necessarily limited to explaining the first-person pronouns: It may be helpful in accounting for the problematic sentences in question. One kind of model incorporates a speakers’ coordinate for an intensional language . The model is an ordered sextuple <A, I, J, S, <, F>, where A, I, J, and S are disjoint sets, < is an ordering relation on J, and F is a function that assigns a denotation to the constants of , relative to the triple i, j, s, such that each i ∈ I, j ∈ J, and s ∈ S. is basically like that developed in Montague (1974), but here the concern is with a smaller and different set of basic expressions:

BT = {Harry, Susie, God}

BCN/CN = {paper}

BIV = {exists, is-good, is-beautiful}

The model U = <A, I, J, S, <, F> looks like:

A = {h, s, g, p}29

I = {i}

J = {j1, j2}

S = {s1, s2, s3}

< = {<j1, j2>}

F(<i, j, s>, Harry) = h for all i ∈ I, j ∈ J, s ∈ S

F(<i, j, s>, Susie) = s for all i ∈ I, j ∈ J, s ∈ S

F(<i, j, s>, God) = g for all i ∈ I, j ∈ J, s ∈ S

F(<i, j, s>, paper) = p for all i ∈ I, j ∈ J, s ∈ S (See note 29.)

F(<i, j1, s1>, exists)={h,s,g,p} F(<i, j1, s2>, exists)={h,s,p}

F(<i, j2, s1>, exists)={h,s,g,p} F(<i, j2, s2>, exists)={h,s,p,g}

F(<i, j1, s3>, exists)={h,s,p}

F(<i, j2, s3>, exists)={h,s,p}


exists’*(g) is true if whoever s1 stands for, or s2 at time j2, utters it, but not true if s3, or s2 at time j1, utters it. As this model stands, however, a value-assignment for sentences (40)-(42) is still not guaranteed.

` In Montague’s treatment of English, there are operators, such as o, <>, F, P, that, when applied to a formula, determine a semantic value for the formula, depending upon certain behavior of the indices. Another operator can be adopted, called Obj (for "objectivity"), that determines the value of a formula by the behavior of the speaker coordinate. This operator will have no direct corresponding translation in English, but its presence will be felt because it allows a "contradiction" to be true. It is defined in (A1) by being given a denotation.

(A1)Den U,i,j,sn,g(Objf ^~f) = 1 &#nbsp; &#nbsp; &#nbsp; &#nbsp; &#nbsp; if~(DenU,i,j,sn,g f = 1)

^DenU,i,j,sk,g f =1 ^DenU,i,j,sm,g ~f =1

For some sk, sm different from sn.

(A1) says in essence that if it is not true of some sn that f, and if there is some other sk and sm for which f is true and f is false respectively, then it can be true of sn that f ^ ~f.

The addition of the Obj operator reflects how a speaker, if she or he does not believe in God, she or he does not necessarily disbelieve in God, either.


Appendix B: The Possibility for a Neurophysiological Based Semantics

In the wake of semantic grammars, there have been attempts to see if the human mind or brain can be squeezed into the grammar (Fodor JD , Fodor JA, Garrett 1975; Dowty 1979). It may be best to construct a grammar by first examining brain processes and then hypothesizing about the way language might arise from these processes. Such an approach would not preclude the work of linguists because without their investigations, the neurobiologist would have little idea of what sort of brain functions to look for. There will be objections that this approach is atomistic, hence impossible (Fodor 1980), but possible objections should not halt the attempt. The approach is certainly not new: It was first proposed by Eric Lenneberg (1967). His statement that "The foundations of language are ultimately to be found in the physical nature of man" (106) could form the basis of a neurosemantics. His ideas have inspired a great amount of work (Miller 1978; Reiber 1976), even in areas only tangential to his own.

Lenneberg held that strict localization theories of brain had to be rejected, as they do not accord with the clinical data (Lenneberg 1967, 1973). Purely holistic theories are also problematic. Language function may be localized statistically: Some regions of the brain are more involved in speech, others less. Instead of looking for the capacity in specific neuroanatomic structures, the investigator should seek the capacity in the way various parts of the brain interact. Certain general features Lenneberg points out must be taken into account, including: a change in one part of the brain is a change in the whole brain; neural connectivity is redundant; no central nervous tissue is ever at rest; different cortical regions are the same as to cytoarchitecture; and there is both spatial and temporal patterning of neuronal encoding. Most important, language must not be thought of as being essentially different from any other brain function.

Investigations in semantics along the lines Lenneberg suggested have been made (Miller 1978 ; Brown 1978; Thatcher and April 1976), though semantics was no particular interest of Lenneberg's (chapter 8, 1967). Concerning word semantics, he continued his dynamic (systems) approach to brain function by characterizing words not as labels of stored concepts but as categorizations of processes important to the species in dealing cognitively with the environment. His work on color naming pointed out the fuzziness of certain semantic boundaries (see §2.3), as opposed to the idea of words being discrete engrams. Brown (1978) took this idea further and said all "natural" referential terms are also fuzzy. What must exist, he says, is a set of attributes, only some of which hold from instance to instance.

For present purposes, morphemes, and not just words or lexemes, are considered to be fuzzy. John Morton (1978) excluded morphemes from his "logogen" model,30 because he found that the processing of morphemes does not seem to affect the time for recognition of words; therefore, they must be processed differently from words. However, the present assumption is that "the concept comes first," that is, that all meaning is referential to concepts, including those such as "pastness" (Miller 1978). Therefore, all morphemes are assumed to be processed similarly by the brain.

B.1. Terminology

As of yet, there is no unified theory in the biology of language, so before any models can be outlined, the terminology must be clearly defined. The terms used here are not from any particular framework but often correspond to other terms in the literature and thus may be translated.

A memory trace, or simply trace, is the neurological substrate that forms the encoding of the organism’s memory and the interneuronal response to some specific significant event. This particular encoding is distinguished from the system that organizes the encoding according to contexts of formation.

A significant event in the formation of a trace is any event internal or external to the organism, that is the focus of the organism’s attention for a sufficient time to form a trace (notice that events that cause disruption of reverberatory memory (John 1971, but also see Bell and Hunter 1981) may not be significant events).

Sufficient time for the formation of a trace is that amount of time in which a neuronal reverberation (perhaps with PMr (Bell and Hunter 1981)) decays.

The formation-context of a trace is all sensory and interneuronal input within some sufficient time of a significant event, by which the trace can be made distinct from all other traces.

A cue is a neuronal signal that activates a trace. (Note that a cue is part of a trace’s formation-context.)

Because the brain is constantly receiving sensory input and interneurons are always firing, it is difficult to distinguish one set of stimuli as discrete. Therefore, in speaking about the meaning of a linguistic stimuli such as a spoken word, it is useful to speak of sets of sensory signals and interneuronal signals potentiated by those sensory signals. These arbitrary sets will be called fragments.

A morpheme is the smallest fragment that has syntactic utility.

A syntactic fragment is (1) a morpheme, (2) a set of morphemes combined to make a sentence, (3) a portion of a sentence, or (4) any combination of the three.

A fragment can be meaningful only within and by means of a context. The context includes (1) the context of the fragment and (2) the contexts of the formation of all traces activated by the fragment cues.

The context of a fragment is all sensory and subsequent interneuronal signals within sufficient time of any significant event,31 by which a fragment may be matched with a set of traces and made distinct from all other fragments.

B.2. An Example of a Trace

The model of simple traces in this section is presented only to give an intuitive idea of how a trace might arise. The larger model presented in the following sections is not contingent upon this model. That is, real neurons are more complex than the simple McCullough-Pitts neurons assumed here.

An axon with an excitatory synapse if denoted by an arrow, →

An axon with an inhibitor synapse is denoted by a curve with an I.

Cues are denoted λ .

Traces are denoted Ti.

A trace may be a circuit of neurons, activated by a cue λ :

As long as λ fires, T1 fires and all neurons in T1 fire, causing a certain change in the brain every time T1 is activated.

There may be another Ti activated by λ :


There may also be a system of inhibition, such that, when T1 fires, T2 is inhibited:


B.3. Morphemes

The set T is the set of all traces. For any trace Ta to be activated, there must be some cue λ a. Therefore, λ a is a function operating on Ta. For example, if

T = {T1, T2, T3}

then λ 1 (T) = {T1*, T2*}

where Ta* denotes activated Ta. T3 is not activated by λ 1.

The time t0 at which a set Ti = {T1, T2, ... , Tn} are activated by λ i = {λ 1, λ 2 ... , λ n} due to a fragment (i.e., a morpheme) μ 0, is the time is takes for all Ti to be activated.

The "activator" set A can now be defined. A is the quadruple (λ i, t0 , Ti*,λ 0) such that for all λ i at t0, there exists a subset Ti T such that for a morpheme μ 0, all λ i (due to μ 0) activate Ti.

The "initiator" set I0 is the quadruple (λ j, t1, Tj*, Ta*) such that for all λ j at t1 when Ta* is formed, there is a set Tj T such that λ j activate Tj.

Theorem. Ta* ∈ Tj*.

PROOF. By definition, for any Ta* there must be some λ a. λ a λ i, by definition of formation of Ta. Therefore, Ta Tj.

The initiator set I1 is the triple (λ k, T1, Tk*) such that for all λ k at t1 there is a Tk T such that λ j activates Tj.

From the theorem and the definitions follows:

Corollary. I0 = I1.

The operator Φ μ 32 takes the intersection of A and I1, which is (λ i λ k , Ti* ∩ Tk*). If λ i λ k is denoted λ ik, and Ti* ∩ Tk* as Tik*, then

Φ μ (A, I1) = (λ ik, Tik).

Now, a meaning M of a morpheme m is functionally defined:

M(μ ) º Φ μ (A, I1).

Or, equivalently,

M = Φ μ .

B.4. Syntactic Fragments

The projected characteristics of the meaning for syntactic fragments will be mentioned.

For some fragment f composed of a set μ i = {μ 1, μ 2, ... , μ n}, M(f ) must be a function of 1) all the M(μ i) for all μ i f , and 2) the syntactic rules by which f is formed from μ i. M(f ) will be a generalization of M(μ ), that is, M(μ ) will be a special case of M(f ) in which the syntactic rules are zero. Moreover, syntactic rules must be treated as a special kind of context.

Note that a morpheme, such as brick, may have a syntactic connotation, such as "Bring me a brick."

B.5. Summary

The possibilities for a neurophysiological semantics are only sketched here. The assumption has been that meaning arises out of comprehension. Meaning arising out of production may be different, more significant, or the same. The trace-fragment comparison definition of meaning may prove to have no theoretic use; however, this approach is consistent with Lenneberg’s view that cognitive processes underlying syntax and semantics are related and that words are labels for conceptualization processes that consist in differentiation and transformation (the tolerance for change is stimuli). If this approach proves useful, there is plenty of room for expansion and elaboration, along with empirical tests.

A quote from Lenneberg is apposite:

It is in connection with the cognitive process of relating abstract concepts (name categories of structural sentence types) that the intimate relationship between semantics and syntax is most clearly revealed.







  1. An interesting multidisciplinary study would be to investigate the nature of these biases. For example, does "artist envy" lie behind much of AI work?
  2. At the worst, such scenarios about the mind, if hammered home long enough, even if they are ultimately proven inaccurate, might still eventually convince the public that certain parts of experience –particularly the subjective, "ineffable," sensual, spiritual– are not valuable because suspect, and so be more ready to delimit and shrink their lives into those mental activities that are more easily calculable and controllable by computer communications technology. Though this scenario sounds dubiously science-fictiony, it is one that at least one prominent cognitive student (Dennett 1991) has upheld as a goal; and it is one that, even if the theory did not account for the brain/mind in the entirety of its current potentials but for only a minuscule fragment of its activity, would have enormous appeal to and perhaps financial support from the mushrooming information-processing industry and private bureaucracy. The fewer the dimensions or degrees of freedom of the consumers in their market, the finer and finer the industry –and its brethren industries– can hone the fit of consumer to the quickening volley of new product. This brand of cognitive science is thus exemplary in the postmodern celebration of monodimensionality and commodification.
  3. These must be epistemological –not empirical– impurities, for the reason that follows.
  4. Designating consciousness as an "object" here and throughout the paper, meaning "object of study," is not to imply consciousness is phylogenetically or ontologically in the class of physical objects such as stones or photons; instead, we are constrained by the language, which designates that which is to be studied as an object. Similarly is "unicorns" an object of a verb in "I love unicorns," whether or not such objects exist as blue jays and muons do.
  5. There is, of course, inference based on introspection, as must be used in most animal-consciousness research, but language is the only direct route.
  6. That language is not necessary for some degree of characterization of animal consciousness need not detract from its central role in understanding human consciousness. After all, much understanding of animal consciousness is inferred, based upon our observations and construals of human consciousness, which in turn are based on inference from introspection or on verbal reports from others.
  7. There is also the problem of whether any of the structural theories that address a single level, such as generative semantics, have psychological reality. See Fodor, Fodor, and Garrett (1975) and Dowty (1979), as well as further discussion in Appendix B.
  8. According to McMullen, "Premise one of epistemological dualism says that our mental concepts are ‘complete’: What I know when I know (in the ordinary sense) what a headache, for example, feels like is the one and only thing knowledge of the nature of headaches could consist of. My knowledge of the nature of headache, hence my concept of headache, is complete in the sense that nothing more –no additional essential properties–could possibly be discovered." (1)
  9. Maybe such demonstration could be done empirically. Cole and Scribner (1974) describe an experiment by Lantz and Stefflre concerning codability, which they labeled "communication accuracy." The experimenters’ assumption was that something that could be communicated well interpersonally could be communicated well intrapersonally. Their experiment consisted in giving the subject a myriad of color plates, and the subjects "were asked to describe them in such a way as to enable others to pick them out of an array." One finding was that "communication accuracy and naming agreement were not correlated" (Cole and Scribner, 1974, 47). An experiment could be designed to see whether each subject’s description to him/herself of the color gives the higher recall scores than a control group that is discouraged (perhaps via an intervening task) from making a description. Thus, there could be a public verification –that is, not by consensus– that indeed the private-language description is consistent with the phenomena.
  10. Cole and Scribner (1974, 49-50) discuss studies by Berlin and Kay, by Heider, and by Heider and Olivier, which show that perception of focal colors is cross-cultural. The boundaries do not seem to be exact.
  11. There might also be jealousy of anyone with whom your lover sleeps, a situation that would make A’s jealousy seem less peculiar –though actually it does not: Both C and D would be objects of this aspect of jealousy, though just why A is more jealous of D than C is still unexplained. Only the particular reasons given in (10) for what is still a peculiar use on A’s part would explain his use.
  12. In Philosophical Investigations (paragraph 510), Wittgenstein states a language game, "Say ‘it’s cold here’ and mean ‘it’s warm here,’" so Wittgenstein does recognize "literary" uses. But what sort of real innovation does his philosophy allow? His example could be accounted for by a generalized community rule of hyperbole, "If you state one thing and the circumstances of which you speak are the opposite, you mean the opposite of what you say; this is done for the sake of emphasizing the circumstances." But such usage is not idiosyncratic or idiolectical.
  13. Discussed in Kempson, 1977, 69-72.
  14. Chomsky’s degrees of grammaticality are according to syntactic and semantic factors; the degrees help elucidate the grammaticality problem, but even within these, there may be undecidable cases. (See Chomsky 1965, 148-163.)
  15. That is, with all due respects to restrictions on types that prevent Russell’s paradox and circumvent a needless objection to the present discussion (see note 16). Despite superficial similarities to model-theoretic semantics, (18) - (20) are not intended even to mimic such a rigorous semantics but are only ad hoc heuristics for clarifying how (17) might be interpreted.
  16. Thus, ugliness may have the property of ugliness, but it cannot be a w ∈ W that might have the property B.
  17. This statement must be qualified, in the hopes of presenting a clearer picture of what is meant by the necessary criteria and variables. For "four-legged," the criteria are obvious, as in "The cat is a four-legged creature." However, there may be individuals who meet the criteria in one sense but not the other, according to what frame they are viewed in, as in "My cat is a four-legged creature, but he was born without one leg." This particular cat is of a species whose members normally have four legs, though this individual happens to be missing a leg. The criteria must always be met, whether by the taxonomic type (the "ideal"), the particular creature, or both. These two frames could possibly be thought of as variables, but this approach would confuse the way "variable" is used here for "beautiful." In the later case, as with other vague adjectives ("good," "pretty," "wrong"), there may be a distinction of truth value according to what frame an event or object is perceived in; e.g., if C and D from (9) and (10) are gassing Texans to improve the human race, I might say, "It is good to improve the human race, but it is not good to do so by gassing Texans." Such frames are not being called "variables." Let’s say "beauty" is a relation arising between a subject and object (see note 18), perceived by the subject. A certain category of relationship, then, is of the subject that allows the subject to label the object "beautiful." What is variable across the human race are the subjects, objects, and the subject’s perceptions of the object; what is constant is the type of relationship arising between subject and object.
  18. As in note 17, the subject is the perceiver, the object is that which perceived, and the subject’s perception of the object might best be thought of as each act of perception, whether discrete or diachronic, and including the frame of perception. For example, the subject may be B; the object, the family garbage; and the perception, an act in which B notices the object is beautiful, which may be transcribed, "That garbage is a symbol of the nexus of the two remarkable, entirely different pathways that matter can take: building itself into systems of organic macromolecules that struggle to remain in their complexity, called ‘life’, until they reach the point where they can freely refashion the simple molecules and elements –which in turn are just as remarkable for remaining simple– into structures that remain symbols of that peculiar trait that somehow relates to the survival of these systems or large organic molecules: ‘pleasure’."
  19. There is not usually an intensional reading of (23) because of the indefinite article combined with a proper noun. The extensional reading requires an indefinite article plus common noun construction. Changing the indefinite article changes the meaning:

There is a Great Pyramid of Cheops.

There’s the Great Pyramid of Cheops!

There is a Valhalla.

There’s Valhalla!

  1. If the order of the two clauses of the final sentence is reversed, the resulting sentence is awkward: "?Thor exists {and/yet} so does God." There may be a persistence effect (see Zwicky and Sadock, 1975, 30-31) at work here, such that the second clauses may have an equal order of existence or lower, but not vice versa.
  2. That is, if both clauses mean that Thor exists and does not exist in the real world.
  3. To fairly present a treatment of adjectives that differs from that cogent work of Siegel’s (1977) would require another paper. I will outline my argument here.

The spectrum of relativity mentioned at the end of §2.2.2 cuts across –does not abide by– the boundaries of adjective-types Siegel proposes –the t///e, CN/CN, and doublet classification she proposes. Thus, we see absolute t///e’s such as "four-legged" and "prior," absolute CN/CN’s such as "fake," "alleged," and "former," and absolute doublets such as "absolute." We see moderately relative t///e’s such as "tall," CN/CN’s such as "sheer," and doublets such as "red." We see true relative t///e’s such as "tall," CN/CN’s such as "main," and doublets such as "beautiful". My uses of "relative," "moderately relative," and "absolute" are not conventional and need to be formalized. They can be formalized.

Adjectives need to be a unified class syntactically. Verbs undoubtedly act differently syntactically and semantically according to their basic category type, but the Montague theory shows their unity by letting them combine with phrases of other categories to form IV-phrases.

We can reveal the lexical and syntactic unity of adjectives if we assume that they are all CN/CN’s, with a list of markers, in each adjective’s lexical entry, that not only restrain its use but show how it behaves semantically within a sentence. One marker will be to show whether or not the adjective modifies the referent; if not, it modifies the reference; or for some adjectives, it modifies either the referent or reference. There would be other markers, as in Siegel, such as proposing or dummy deletion, in addition to any others needed.

Siegel’s objections to a CN/CN theory are not cogent, as is her objection to the "mixed theory" or the "basic predicate theory." Her main objections to a basic CN/CN theory are 1) the fact deriving the following (a) sentences from the (b) sentences would pose some syntactic difficulties:

I. (a) The bison grew old

(b) The bison grew an old ▴ (▴ =bison)

II. (a) I saw the president drunk

(b) I saw the president a drunk ▴ (▴ =president)

III (a) The actor is ready

(b) The actor is a ready ▴ (▴ =actor)

and 2) it cannot account for the ambiguity of the vague reading of "good" in IV and the ambiguous reading in V:

IV. That lutist is good.

(a) That lutist is [good]t///e

(b) That lutist is a [good]CN/CN [▴ ]CN

V. That is a good lutist

(a) That is a lutist who is [good]t///e

(b) That is a [good]CN/CN lutist

Against her first objection, I contend that it would not be difficult to devise transformations that would be obligatory for adjectives with certain markers and appearing in certain environments. Her second objection would be insurmountable if it were not flawed. I do not believe that the (a) reading of V is grammatical; that is, I do not think V can mean anything other than the (b) reading. Some parallel examples will make this possibility clearer:

VI. That is a bad accountant

VII. That is an evil accountant

It is hard to argue intuitions, but I contend that VI cannot mean that whoever "that" is is a bad person, unless it is the case that if a person is bad at one thing, then that person is generally bad –which may be the case, though, for evil. Thus, we feel that VII is saying that the accountant is evil as an accountant; and if you are evil, then you are evil, no matter in what capacity you are evil. However, V and VI do not work like VII; they seem to express that the lutist and accountant are good and bad, respectively, only in their capacities as lutist or accountant. I believe this ascription is due to having "that" as subject: It merely points to its predicated noun and does not act in any greater capacity. "That" thus acts differently from "Marya" in VIII:

VIII. Marya is a beautiful dancer

Marya can assume a greater capacity than "Marya as dancer." This very important difference between "that" and "Marya" is exemplified in IX and X:

IX. That is bad

X. Marya is beautiful

IX would not be used about a person except sarcastically. Here, "that" takes on the capacity of a more "solid" noun, but that capacity is only as an inanimate object concept, or action.

Doubtless, there are drawbacks to a basic CN/CN theory. Siegel has a wealth of syntactic and semantic support for the doublet theory, all of which needs to be addressed. The whole question of universality, in Chomsky’s sense, is important, and Siegel has examples from Russian, Italian, and Ngamambo . A basic CN/CN theory is appealing, though, because of the lexical unity it affords and its characterization of adjectives as a single syntactic category. One lexical reality is that "doublet" adjectives have the same lexical meaning whether acting as a t///e or a CN/CN. "Beautiful" is relative to "women" or "people" when applied to "Marya" and relative to dancers when applied to "dancer" –not absolute in one and relative in another, as the doublet theory holds– and both applications are relative from speaker to speaker. Also, with a CN/CN theory, adjectives can be categorized according to their degree of relativity, and this categorization may have an impact on the organization of the lexicon, an issue that is not addressed often in current investigations.

Undoubtedly, more research is needed to weigh all pros and cons of the various adjective theories, but they cannot be weighed until we answer the question, "What are the ramifications of a semantic and theory,and which ramifications are needed?"

  1. There have been attempts to characterize facial beauty "scientifically" by deriving features, such as symmetry, that please the maximum number of scorers in test situations. All that such efforts show is that symmetry is seen in a face that displeases the least number of people without showing what beauty is. Further speculations that aesthetic appreciation derives from sexual/reproductive signals that may be called "beautiful" can at best–if even accurate–describe some ontogeny of one kind of beauty but nothing of the inner state the word needs for meaning. The goal is not to explain language use by the "average" or "typical" user but for every user; anything short of this goal fails.
  2. Significantly, consciousness is defined only negatively, in terms of unconsciousness –what consciousness is not, rather than by what it is.
  3. Whatever exactly happening linguistically in (51) –for example, whether a contraction of a larger construction or purely an idiomatic expression– is a good question.
  4. (51) has some resemblance to Descartes's cogito, but no Cartesian implications are intended in this discussion.
  5. There is an interesting paradox here. Beauty seems to be a property of an object –even a thought– that the speaker perceives but actually arises from an inner state in the speaker, which the speaker determines is the "reaction to beauty" state. Similarly, consciousness seems to be a property of an object –which is always a mental state– that the speaker has thought, say, is conscious, from the speaker’s viewpoint. But is it fair to say the speaker consciously assesses the thought to be conscious? This scenario triggers an infinite regress. On the other hand, then, some unconscious process is assessing that the thought is conscious, which appears to mean an unconscious process is somehow more aware and therefore conscious than a conscious process. The way out of this paradox might be to take this latter option and acknowledge that nonconscious processes often do select all kinds of patterns without conscious help, so why should conscious thoughts not simply be another kind of pattern they can recognize, without necessarily making them conscious and therefore not somehow "more conscious" than consciousness whose patterns they are classifying?
  6. Most lexemes –or "words"– are complex morphemes, made up of many morphemes, whereas a few, such as the article "the," are probably simple morphemes.
  7. "p" should not even be in A, but for the sake of the simplicity of this sample, ^P V y[^x[P(x)ß à x=y](^paper’) or "the paper" is treated as if it were an individual. This fact will not distract from the point made in this section, for a proper noun could have just as easily been substituted for "the paper," but it was important here to be consistent with sentences such as (41) and (42).
  8. Morton’s logogen model is mentioned because of a similarity to the model presented in the following sections. Specifically, Morton’s model relies on the probability of a logogen responding to a stimulus within a given context. However, the present hypothesis has a different concern.
  9. "Sufficient time" and "significant event" here are parallel in meaning to that for formation of a trace.
  10. The subscript is a reminder that a μ is in the set A that Φ operates upon.






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  1. "Commodification is used below primarily in its strict sense, i.e. to convert into a commercial product, and secondarily in its broader meaning, to turn into a thing of use or value, to instrumentalize. When used in connection with the arts, the term takes on additional overtones, usually the implication being that a work of art, literature, etc., is marred due to an overriding sense of compromise, bad faith, expediency, and/or opportunism. Such additional attributions are necessarily subjective and moralistic in nature.
  2. Cf. Dave Hickey. Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1997, and The Invisible Dragon. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993.
  3. Air Guitar. 61-72
  4. For this discussion of Kant's tripartite scheme and its relation to art, I am indebted to Thomas McEvilley in The Exile's Return. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press: 204-5
  5. McEvilley. 168
  6. Jenny Sharp, as quoted in Matei Calinescu. The Five Faces of Modernity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1987.
  7. Ibid., 238.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., 241.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., 240.
  13. Ibid., 241
  14. Clement Greenberg. "Avant-garde and Kitsch." Art and Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1965. 3-21
  15. Calinescu. 241
  16. Leo Steinberg. Other Criteria. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972. 61
  17. Ibid., 55-6.
  18. Ibid., 57.
  19. Ibid., 60.
  20. Herbert Marcuse. "Aesthetics Lecture." (Undelivered) 1978. (Typewritten) pp. 7b, 8a, 11, 13
  21. Herbert Marcuse. "Art in the One-Dimensional Society." (Typewritten) p. 11
  22. Marcuse. "Aesthetics Lecture." 5a
  23. Ibid., 11.
  24. As seen on Mr. Max's website and on the Home Shopping Network.
  25. Marcuse. "Art in the One-Dimensional Society." 16

    Marcuse. "Aesthetics Lecture." 13a

  26. Andrew Causey. Sculpture Since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 246
  27. Ibid.
  28. McEvilley. 5
  29. Air Guitar. 108
  30. Deborah Solomon. "How to Succeed in Art." The New York Times Magazine. 27 June 1992: 39
  31. G.W.F. Hegel. "The Philosophy of Fine Art." In Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics. Eds. Frank A Tillman and Steven M. Cahn. New York: Harper and Row, 1969. 215
  32. Ibid., 233.











Jim Bratone is an artist and writer living in the Dallas area. He received his undergraduate degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and conducted graduate work in Studio Art and Art History at the University of North Texas in Denton. He was recently published in the Spring-Winter 2002 issue of the Houston based art journal "Art Lies".

J. L Hinman is the Founder of Negations, and President of the Institute's Board. He received his Master's Degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Dallas in History of Ideas.

Kevin Mattson teaches American intellectual history at Ohio University
(Athens, Ohio). He has just completed a book entitled, Intellectuals in
Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970

(forthcoming). In addition, he has just edited a set of essays with Ron
Hayduk entitled Democracy's Moment: Reforming the American Political System
for the 21st Century
(forthcoming). Presently, he is editing a book of
essays on the rise of the corporate university and the academic labor movement.

Lantz Miller conducted graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is Editor of Veterinary Forum.

Dan Scoggin currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona.

Roger Thompson is an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Military Institute. He has published articles on rhetoric, American literature, and nature writing, and he is co-editor of 2 volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography on American nature writing, both of which are forthcoming.






University of South Carolina's Fifth Annual Comparative Literature Conference: The Desire of the Analysts
13 February 2003, Columbia, South Carolina, United States

Keynote Speaker: Slavoj Zizek (Lubijana)

Plenary Speakers:
Julia Kristeva (Paris VII)
Toril Moi (Duke)
Kaja Silverman (Berkeley)

Why do we continue to desire psychoanalysis? What is
the nature of that desire? What can psychoanalysis
teach us about the social arrangements of our
increasingly globalized world, and especially, about the
psychic origins of our most pressing social problems
(racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalistic violence,
terrorism, genocide)? Do psychoanalytic theories have
anything to say about the highly dispersed identities of
new information technologies?

Presentations should be broadly interdisciplinary. The
conference will end with a roundtable in which we try
collectively to pull together the threads of our discussion -
and to assess where our desires have led us. We plan to
publish selected papers from the conference in a
collection of essays with a major university press.
Please send abstracts of 20-minute papers by

30 September 2002 to:

Paul Allen Miller, Chair, Comparative Literature Program

Humanities Building,

University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC 29208.

Sponsored by the University of South Carolina College of
Liberal Arts, Program in Comparative Literature,
Department of English and associated departments and
E-mail enquiries: