CONVOCATION: THE FAILURE OF TONGUE AND TEXT
for Dillon McDaniel
The convocation of language adheres to sound and does not make a lie of it. However it is a fallen dispensation. What sound means immediately is not what language means, even when it is resounded. We might assert that sound does not of itself mean, that meaning is not what language does, but that would be a superstitious assertion. It is based on a bias inherent in alphabetic literacy and the word.
There are many kinds of literacy, but alphabetic literacy carries the bias of bondage to the written word. This written word became a sound that is turned inward, so that the reader is outwardly silent even though he or she is hearing the sounds of the words in his or her head. Since literacy was originally limited to a few educated people, or further back, to the inventors of the script, the written word took the same position of authority as the word declared literally from on high by a speaker who was either the ruler or the spokesman for the ruler. We have merely replaced an old superstition with a new one.
The difference between these two superstitions may be minimal, but in the case of the first one (sound) the bias originates in the notion that one is subject to a power that is ultimately beyond anyone’s control since sound is an obvious aspect of nature and nature lies beyond the control of any single individual or group of any species. In the case of the second (the word, and eventually the written word), by placing a sound upon a phenomenon (some aspect of nature) the phenomenon becomes subject to the sound (or so the sounder believes). More significantly perhaps, the inscription we agree to associate with the sound placed upon the phenomenon renders it subject to the individual or group that uses the sound and its proscribed drawing.
What has actually been gained? Isn’t the result the same as a heap of stones – sounds/words stacked upon sounds/words to summon the idea of subjection or authority? The difference is that the position of authority has moved. It now resides in the individual or group rather than in something beyond them. With the written, unsounded and private word that position is intensified and located in the individual alone. The authority speaks through one’s eyes into one’s mind and it is one voice inside one individual, at least one voice at a time.
Power lies in the writer of the word (or the individual that dictates it) and to the writer is granted all power he is able to acquire by the persuasion of his writing. Anyone that can make the sounds that assert authority over the phenomenon has gained some level of power, but one who is able to inscribe those sounds and then silently transfer those sounds into the mind of someone the writer has never met has acquired even more power. The more persuasively one writes the more power one has. The easiest route is to make large, sweeping statements, statements that will overwhelm the reader and empower the writer with ultimate authority to arrange the very thoughts of the reader. Who can blame the reader when he forgets the origin of the word in nature and grants a greater authority to the word in (apparent) isolation?
The word becomes something more than natural – it becomes supernatural. By a trick of sound and inscribed gesture one has transferred the position from which to be superstitious from the affect of powerlessness before nature outside to the illusion of power over nature held inside and that power is centered in the one that uses those inscribed gestures/words as a means to and expression of authority. After millennia of failure with an altar of stones (or other rituals) another method of failure was devised that provided a renewed means to the illusion of authority. The real problem remains however, the convocation.
What biological necessity makes us subject to the convocation – the calling together? Is it the same necessity that causes the herd to close ranks or draws the flock back to the nest? If it is the same then all we have gained is an illusion. And to the extent that we disconnect this abstracted convocation from its organic impulse we are subject to the illusion instead of the impulse. This frees the illusion to behave as if it were not bound by biology or nature, but lives according to its own laws – laws that can only be discovered by prolonged immersion in the illusion. Reality, the actual world, becomes lost to us and only the illusion can validate it, if and when it so chooses.
We are subsumed in a carefully delineated stream of failures. So much so that other visual stimuli, whether observed in the natural world, or abstracted into artificial space, are read and validated in the same sequential manner as words. Even when those stimuli arrive chaotically we understand them by reducing them to the orderly procession of internalized sounds that are learned from the written word. When Derrida said, “everything is a text,” he spoke to the very heart of our manner of intelligence, he adequately stated our condition. How easy is it for us to mistake a description of our condition for the fundamental condition of everything? Derrida did not forget that the organic, nature, preceded the text, but the human condition behaves as if it has completely forgotten. To the extent that it has forgotten it is rooted in a failure at the fundamental levels. It is by no means the first such failure, but it may be the most efficacious, and most universal.
To fail at utilizing this failure means to fall into abject mental collapse because one has neither connection with the world the failure has created or the actual world that lies behind it. This creates a desperate situation. Desperation itself becomes the convocation and the anxiety of the desperate is the language that attempts to resolve the situation and so another level of forgetting occurs.
We see then that ideologies born of a fundamental failure generate ever more distant, and therefore desperate, ideologies until the convocation is not calling us together, but calling us to a madness that feels like absolute, overarching, universal reality. Ultimately only disaster can result and disaster unfolding exponentially can only result in the drive toward extermination – initially of the subsumed other, but eventually to the self as well.
Like a perpetually mutating virus in human perception, failure is the convocation by which nature, perceived as chaos and death, is restored. We can only fail for so long before failure delivers us into a condition where failure and success are irrelevant. As Robert Duncan said in the closing verse of his last poem, a verse that was actually a vast opening, “the imagination alone knows this condition.”
Jake Berry 3.2006