Purgatory: The Greatest Doctors Go There

The Concept of Mind

The Concept of Mind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A portrait of Noam Chomsky that I too...

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Naom Chomsky

(This is a follow-on from Deconstruction: Onederringjew’s glorious route to nowhere).

The problem for interpretation, translation and communication that Derrida poses is whether it is possible to ever know what one’s mother tongue is made of through all the pulling and tearing at her syntactic joints and semantic flesh (Johnson 1985). Can the mother tongue (the source language) ever communicate her meaning through translation into another language (the target language). The problem lies deeper than the differences between languages; it lies in the mother tongue itself. How many times have you not confronted someone who speaks the same mother tongue as you –  your mother? – with “what do you mean!” The blogosphere may justifiably be described as the bogosphere : your bog and my bog; which is one of the reasons – very minor – why my blog user name is “bography.” (See my B(i)ography of truth).

What do you think is the primary function of language? Unless you’re smoking something or are the greatest linguistic scientist of all time, you will probably reply “communication” or something to that effect. But what does the greatest linguist1 and one of the ten most quoted people of all time say? The central function of language is not communication but expression (Chomsky. 1979. Language and Responsibility. Sussex: Harvester Press). “Expression,” of course, means self-expression. And Chomsky (like Derrida), of course, is Jewish. As my mother would have said of Derrida and Chomsky: they are greste dokteirim “great doctors,” but lacking one thing, the main thing; they’re not medical doctors.

Self-expression usually entails a purging. For Gilbert Ryle, this purging reaches into the very bowels of his mind – into the “ghost in his machine.” At the end of his introduction to “The concept of mind” (1959), Ryle says: “Primarily I am trying to get some disorders out of my own system. Only secondarily do I hope to help other theorists to recognise our malady and to benefit from my medicine.” Ryle’s main reason for writing is to purge his system. I suggest that this urge to expurge is also true of Chomsky and Derrida.

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge (כפר kaphar) away our sins, for thy name’s sake (Psalm 79:9).”

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge ( katharizō “catharsis”) your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).

1“Linguist” has two meanings: the non-academic meaning of “someone who knows (how to speak) several languages, and the academic meaning of someone who is a specialist in the linguistics (linguistic science).

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