Poetic Function and Logical Form, Ideal Languages and Forms of Life


This essay is an examination of the ways in epistemic and semiotic practices--or truth and representation--are inseparably coupled in complex forms of discourse. This coupling is not news to anthropologists who, for the most part, have been acutely aware of the wayward ontological status of their object of study--be they structures, meanings, power relations, or practices. However, rather than focusing on the political-economy or genealogy of "discursive regimes" which have culture, subalterns, or the Orient as their "effects," the stance assumed here is logical and aesthetic.


There are two sections to this paper. The first introduces Wittgenstein's assertion that an ideal language cannot express the "logical form" that it has in common with the state of affairs that it represents, arguing that Jakobson's characterization of the poetic trope of parallelism offers one way around this problem by internally articulating this allegedly unstateable common structure. Insofar as a representation tacitly forms the state of affairs it attempts to represent, this poetic circumvention is akin to self-doubt. And insofar as parallelism shows the inability of a single representation or any set of representations to every fully intend their referent, something I will refer to as "imperversion," this undermines the presumption of ideal languages that truth and representation are prescindable practices.


The second section moves away from these ideal language and towards the more complicated discursive practices that Wittgenstein called "forms of life." By means of the insights derived in the first section, the second section shows how the criteria of "truth," usually understood to be the concordance of representation and referent or assertion and state of affairs, is called into question. This, in effect, demonstrates that our form of life as anthropologists, in other words the protocol followed in order to appropriately assert, must be altered not so much in order to include the multiple perspectives, anti-essentialism, and preclusion of closure anticipated by the hermeneutic circle, but instead to account for the "imperversions" that lie on the logic- and life-formed path between represented and actual worlds.


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