The contradiction in the intentional structure of the imperative between the speaker’s and the hearer’s intentions reflects the fundamental asymmetry of the speech situation, which emerges at this stage, and which is not so much resolved in the higher forms as made explicit and thereby deferred. This asymmetry was in fact present from the beginning, even independently of the assumption that not all the members of the group grasped the meaning of the sign at the same moment.
In the originary event, each individual’s participation in designating/representing the sacred object, although productive of the same intentional structure of deferred desire/sacralization as that of the others, was at the same time an imaginary possession of the object at the others’ expense. From the vantage point of the imperative, however, and a fortiori from that of the higher forms, we may now express this asymmetry in more formal terms, because the significance expressed by these forms is no longer, as with the ostensive, inherent in scenic presence but is mediated by the desire of the speaker. This mediation occurs in its most overt form in the imperative; in the declarative it is discounted but not simply eliminated.
The “objective” formulation of the distinction between speaker’s and hearer’s intention requires that we consider linguistic presence as a virtual relation actualized voluntarily by the speaker but entered into by the hearer as a duty incumbent on him qua member of the community. In the originary event this enforcement was experienced as incarnate in the sacred object. But the deritualization of the modern world has not lessened this dissymmetry. On the contrary, the rise of the media, and more recently, of the social media, has tended only to accentuate it. Thus the speaker chooses to speak, or for example to tweet, but the listener/viewer cannot help but view or listen, collectively if not individually. It is not that virtual linguistic presence confers on the speaker a permanent advantage; the community imposes appropriateness-conditions that if violated will be punished a posteriori. But he benefits a priori from a presumption of significance. Viewed from without, speaker and hearer in the speech situation are equally present to one another, yet the speaker need not justify his role to the hearer otherwise than through the linguistic representation expressed in his utterance.
For the hearer, however, the representation does not appear alone, but as spoken by the speaker-speaking-the-utterance, and thus the hearer’s intentional model of reality in the speech-situation is complicated by the addition of a supplementary factor. The speaker intends only the linguistic model, but the hearer intends the speaker’s intention. If this were not so, the communication situation would not be “intentional,” that is, representational at all. To understand the speech act as something other than an instinctual/involuntary signal, it must be seen as an intentional actualization of linguistic presence. On this point it might be said that hearer and speaker are in accord, since the latter is certainly aware of his own intentionality. But the speaker does not intend this intentionality; it is not an element of his representation. Were this not so, the speech act would suffer from infinite regression, as do in fact all theories that attempt to propose a completely symmetrical (or “metaphysical”) model of the communication situation. Linguistic presence is not a “channel” of communication, and although for the higher linguistic forms the channel analogy is an adequate approximation in most cases, it cannot help us to understand the origin of these forms.
The speaker’s model of the communication situation must be incomplete if it is to exist at all. Thus he acts as though a “channel” indeed existed into which to pour the information he desires to communicate, whereas for the hearer, the actualization of this “channel” depends on the intentional act of the speaker.
Before pursuing our formalization of the speaker-hearer asymmetry and the analysis of the dialectic of linguistic forms on which it directly bears, we should dispose of a potential epistemological objection. We communicate through language and conceive of this communication as “transparent” to our thoughts, the proof being that we can always add qualifications to our previous statements; in Peirce’s terms, to every sign there may correspond an “interpretant” that may be made as explicit as we like. But if in some undefined sense this is not true and language is indeed “opaque,” then there is no vantage point from which we may speak of the inherent contradictions of linguistic communication, because our own discourse must remain subject to the limitation we purport to denounce. This objection, then, has a double expression, “optimistic” and “pessimistic,” the one “metaphysical” and traditional, accepting philosophy’s presumption that the declarative proposition is the “natural” form of the “expression of ideas,” the other, post-Nietzschean and nihilistic, using language only to deconstruct its earlier pretensions.
In response to this double objection, I would defend both the need for and the possibility of a humanistic theory of representation—the first, in answer to the “optimists” who find it unnecessary, the second, to the “pessimists” who think it inconceivable. The transparency of communication does not consist in the sharing of a “pure intuition” but simply in the capacity of language to include indefinitely many levels of metalanguage—what in a somewhat different context Chomsky calls “recursion.” This capacity is virtual and by definition cannot be exhausted; what we say on any subject can never be a definitive “last word.” And precisely because this virtuality is an element of the intentional structure of our discourse, our communication remains “transparent,” that is, open to explanation and eventual refutation. But this condition of language is not contained in the extant works of language; it consists rather in our capacity for further construction on them.
In particular, the originary hypothesis is the realization of a possibility latent, but certainly not preexisting, in the discourses of social science. From its perspective, neither these discourses nor their linguistic structures preexisted in a timeless metaphysical realm called “language,” but all were constructed on the basis of earlier forms, the earliest of which is the object of the hypothesis. Linguistic “transparency” was not available a priori, but became a virtual reality through the construction of the general form of dialogue, which is itself based, as we shall see, on the preexisting form of the declarative sentence. “Transparency” being merely potential openness to further discourse, it does not abolish the original asymmetry of the communication situation, but permits its effects to be indefinitely deferred. And only once the founding hypothesis has been made explicit—providing an epistemological link between the subject matter and the theory that purports to explain it—can the discourse that performs this task properly claim for itself the name of science.
From this perspective, the logical impossibility of complete self-inclusion does not prevent the construction of forms to resolve whatever contradictions may arise, and it is to our analysis of this process of construction that we now return.
The speaker intends his words as a model of reality; the hearer intends them as intended by the speaker. This opposition can be expressed schematically in very simple terms. If S says “X,” then
Speaker’s model: X
Hearer’s model: S (X)
It is important to note, however, that this schema applies only to mature language, because only by means of the declarative sentence can the “hearer’s model” be explicitly formulated. At the elementary stages, although the hearer realizes that the words are being pronounced intentionally by the speaker, he cannot say this himself, and therefore cannot conceive that his model of the situation might possess the same objective status as that presented by the speaker. To briefly recapitulate the preceding stages of linguistic evolution in terms of the schema just proposed demonstrates its unavailability to the forms of “elementary language.”
In the originary event, the participants are presumed to experience, in emitting the sign representing the sacred object, an imaginary participation in the mediating or presence-compelling power of this object. Each individual’s ostensive gesture is both a (linguistic) sign of the object and a (ritual) sign of his participation in the communal attention to it. The model of the central sacred object is reinforced by the deferral of action within the communal presence around it. Thus the significance of the speaker’s utterance is fully guaranteed by the community. Conversely, from the hearer’s standpoint, the intentionality of every speaker coincides with that by which the community as a whole establishes itself, through the deferral of action within the nonviolent scenic presence mediated by the sacred object.
Yet on each individual scene of representation, the symmetry of the communal intention is disrupted by originary resentment, the supplement to appetite that, once the sacralization of the central figure has been established, leads the group from its originary stasis to the controlled violence of the collective division of this figure in the sparagmos, in which each receives an “equal” portion. A more synthetic term for this combination of appetite and the frustration occasioned by its (sacred) object’s withdrawal is desire.
The above schema provides the means both for understanding and discounting the element of desire in linguistic intention, although the participants in the originary event neither possess nor have need of these means, given the symmetry of the situation mediated by the sacred. Desire nevertheless exerts a dialectical pressure on representation by conferring on the sign the power to evoke the appetite-deferring significance of the object, eventually bringing about the lowering of the threshold of significance to include other, profane objects, while in a parallel development, the sacred guarantee of the communal scene of representation is reenacted and reinforced through ritual.
From the standpoint of our schema, this evolution takes place as though the individual-as-hearer were reinterpreting the others-as-speakers’ originary designation of the sacred object as the expression not of a collective but of an individual choice of referent, so that the ostensive-in-general can come into existence to represent profane as well as sacred objects. The sacred power of the object was one with its desirability. But what is its “desirability” other than the fact of its designation by others? The dialectic of desire appears here fully mystified; language at this stage offers no possibility of representing its own operation, even in others. The individual not only cannot see the beam in his own eye, he is blind to the one in the eye of his neighbor.
But the spectacle of this blindness illuminates for us the entire dialectic of representational forms, which can be seen—as Girard first saw it—as a progression in the understanding of desire. At the same time, it permits us to grasp the element of anthropological truth in the enduring notion of the lost paradise of original presence, the falling away from which was described by Heidegger as the “forgetting of being” coeval with the institution of metaphysics, the world-view that considers the declarative proposition as at the same time independent of and transparent to its content.
Stripped of its theoretical reinforcement in philosophical doctrine, “metaphysics” is simply the non-recursive understanding of propositional form as expressed in our schema; that is, capable of seeing desire in the representations of others, but not in our own, and therefore not in the form itself—treating the declarative sentence as not merely originary, but natural.
When desire was born in the originary event, its blindness was symmetrical and therefore “innocent.” The higher forms of language mark a fall from grace where each speaker begins to suspect the “subjectivity” of his fellows. This suspicion is a step on the road to the objectivity of scientific discourse, and well as an incentive for the construction of ever-more-powerful modes of deferral.
The second stage in our dialectic, the passage from the ostensive to the imperative, requires less comment. Here we are much closer to the opposition represented in our schema, because the hearer of the inappropriate ostensive can only treat it as an imperative if he understands it as the expression of the speaker’s desire. The imperative sign denotes an absent referent, significant to the speaker, in contrast to the ostensive, which designates a phenomenon of communal significance. But if in the ostensive the role of individual desire was neglected, in the imperative it is exaggerated. In the ostensive, the speaker’s own intention is absorbed into that of the community, and his original initiative forgotten in the collective repetition of his utterance. In the imperative, quite the opposite is the case: whatever the referent’s communal significance, it can appear only through the mediation of the desire of the individual subject. This opposition reflects the polarity between the presence/absence of the referent. This polarity is all the more striking when the absence is only relative to the speaker, as when he requests that a nearby but “distal” object be placed in his immediate possession, making it unambiguously clear that what is desired is not the mere presence of the object but its appropriation by the speaker. In the imperative model, the linguistic presence of the referent reflects its worldly absence, and by responding to the “inappropriate ostensive,” the hearer demonstrates that he understands that “possession” in language is a sign of desire for real possession.
If we examine the ostensive-imperative progression in terms of our schema, we observe that, if the ostensive utterance is interpreted not as S(X) but simply as X, the imperative interpretation must be expressed as something like S→X. The absence of a parenthesis represents the lack of a formal barrier between the speaker and the referent, so that his utterance is interpreted by the hearer not as the speaker’s significant model of reality, but as the hearer’s significant model of his reality.
This functionalization of the imperative in turn tends to limit its referents to objects whose appropriation by the speaker is considered felicitous. It thus serves to “educate” desire as no longer a purely subjective phenomenon but one capable of being communicated in linguistic presence and consequently obliged to take criteria of communal significance into account. Thus a point of equilibrium is established at which the imperative speaker can continue to profit from his command of linguistic presence to realize his desire, but where his desires are functionalized in the service of the community, making them more likely to be adhered to. From the standpoint of intentional structure, however, the external functionality of the imperative request is irrelevant; the speaker’s desire as expressed by the imperative is “significant” by definition. Whence the disequilibrium that will lead to the emergence of the declarative form.
To be continued…