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Since Ferdinand de Saussure, language has been considered to be composed of signs in which signifier and signified stand in an entirely conventional, arbitrary relationship. Conceived in this manner, language floats ‘above’ reality. There is no way to understand text except through context, so that meaning is forever ‘deferred’ (Derrida).
But what if the relationship between language and reality were much closer? There is a tradition which claims that reality itself was ‘spoken’ into existence. It is therefore like a text that can be read: medieval thinkers called this the ‘book of nature’. The Judaeo-Christian idea that language is creative has a parallel in the contemporary theory of ‘performative speech acts’ (J. L. Austin).
In our own time, Heidegger has spoken of language as the ‘house of being’. Careful listening to language, especially through etymological analysis, uncovers foundational experiences in which reality has revealed itself. But philosophy may no longer be capable of such listening. For Heidegger, then, the ‘task of thinking’, after the ‘end of philosophy’, is poetic.
Readings will include Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, Augustine, Bonaventure, Austin, and Heidegger as well as some poets (Stefan George, Leonard Cohen).