Thursday, July 02, 2009

More Grammur

"Men do not seem to have acquired speech in order to conceal their thoughts," said Kierkegaard, thinking of Talleyrand's remark to a Spanish envoy, "but in order to conceal the fact that they have no thoughts." Pound was quite certain that scholars often use words, not to tell us what they know, but to conceal their ignorance. Heidegger emphasized the existential importance of "idle talk" (Gerede) and, in scholarly contexts, "scribbling" (Schreiberei).

"The essential business of language," said Russell, "is to assert and deny facts." I never tire of articulating the pangrammatical homologue: the existential business of language is to enjoin or denounce acts. Language is there to be understood or obeyed; the grammar embodies the underlying regularity and regulation of our statements and our commands. If logic is the grammar of the statement; pathos is the grammar of command.

And then there is our grammur, the diffident wobble of language when it is used neither to state a fact nor command an act, when it has no specifiable meaning—when it offers neither sense nor motive. But the grammur, too, has a kind of logic, a kind of passion. It begins, naturally, with irony, which is governed by grammar, conditioned by paradigms of assertion and injunction. Grammur, like kulchur, begins where we no longer care what the ironist means, when we recognize the irony only as such.

Grammur is all over the place. It governs (if that is the right word) most of what we say (i.e., mostly we are not saying anything when we speak). Poetry and philosophy lead us, with a little light, like a rushlight, with little string, like lyre's string, back from grammur to grammar.

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