Monday, 14 July 2014

Images come before words

"Images come before words and images are created by passions, and passions are not analogous in men under different circumstances."

(From the essay on J G Hamann, by Isaiah Berlin in "Two Enemies of the Enlightenment")

I am interested again in the account Berlin gives, in this essay on Hamann, of Herder's prize-winning essay (Herder as follower of Hamann) that denies an idea emerging from certain contemporary French philosophes that language emerged from some sort of biological or physiological need: 

"human beings seeking to communicate, seeking to express themselves, and finding that incoherent noises and gestures didn’t perform this particular task sufficiently well, proceed in some almost conscious sense – almost, not quite – to invent language exactly as one invents a chair, a table, the screw, as one uses fire"

Herder opposes this: thinking itself is done in symbols, and therefore language must have emerged with thought.

"the whole systematic use of certain marks on paper, or certain sounds, for certain purposes could not have been used by human beings until and unless their consciousness, their reason, their faculties had developed to a certain degree; and when their faculties, their consciousness and their reason had developed to this degree, then the very development of the consciousness and the faculties to this degree was in fact the use of symbolism."
I'm interested in the similarities here with the very little I know of the work of Wifrid Bion, in which (so I understand) he explores this very development into symbolising (that is, thinking) during infancy.

I believe the process of symbolising can be cut off, the innate gesture can be stolen by the parent who envies the child and, it seems to me, thinking can become something removed from the life of the individual. I relAte this to the notion in Winnicott (if not also Bion) of the "false self".

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