Saturday, December 02, 2006

de Certeau on "Mystical Speech"

For mysticism, unlike theology, it is not a matter of constructing a particular, coherent set of statements organized according to "truth" criteria; and, unlike theosophy, there is no interest in letting the violent order of the world reveal itself in the form of a general account (which makes personal experience irrelevant), but it is a matter of dealing with ordinary language (not the technical sectors) from an inquiry that questions the possibility of transforming that language into a network of allocutions and present alliances. A double cleavage. The initial division spearates the *said* (what has been or is stated) from the *saying* (the act of speaking [*l'acte de se parler*]). The second, produced by "spiritual" labor, cuts into the density of the world to make of it a *dialogic* discourse: *I* and *thou* seeking one another in the thickness of the same language [...] *I* and *thou*: two terms whose difference, regained and maintained, will be lost in the relation that posits them.

A certain number of mechanisms necessarily follow. Analogous to the linguistic signs of utterance, these terms do not refer to an object or entity (they are not referential or denominative), but to the agency of discourse itself. "I" is an "empty" form that simply announces the speaker. It is a "siteless site" realted to the fragility of social position or the uncertainty of institutional referents. The question addressed is not one of "competance." It targets the *exercise* of language, performance, and thus, in the strictest sense, the "reestablishment of language within the context of discourse." Of the elements in mystical texts related to utterance, I will cite only three--decisive--examples. They concern the precondition of discourse (a locus where the Spirit speaks), and the figuration of discourse as a content (an image of the "I"). In these three modes--convenetions to be established, a place of locution to circumscribed, and a representation on which to base a narrative--the realtion of a traditional language to the possibility of its being spoken is renewed. More fundamentally still, what is renewed is the relation between the signifier and the constitution of the subject: do we exist to speak to the other, or be spoken by him?"
--Michel de Certeau

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