Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Names and Naming

After the Conversation
Oct 12-13, 2007

To Raphæl

The conversation quickly boiled down to the point that engrosses philosophers everywhere: the outside (is) the inside. Actually, it is that point, where, to echo McLuhan, after centuries of insane expansion in the name of science and conquest and "spreading the light", Western society is finally coming to grips with the simple realisation no one dared to acknowledge before. (Or perhaps it is that no one bothered to even consider it.) It is that question which would have pulled the rug from underneath the Conquistadors and the Columbuses. It is this: even if the world is all that you make it to be, it doesn't change anything.

This simple realisation—that the external—is always the other, and always remains so—has been excluded from the discussions of Western man. Why so? Precisely because the other is not open to view, it cannot be seen, so it probably cannot be discussed. And thus, we had to wait for all these years to finally proclaim the beginning of a "postmodernity", and formally declare the death of expansionist civilization as we know it.

[We shall conveniently set aside the political truth behind this false position: it only signifies an end of expansionist activity in the domicile, but condones and even encourages expansionist activity on the new wannabe colonies (post-colonies?). But we shall not discuss that, this is not a political treatise. Perhaps one Mr Chomsky will do it in one of his serial Bush-whacking episodes.]

We shall, for the sake of clarity alone, assume that the world—our waking world—is divided into two. If you cannot make that distinction—that difference, if you would have it that way—then we can make no further noises. So we shall concur—the world divides into the Self and the Other. (It is of complete indifference to me whether you capitalize or not. The actual idea is that there is a Knower and the Known. Like an arrow has a point and a tail.] This is purely a pedagogic exercise, and I shall call it Vedanta for the uninitiated. We shall begin.

Here it is.

1. The pristine world—untouched by man and his consciousness—is one.

1.1. What is pristine, knowing no burden—is the world.

2. The waking world divides into two.

2.1. The world is divided by consciousness.

2.2. The division assumes the concept of the other. What has consciousness—us—is the knower. On the other side we assume those that do not have consciousness—the other.

2.3. This is the difference.

2.4. There being an other—another—necessitates naming.

2.4.1. It is precisely the difference that necessitates naming, and no other.

2.4.2. Names are also excuses for being different. (Logically, two things having the same characteristics can have different names and vice-versa.)

3. Names are not constructs of language.

3.1. Names are appropriated for their own use by different things. Language is just one of those.

3.1.1. For example, a musical note serves the purpose of a name in music.

3.1.2. Notation serves to appropriate the idea of a musical note to the print media, which is quite easily transmitted non-musically (that is, not through hearing).

3.1.3. Similarly, the print and the photograph serve to disseminate other naming conventions.

3.2. The idea of naming… is to present a picture.

3.2.1. We picture the world to ourselves through names.

3.2.2. Is it a coincidence that two people’s worlds differ by so much… whereas the world is just one? No, there are as many worlds as there are people, as many worlds as each can think of at different times, as many fragmentary worlds, eidolons.

4. Names are unnatural.

4.1. In nature we encounter things, we do not encounter names.

4.2. Just as a tree does not need a name: for the native, it is always a tree that stands beside the big pool of water, and so on.

4.3. In the same way as the same tiger attacks the native and his family year after year, and year after year, for generations, the ritual of beating it back is repeated.

4.4. Nature primarily does business with the things themselves, nature does not like dealing with substitutes and proxies.

4.5. That names are unnatural is revealed by the fact that we, to ourselves, are consciousnesses, not names. I don’t call me by name, I am, I know, I am not a name or an idea. Even if I cannot know or feel, I am still that which experiences, endures, and asks all these questions and tries to answer all of them.

4.6. Names are superfluous.

5. Names are human constructs.

5.1. Names are abstractions.

5.2. Names are primarily tags. They are identification marks.

5.2.1. They are nothing more. (What’s in a name, anyway?)

5.3. The naming process vulgarizes things. It takes something away from things, irretrievably.

5.3.1. This is the price one pays for culture.

5.3.2. We have too many things and not enough forms.

5.4. Naming destroys the thing.

5.4.1. With naming, the thing loses its identity: it is identified with others like it.

5.4.2. The thing is tagged for classification, it is not longer individual, it is grouped according to classification. In the case of human beings, a name is a tag, an identification mark that serves to indicate where one person belongs.

5.4.3. With human beings, a name carries with it the historical ring—burden—of race, colour, language, ethnicity, political conviction, and all other irrelevant connotations. This happens because we have too many people and too few names.

5.5. Naming is essentially a process of identification.

5.5.1. Naming seeks to dissolve differences on the one hand, and still keep out the other.

5.5.2. Naming enforces a group structure.

5.5.3. Naming presupposes the other, and as such, naming is antagonistic to nature.

5.5.4. Things of the same name band together. But, Birds of the same feather flock together, even without names. So the name is obviously naming something which it is superfluous to name. The name… stands for the other.

5.6. Naming is a human construct which attempts to recreate the togetherness of a group.

5.7. The naming process is one of reduction—reduction with loss of detail and clarity. Essentially, naming is destructive.

6. Naming is the foundation stone for a man.

6.1. It is the stone on which he places up the ladder before he begins his ascent.

6.2. Naming enables him to notice differences.

6.3. Differences quickly tell him what advantages he possesses, and what drawbacks he should cover up.

6.4. Only men need a name—this is because he lacks both in the material (lack of physical strength) so he has to resort to naming to intimidate and thus protect his lair—and also because he wants the security of the group to retract to. He wants to identify himself with something when he’s really in the dumps.

6.5. As he ascends the ladder, as he realizes his name getting famous, respected, even feared, the man realizes that he is in fact transcending his name. He becomes a legend of sorts, a practical god, and thus he defeats his name, outlives himself, but in the end—when he dies is finally known only by his name before even that is forgotten. Thus, a man fashions an entire life around a name—his name.

7. It is interesting to look at the devices nature has devised for the lower life forms that do not have the artifice of the name.

7.1. What they work with is not a workaround, it is the real thing.

7.2. When they call out, they do not call out a name, they call, and they are answered by those nearby.

7.3. Their call is not a specific call. The call is only for someone of their kind to recognize and respond to. The calls serve the same purpose, but the calling… is not selfish, it is communal.

7.4. Calling, in our case, is calling a name, picking someone out, it is picking someone we like.

7.5. Naming is selection.

7.6. Naming is also destruction. It is also exclusion.

7.6.1. We cannot name everything in our call, we cannot call everything—everyone—by the same name.

7.6.2. We cannot just say, “Come!”—it simply won’t do because most of the time we only want to deny.

7.6.3. Naming is denial. Naming is the denial of the other.

8. Naming delimits choice.

8.1. Naming stands for everything rational, clear, and planned out. Naming is the basis of description and of science. Naming is the basis of material progress. (If you name a thing you own that thing.)

8.2. By the same token, naming is the name of emotional barrenness. The act of naming trivializes, and it no longer holds forth promise to the spirit—the thing acquires material characteristics which it might not actually have. Naming… changes things, often for the worse.

8.3. By introducing clarity, the act of naming also says, that something is similar to something. This excludes, and also excludes us from entertaining enigmatic thoughts about the named thing, and this essentially reduces its worth. It familiarizes itself. It identifies itself to us through a name we choose to give it. It lowers itself in our gaze.

8.4. By the strict stipulation that identification be done through naming only—and thus naming a prerequisite for social contract and ‘making sense’ in general—we reduce everything to the level of man. We reduce other peoples to our own level.

8.5. We vulgarize and we appropriate the riches. Is it any wonder that the most natural people have a vocabulary of a few dozen words whereas the English language has literally tens of thousands of words, the majority of which has been adopted from other languages? It cannot simply be the “need to express oneself” to another Englishman? (And surely no Englishman could know all of those words, too?)

9. Names make themselves manifest in the wakeful state.

9.1. It is often the case that we have vivid dream which we find unable even to describe once we wake up. The reason could be that there are no names in dreams, only flashes, and we are not even sure if these are images. (I suspect it’s just the rush of chemicals.)

9.2. Dreams are primeval, even animals do dream—with only the interpretation—which begins once we set down to describe the dream—it is not necessary to begin to ‘analyze’ (with no apologies whatsoever, what a monstrous idea!—quite Freudian) it, the description itself being interpretation and thus useless objectively.

9.3. When we name the things in the dream, when we give it structure, we find that the dream… is lost. The dream itself is lost—it’s a most disconcerting idea that you went to sleep and made your sleep into a test bed for a ‘scientific’ exercise. (It surely is not. Then all animals, while they are asleep, are guinea pigs and so on…)

9.4. What remains is not dream but interpretation.

9.4.1. The content of that interpretation is a set of names which are bounded by what we know, for we cannot name an unknown thing, or use an unknown name.

9.4.2. Since the interpretation is bounded, there is no hope of objectivity. (It is bounded by our subjectivity.)

9.4.3. Since the interpretation is not objective, it holds value only for the dreamer.

10. In the act of knowing, the known is lost.

10.1. The knower burdens himself with a false sense of enrichment.

10.2. Since the thing that is known is irretrievably lost, the act of knowing becomes one of appropriation.

10.3. Unfortunately, this exactly describes the process of learning.

11. Learning (knowing) is appropriation.

11.1. Nothing can be learnt (known) with certainty.

11.1.1. If something is known with certainty, it only this: that you, the knower, are known with certainty—which is, of course, not such a useful piece of knowledge.

11.1.2. Actually, we are forced to use the term “certainty” by habit: learning does not enforce such a condition. We have been conditioned, from childhood, that as we grow up, we will have “better” knowledge (some use the much better word, ‘grasp’) of things, so that one fine day we will be in possession of ‘certain’ (the final word) knowledge. That is, we sincerely hope that the knowledge will stop here, with us.

11.1.3. We forget that knowledge is an ideal (and that we are human).

11.2. Learning is where we compromise the other—the unknown—with our own. It is where we compare the unlearnt with what we know. It is where we reluctantly and with an insane hope acknowledge that nothing can be known with certainty, but useful knowledge can be extracted to master things and processes.

11.2.1. In such a compromise, what is compromised is not the unknown but the known. (Because we cannot modify the unknown, which is beyond us, and denotes a state of things which is always ‘the unknown’, or ‘unknowable’, as the more modest among us will have it. But some people refuse to be silent.)

11.2.2. Learning is how we manufacture structure. Structure… is unreal.

11.3. Structure (order) is the rational man’s curse.

11.3.1. Lack of structure is what causes the aborigine to die in a jail. It does not strike him as abnormal. To him, life is not something that connects birth and death; life is.

11.3.2. Structure is what makes a rational man insist that everything in the world can be known. (At least, they would insist that everything can be known to a prodigiously quick-witted ideal man. We always seem to dream about reducing the entirety of knowledge in a ampoule-shaped atomic memory device, which can be routed to the brain of a deserving ‘master’ human being in an enormous transfer of stupefying mental energy. Flash Gordon, perhaps? And to what end—to save the earth from other men!)

12. The truth does not exist.

12.1. So—what do we learn, or what do we hope to?


I dashed this off in 95 minutes fresh from the telephone. I took two breaks in between, one to eat my supper (quite late at 1:00 am) and then to go out for a small walk. Apart from that it was a single effort, as it required one single effort.

The main secion was drafted in MS Word, as it helps you to number the thing neatly.

One more thing about the sections and numbering: I'm not too satisfied with it, but I was really concentrating on the contact, putting things down, rather than bother about the logic of the numbering or how things connected within. The basic problem I am referring to is really, "The Outside...(is) The Inside", as Derrida says in Grammatology. I have done it in a more oriental way, so to speak. The originary philosophical problem is, of course, "How can the knower be known?" We have rephrased it here to mean, "How can the knower know and there still be something to know?"

This post has the telephone conversation to thank for [2525].

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