The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Note on Hsun Tzu

"By saying, 'There are no names necessarily appropriate of themselves,'
Hsun Tzu means that at the time when names were first invented, a certain
name was used to indicate a certain thing according to the free will of
those who made these designations. For example, men agreed with one
another that they would call a dog by the word 'dog,' yet at the beginning
they might just as conceivably have agreed upon the word 'horse' to
designate it. When these designations had once been agreed upon, however,
so that people used a certain name to indicate only that certain thing,
this became customary. Thereupon names and the things they designated had
their necessary appropriateness, one to the other, and could no longer be
changed at pleasure. Even when the names were first being made, however,
at the time when 'there were no names necessarily appropriate of
themselves,' there were nevertheless some that were 'especially
felicitous.' Names which could be readily pronounced, for example, would
be more felicitous than difficult sounding names." (from A History of
Chinese Philosophy, Fung Yu-Lan, 1952) - Saussure two millennia early.
But what is missing is the institutionalization of names - for example,
who or what declares the 'Axis of Evil'? The distortion of names is the
reification of an empathetic magic in which earlier designations resonate
with later; the result is a population, ourselves, unsure of any meaning
whatsoever, or even if meaning is ever applicable - perhaps it is nothing
more than an operator, a function ...


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