The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

September 4, 2006

Disordered thinking through the origin of language (I'm in quotation) -

... "I know this sounds ridiculous - but I'm on to something. If the body
is hairless, then for example mud or blood will 'stick' to it - be
obvious. Of course this is the beginning of symbolization - it would
appear comical, or different, one person to another - it's a miniscule
step - not even a step - to drawing something on the face, body, etc. So
in this case, I'd bet that writing predates language, or at least the two
were contingent / contiguous in origin. From writing on the body - it's
not difficult to see how signs of that sort would be connected to sounds
by mimesis - even if the original sounds were nothing more than laughing
or crying.

"One possible 'gesture' in this direction - the markings on Acheulian
pebbles... Even if spoken language didn't arise in this fashion, certainly
writing did. (Think of proto-language).

... 'For me it's an originary story much like Freud's of the sons killing
the father - but that remains a fornm of colonialism, assumption that it
is somehow a-culture, that it is abstract from an event in a particular
direction. I think of it as nothing more than perhaps mud or paste acci-
dently in the form of a third eye or smile, something to be imitated;
primates imitate, as do mocking-birds. From this would come the coagulat-
ion of signs, repetitions; laughter would be the first word. With Tran duc
Thao, gesture is out, away from the body, pointing towards the hills -
_this_ is where you hunt, for example, _behind_ the hill, something more
than pointing. But it's the other way around I think - pointing, gestur-
ing, sounding, would be from one to the other. It's only natural that this
would occur, and occur, often, and tend towards culture. Culture is
dependent on memory, on transmission of memory; bird-songs are cultural in
this sense. But in the case of the body, the skin of the body, it becomes
a _sign,_ something which may be written on the body, off the body, in the
sand, on a rock - those pebbles again - etc. What occurs at Lascaux etc.
is peeled _off_ the body.

"I don't think anything 'more' than this is necessary to explain writing
or language per se; spoken language would be a descendent of associated
sounds, I assume beginning with laughter. Empathetic behaviour comes into
play here as well; a wound and its figuration may be imitated as a form of
healing - this relates to shamanism, etc.

"In other words, there is a constellation of behaviours, repetitions,
intensifications, here - not only in the present (as in Lingis for
example) but in the past as originary. And this plays into the writing,
for that matter, that I did in Textbook of Thinking, etc., in which the
obscene is analyzed, plays a role (it plays a role in the obscene itself)
- the obscene and its obscene relation to the skin - think of the obscene
as a form of _pun_ in terms of physiognomy - it has a relationship to
linguistic puns, undermining transmissions through arousals, and so forth.
I think all of this 'fits.'

"As a friend pointed out, human infants have a propensity for babble that
becomes organized (one might say within a linguistic regime and commun-
ality) into languaging; the infant grows 'into' language. I think this
babbling - as well as the plasticity of our vocal cords - developed after
writing, or subsequent but close to, writing - that hairlessness, with
whatever survival value this might have given us - was prior, or that
reading the body as written increased, became culturally instutionalized,
with increasing hairlessness.

"It is not that 'the body is a text'; it is that 'a text is a body.'

"Re: Below - certainly dogs have faces, facial expressions (which may play
into what you say; we should go back and look at Darwin's book on this."


On Mon, 4 Sep 2006, Charles Baldwin wrote in response:

It's not certain to me that animals have faces or they do only because
we have faces. So the human hairless face is the first appearance - both
face as features and other, and also as receptive surface (perhaps then
becoming sand or bark). Comical: because it moves, because it expresses,
because of its familiarity. Then, from this, writing other parts of the
body too - so incisions, tatoos, etc.

A face gets expression and to produce the sound, so there's a kind of
mini-signifying machine there. All other body surfaces are in relation
to it. So, a particular relation between inscription, surface, and

Laughing, crying, moaning, sighing at the origin: these are relations
between very specific and irreducible bodily states and very specific
expressions. They express but they are deep as well.


And later:

Just back from hiking in the Otter Creek Wilderness. It occurs to me
that the written face does not signify but expresses just as rock on
dirt / or a river through a woods / express. I would be as comfortable
saying the rock on the streamside writes face as I would the other way


"As a footnote - this ties directly into the abject - in the sense that
it's dirt, scars, wounds, smears, smudges, scratches, abrasions, feces,
etc. that find their way onto the body - coding - incipient symbolization
- not only tends towards memory and repetition/transmission, but also
towards therapeutic - not that the body is cleansed by language, but that
it's circumscribed (i.e. no longer fissured)."

Steve Irwin the "Crocodile Hunter" died at 44 today. For years he has been 
an inspiration to me and many others; Azure and I donated to his conserva- 
tion organization, even while we've been struggling. More than a showman, 
he brought conservation - and conservation of reptiles, invertebrates, 
etc. - home to millions of people. Given the endangered status of so many 
animals on the planet, his presence was a gift. He'll be badly missed.

- Alan

blog at - for URLs, DVDs, CDs, books/etc. see - contact, -
general directory of work:
Trace at: - search "Alan Sondheim"

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.