The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

July 9, 2007

Some Notes on Language

"The answer is this: war on totality, Let us attest to the unpresentable;
let us activate the differends and save the honor of the name." (Jean-
Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained.)

Watching early silent Shakespearian films on Turner Classic Movies - the
linguistic register transforms into (visual) protolanguage; protolanguage
can literally trace the visible. the earlier films (1899 - maybe 1908)
tend towards special effects constructed as if for the first time; pre-
sence is transformed and protolanguage gives way to wonder.

Agehananda Bharati writes on 'intentional language' in The Tantric Tradi-
tion - this is considered a mistranslation of samdha-bhasa by Alex Wayman
in The Buddhist Tantras: Light on Indo-Tibetan Esotericism; he translates
the same as 'twilight language' as the 'climactics' between darkness and
light. The ambiguity that arises is described by Nagarjuna in his Samdhi-
bhasa-jika who gives such examples as "is the ambrosia (amrta) of heaven,
to be drunk continuously." "is wind, is food, to be controlled." "One
should be convinced, 'these very bones of mine are my ornaments.'" "is
inhalation; and one should stop it from its violent acts." "has avikalpa
nature; also, while the wind is being inhaled there is no recitation."

Wayman states "The twilights symbolized the sensitive points in the
temporal flow when spiritual victory was possible. A special vocabulary
was created to refer to these critical points and called in the Buddhist
Tantras 'twilight language.'" "Nagarjuna's commentary suggests that the
Hevajratantra has given the basic list of 'twilight language.' These are
expressions for ambiguous yoga states, while 'non-twilight language'
refers to states of yoga that are not ambiguous." In English, the phrases
themselves are ambiguous and it's not clear whether the ambiguity
parallels or is equivalent to the ambiguity in the original. It's not
clear where the original lies. The ambiguity in English refuses to resolve
and it is this refusal that constructs an alliance with the inert. The
inert collapses whereas 'intentional language' retains mind. The collapse
is the mirror of the protolanguage of early Shakespearian silent film.

Nagarjuna, in his Letter to King Gautamiputra ("The Letter of a Friend")
states (in relation to the suffering of gods re: samsara):

"Their bodies' complexion becomes ugly, they do not like to sit, their
garlands of flowers wither, their clothes become soiled, and sweat appears
on their bodies - (all of which) never happened before. Just as on earth
the signs of dying foretell man's approaching death, so these five former
signs presage the death and transmigration of the gods dwelling in

The summarization of the commentaries states:

"As the signs of death come to human beings, so do they come to gods. When
the time comes for a god to die, these five signs appear.
(1) Though they are usually very beautiful, they lose their great beauty
and become very ugly.
(2) Though they are ordinarily never bored because of their many pleas-
ures, they become bored and do not know what to do. [...]"

(Venerable Lozang Jamspal, Venerable Ngawang Samten Chophel, Peter Della
Santina, translating/editing; the original commentaries by Jetsun Rendawa
Shonnu Lodo, the Venerable Lozang Jinpa and the Venerable Rongton Sheja

Gods are bored, besides themselves. They're wandering, useless, used up,
non-intended, not having paid sufficient attention to religious matter.
One might say they're neither here nor there, they drain twilight language
of the climactic. I'd say they're speechless, that their speech is of no
consequence, that they inhabit the silence of the silent film. If speech
participates in representation, digital division between that=which-is and
that-which=is-not, then the gods move into the analogic inert, just as
language becomes nothing whatsoever, and the climactic transforms into
that global warming annihilating all life, reincarnation karma-dharma or
not. Doesn't rebirth require a certain temperature bandwidth, between the
frozen and the plasma? What's happening here? Nothing's happening.

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