TransAct 2 – Linguistic Fields

TransAct 2 – Linguistic Fields

"Which civilisation has had, to all appearances, more respect for discourse than ours? Where has it been better cherished and upheld? Where has it been more radically freed from its limitations and more widespread? It seems to me that below this apparent cherishing of discourse, below this manifest logophilia, a fear is hidden. It appears that the prohibitions, barriers, thresholds and limits are there at least partly to tame the great proliferation of discourse, to divest it of its richness and its great dangers and to organise its chaos in such as way that what is most uncontrollable is avoided; it looks as though one also wanted to cover the traces of its penetration into thinking and language. Without doubt, in our society – and probably also in all others – there is a profound logophobia, an unspoken fear of any incidents, of that mass of things which have been said, especially if violent, sudden, combative, chaotic or dangerous. Fear of the enormous, perpetual and chaotic roar of discourse." (Michel Foucault, The Order of Things 1970)

Language as the subject of thinking and theoretical constructs is certainly the central issue of the 20th century. Omnipresent in philosophies up to the present and the focus of theories in the humanities in nearly all subject areas, the development of this specialised study – in various facets (linguistic theory, linguistics, semiology etc.) – has created its own particular philosophies and theoretical fields. What makes this complex of theories so different from all other forms of knowledge acquisition is the fact that language is not only the subject of investigation and subject of reflection but also that the medium of this knowledge is language itself – reflection is language.

Beyond any universal philosophical claim – which interprets language as the "house of being" or the place which is the "sojourn for the essence of humanity" (Martin Heidegger), language remains present as a perpetual medium of socialisation and as a "constant" discourse which always takes on new forms. Language is omnipresence, also of the real. A reflection of the historical moment, the background on which history manifests itself and at the same time, the medium in which temporality and reality can be surmounted. Language is exchange – communication. However, as a medium of socialisation, language reflects social power structures and relationships, making language a medium of power. Language figures as a precondition for the possibility of society, as an elementary constituent part of relationships and fields, in practise language is the medium and a part of power relationships and thereby part of a "political field" (Michel Foucault 1978).

One approach for the presentation and interpretation of real linguistic practise in contemporary society is provided by the theoretical concept of "linguistic criticism" – as formulated by Fritz Mauthner at the turn of the century: language is defined as "action", as an activity which only exists between human beings. This concept is in the tradition of "linguistic scepticism" which has had a considerable influence on the intellectual history of modernism (the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the literature of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett etc.). In its action-orientated approach, it has formed the basis for linguistic analysis which extends up to the present day.

The subject of presentation and examination is everyday language – its usage, its "action" in public discourse. Concepts from everyday linguistic discourse are, for example, used as key words and transposed to other fields of language or interpretation and then interpreted from these new fields. This "de-territorialisation" should signify possibilities for the interpretation of terms, sentences and texts from everyday usage, should shift everyday discourse into these related but different fields and thereby open a wide and differentiated "new" semantic field. These fields of interpretation also include artistic connotations which expand the semantic field in visual dimensions – the language of signs and of images.

(Vienna 2001)