Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Clew of Memory

The whole system of the languages of man is but the external and visible copy and true mirror of his inmost consciousness. The different epochs of their ancient production are but so many terms in the progression observed by the human mind in its development. Consequently, language in general, as the clew of memory, and tradition, which binds together all nations in their chronological series and succession, is, as it were, the common memory and organ of recollection for the whole human race.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr., pp. 395-396.


  1. Itinérante1:56 AM

    Brandon, do you think there is a universal language?

  2. Brigitte Darnay3:50 PM

    The absence of such universal language is perhaps the cause of endless war, conflict and misunderstanding. I wonder therefore if it is possible to rely on language as "the external and visible copy and true mirror of his (man's) inmost consciousness".

    While I am not a student of the Philosophy of Language, I have spoken 3 during my life and have found that even within one language it seems not always possible to communicate exact meaning. When writing I frequently rely on my trusty Thesaurus to choose the word most descriptive of the meaning I wish to convey. The chosen word, in turn, may list other and subtly different. meanings.

    Oh, I pity the poor diplomat...

  3. branemrys5:15 PM

    I don't, unless we metaphorically call reason itself a 'language'.

  4. branemrys5:25 PM

    A very good point. I think Schlegel himself would agree with this. Two of his major lifelong projects were (1) trying to convince people to take the history of languages seriously and (2) trying to convince people of the importance of learning Sanskrit. So I think he would emphasize the plural -- languages -- and his understanding of languages as being traditions. That is, I think his view is that the true mirror of the human mind is not any one language but all of them together, connected together by translation and etymology and borrowing. And your point fits very well with another of Schlegel's favorite ideas: our worst errors come from taking approximation as if it were absolute, while our best work always comes from recognizing that we are working with approximations. We human beings never have the absolute truth -- the best we can do is approximate it well.

    I pity the diplomat, too! That's a lot of pressure on something that is necessarily only approximate.


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