– I thought that I was thinking. Should I now think otherwise?
– Are you talking to me?
– There is nobody else in the room, and I am not the kind of person who talks with a wall.
– Let us roll on the floor.
– What did you say?
– Come on, there is too much loose talk about the situation. Let's do it, roll on the floor, I mean.
– I am not sure, it looks cold.
– Just imagine that you can adapt your body temperature to the environment like worms and lizards.
The unpredictability of this situation is prepared or laid out, angelegt, already in tensional relations between the title of my video, the heading of this exposition, and the title of Heidegger's radio essay. What is calling whom? Or is it somebody calling something? Are we dealing with an act of naming or a request? During the process of preparing these notes I wanted to see what Google Translate would suggest. After a couple of turns I got a promising suggestion: "How about phone calls?"*
– It should be clear by now that translation plays a central role in this setting.
– I'm not sure what you mean. Besides, the floor is cold and there are strange shadows on that wall.
– Don't worry too much, you are just dazzled. You'll get used to it after a while. Ever heard of Plato's cave?
Unlike Heidegger, I won't go back to the Greeks. Not now, at least. Not here. Instead, I show you a fish breathing, and a dog and other living beings, Lebewesen. Do they speak to you? How would you know if they did? In 1952 when Heidegger performed his text, he was talking to a microphone at BR, im Bayerischen Rundfunk. When I saw the fish in an aquarium in Bergen, Norway, I heard him speak, Heidegger. It was clear to me that the fish spoke Heideggerian. Literally, Deutsch unter Wasser.
But let us change the element and move on, to the beach for example. Here I came with another prominent thinker, Walter Benjamin. I learned from him to look for things to ponder right there were they lie stranded when the vogue has began to ebb from them. The sea has made an inventory, which means that there is hope, perhaps not for us, but...
– Now you are drifting away, I'm afraid.
– Yes, the danger is always there. I will start anew.
– Please, go ahead. But don't forget the mortar*. Words are like bricks.
A Wall. Not just any wall, but kielimuuri, "language wall", a hindrance between the speakers of different languages. That might demarcate an appropriate point of departure. Language as Gegenstand, as something that stands in front of us, or between us. Is it man-made? Can it be unmade, perhaps between us, here and now?
Normally when we think of translation we have in mind some kind of facilitation of communication across the borders of different languages, across the kielimuuri. We translate a Finnish book into English in order to make its contents available and communicable to English-reading people. This, however, is only one side of the coin. I would like to illuminate another aspect of translation. I tend to call it "philosophical". [Here, I will adopt another tone and try to proceed more cautiously with my formulations.]
In my view, this "philosophical" aspect of translation is particularly important for the artist-researcher. I think that one essential task of the artist-researcher is to provide well-articulated passages between different media, languages or modes of articulation. This is a claim I often make. I think of this task of the artist-researcher in terms of translation following the lines of thought that Benjamin has developed in his writings on language and translation. Against this background, the task of the artist-researcher has to be seen as an undertaking that involves heightened sensitivity to the mediality of language. This implies that the medium of research should be attuned to accord with the artistic impetus inherent to the research.
For Benjamin, translation is essentially more than transport of meanings. It provides an access to the experience of language [note the double genitive!] by exposing language as meaningfulness that resonates itself. Besides bringing forth this self-relation of language, translation also shows that different languages make sense by relating themselves to each other. In other words, a singular language finds its mode of articulation only insofar as it is exposed to the multiplicity of languages. It is not only we who "are a conversation", as Hölderlin once wrote, languages among themselves converse, turn towards each other.
This implies that the translator doesn't spring into the foreign element of another language in order to return with a sackful of meanings. Translation is not a matter of decision as to what to pick up and what not. What is at stake is mimesis, difference in contact. The task of the translator is to add a voice into the chorus of different ways of making sense.
With regard to Benjamin's thinking, "language" must be understood in a specific sense. Language is not limited to verbal language; all modes of articulation should be seen as languages. For Benjamin, language is something that precedes even the division between the intelligible and the sensible. In other words, language is not merely a sign system; rather, it is something we could call the emergence of sense. [Here we have to keep in mind that the word "sense" has a wide variety of senses, just as the German Sinn, which stands both for sense as meaningfulness and for the senses and sensuality].
This implies that language is not only a means of communication; it is communication insofar as we understand communication in terms of "immediate impartability" (unmittelbare Mitteilbarkeit), an immediate or unmediated capacity to formulate and establish relations while partaking in the event. In other words, language "communicates" by "communicating" itself. This event of "communication", however, is at the same time one of alteration. Language imparts by "parting with itself", as Samuel Weber puts it. Language is never fully present to itself – and neither to the human being, I should add: Benjamin speaks also of "languages of things", silent languages lacking sound that impart only through "material community". In short, our conversation never converges fully, which, in turn, implies that language is also a symbol of the non-communicable or unexpressable. It refers infinitely beyond itself. Or, to use the terms I have just introduced: language as the emergence of sense comes to its limits by touching upon the insensible.
- Now you are talking!* I mean: what you are saying makes sense to me but you are just talking.
- I was writing and paraphrasing myself, that's different. You don't see the bricks for the wall!
- But aren't you shifting the focus? Didn't we start with Heidegger and the question of thinking? How, exactly, does language relate to thinking?
- Your question (which is a good one, by the way) suggests that language and thinking might be seen as two separate phenomena. I would ask, instead, where they co-emerge.
- Where is that place?
- Mouth, gaping mouth, before any words are formed.
- 0 [...]
- More or less like that, yes. [Even if 0 is not o].
[At this point I have to use the brackets in order to be able to make this remark: the discussion is diverging from the video. Nothing has been said about the man who is worming or about the presence of various other animals in the video. Nothing has been said about the emptiness that appears after the turquoise element of the pinguins has faded out, or about the fall of the leaves that turns this depthless void into an empty sky. There was lots of talk about Benjamin's view on language and translation but nothing has been said about the actual choice of words in my translation of Heidegger's text; and nothing has been said about translating text into images and sounds, or vice versa. No words are spent on reflecting the rythms and timings. And how about the digital landscape of Google Earth? Is the cursor really traveling from Port Pou to Todnauberg? In short: nothing has been said about the video; it hasn't been considered at all as the work to be exposed. Why? Because "about" and "as" constitute the key issue of the whole exposition. The approach needs to be awry due to what might be called materiality of languages at stake.]
– I'll try to pick this up. [pause, deep breath...] "In the introductory part of his essay, Heidegger links the question of thinking to that of human being..." [fade out].
– Thought-provoking, most thought-provoking... [background music, a loop].
[In the meanwhile, somewhere off-screen, on the sea, perhaps].
– See that rock? Well, it doesn't see you.
Size matters, as do other parameters of framing.