“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Doctor Johnson's Boot

I'm so happy to be new person of the year 2010! Graham's post reminds me that some of the story of my OOO transition was not smooth, but a dizzying upgrade.

Graham rightly takes me to task for my use of Doctor Johnson's boot in my interview for Speculations, whose use I now realize is itself an example of Doctor-Johnson's-Bootism. It's easy to swing it to make a point, but what exactly is it saying? It's truly strange to remember that I actually used it. That seems like an eon ago intellectually speaking.

(Doctor Johnson used his boot to “refute” Berkeley by kicking a stone.)

I think the general gist of my Bootism was to swing it against the idea of non-linguistic or unspeakable real things. A Boot used against a Boot, so I thought. I said that the sound of a boot hitting some crystalline particles wasn't an argument. So what's wrong with this?

For a kick-off (oops), the sound of the boot IS a kind of argument! (See my paper on OOO rhetoric. I'll be arguing along these lines some more in my Qui Parle essay.) Then there is the appropriation of it by the human owner of the leg attached to said boot. That's an entirely different kettle of fish. (Just to mix metaphors for a moment.)

And another thing (also in OOO land): the sound of the boot (mis)translates the stone. It's not an empiricist argument the boot is making. It's simply booting about the stone, and the stone is stoning about the boot. So it's a lot more interesting than Doctor Johnson's use of it as a slap upside the head. (See how confusing these metaphorical translations can be?)

And another thing: for sure some things are unspeakable and nonlinguistic. Unless you want to stretch language to cover everything, in which case it loses a lot of its power. Words themselves can be unspeakable and nonlinguistic! (This is a more subtle point of tentative agreement between Derrida and OOO, which I'll also discuss in Qui Parle.)

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