There is no getting around our residence in language—language understood not primarily as a system of signification but as the necessarily ambiguous existential condition of intelligibility in which we always already find ourselves situated, the historically evolving collective articulation of things. The ontological theory of language at issue here, with its concern for the problems of meaning and translation in particular and its methodological distance-in-nearness, entails a simultaneously concentrated and expansive allegorical experience of the world. Allegory brings out the word inherent in the thing—the word not as flat marker but as gravitating and radiating body of history. This essay touches on prominent nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources of this modernist theory of language and philosophical philology, thinkers who worked in different ways to open theoretical horizons while promulgating an art of reading. Such historically oriented and textually focused work of opening remains a political-educational imperative.
Howard Eiland is author, with Michael W. Jennings, of Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (2014) and translator of Benjamin works such as Berlin Childhood around 1900 and Origin of the German Trauerspiel. He recently published Notes on Literature, Film, and Jazz. Eiland taught literature at MIT from 1983 to 2014.
Howard Eiland; Language Matters. boundary 2 1 February 2021; 48 (1): 35–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8821413
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