This essay addresses the principal form and practice for linguistic domination, philology, to draw out a sense in which philology discombobulates the stabilizing terms it privileges and sends out at the world. This essay traces several moments in a history of the disorganization of linguistic and social form—in the poetic writing of Paul Celan and the Arabic-language translations of Celan offered by the Iraqi poet Khālid al-Ma‘ālī; in Walter Benjamin’s essayistic writing on language and the law; in the tenth-century Arabic-language philosopher Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī; and in Aristotle’s Metaphysics—to suggest the ways in which philology becomes a practice for linguistic indistinction and indefinition. Because language, as philology, ceases to be subordinated to its ends (history, sense, the subject), it becomes a discordant social form; because it disorders the terms privileged in the modern institutions for reading, it speaks to us of a form of life that is obscured in the privileging of the ends to which language is, repeatedly, constrained to be understood.
The Philological Thesis: Language without Ends
Jeffrey Sacks is associate professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Languages at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic Form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish (2015), which was awarded the Harry Levin Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association, and has translated a volume of poetry by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (2006). He is presently writing two books: “Simplicities: A Colonial Archive” and “For Decolonization: The Lyric Poem and the Question of Palestine.”
Jeffrey Sacks; The Philological Thesis: Language without Ends. boundary 2 1 February 2021; 48 (1): 65–107. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8821437
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