Friday, April 20, 2012

No ideas but in things... no logoi but in relation

Excerpted from the Ecclesiast's notebook (1897): Having recently developed a working prototype of the Heidelberg Crucis Glass, it is with some trepidation that I offer the following narrative. While wearing the glasses, I admit that in addition to seeing the world differently, the most dramatic effect was, and I say this again with considerable angst... the dramatic effect was, I heard something, a voice, while testing out the Verba Enhancer. 
I heard a voice, and the voice said, "Say it! No ideas but in things." 

My neighbor and colleague, Lord Paterson, has himself been working on a device that records sound on a plate. You can see one of his sketches here. 

He has even developed a rather attractive parlor object that takes the "records" and rips sound off of them in order to reproduce them for a live audience.

I had recently expressed some concern to Lord Paterson about this device, for it seems to divorce the logoi, words and sounds, from their previous relationships. Count Ivan Illich, you will recall, said,    "What for us are words, the Greeks called logoi, or relationships. And what we understand simply as intervals between two tones would be understood as analogia, as the concord of strings. This intonation had to correspond to the ethos--actually the pace, the custom, the disposition or attitude--which was as different for Dorians and Athenians as their gait and speech... Paideia, the attuning of the common sense to the ways of a certain community, has been replaced by a universalistic education." 
I worry that my friend's invention, as wondrous as it clearly is, will turn logoi, which are, as they say, things, little birds that fly from my mouth to your earhole by way of waves, and will instead make of them ideas, something that appears to travel non-relationally, in the abstract. For they have been abstracted from both their time and place. 

I have been consoling myself with this thought, that at least the words and sounds recorded on my friends device are still on things... discs, phonographs, records. If ever the future scientists developed sound recording devices that stored the sound in pure information rather than on tangible stuff, I believe this would be not just a practical problem, but a theological heresy.

It has ever been the case, that although Scripture (which we duplicate in little books with written words) says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us," it has been a continuing error in Christian faith to turn this very saying into an idea, rather than let it remind us that even the eternal and pre-existent Logos was, and so is, a thing. In relation to other things. In point of fact a man, not the idea of a man.

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