jeudi 12 mars 2020

Logos, language, parole

 In the beginning was the Word

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.

2 Corinthians 3:2

It is certainly one of the most well known Bible quotations. But do we understand it, do we understand the meaning of the „Word”? I.e. do we understand the meaning of „Logos” of the original text of the Gospel by John: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος ? -- „In the beginning was the Word”? Is it just „word”, an element of language and grammar, or is it reason, intellect, logic, of course, divine intellect we men share with our Creator to some degree? But perhaps Logos is something else, different from either of them?

Ferdinand de Saussure introduced into linguistics the dichotomy of langue and parole. Langue, language can be understood as a list of elements – words, morphemes, etc, and rules for joining them to create, generate parole, texts, to speak or write. Here, langue is certainly the inner structure of the parole, its logical core. Is then logos a kind of a divine langue?

When we look more closely at the text of the Gospel both in the original and in some translations, things may well be somewhat different. Greek „logos” does not mean simply „word” or „reason, intellect, logic”. It means also „speech”, that what is spoken, but also what is meant, what the person speaking wants to tell, the meaning of his/her talk. Studying how „logos” is translated in several languages, we see that the corresponding words in Russian/Church Slavic, Estonian and French have similar meaning. Both in ancient Russian and in Church Slavonic слово did originally not mean a word, but mainly talk, even story as in the „Story of Igor's army” -- Слово о полку Игореве. The same is true of the latin word verbum whose original meaning is „talk”. The Estonian word sõna nowadays means „word”; traditionally it meant „talk, what is said, language”.

In general, it seems clear that initially the words logos, verbum, слово, etc did not mean „word”, lexis, the element of lexicon, grammar. In the past people didn't turn much attention to words in this sense; what was important for them, was what was told, i.e. the meaning of what was told. Grammatical approach to language, dissecting the logos into separate elements and rules is a relatively modern phenomenon. We often learn a foreign language with the help of a grammar and a dictionary, and it may give us the impression that this is the way a language really lives and functions. That grammars and dictionaries generate a language, give us the possibility to speak and write in a language. In such approach langue is primary and parole – secondary. But the history of the expressions discussed here, points to the fact that their interdependance could be more complicated. The children learn their first language (or languages) always without contact with grammar or dictionaries. They learn the parole, learn to speak and usually, after a few years, their command of the language is perfect. Despite the theoretical advances in explaining this process of learning the first language, and the human linguistic abilities in general, a lot of questions still remain unanswered. I cannot pretend to answer them. Instead, I would like to touch some problems, especially the theological-philosophical ones raised the reinterpretation of the word logos.

Usually logos in St John's Gospel is understood in the light of Greek Platonist-Neoplatonist thinking, often as divine reason, stressing the connection between logos and logic. Here, the divine Logos is a kind of an universal grammar, logic of creation. But this is definitely not the only possible, and I doubt it very much, the best interpretation of the word. The God of the Bible is not rational in our human sense, not a planner or architect of the universe, creator of the best of possible words. Jesus too sees God, his Father, his other self, not primarily as somebody acting according to our understanding of logic or rationality. For Jesus, God is our loving Father, but at the same time he is unpredictable, impossible to understand as blowing wind. „The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going”. (John 3: 8). He is the Spirit, Hebrew ruach, („God is spirit”, John 4: 24), moving upon the face of the waters who created the world with his talk. And our Heraclitan world of panta rhei, the world in flux is similar to a text, talk, parole. The world is God's talk, an Anderssein of God's talk. Or even divine dance, as for the worshippers of the god Shiva in India. Music and dance are also a kind of parole, of rhythmical flow. We could even say that logos is the pulse that connects us, our life, our thinking, our creation, be it poetry, music, or dance, with the rhythms of the living world, of the Universe. In the logos is life; there is life, pulse of life in parole, but not in langue. Logos tells us that it is not time that is flowing, it is eternity. The Chinese have translated logos as tao: this translation connects two important concepts in two different cultures, and, of course, serves a bridge between these cultures, between East and West.

What is interesting is the fact that in Greek the word pneuma is usually translated with two words -- „wind” and „spirit”. In the original, there is only one word. Who is talking to us, is the Spirit, the Divine Wind. As the Son and the Father are one, the talk of the Son is also a pneumatic, spiritual talk. Not langue, but, of course, parole. What is important in talk, is not grammar, but meaning, content. A talk, a text, a poem, a story has a meaning, if it tells us something important, something new. A talk, a text that renews itself, is a part of the eternal creative renewal of the world. There have been many attempts to find out the langue, the logical system behind this talk. But God's logic is not human logic, thus all or nearly all attempts to find God's logic, read his mind, are doomed. There have also been attempts to look at the universe as a text, a message to us. I don't know whether we will ever succeed in finding its entire meaning. It can be a message to us, to somebody else, to every living being, or simply a talk in itself, a talk where the signifiant and the signifié are one. The logos is infinity talking to us, in us and with us. In God's infinite talk, the word and its meaning are one. Infinity has its own different logic. In infinity part can be equivalent to whole, son to father, word to its meaning. Infinity connects macrocosm with microcosm, fleeting thoughts with eternal life.

When we talk about infinity, about God, we cannot avoid talking in parables. The French word parole, as the verb parler comes from the late Latin words parabola – parable, and parabolare. In the Gospel the other reality is called The Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Kingdom. It's eternal, and, what is the same – infinite. As in the judaistic-hellenistic world, nolens volens also in Judaea and Galilee, the concept of infinity (as of eternity) was, in fact, not well understood neither popular, Jesus had to speak about it, about the totaliter aliter using the familiar opposition heaven -- earth. But he also told that the Kingdom of God is not here or there, refused to give its coordinates in space or time. In infinity, it's indeed impossible. But he said it is inside (within) people, us. We are a part of God's parole, his message. It's clear that, for him, the Kingdom is not on the Earth or in the Sky. It is infinitely far, but also infinitely near. We can discover it turning inside us. We live in eternity. Eternity is within us. Perhaps it is better to say that we are open to eternity, to infinity. We are just open, even if we don't see we are.

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