Attitudes to language that play tricks.

A problem with much of postmodernisms’ default position of  linguistic determinism is that if it is taken to be somehow correct, then it circumscribes the asking of a very necessary question, at times, which is, “What do you mean by that?” I suppose that this question is theoretically made redundant because the answer to the question is supposedly already entailed in the whatever statement is given, which is itself constructed through theoretically objectifiable and theoretically transparent historical forces. Yet the failure to ask “What do you mean by that?” is a failure to recognise how many of our meanings are constructed not by some objectively determining matrix “out there” (but automatically “in here” as well). Rather, it is the similarity or otherwise of our experiences which enable us to understand the nuances of another’s meanings, if at all.  Many philosophical paradigms, including Lacan’s, rely upon the supposition that we all share a homogeneous culture to begin with. Therefore, we all know implicitly what another person means, as does the unconscious mind of person asking the question, even the person seems to lack the relevant knowledge (which is why he is asking the question in the first place).To illustrate my point.  Supposing one is traveling through Indonesia for the first time.   He says:  “Could you tell me how to get to the bank?”  The Indonesian stranger stares through the Western stranger, thinking:  “If he really didn’t know how to get to a bank, why did he use the term bank, as if it had any meaning?”Here there is common failure to understand what is being said, but also a lack of recognition of this failure on the part of the Indonesian man. This is exemplified by my recent talks with one significant other, who always fails to ask “What precisely is your meaning? — Is it this experience you have had, or that?” Instead, he bumbles on, assuming that any experience is somehow universal, at least in terms of its expression. Obviously, he’s wrong, for what feminism means to me cannot be what it means to him. He could only come to a practical approximation of its meaning for me if he was willing to use analogies and metaphors which could relate it to something in his own life.

Language is far from objectively determinable — for it to appear to be so depends upon an underlying similarity of context and experiences, to start with. If people do not understand this, then the role of experiences in forming our expressions is materially underestimated. This leads, in turn, to a grey and pallid existence, wherein everyone is assumed to be speaking the same language, but personal experiences don’t matter.