: F A L L S :
If the Lord of the Rings trilogy teaches us anything, it's that all things pass away and come to an end. Language is a system of symbolic behaviors keyed towards avoiding or at least postponing this fatal event, which will eventually overtake even language. At some point in its ongoing confrontation with all that threatens individual and collective life, language hit upon a contrivance that made possible its own self-representation, as in a mirror. Now marvel as Foucault locates this mysterious innovation somewhere in the prehistoric: "[S]omewhat before the invention of writing, a change had to occur to open the space in which writing could flow and establish itself--a change symbolized for us in its most original form by Homer, that forms one of the most decisive ontological events of language: its mirrored reflection upon death and the construction, from this reflection, of a virtual space where speech discovers the endless resourcefulness of its own image, where it can represent itself as already existing behind itself, already active beyond itself, to infinity. The possibility of a work of language finds its original fold [son pli originaire] in this duplication."

Whoa, now. The possibility of a work of language. Foucault's mirror is a metaphor for just this possibility, and it's not a bad metaphor at all. Conceive of "a work of language" as broadly or as narrowly as you like, and you will find that in addition to the many ritual and formal markings that distinguish it from ordinary discourse, it may also be recognized by its claim to stand for language itself in some representative way. The notion of self-representation is what opens up "the possibility for language...to stand upright as a work." This brings us to the mirror analogy's major inadequacy, which is that the medium in which this representation of language is achieved is no reflective surface but that selfsame language, making the work of language nothing less than a wholesale replication. Language and its likeness "speak at the same time, use the same words, and identically share the same body." If it weren't for this doubling of language, there could be no poems about deer or the vanishing of the gods or anything really, because we would have no conceptual surface on which to fasten the verbal substance out of which poetry is composed.

It is when the work of language puts forth a double of itself that its goals (a.k.a. habits) are most baldly revealed. Book 8 of the Odyssey betrays Homeric singing as after-dinner entertainment for aristocrats; the conditions under which The Simpsons knows itself to be consumed by its audience (sprawled out after work or school) are regularly "mirrored" in Bart and Lisa's consumption of "Itchy and Scratchy." But these representations of social context would not be possible without a primordial doubling of language itself. What made that doubling possible is another question entirely, which I feel no pressure to answer whatsoever.


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