Words: they are ourselves, our world

Geoffrey Wagner (echoing Coleridge — who, according to Wagner, was probably echoing Swift), states that “The best words are self-reflexive, they are ourselves, our world, the medium through which we see everything.” 

In Language, Truth and Logic, A J Ayer stated that “the propositions in which we record the observations that verify these hypotheses are themselves sense-experience. Thus there are no final propositions” (Ayer, [1936]: p94). 

On such a basis, we might conclude that the objectives of both physics and philosophy are unattainable, and that all their writings are what Roland Barthes called “cultural products” — constituting (borrowing Barthes’s description of Gide’s novels) “a fine fiction … in which one agrees to believe because it explains life and at the same time is a little stronger, a little larger than life (it affords the image of an ideal; every mythology is a dream)” (Barthes, 1982: p13).

Of course, such statements are no more ‘the truth’ than the assertions they challenge and deny; accordingly, they might be read not as an attempt to express the inexpressible, but rather as an endeavour “to unexpress the expressible” (Barthes, 1972: p15). Their intention (their ‘revolutionary task’) is not to supplant physics and philosophy but to transgress, to recognize and to reverse, to challenge, to deny (Barthes, 1985: p47).

__________
Barthes, R. 1972. Critical Essays. Translated by Richard Howard; copyright © 1972 by Northwestern University Press. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Translated from the French Essais critiques, copyright © 1964 by Éditions du Seuil.

Barthes, R. 1982. A Barthes Reader : Edited and with an Introduction by Susan Sontag.London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. ‘On Gide and His Journal’ (1942). Translated by Richard Howard. Translation copyright © 1981 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc. ‘Notes sur André Gide et son Journal’ was published in July 1942 in Existences, the magazine of the Sanatorium des Etudiants de France at Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet (Isére).

Barthes, R. 1985. The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962‑1980, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale. London: Jonathan Cape (1985). Translation copyright © 1985 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc; originally published in French as Le Grain de la voix, copyright © 1981 by Éditions du Seuil.

Wagner, Geoffrey. 1968. On the Wisdom of Words. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. [p5]

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