If we could know things as they really are, that knowledge would have to be obtained in an impossible place which is only occupiable by “another.” Not just a different person, but by a fantastic, spectral “I.” We call this blank at the very center of experience and thought, trauma. This is why it makes no sense (whatsoever?) to talk of an author’s intentions, to say, “Yes, but is that what the author really meant?” If a person really is an Author or Artist, in the truest sense, then she will have absolutely no recollection of what she was thinking or doing while in the act of writing or painting.
Who I am in the heat of battle, or in the heat of thinking or performing or teaching, is not the same person I am once the ordeal is over. Nor do I ever have any direct access to that other person through a posteriori reconstruction. Yes, I can work my way through extended analysis – psychoanalysis or self-scrutiny – back to the place I “must have been,” and I can outline the figure of the person I “must have been” with hundreds of little stars. But in the final analysis, all I can really say about the most crucial and defining moments of my own life is this: “I was never there.”
Like any other field of knowledge, Indo-European linguistics has its axioms. They are fundamental principles that, strictly speaking, it cannot demonstrate but that it must presuppose for its proposition to be coherent. For the discipline that recognizes its first sketch in the eighteenth-century discourse of the Hindus, they are, as Jean-Claude Milner has shown, but two. But they are hardly less decisive, or effective, for their paucity. It is presumed, first, that the resemblances between languages have a cause, and, second, that this cause is a language.
It was simple: in the act of designating a ‘reconstructed’ term, the Indo-European philologist inevitably risked effacing the very trait that defined it as such – namely, that it is by nature unattested. From the moment it is cited, after all, the proto-form begins to look no different from any other. Despite the best intentions of its conjurors, the undocumented datum, once named, seems to step out of the purely possible past of its hypothesis, setting foot on the firm ground of attestation. Although they did not discuss it, early scholars in the field recognized the difficulty, for the quickly devised an ingenious technique to avoid it. It was typographical, and it consisted in using the asterisk, *, or, as its German masters call it, ‘the star’ (der Stern).
Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Little Stars,” Echolalias: On The Forgotting of Language
The cat, however, makes few claims for his sentiments and, perhaps on account of his distrust of consciousness, declines to compare them in detail to those of human beings. But Murr’s feelings may well have more to do with human perceptions than he explicitly indicates; possibly they even grant the cat access to a region of being sought more than once by “that upright walker on two feet.” It is remarkable that the conditions in which the cat senses “something so beautiful, so sublime, so magnificent about life” are exactly those by which one of his better known contemporaries, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, once defined the principles from which the philosophy of nature and spirit must begin. Fifteen years before the publication of Opinions of Murr the Cat, Hegel had sought to characterize the “simplicity without division” that, he argued, precedes and enables every complex activity of “subjective spirit.” He did so by describing a state that he himself qualified as essentially “terrifying” (furchtbar) but which seems close to the one so blithely embraced by the cat. In his 1805–1806 Jena lecture course, Hegel had explained that in its origin, the “pure Self” is nothing other than “an empty night,” which is utterly “conscious-less, that is, without being, as an object, presented to representation.” And in his essay On the Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Philosophical Systems, the young philosopher had charged the same image with the task of depicting something still more fundamental, which one might well consider the very principle of principles. “The Absolute,” Hegel wrote in that seminal work, “is night, and light is younger than it.” “Night” is “the Nothing, the first, from which all being and the multiplicity of the finite emerged.”
Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Murriana,” The Inner Touch: Archaeology of A Sensation
with hundreds of little stars **