Welcome to Ania Lian's Website
ania@anialian.com
“We have no language - no syntax and no lexicon - which is foreign” (J. Derrida)
Neither language nor personal interests should be enough an obstacle to divide us therefore.
Ania Lian's Projects
Link to Prof. Andrew Lian
Ania Lian's favourite links 
Academic writings and thought exchanges
 
“We have no language - no syntax and no lexicon - which is foreign” 
(J. Derrida)

This quote can be found in a reading provided by Dr. Mary Klages, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder, which elaborates on Derrida's paper: "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. There, Dr Klages writes:

Then Derrida starts (p. 85a) to wonder about how we can think and talk about systems and centers, without making a new system with a center. He mentions here Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger as all trying to do this, and failing to some extent because they all posited their own new systems (with centers). In other words, he says, you can't talk about any system without using the terms of that system: "We have no language--no syntax and no lexicon--which is foreign" to a system; "we can pronounce not a single destructive proposition which has not already had to slip into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest." (85a)
In other words, our frames of references (i.e. what we know, or our meaning structures, our logics, if you like) we create in terms that are available to us and, as a result, in terms that derive their logic from what we already know. In this sense, nothing in our frames of reference or systems of meaning (logic) is foreign (i.e. nothing comes from outside). This is so because the terms (or the frames of reference) that we use are not only part of the logic that they evoke but also, at the same time, part of everything else: the world as we know it. 

It follows also that we cannot enhance our understandings about anything as long as we remain within the same frame of reference i.e. within the world as we already know it. To enhance our understandings, we need to expand our frames of reference i.e. we need to inquire about the possibilities that we do not know as yet: we need to look for ways which would allow us to look at the world as we know it differently. How can we do this? We do it every time when we question what we know. Our act of questioning is an act that forces us to examine what we actually know and, by implication, what we do not know.

We can thus say that to expand our understandings (our propositions), we need to expand our frames of references in ways that allow us to elicit that which they bring to the surface and that which they at the same time hide. There are no truths that are absolute and as such independent of the beliefs in terms of which they are formed. The trick is not as much to act truthfully or to be truthful. The trick is to engage in the process of understanding where we "come from" and hence challenging what we know by considering what we do not or may not know (see also Ania Lian on What is reality?) .

It is in this sense that "postmodernism" is said to have abolished the concept of the "centre" i.e. a concept of a point of reference which could be thought to be the point of origin: a reference that is pure, referentially unrelated to other terms and as such, independent. Come to think about it, such a point would have no meaning as we could not relate it to anything else. To reiterate, it seems that to understand where we are going we need to understand where we come from but in ways that challenge and therefore help us expand our frames of reference.  And again, the outcome will not be absolute knowledge but a position that is coloured by the kinds of considerations that were taken into account in this process. 

It would also follow that a model of operation that calls for no centre but which demands a continuous challenge of our frames of reference (or points of view), is more a working model rather than a model that can be revoked to justify attempts which seek to find out how things truly are. Things are not. Rather, they are created and gain meaning through the kinds of considerations that we apply in the process of constructing meaning and in the world where 'nothing is foreign'. To summarise, our  understandings are thus relative and referential. They are relative to the scope of concerns that they bring with them and they are constructed in terms of reference points (or structures) that make the objects of those understandings appear real to us. However, our frames of reference (our reference structures) in themselves contain no elements that would 'naturally' vindicate the truth about the reality that they describe. This is exactly why all points of view are subject to challenge and further expansion. Consequently, by examining the scope of the concerns that our understandings hide, we have a chance to expand our original reference structures, our original mindset. 

As Ania Lian says in her Doctoral Thesis:

The product [of our inquiries or analyses] is not reality that is better understood but tools that enable us to manage better the reality as we know it.  Reality therefore is never the object of inquiry. But as a concept, it helps to embrace or make room for a diversity of competing beliefs regarding the ways in which our experiences are or can be managed. Our answers will always depend on the questions we ask. Since no question can grasp or reflect the essence of what understanding reality may involve, no answer will be found to the question that cannot be posed. What we find out always depends on what we already know and hence on the mindset in terms of which our questions are generated and resolved. 
On the issue of truth and description, philosopher Stengers, I. and the Noble Prize winner, I. Prigogine write in their world-famous book Order out of Chaos:
"All description thus implies a choice of the measurement device, a choice of the question asked. In this sense, the answer, the result of the measurement, does not give us access to a given reality. We have to decide which measurement we are going to perform and which question our experiments will ask the system. Thus there is an irreducible multiplicity of representations for a system, each connected with a determined set of operators. This implies a departure from the classical notion of objectivity, since in the classical view the only "objective" description is the complete description of the system as it is, independent of the choice of how it is observed. […] No single theoretical language articulating the variables to which a well-defined value can be attributed can exhaust the physical content of a system. Various possible languages and points of view about the system may be complementary. They all deal with the same reality, but it is impossible to reduce them to one single description. The irreducible plurality of perspectives on the same reality expresses the impossibility of a divine point of view from which the whole reality is visible." (Prigogine and Stengers, 1984: 224-225)
With reality which is as true as the depth of the concerns that were taken into account, the debate over the “right” way of approaching the world re-emerges.  Perhaps in a somewhat paradoxical way, the direction that this short discussion suggests excludes the possibility of its alternative(s). This attitude, however, has its basis in the conclusion that plurality does not just happen: it has to be nurtured. For this to occur, it is imperative to rethink the concept of plurality in terms other than simply tolerating differences. 

To repeat after Foucault, it is not enough to produce knowledge, no matter how valuable it may be. Its presence and value can be felt only if it is given power: i.e. if it is 'put back into play'. It would hence follow that unless understandings are further engaged, conflicting points of view have no other way of being resolved but through politics. However, in such a scenario, genuine attempts to explore conflicting and shared points of reference take a backseat to games which seek to silence differences. A myopic pursuit of self-interest prevails and 'the other' becomes entrenched as an outsider (something meaningless and external to the dominant frame of reference) rather than a part of us.

Ania Lian, January, 2003

Copyright © Ania Lian 2002