War as a happening thing

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sat Jan 22 18:32:09 PST 2000

Doug Henwood wrote:

> JKSCHW at aol.com wrote:
> >But I once did engage in a public debate with a
> >pomit at a panel on Marxism and pomo where she (no one famous, a prof at
> >Kenyon) really did admit that the assassination of the Archbisop Romero was
> >just a text
> To us it is, Justin. But do you really mean to say she thought he
> wasn't killed and that his murder didn't have political causes and
> consequences? What does this "just a text" phrase mean anyway?

I wish someone would explain to me what it means.

One of its meanings I presume (but do not know) seems to be that all human knowledge is contained in language. This seems to me bizarre. To repeat an example I gave some months ago (much to the shock I guess of kenneth m), the schoolroom syllogism:

All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore Socrates is mortal.

The huge leap from the two premises to the "Therefore" of the conclusion is clearly not only extra-lingual, but in fact cannot even be expressed in words. Hence all lingual knowledge depends on unexpressed and inexpressable extra-lingual knowledge. Or to put it another way, those who claim all knowledge (including knowledge of texts) is language-bound have in effect denied the possibility of any kind of knowledge, language-bound or not. Those that make such bizarre claims then have a considerable burden of proof to bear in establishing that anyone should pay any attention to them whatever. (Incidentally, for a clear exposition of the dependence of verbal knowledge on non-verbal knowledge, or intuition, see a fine bourgeois thinker of an earlier generation, Susanne Langer. She is an aggressive idealist, but still towers over such lilliputian figures as Butler.)

Also -- current thinking among paleontologists places the appearance of biologically modern humans at about 150,000 years ago, while language probably does not go back further than 90,000 to 100,000 years. And historical understanding of human knowledge must somehow account for how humans were humans without language for about 50 millenia.

Now back to Bishop Romero, and the supposition that " the assassination of the Archbisop Romero was just a text." As stated (and as you repeat it), this is manifestly untrue: *a* text. Nonsense. Even in textual terms the assassination is a huge number of independent texts -- and the relationships among those texts are, for the most part, non-textual -- non-textual in the sense not only that knowledge of those relationships does not consist of text *but cannot be expressed in a text*. I own one book, a pamphlet, and several articles on the good Archbishop. But my knowledge that they are several is intuitive (in the same sense that the understanding of the Therefore in the syllogism is intuitive, non-verbal).

Now the obvious premise (which must be the point of departure for any critique) is that that multiplicity of texts is explicable only in terms of the body of the Archbishop lying bleeding on the floor in San Salvador. That may not be the case -- but the burden of proof lies on those who would deny it, and they must proceed on the premise that textual knowledge is rooted in non-textual knowledge (just as those who wish to demonstrate the existence of god must do so beginning with the premise that god does not exist).

So what *does* it mean to say that "the assassination of the Archbisop Romero was just a text." As far as I can tell its meaning is something like "'Twas brillig and the slithytroves the momoraves [?] outgrabe." Does it mean something to you? And is the claim that the assassination was *a* text or *texts*?


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