Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juli 2004

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Jeff Bernard (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Moderation / Chair: Gloria Withalm
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs

Logoplastic Surgery: Commentaries on the Art of Crafting New Organs

Josef Wallmannsberger (Kassel)


Summary: In this essay a modest proposal will be made on how to further develop and elaborate the art and science of logoplastic surgery, remodelling semiotic organs cut of from bodies of thinking in serial Ockhamite razor attacks. An in vivo presentation will be offered of how the new techniques allow grafting scholastic philosophical tissues on the discursive scars of critical discourses in modernity. If this procedure turns out to be successful, the majority of interventions currently performed in culturological trauma units will be routine operations. Diagnostically speaking, the condition here certainly is not serious.


Small wonder Jack found his new cell mate in the prison house of language (Jameson 1972) somewhat strange at first, intimidating even, as he continued to utter statements in a foreign tongue, Spanish maybe, or even African, Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, nolite arbitrari quia venerim mittere pacem in terram, non veni pacem mittere sed gladium. The audio stream clearly was in a proprietary format, but with a ripper program always at hand, Jack and Dr Ockham (1967) managed to decode and exchange their respective system files in no time. Remarkably similar codes, considering the fact that one would have come to expect Victorian serial killers (Walkowitz 1992) and scholastic philosophers to have developed slightly more distinct approaches. Recursively applying the non-multiplicanda operation to all the perfectly superfluous verbal entities in the proposition itself, the two modes of operation could be reduced to the parsimoniously forceful imperative of, Cut it off! The last thought that occurred to Jack before he felt Dr Ockham's razor slitting his eye, first, and then all the other parts of his body, clearly a grotesque assemblage of logically inflated entities. The one aspect of this operation Dr Ockham may have found mildly irritating at times was the absence of someone to talk to in his cell, but then who would expect conversation pieces in a Chinese room.

The cuttological approach to epistemology has proved to be signally successful in the emergence of modernist intellectual regimes, eliminating not only huge collections of topics for discussion, but more importantly limiting possible agents to meaningfully interact with in semiotic universes. Current debates in cultural studies may have made us aware of the difficulties and challenges in communication between, say, men and women, Westerners and Easterners, Northerners and Southerners, uppers and downers (terminology that might remind one not only of Prozac, but also of other dirty five-letter words such as class), or indeed lunatics and normaltics. The currently fashionable modus operandi of cultural studies adopts a strictly Maoist orientation of, Let a thousand flowers bloom! Or on a more musical note, the ruling law of form is a radical conceptual glissando, with all categories constantly blending into each other. Old school dichotomies such as male vs. female would appear to be simply antediluvian against the background of a new logic operating with complex trajectories in gender spaces. (Adam and Eve would seem to be simple arithmetic, while the new topological discourses operate with hermaphroditic matrices of Edamavetic complexity.)

One thing leads to another, and the other is always already in place to define a contested site of discourse, bringing into play Michel's (1966) power rhizomes, Pierre's (1982) habitu(e)s or Avital's (1989) telephone exchanges. The diversity both in terms of theoretical eclecticism and performative variation of current culturological debates would seem to reflect a healthy vitality in the body politic of the republic of letters. A minor complication in the matter is that most body parts have been cut off quite a while ago, in Dr Ockham's prestigious discourse trauma unit. Not a major problem, since the academic debates still have at their disposal the very rich resources of phantom pain, and who, excepting a few unreformed Marxists and Catholics, would want to insist on material presence: in the flesh, as it were, a charmingly old-fashioned idea in the new intellectual economies of cyberpostmortemism (Lakoff/Johnson 1999). Dr Ockham's scalpel has reduced the anatomy of bodies of thought to bare necessities, and thus a desire for richer features would have to consider major logoplastic surgery, even crafting and transplanting vital organs.

If we muster the list of agents potentially available in communicative interactions, it is evident that the trimming of logontologies has been performed in the most systematic fashion. Talking to plants is a perfectly acceptable psychological oddity, but when you start quoting your orchids and rhododendrons to make a specific point in a discussion, the preferred environment would certainly be a popular talk show on TV, where you are welcome even to report on how your resident succulents managed to overcome the penile dysfun(c)tion you had been suffering from for ages by simply, well, whispering into your dicktaphone. But in reality, we have simply cut it off, the vegetable as a partner in conversation, that is. Animals had to be treated differently, since the RSPCA simply would not tolerate random applications of Ockhamite razors on its constituency. So choosing parrots or tortoises, Zeno's possibly for the philosophically discerning lady, as your interlocutors would not necessarily eliminate you from taking part in language games, metaphorically speaking. Verbal exchanges with rocks or rivers, however, had to be discarded from commonly accepted philosophies of ordinary language: the Speech Reform Act is very precise on that matter, stating categorically to, Cut it out! Liberal students of cultural affairs, motivated by both political correctness and orientalist exoticism, are quite willing, though, to accept that He-who-dances-with-wolves would be bound also to have conversations with them, from time to time. Also the worthy oriental gentleman, whose exact position on kharmatic ladders of reincarnation could not be precisely ascertained at any given point in time, should be allowed a somewhat less rigid logontological regime; you would be hard pressed not to talk to drosophila melanogaster, if you or your immediate relatives happen to be paid-up members of this particular species club anyway. The more promiscuous logological mores of the East and South under this view are taken to be mere metaphorical extensions of a literalist propositional calculus, whose precision and beauty is obscured, but certainly not lost in this translation. There must be limits, however, to the extensions and additions in agents eligible for linguistic exchanges.

The very idea of the limit has considerable appeal to fellows of the Gillette College of semiotic recision, since in ideal worlds limits definitely have to be clear-cut affairs. The languages of my limits are the worlds of my languages, as the inscription on the Wittgensteinhof Library of Gillette College so aptly puts it. Vivi-section 28 from the Cultural Codes Code Compilation draws an elaborated conceptual boundary (Plotnitsky 1993) stating that:

Wenn vom Denken die Rede ist, so muß man das endliche, bloß verständige Denken vom unendlichen, vernünftigen unterscheiden. Die Denkbestimmungen, so wie sie sich unmittelbar, vereinzelt vorfinden, sind endliche Bestimmungen. Das Wahre aber ist das in sich Unendliche, welches durch Endliches sich nicht ausdrücken und zum Bewußtsein bringen läßt.

::>CUT>> A remarkably clear commitment to a philosophical culture of masturbation, which Philip Roth's dying animal could not agree more with: you just have to got it alone.<<::

Der Ausdruck unendliches Denken kann als auffallend erscheinen, wenn man die Vorstellung der neueren Zeit, als sei das Denken immer beschränkt, festhält. Nun aber ist in der Tat das Denken seinem Wesen nach in sich unendlich. Endlich heißt, formell ausgedrückt, dasjenige, was ein Ende hat, was ist, aber da aufhört, wo es mit seinem Anderen zusammenhängt und somit durch dieses beschränkt wird. Das Endliche besteht also in Beziehung auf sein Anderes, welches seine Negation ist und sich als dessen Grenze darstellt.

::>CUT>> Another fine mess we have got ourselves into, as semioticians extraordinaires Stanley and Oliver would put it.<<::

Das Denken aber ist bei sich selbst, verhält sich zu sich selbst und hat sich selbst zum Gegenstand. Indem ich einen Gedanken zum Gegenstand habe, bin ich bei mir selbst. Ich, das Denken, ist demnach unendlich, darum, weil es sich im Denken zu einem Gegenstand verhält, der es selbst ist. Gegenstand überhaupt ist ein Anderes, ein Negatives gegen mich. Denkt das Denken sich selbst, so hat es einen Gegenstand, der zugleich keiner ist, d.h. ein aufgehobener, ideeller. Das Denken als solches, in seiner Reinheit, hat also keine Schranke in sich. Endlich ist das Denken nur, insofern es bei beschränkten Bestimmungen stehenbleibt, die demselben als ein Letztes gelten. Das unendliche oder spekulative Denken dagegen bestimmt gleichfalls, aber bestimmend, begrenzend, hebt es diesen Mangel wieder auf. Die Unendlichkeit ist nicht wie in der gewöhnlichen Vorstellung als ein abstraktes Hinaus und Immer-weiter-Hinaus aufzufassen, sondern in der einfachen Weise, wie solches vorher angegeben wurde. Das Denken der alten Metaphysik war endliches Denken, denn dieselbe bewegte sich in solchen Denkbestimmungen, deren Schranke ihr als etwas Festes galt, welches nicht wieder negiert wurde. So wurde z.B. gefragt: hat Gott Dasein?, und das Dasein wurde hierbei als ein rein Positives, als ein Letztes und Vortreffliches betrachtet. Wir werden aber später sehen, daß Dasein keineswegs ein bloß Positives ist, sondern eine Bestimmung, die zu niedrig für die Idee und Gottes nicht würdig ist.

::>CUT>> Carnevalistic function theory: prove uniqueness first, existence second.<<::

Man fragte ferner nach der Endlichkeit oder Unendlichkeit der Welt. Hier wird die Unendlichkeit der Endlichkeit fest gegenübergestellt, und es ist doch leicht einzusehen, daß, wenn beide einander gegenübergestellt werden, die Unendlichkeit, die doch das Ganze sein soll, nur als eine Seite erscheint und durch das Endliche begrenzt ist. - Eine begrenzte Unendlichkeit ist aber selbst nur ein Endliches. (Hegel 1827: Section 28)

The art of setting limits, of skilfully guiding the scalpel in bodies of thought, has to be developed beyond the techniques of more basic rituals, indiscriminately gashing knives and daggers at the all too solid flesh of mortals sentenced to life in their corporeal prison chambers. The sublime cut will not have to be applied from the outside, in amputative furor of getting rid of all the monstrously doubled extremities of thinking and unnecessarily multiplied branches of learning, but will operate in endoscopic mode, eliminating metastasizing organs hidden inside hermetic corpora since the beginning of the world. Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, cut it all down to the limit, design a minimalist program of the grandest proportions, reduce the world to a history of nothing, thereby recreating it ex nihilo in sublimely purified form. The point of departure of this project, technically its lower limit, has to be set at the beginning, a tautontological melange of word as fact. The primordial logos shows a dynamic of unnecessary multiplication, wanton filiation, put more prosaically, the customary logorrhoea of the chattering classes, which in due course leads to yet another fine mess we have got ourselves into:

dico autem vobis quoniam omne verbum otiosum quod locuti fuerint homines reddent rationem de eo in die iudicii (Bracketed information presented courtesy of Jehova's Witnesses, knocking at a door near you).

In such a tight situation, Ockham's tool would double as the knife employed by Aron Ralston, the mountaineer to single-handedly cut loose his forearm from beneath a boulder and thus escape from his deadly trap.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and thus the most advanced techniques of logoplastic surgery will be deployed. The preferred method here is a particular form of tissue and organ transplants, artificially crafting replacements for the elements lost in Ockhamite reductive procedures. The scar tissues of modernity are such as not to allow simple additions subsequently to blend, organically in a manner of speaking, into the macerated bodies. The art of logoplastic surgery has to insert prostheses from within, operating in locations precariously positioned inside out the semiotic systems at hand. The most promising approaches to logoplastic procedures have recently focussed on endotextual apparatuses and glassary (Derrida 1981; Leaney 1986) stents, enabling the grammatological surgeon to construct efficient by-passes in obstructed and cut-off textual conduit systems. In what follows an in vivo demonstration of the application of these techniques will be presented, showing the transplant of angelic discourse, instructive specifically because of extraordinarily high rates of rejection in contemporary bodies of thinking. The transfer of the method to more routine applications, such as culturological interventions in ostranenie (Sklovskij 1914) syndromes, is straightforward and does not pose any serious technical problems.

In the first manoeuvre, an article on the discursive coordinates of angels (Thomas de Aquino 1882) - sic, not angles: the section is political theology, not basic geometry - will be transplanted into and reclaimed for contemporary systems of intellectual circulation:

Articulus 1

Utrum angelus sit in loco.

::Loco, loco: So Jack's ripper correctly decoded the audio stream right away, must haven been Spanish then, and not African.::

Ad primum sic proceditur. Videtur quod angelus non sit in loco.

::The procedure is clearly highly systematic, axiomatically taking square one as its point of departure. Giuseppe Peano (1957) in his calculus of complete inductions would subscribe to the very same principles. The "videtur" would appeal to all flavors of modern sensualist projects: Nihil est in mundo quod non erat primum in sensibus. The "angelus operator" is not assigned coordinates in three-dimensional vector spaces, fair enough, contemporary mathematicians would not expect any mildly interesting entity to be so inelegantly limited in its dimensionality.::

1. Dicit enim Boetius, in libro De hebd.: Communis animi conceptio apud sapientes est, incorporalia in loco non esse. Et Aristoteles, in IV Physic., dicit quod non omne quod est, est in loco, sed mobile corpus. Sed angelus non est corpus, ut supra ostensum est. Ergo angelus non est in loco.

::Set theory works in standard mode here. A class of entities (Boetius, incorporalia, Aristoteles, locus, corpus, angelus) is given and formal operations are defined over the class. The "angelus operator" has distinctive qualities, differentiating it from other entitities and intergrating it in logical networks. The mathematics undergraduate's innocence is lost when she no longer searches for penetrating answers to questions such as, What is an n-dimensional manifold?, or indeed, What is a tensor? Simply cut it out: A tensor is everything that behaves like a tensor, and we passionately want to play with them, angelic bliss in the playgrounds of pure form.::

2. Praeterea, locus est quantitas positionem habens. Omne ergo quod est in loco, habet aliquem situm. Sed habere situm non potest convenire angelo: cum substantia sua sit immunis a quantitate, cuius propria differentia est positionem habere. Ergo angelus non est in loco.

::A somewhat more complex problem, since the argument from physical quantity seemingly stands at odds with the Platonically purified coordinates of strictly formal spaces. What is really at stake here, however, surely must be an interdisciplinary attempt at highlighting the situatedness and contextual dependency of semiotic processes. Logic as a site of convergence between physical, or wetware, aspects and virtual relations has come to occupy center stage in recent discussions about thinking in the flesh. And thus we are here confronted with a remarkable anticipation of contemporary issues.::

Praeterea, esse in loco est mensurari loco et contineri a loco, ut patet per Philosophum in IV Physic. Sed angelus non potest mensurari neque contineri a loco: quia continens est formalius contento, sicut aer aqua, ut dicitur in IV Physic. Ergo angelus non est in loco.

::The "angelus operator" presents a number of characteristics relevant for possible application in the physical sciences, since here again it produces systematic correlations and interdependences with other entities and categories included in the given set. The interrelations are of such complexity to generate counterarguments to the non-locality condition of the "angelus operator," which are dealt with in rigorous fashion::

Sed contra est quod in collecta dicitur: Angeli tui sancti, habitantes in ea, nos in pace custodiant.

::A corollary of the "collecta"-calculus would seem to suggest a possible locality constraint for the operator, which then turns out only to be boundary condition of this particular semiotic calculus.::

Respondeo dicendum quod angelo convenit esse in loco: aequivoce tamen dicitur angelus esse in loco, et corpus. Corpus enim est in loco per hoc, quod applicatur loco secundum contactum dimensivae quantitatis. Quae quidem in angelis non est; sed est in eis quantitas virtualis. Per applicationem igitur virtutis angelicae ad aliquem locum qualitercumque,dicitur angelus esse in loco corporeo. Et secundum hoc patet quod non oportet dicere quod angelus commensuretur loco; vel quod habeat situm in continuo. Haec enim conveniunt corpori locato, prout est quantum quantitate dimensiva. Similiter etiam non oportet propter hoc, quod contineatur a loco. Nam substantia incorporea sua virtute contingens rem corpoream, continet ipsam, et non continetur ab ea; anima enim est in corpore ut continens, et non ut contenta. Et similiter angelus dicitur esse in loco corporeo, non ut contentum, sed ut continens aliquo modo. Et per hoc patet responsio ad obiecta.

::The argument here presented is clearly analogous to discussions of wave-particle dualisms in quantum mechanics. A complication in the formal treatment of the "angelus operator" arises, because even if we do not assume a strict locality condition for same, we would still have to allow for phenomena of paralocal bindings of angelic variables. The local bindings thus generated are not, however, explicit coordinates in the system, but rather probability matrices of occurrence in space-time continua. So we cannot but observe angels in specific locations, but the location in reality is part of the observer and not an intrinsic property of the entity observed. Essentially, what we get here at no extra charge ist a theory of observer paradoxes, all the more inspiring for its inclusion of n-dimensional hierarchies of observing agencies, such as angels and other logontologically transgressive instances. The relevance of the argument for debates in the social and psychological disciplines becomes even more apparent in the treatment of paraschizophrenic collectives offered in the third article to be inserted here.::

Articulus 3

Utrum plures angeli possint simul esse in eodem loco

::Ordinary language philosophers and not so ordinary speakers of quite extraordinary languages would agree that the essential semantic feature of the term "I" can be found in defining an origo of speech, assigned a precise position in space-time. Poststructuralist musings over the question, Qui parle?, may have made us aware of the complexities connected with this common sense view. Recent discussions about multiple personalities, memory engineering or indeed the schizophrenic functional architectures of supposedly perfectly normal brains have made the point even more forcefully that there is indeed considerably more between the dorsal and occipetal lobes than the wisdom of our schools would have dreamt of even a little while ago.::

Ad tertium sic proceditur. Videtur quod plures angeli possint simul esse in eodem loco.

Plura enim corpora non possunt esse simul in eodem loco, quia replent locum. Sed angeli non replent locum: quia solum corpus replet locum, ut non sit vacuum, ut patet per Philosophum, in IV Physic. Ergo plures angeli possunt esse in uno loco.

::The physical symbol hypothesis of angelic processing suggests that in view of the non-locality condition of the operator, the binding of n-operators to defined coordinates in space-time is admissible. The logical consequence of this analysis suggests the co-existence of concurrent semiotic processes in a system of semiotic systems. The polyphonies of identity, gender and class are unfolding an Aristotelian proto-score.::

2. Praeterea, plus differt angelus et corpus quam duo angeli. Sed angelus et corpus sunt simul in eodem loco: quia nullus locus est qui non sit plenus sensibili corpore, ut probatur in IV Physic. Ergo multo magis duo angeli possunt esse in eodem loco.

::A logic of difference is articulated, the materiality of semiotic processes, the Morrisian (William, that is) resistance in the material, is dialectically determined and superdetermined by the co-presence of discursive and performative strategies. Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un (Irigaray 1977), connects with the angelic pluriformity articulated here.::

3. Praeterea, anima est in qualibet parte corporis, secundum Augustinum. Sed daemones, licet non illabantur mentibus, illabuntur tamen interdum corporibus: et sic anima et daemon sunt simul in eodem loco. Ergo, eadem ratione, quaecumque aliae spirituales substantiae.

::Dr Ockham surely would want to grasp for his razor here, a plethora of entia multiplicata, showing the infinite semiotic resources of logical induction machines. Madness, yes and highly welcome, but the most conspicuous element no doubt would seem to be the method in it. The "angelus operator" and the "daemon operator" are placed in complementary distribution by the arguments they can take, a "corpus" variable in the one case, a "mens" variable in the other. The generalization about the super-class of spiritual entities allows for an elegant short-hand description of complex dependencies, a kind of lambda-calculus avant la lettre.::


The logoplastic operation performed here has employed transplanted tissue, carefully prepared in a discursive petri dish, to surgically remodel semiotic organs cut off from bodies of thought in an Ockhamite razor attack. One can only make informed guesses about the final outcome of this procedure, with strong immune reactions and even outright rejection of the transplant being not at all unlikely. In due course we shall find the answers to the questions at hand in the standard text books of logoplastic surgery, which for us to read we will first have to: Cut open.

© Josef Wallmannsberger (Kassel)


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1982). Ce que parler veut dire. Paris: Fayard

Derrida, Jacques (1981). Glas. Paris: Denoel-Gonthier

Eco, Umberto (ed.)(1989). On the Medieval Theory of Signs. Amsterdam: Benjamins

Foucault, Michel (1966). Les mots et les choses. Paris: Gallimard

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1827). Encyclopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften. Heidelberg: Oßwald

Irigaray, Luce (1977). Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un. Paris: Minuit

Jameson, Fredric (1972). The Prison House of Language. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenges. New York, NY: Basic Books

Leavey, John P. (1986). Glassary. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press

Ockham, Guilelmus de (1967). Opera philosophica et theologica. St. Bonaventure, NY: St. Bonaventure University Press

Peano, Giuseppe (1957). Opere scelte. Rome: Edizioni Cremonese

Plotnitsky, Arkady (1993). In the Shadow of Hegel. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press

Ronell, Avital (1989). The Telephone Book. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press

Sklovskij, Viktor (1914). Voskresenie slova (Resurrection of the word). Saint Petersburg: Iskra

Thomas de Aquino (1882). Ed. Stanislaus Eduardus Fretté. Opera omnia. Doctoris Angelici Thomae Aquinatis opera omnia. Paris: Vives

Walkowitz, Judith (1992). City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Moderation / Chair: Gloria Withalm
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

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