We use signs to communicate. It has become increasingly easy to forget this fact. The entire hermeneutical debate over ‘meanings in texts’ stems, in my opinion, from an inability to recognize the necessity of using signs to communicate. And not just to communicate, but even to think at all! This was Wittgenstein’s central insight into language and culture: The given is not an irreducible “I” beneath or behind all forms of language and culture, residing in the supposedly private realm of thought (a la Descartes’ thinking ego) where ones private language dwells. In this picture, one understands oneself perfectly, but is unable to understand anyone else with any sense of clarity, for ones private language is incommensurable with the private languages of anyone else. Instead, the given is the multiplicity of being amongst beings; or history, or culture, or whatever else you want to call it. The point is, we inhabit language and culture. They are not monolithic and totalizing forces, as in perverse forms of Behaviorism and Determinism, but freely evolving forces that we co-inhabit. It is our interactions with each other, as humans, that is the given. Praxis is theory, one might say.
This reversal of theory and praxis is what makes the ordinary again strange. It de-familiarizes the familiar. What was once seen as commonplace is now part of a different world. The sheer particularity of things, no longer forced into categories we have constructed to make sense of them, finally becomes apparent. The deconstruction of modernity’s various totalizing systems illustrates the chaos inherent in all forms of order. These things in life, the little things, are not as familiar as we think. There is no ultimate, metaphysical force in the universe that makes everything ultimately “same”. Difference reigns in this world, and there is no essential, fundamental structure that domineers.
This is great comedy. De-familiarization, the loss of the comfortability of the ordinary, is a great new form of comedy.
This is the world of the prophet. The prophet understands that the world is dominated by the powers that be. The simple man has no way of escaping the control of the empires. Therefore, he must think and speak in an utterably new way – and that way is apocalyptic poetry, or prophecy. The prophetic imagination sees the monotonous form of everyday life (“There is nothing new under the sun”) through the forms of apocalypse – dragons and angels and wizards and epic battles. And why is this? Because God is free. God is not bound by the dominating forces of the world, He is Wholly Other; and when he enters in to our world, He reveals the chaos innate in the world’s systems; that is, He makes a mess. This form of poetry, or comedy, is a prophetic challenge to the world. As G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy,
“When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother’s knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud.”