Languaging the Planet II
Continuing from where I left off here 👇🏾
The book is the first modern artifact, the first manufactured object produced for mass consumption. Wikipedia goes one step further in its article on Johannes Gutenberg:
His work started the Printing Revolution in Europe and is regarded as a milestone of the second millennium, ushering in the modern period of human history (italics mine).
No wonder both the form of language, i.e., the specific language we use for a particular purpose (say Sanskrit for religious purposes) and the material on which that language is inscribed (the printed book or a tablet screen) are ruling metaphors for the modern era, which, however diverges between two language types:
The Languages of Nature
The Languages of Society
The languages of nature tend towards mathematics. The languages of society are the various national languages. Both language types have their own presuppositions. The languages of nature assume there’s a single unbroken entity called the universe even if it displays different features at different scales. Galileo in the Assayer:
The languages of society depend on the existence of the nation which becomes the only acceptable institution for aggregating peoples. Gandhi writing to Tagore in 1918 (before he became the leader of the nationalist struggle):
(i) Is not Hindi (as bhasha or Urdu) the only possible national language for inter provincial intercourse and for all other nation al proceedings?
(ii) Should not Hindi be the language principally used at the forthcoming Congress?
And Tagore’s response:
most of our politicians will find it extremely difficult to express themselves adequately in this language for no fault of their own. The difficulty will be not only for want of practice but also because political thoughts have naturally taken form in our minds in English.
How does one translate political ideas and idioms from one language to another? And I don’t mean translation as a linguistic act as much as a cognitive one, i.e., how to digest an idea from another worldview and make it part of your own buffet of concepts? Tagore and Gandhi had their answers to that question, but for a more recent one that foregrounds our planetary concerns, here’s a diagram from Bruno Latour (who, sadly, died a couple of days ago):
How do we language the planet? Surely it’s nature? But what does nature mean in the Anthropocene? Aren’t all human impacts part of society? Perhaps the planet is both? What is the language appropriate to this entity and what form/matter must this language take?