Amongst the many hundreds of manuscripts left behind by Russian theologian Mikola Mandelstahm
are a number of thin volumes explicating the philosophy
of the Ancient Greek
. The text below is Mandelstahm's consideration of the subject of speech versus writing
, which is, of course, a central philosophical tradition today in the works of Jacques Derrida
, particularly in his deconstruction
of Plato's Phaedrus
where writing is situated on the margins of speech, and put forth only as a perforated copy of it. There is, in Mandelstahm's critique of Heraclitus, more than a hint of what would later follow in Derrida's critical treatment of Plato. Mandelstahm also treated of something similar in his consideration of Heraclitus' Fragment 93
, which focuses on the "showing" of meaning. The present text is, as you will read, far more difficult to comprehend, and most Mandelstahm scholars have made only, self-admittedly, poor attempts to determine the thought that is driving Mandelstahm in this rather erratic entry in the manuscripts of his library. The text below was probably written sometime in the mid-1660's..
Can Heraclitus really profane the value of speech
, even before Plato
could derive from his methodology
an entire metaphysics
that took as its foundation the supremacy of speech and the peripheral status of that which is not spoken, but is rather written, felt, known. There was always something terrible about the myth of Thoth, that he invented writing, as if there were already a speech, and besides that an entire history
of a community in comunication, before there was even a glyph or cipher or recording of that speech. For what can be spoken, truly spoken, and heard, if it is not first already written? Is that not what Heraclitus' means?
Knowing not how to listen nor how to speak (F19).
For in listening, in speaking, we remember ourselves all too much. We do not meditate on the Word, nor can we become it. Only in the monastic habit of writing, the scribal habit of copying, can we seek communion with our Lord who is most beautiful, most powerful, and most well-written of all things.
From the same source, Clément, Stromates, II, 24, 5, we can read this fragment of Heraclitus. The similarity of source is perhaps an indication that for Heraclitus, these two written sentences are, somehow, related.
If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out and difficult (F18).
What is unexpected is also what is not heard, for do we not always spend so much time in hearing, in the company of hearing? Hearing is company. For us, we believe we are only truly together when we are in communion
. Yet, this is when we are most alone, I believe. Heraclitus teaches us the value of not
listening and not
speaking and thereby learning to not
expect. It is as if, by an act of total negation, we can escape our souls and find their being on the circle and their very reality. And so I can arrive at a more probably reading of the 108th Fragment, which is from an altogether different source, and states:
Of all whose discourses I have heard there is not one who attains to understanding that wisdom is apart from other things (F108).
It is not, as is commonly supposed, that there is not to be understood a separation
and those other things. No.
Heraclitus has not heard
of any discourse that approaches such an understanding. Nor is there even one that seeks such an understanding, for in being a hearing, it is also thereby a speech, and so it cannot seek to understand wisdom, for wisdom is precisely the space between which speech and hearing are situated, it is precisely the writing, the being, the motion, the signing and being, the knowledge of which, where there is no hearing, where there is a total
Of wisdom, Heraclitus writes:
Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things (F41).
Wisdom is not to be heard, it is also not to be spoken. It is that which is to be known, through a steering
, he writes. What is a steering, but a turning of the hand
? Do we not steer
with our hands? It is a writing. In fact wisdom is a knowing, a being of the hand, a knowing through the hand, in the way that the Oracle at Delphoi
, said Heraclitus
did neither cover nor uncover its meaning, but only showed it, was it, by virtue of the words it wrote on its walls, on the hands of the believers, and in the souls of the men who would prostrate
themselves prior to this oracle, or before it. (All things are written through all other things. For each word is also thereby all other words. If there were only one word, would there not also be no words? Every word that is taken away, takes away another word, and so that which is given, must also be returned.)
I can confess that even I do not understand that of which I write. If you speak it, though, your ears will tear themselves off from your head. You shall die where they once were.