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Tag: Daniël George van Beuningen

Umberto Eco: Search for the Perfect Language

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel (circa 1563-1565, oil on panel, Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Room 06, Rotterdam. Accession number 2443 (OK). Bequeathed to the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen by Daniël George van Beuningen. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. This one is in the collection of the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. A second version is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A third version, a miniature on ivory, is apparently held by a private collector. Its disposition is unknown. The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

This is the first page of my serialization of Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995.

Editorial Note

This book is not available in electronic formats from Amazon or other vendors, and there are no .pdf versions lurking anywhere on the web. The lone electronic version that I did uncover is hosted on OpenLibrary.org, and lending is controlled using Adobe Digital Editions. This so offended me that I digitized every page of the work. Making no apologies, I publish it here.

This book by Umberto Eco was mentioned in an article discussed earlier on this site, by Tzahi Weiss, “On the Matter of Language: The Creation of the World from Letters and Jacques Lacan’s Perception of Letters as Real,” 2009.

My post on this paper is published as Smoke Signals: Comments on Borges, Tzahi Weiss, Kabbalah, “On the Matter of Language: The Creation of the World From Letters and Jacques Lacan’s Perception of Letters As Real,” JJTP 17.1, Brill, 2009.

Eco Begins

With no further ado, Eco opens with several excerpts, one from Herodotus, History, II, I, another from Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, III, pg. 5, and this one, from Leibniz, Letter to Duke of Hanover, 1679, which I excerpt in full.

“If only God would again inspire your Highness, the idea which had the goodness to determine that I be granted 1200 emus would become the idea of a perpetual revenue, and then I would be as happy as Raymond Lull, and perhaps with more reason . . . For my invention uses reason in its entirety and is, in addition, a judge of controversies, an interpreter of notions, a balance of probabilities, a compass which will guide us over the ocean of experiences, an inventory of things, a table of thoughts, a microscope for scrutinizing present things, a telescope for predicting distant things, a general calculus, an innocent magic, a non-chimerical cabal, a script which all will read in their own language; and even a language which one will be able to learn in a few weeks, and which will soon be accepted amidst the world. And which will lead the way for the true religion everywhere it goes.”

Leibnitz, Letter to Duke of Hanover, 1679.

“The dream of a perfect language did not only obsess European culture. The story of the confusion of tongues, and of the attempt to redeem its loss through the rediscovery or invention of a language common to all humanity, can be found in every culture (cf. Borst 1957-63). Nevertheless, this book will tell only one strand of that story — the European; and, thus, references to pre- or extra-European cultures will be sporadic and marginal.

This book has another limit as well; that is, a qualitative one. As I was on the verge of writing its final version, there reached my desk at least five recent projects, all of which seem to be related to the ancient prototypes I was dealing with.

I should emphasize that I will be limiting myself to those prototypes because Borst, whose own study concerns only the historical discussion on the confusion of tongues, has managed to present us with six volumes.

Finishing this introduction, I received Demonet’s account of the debate on the nature and origin of language between 1480 and 1580, which takes up seven hundred thick and weighty pages.

Couturat and Leau analyzed 19 models of a priori languages, and another 50 mixed or a posteriori languages; Monnerot-Dumaine reports on 360 projects for international languages; Knowlson lists 83 projects of universal languages during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and, though limiting himself to projects in the nineteenth century, Porset provides a list of 173 titles.

Moreover, in the few years I have dedicated to this subject, I have discovered in antiquarian catalogues a large number of works missing from the biographies of the preceding books.

Some, by obscure authors, were entirely dedicated to the glottogonic problems; others were by authors known for other reasons, who, none the less, dedicated substantial chapters to the theme of the perfect language.

This ought to be enough to convince anyone that our list of titles is still far from complete; and, that therefore, to paraphrase a joke by Macedonio Fernandez, the number of things which are not in the bibliographies is so high that it would be impossible to to find room for one more missing item.

Hence my decision to proceed by a campaign of deliberated decimation. I have reserved attention for projects which seemed to me exemplary (whether for their virtues or their defects); as for the rest I defer to works dedicated to specific authors and periods.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 1-2.

 

Melvin: Origins of Human Civilization–Divine Mediation or Human Endeavor?

“In the study of Genesis 1–11, it is common for scholars to make comparisons between the biblical material and ancient Near Eastern myths. The discovery of large numbers of texts from Mesopotamia and Ugarit during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries created a veritable deluge of comparative studies of the primeval history.

While the observation of the many continuities between Genesis 1–11 and Mesopotamian myths has contributed greatly to our understanding of this portion of the biblical text, it is also important to note the discontinuities between the biblical and extra-biblical material.

One such discontinuity relates to the origin of human civilization. In Mesopotamian myths, civilization arises via the intervention of gods or other divine beings. It is portrayed variously as a gift bestowed directly upon humanity, an institution preceding the creation of humanity (via the creation of patron deities of various technologies), or the bestowal of knowledge upon humans by gods, sometimes through intermediary beings.

In Genesis 1–11, on the other hand, there are no divine mediators, and there does not appear to be any divine assistance in the rise of civilization.

(Late Second Temple period expansions of the tradition preserved in Genesis 6:1–4, such as 1 Enoch 6–11 and Jubilees 4:15, 21–23a 8:1–4, do include angelic revelation of secret knowledge which contributes to human civilization.

Although a few scholars, most notably J. T. Milik and Margaret Barker, have argued that these works preserve elements of an earlier, more extensive tradition which Genesis 6:1–4 has abridged, their proposals have not met with much acceptance.

See J. T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 30–32a; Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 1987), 18–19a; see especially the review of Barker by Nickelsburg in JBL 109 (1990), 335–37. See below for a further discussion of this possibility.)

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel (circa 1563-1565, oil on panel, Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Room 06, Rotterdam. Accession number 2443 (OK). Bequeathed to the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen by Daniël George van Beuningen. Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. This one is in the collection of the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. A second version is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A third version, a miniature on ivory, is apparently held by a private collector. Its disposition is unknown.  The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that "faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Click to zoom. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530-1569), The Tower of Babel (circa 1563-1565, oil on panel, Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Room 06, Rotterdam. Accession number 2443 (OK). Bequeathed to the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen by Daniël George van Beuningen.
Brueghel painted three versions of the Tower of Babel. This one is in the collection of the Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. A second version is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A third version, a miniature on ivory, is apparently held by a private collector. Its disposition is unknown.
The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Rotterdam)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Rather, civilization is the product of human endeavor. In Genesis 4:17–22, humans discover or invent various aspects of civilized life: city-building, animal husbandry, music, and metallurgy. The human source of city-building is further underscored in Genesis 10–11 with the construction of cities by Nimrod (10:8–12) and the building of the city and tower of Babylon (11:1–9).

I propose that the absence of divine mediation from Genesis 1–11 shifts the responsibility for civilization and the evils which accompany it onto humanity, particularly through the Eden narrative’s portrayal of civilizing knowledge as illicitly acquired divine knowledge.

In order to make this case, I will first examine the Mesopotamian literature to establish the mythological background which Genesis 1–11 rejects. Then, I will analyze the relevant biblical texts in order to demonstrate the absence of the instruction motif. Finally, I will argue that the Eden story in Genesis 3 is the key to understanding how and why the mythological motif of divine instruction was excluded from Genesis 1–11.”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 1-3.

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