Law Text Culture

Article Title

Language as Mimesis


This essay brings the idea that language is mimesis, in something like the Greek sense, into contact with certain Eastern images and ideas. Heidegger defined mimesis, well enough for my purposes, as the presentation or production of something in a manner that is typical of something else. (Heidegger 1991, vol I: 173) Keeping this image of mimesis in mind, I want to extend to language the inversion of traditional aesthetic theory that Nietzsche accomplished when he thought of art from the point of view of the artist--the creator of images--rather than from the point of view of the one who merely views or contemplates the so-called "finished work of art." (71) Just as Nietzsche elevated the artist to prominence in his theory of art, I make language into something that is above all an active doing from the speaker's or writer's perspective, and not just a passive receiving from the perspective of a hearer or reader. When Hegel wrote that "the act of dividing is the force and labor of the understanding, of the most wonderful and grandest, or rather, of absolute power," (Heidegger 1991, vol III: 223, citing Hegel Werke 1832-45, vol II: 25) he wrote from the perspective of a recipient--someone before whom the divisions made by speech appear as something else that they themselves are not. In contrast, what I mean by mimesis is very definitely not the linguistic picture that is made, taken by an observer to be an act of understanding. Still less do I take it to be a pictorial thing that stands in relation to what it represents. Rather, what I call mimesis is the creative energy of picturing itself. And while I do not deny that language is also poiesis, in the Greek sense of producing something in words. (Heidegger 1991, vol I: 165), I am far more interested in displaying the act of production itself as image-making--as a kind of mimesis--even, or rather especially, in those cases where a speaker or writer produces words that no one takes to be an image.