On Intention (part 3)

(read from the beginning)

Tim: On this rare occasion, while I’m in the lead, allow me to reciprocate your question from earlier. Why do you pursue your profession? Why are you in the health care business?

Zak: To help people. A lot of adults are forced to work just for money. I count myself fortunate that my line of work can also be altruistic.

Tim: That sounds generally reasonable, but less so in the context of our current discussion. What if your actions don’t effect the good ends you have in mind? What if your company just devolves into another one of many cases of corporate greed in America? Then you would be only another business man.

Zak: So you’re a communist?

Tim: No, today I’m too busy being a fatalist to be anything else. I don’t propose a solution to systemic avarice, I only recognize it as a problem.

Zak: But you’re not only a fatalist, you’re also a miscreant. This “massive structuralist mechanism” of yours, if it’s not a machine, then what is it?

Tim: It’s the fatal consequence of a vast web of interdependent states.

Zak: Interdependent states? States of the world?

Tim: If you like. Or of the language that construes human experience within that world.

Zak: But how are they interdependent? There is structure, but what kind of structure? Is it communist or monarchical?

Tim: Well…

Zak: I’m almost afraid to ask: returning to language specifically, does one linguistic decision determine those that follow, in some kind of hierarchy, or are all decisions created equally?

Tim: Have you seen the way I write poetry?

Zak: That’s why I was afraid to ask.

Tim: But I will concede. Generally speaking, in order for language to function, a society or an individual must make some decisions before others, and those preceding decisions necessarily limit the ones that follow.

Zak: For example?

Tim: For example. When the Anglos, the Saxons, and the Jutes collectively decided that the porto-english language would not adopt the Romantic system of grammatical gender, they may have limited the structural function that gender could play in the society at large. Not all nouns would necessarily carry a feminine or masculine connotation, the attribution of adjectives would be more ambiguous, and male/female would be more of a private distinction than a social institution.

Zak: And hence the gender distinction is supposed to apply not at all to public social functions, like the work place, the family etc, but only to the bedroom.

Tim: Somehow that is supposed to be the case at present, although this structural mechanism will continue to guide society toward its natural consequence. We have proto-english speakers to thank, at least in part.

Zak: Ok. So each structural choice is predicated on the ones that come before it.

Tim: Where are you going with this?

Zak: Precisely where we should have begun: providence.

Tim: I knew you had a trick up your sleeve.

Zak: In fact. This whole structuralist mechanism of yours consists in a series of contingent entities. New words are predicated on old ones, subordinate clauses depend on main ones, etc. But the chain of dependency can’t regress infinitely—

Tim: —Or can it?

Zak: I’m a classicist, so no: there must at some point be a primal Word from which all language derives its meaning. A Word which means nothing other than itself. Fate, then, is not actually fate at all. The whole universe is really one massive Text, written by the authorial hand of providence.

But the will of Zeus was carrying out its end.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, plans to give you a hope and a future.’

One must wonder whether your philological notion of textual “corruption” is not blasphemous to the Divine Intention, which is, of necessity, fully realized through the intelligent manipulations of the structure that recontextualizes and redeems human fallibility. Is not the authorial intent of man rather a corruption of the all encompassing Text written by the hand of God?

Tim: Then all human effort is vain?

Zak: How does that follow?

Tim: All literature written by men is like a palimpsest from the medieval period. Just like a medieval scribe, God intends to, and will, scrape off the original writing to make space for a new text. Then what’s the point of writing the original?

Zak: You’re the one that bothers with that. You should tell me, what’s the point of composition?

Tim: It’s pointless.

Zak: Have you read Boethius’ On The Consolation of Philosophy?

Tim: I’ve read the menus at some very fateful steakhouses.

Zak: Then what about Seneca’s essay On Providence.

Tim: With equal regret, I have experienced providence’s intentions for that much meat.

Zak: You should really learn Latin. Get some culture in your life.

Tim: A fair critique.

Zak: Anyway, we mustn’t suppose that recontextualizing is the same thing as undermining or invalidating the original. It is, in fact, much more artistic. It’s about finding unusual uses for preexisting material. God is a master jazz improviser who allows himself the liberty to make mistakes, always with the foresight and virtuosity to work around those indeterminacies so that they don’t result as mistakes at all. A “wrong note” or a “corruption” might easily turn into a highlight of the whole composition.

Tim: You make me feel unconscionably warm and fuzzy.

Zak: If to contradict the Divine was a mistake on the part of man, that blemish rises to something more beautiful in the context of soteriological sacrifice. Contradiction, after all, presupposes that the entities involved are not one in the same thing; when the Divine substitutes himself on our behalf, this presupposition is rendered false, and the contradiction that follows becomes ineffectual.

Tim: So the significance of human action depends on the structural context determined by Providence.

Zak: Precisely.

Tim: But it’s strange, isn’t it?

Zak: What?

Tim: Do you really think that context and structure are the source of meaning, or is it the other way around? Is my meaning the consequent of the relationships between words, or are those relationships determined by what I intend to express?

Zak: Maybe a bit of both. Why?

Tim: If Providence is sovereign over structure, my intentions do not factor in at all, because in the face of Divine Imperialism they are powerless to determine meaningful linguistic relationships. This is all very existential. It means that we have no access to the authorial intent of our fellow man.

Zak: I do suppose you’re right… I do… unless those intentions and the strategy of Providence should result in one and the same thing.