Are you bothered by language? Is it troubling to you that a word can never quite convey reality, that you can never really mean exactly what you mean to mean? Does the arbitrariness of the relation between Signifier and Signified give you sleepless nights? Are you completely confident that the poetry of J.H. Prynne is not an elaborate leg-pull?
No? Me neither. To that extent, sadly, we will never be players in the artistic or philosophical A Team. After years of study, contemplation, and creativity, we stumble at the threshold. I have tried to feel this rupture (ouch!), to experience the hall-of-mirrors mise en abîme of Deriddean différance (oo-er!) but, like someone sold a vitamin pill in place of something more interesting, I gave up waiting for anything to happen after an hour or so.
Now, I do have the normal quota of odd impulses, anxieties and irrational fears -- long-term readers will know all about El Tiburón -- but words are my trusted friends. When I say "dog", I mean "dog". It doesn't bother me that there may be ambiguities there; I love, embrace, and enjoy those ambiguities. Context is all. For me, language works. It has always bothered me, however, that there are those, cleverer than me, who think it doesn't, and -- more importantly -- can't work.
I can accept that this may be because I am the dreaded
middle-class Anglo-Saxon protestant-heritage heterosexual white male. It doesn't get any worse than that, does it? Downpressor Man, c'est moi. So it may well be that "my" language seems a good fit to the world simply
because it was forged over centuries in a society where people like me wrote the script; language is a play in which I am cast as Mr. Oddly-Normal. But I can't pretend to hold beliefs that I don't feel, just to secure admission to an elite, black-clad secular priesthood. Though my suspicion is that many do and have done, just as priests have always done down the ages.
When Magritte inscribes "this is not a pipe" under a picture of a pipe, I get it. But it doesn't rock my world, any more than those annoying meta-fictions do that insist on foregrounding their fictionality: "Hey, look, this is just a novel... I made it all up!!" Well, yes, I knew that. I realise there are people who send birthday cards to soap-opera characters, but those people are fools, not philosophers. My world is a construct, no doubt, but it's been over-engineered to a very high specification and seems to hold up pretty well. Yours may not. I honestly hate to think how that must feel.
But let's stick with dogs. If I say, in conversation, "I make my staff work like dogs", then it is clear, at least to another native British-English speaker, what I mean, even though neither of us may have any idea what employment conditions dogs tend to enjoy. In fact, if you have ever watched the tail-wagging, tongue-lolling bliss-fest that is a sheepdog at work, or admired the saintly poise of a labrador guide-dog, that is pretty much what I don't mean. These currents of uncertainty, ambiguity, metaphor and even intertextuality released by the proximity of the words "dog" and "work" might lead to some entertaining wordplay, or they might not. But I'd be more than amazed if they caused my interlocutor any distress: "I don't know what you mean! What kind of dog? How can you know how dogs work? I'm afraid! Help me!" And so on. It's never going to happen. At least, not if that tablet really was a vitamin pill.
Maybe I have just mixed with the wrong company; straight-up linguistic dullards like myself, happy to figure-skate on the surface of language, and lucky enough -- or stupid enough -- never to have fallen through into the freezing waters below. Or maybe (whisper it) a lot of the wordage written around the genuine and acknowledged inherent instability of language is just so much factitious posturing, a single good egg worked up by a thousand super-clever hands into a vast soufflé, a self-sustaining rococo filigree as insubstantial as a soap-bubble. Or perhaps "as insubstantial as a collateralized debt obligation" would be a more apt contemporary comparison.
Mind you, I read that upbeat TED Talks and massively-popular MOOCs are the highroads to academic stardom, now. Austere, difficult Theory, communicated via conference papers with beyond-parody titles, is so last century. Somewhere in a drawer I have the black, academic polo-neck that I earned back in 1977, which I never did feel comfortable wearing. It's a couple of sizes too small, these days, anyway, and I never did like that priestly look.