Monday, May 11, 2009

Making Marks

by E. A. Costa (May 2009)

There is no look backward without moving forward.

Is the reverse also true--that there is no move forward without looking backward?

It is a question of envelopes, sealed and unsealed.

Wittgenstein did not prove that a private language is logically and formally impossible as a thing in itself.

What he unveiled were some of the logical implications of such a concept, if it is a concept.

Descartes was about an analogous problem without knowing it.

Does the bottle send messages to itself?

Eventually Jacques Lacan, after long feeding on Freud and the Surrealists, advanced into topology as a model--not a metaphor--for mind.

In that context it is not pertinent whether "mind" so defined is psyche or nous.

It may be that private language is possible, according to some definition of "language" that is itself undefined or otherwise obscure.

In one aspect it is akin to marking one's locale by drawing a line on the side of the boat.

Is such a mark purely formal or is it mere noise?

If the envelope is completely sealed formality is also lost, or is ever in flux, which amounts to almost same thing.

Like those who attempt to mark progress or regress with tattoos, is there added mystery having one inscribed where it cannot be seen, or seen only in a mirror?

Angelina Jolie, an American actress who may or may not be remembered as a name in half a century or so, happens to be daughter of an American actor, John Voight, about whom the same may be said.

Jolie has a large assortment of tattoos, including a record of the longitude and latitude where all her children, natural or adoptive, were born or legally adopted.

However naive, that seems one possible outside of the envelope, with reference to a symbolic and mathematical coordinate system yet another step removed.

Who knows what will remain of the envelope in fifty years? The probability is that longitude and latitude will remain understandable coordinates, but even that is uncertain.

How quickly did modern Dalmatian disappear with the death of its last living speaker, Tuone Udaina, in 1898.

In those last lonely years an Italian recorded a long list of Dalmatian words, and some small part of the language is also known from earlier texts.

Was it living or dead when Udaina was its only living speaker?

It is not recorded, so far as one knows, whether the last Dalmatian had any distinctive marks, whether birth spots or tattoos.

Perhaps the burial place is known and a few bones can be found by hard looking.

It is also not recorded, so far as one knows, whether Udaina had any surviving children. If he did they were not, apparently, speakers of Dalmatian.

Even were there records they would be reliable only in the matter of what was known and documented and in regard to what Udaina claimed.

However none of this, if recorded at all, seems to have been recorded in Dalmatian.

The real curiosity is why the Italian did not become a speaker himself. Having recorded thousands of words, why did he not learn the language and pass it on to someone else?

Or, were he not competent enough linguistically for that, and given the fact that he could never become a native speaker, did he make any effort to inform others, who may have been interested, that the Ragusan language was about to die a natural death, with no friend among the local people or ecclesiastics or the faraway scientists and academics to save it?

How many other natural languages have died in the same way?

At the other end of the scale is the so-called "Ice Man", whose body was discovered a few years ago in the Alps a few yards over the Italian side of what is now the border between Italy and Austria.

The remains, well-preserved because frozen, were dated to the Third Millennium B.C. The fellow was extremely well outfitted for a mountain walk, including wearing well-made, insulated boots of various animal hides, formed in several parts, with vertical strips stitched together with sinew.

The vertical strips and the area where the fellow was found suggest to some investigators that the boots were part of a snowshoe rig whose frames were misidentified as part of the Ice Man's back pack.

The Ice Man had more than half a hundred tattoos, mostly groups of parallel lines, with dots also, and two crosses or X's.

Forensics has established that the fellow was perhaps forty-five years old and had a number of physical ailments which he seems to have been treating with various herbs and mushrooms he carried.

One of the researchers made a correlation between the fellow's known ailments and their symptoms, the location of the tattoos on his body, and contemporary Chinese acupuncture points. One theory is, then, that the tattoos are part of Copper Age medicine, which included acupuncture.

This is tentative.

There is also no lack of magico-religious and Shamanic explanations of the tattoos, based on no evidence whatever.

Another possible connection that no one else has made, as far as one knows, is that the tattoos are correlated with the Ice Man's age in years, with the two crosses perhaps being anomalies or marking the first two years of infancy.

Though this may seem unlikely, in the face of so much unknown there is no way to determine that this correlation is any more meaningful than that.

Most of the tattoos are on the Ice Man's back, near the spine. This suggests two things: (1) he did not make the tattoos himself, and (2) he could not see them without a mirror, if he had access to mirrors.

One thing is almost certain: the Ice Man's tattoos likely do not mark the longitude and latitude of the birth and adoption of his children.

Fifty-three generations is a long time.

Should Angelina Jolie's tattoos survive in comparable form for like time will they be any more readable or meaningful?

[copyright EAC May 09]

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