ABSTRACT

I In our critical language attending the arts, we encounter with great frequency mentions of the "life" of materials, and then - extending this move in our critical language-game - we often go on to attribute animate desires or intentional states to inanimate materials, e.g. we speak of where the development section of a symphony "wants to go," how a painting "wants to develop" along certain lines, what a poetic line seems "to call for;' what a character in a novel "wants to say," and how an improvised jazz solo can seem to "play itself." These, along with countless similar critical expressions, render tellingly problematic the lines separating the animate from the inanimate, and in this connection Goldblatt refers to Wittgenstein's discussion of the "sign" and its "life" in his Philosophical Investigations, a discussion that was revolutionary in its undercutting of a traditional and time-honored (if not truth-honored) distinction in the philosophy of language. That distinction drew a clear line between the external, inert, intrinsically lifeless linguistic sign (in spoken or written form) and the animating idea or thought-content in the mind of the speaker that, as mentalistic baggage, was carried by the physicalistic otherwise-meaningless sign. This model of meaning was deeply entrenched throughout the history of philosophical reflections on language until the revolutionary investigations of the middle and later Wittgenstein, and it is a model that corresponds directly to the legacy of Cartesian dualism rigidly separating mind and matter. According to it, mental acts, metaphysically private to the speaker, wholly determine what we generically call propositional content, and those inner acts are only contingently associated with the corporeal, conventionally-linked, external signs that carry those ghostly entities into the external world. Wittgenstein's discussion is, as we might expect, subtle and intricate, but he is centrally concerned to undercut this dualistic view. In those writings he does this by leading us through a process of philosophical

therapeutics, where we come to see the life and the sign not as two ontologically-distinct and categorically-neat entities. Rather, we are there led to see the life as a function of contextualized, particularized, use within a larger frame of reference, a larger and irreducible network of human practices that provide the extensive background against which any meaningful utterance is comprehended. It is within - and only within - such a "form of life" that our language-games develop as they do, and the modes of human interaction that we experience as part of that form of life make the philosophical picture of mutual sign-interpretation seem a wild falsification of what we in fact do and how we in fact are. Indeed, the legacy of Cartesian dualism, against which Wittgenstein was reacting in those writings, would attempt to describe human interaction in terms that might more accurately be used to describe, say, two scuba divers using hand signs to indicate their intended messages, where each diver is hermetically contained within his own perfectly-sealed mask, rubber suit, and aqualung system. That undersea interaction is, of course, parasitic upon normal human contact - it is decidedly not the case that normal interactive speech is a development of, or parasitic upon that. Goldblatt, throughout his chapters, knows well what Wittgenstein was battling in that discussion, and Goldblatt's mindfulness concerning these fundamental considerations about linguistic meaning allows him to see the multiform facts of ventriloquial practice in a manner free of the distorting influences of dualisms of language and, even more fundamentally, of self. The traditional, pre-Wittgensteinian philosophical sensibility would look at Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and see, in a manner consistent with the philosophical presuppositions against which Wittgenstein was laboring, a clear metaphysical line between the animate and the inanimate, where all life-giving meaningcontent would be seen as emanating exclusively from Bergen's private Cartesian mind. But in this special case, rather than giving propositional content to the vocal utterances we see coming from him, i.e. Bergen, we see him giving life to the verbal signs that he makes appear to come from McCarthy. Thus, on this conventional, pre-Wittgensteinian model, the source of the life of the signs is the same - Bergen's private mental interior - but the signs to which they are attached (the signs that carry that cognitive content as baggage) appear to differ. Goldblatt, writing beyond the grip of this misleading dualistic picture, sees a thousand things other, and far more intricate, than this. But before going on to discuss a number of those things, it is perhaps worthwhile to

pause at this juncture and consider a point available here that Goldblatt does not explicitly make (although it is one I think wholly consistent with his larger enterprise). In what I have suggested thus far, the thinking about Bergen and McCarthy proceeds from our initial intuitions and presuppositions about real persons and real language to our understanding of the dummy. But if we reverse this, beginning with McCarthy, what do we see first? Indeed, a carved piece of wood whose "father was a gateleg table," an inanimate object made to move by animate forces both ontologically and spatially separate and independent from it. That, it can come to dawn on us, just is the picture of the human self given by the Cartesian legacy; it is a physical entity given its life by isolable mental forces within (or in the case of McCarthy, beside) it. And, again, this in turn provides the structural underpinnings for the bifurcated or dualistic conception oflinguistic meaning. But it can strike us forcefully that what it is like to be human, what some describe as our interior phenomenology, and others as our irreducible qualitative states or "qualia;' when we compare it with the model of Bergen animating McCarthy, is nothing like that. Neither the self nor our speech conforms to that model. And, more interestingly, as Goldblatt sees clearly, Bergen and McCarthy do not conform to that model either. The facts of the case are more interesting, more complicated, and far more telling about genuine human interaction, and as anyone who looks closely at the photograph of Bergen and McCarthy can see, more uncanny.