Thursday, February 18, 2016

Speech as our Matrix (Parts 3-6)

Continuation of Clinton Gardner Essay.



Without participation in the life of the word through the ages, we become ephemeral. Speaking, thinking, learning, teaching, and writing are the processes into which we must be immersed to become beings. They enable us to occupy a present in the midst of flux. Language receives us into its community; speech admits us to the common boat of humanity in its struggle for orientation on its pilgrimage through space and time.                  
 –Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy


Man’s language aims at something not aimed at by apes or nightingales: it intends to form the listener into a being which did not exist before he was spoken to. Human speech is formative and it is for this reason that it has become explicit and grammatical
  –Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy


Does the soul have a grammar? Now, as the Word comes out of the soul, and the truest Word comes straight from the very depths of the soul, .…then, just as the mind has logic, the soul will have a sense of the way words fit together—that is, “grammar”—as its inner structure….He who would explore the soul must fathom the secrets of language.
–Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy


Our defense of grammar is provoked by the obvious fact that this organon, this matrix form of thinking is not used as a universal method, hitherto.                               
 Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy 

Those four quotations set the stage for a deeper exploration of the Cross of Reality, a cross which is formed by the four fundamental ways that “words fit together.” As we shall see, that cross is not only a model of the human condition but also points to a “universal method” for the human sciences.  Of course, it was Rosenstock-Huessy’s description of his model and method as a “matrix form of thinking” which inspired me to title this essay “Speech as Our Matrix.”

            Some twenty years after I’d studied with Rosenstock-Huessy at Dartmouth, in 1965, he handed me seven manuscripts on how the Cross of Reality depicted the way language works in us. Indeed, how four basic and contrasting kinds of language created this cross. Finally, how the Cross of Reality suggested itself as a new method for sociology and all the human sciences, a method based on our four basic ways of speaking. 

            I was smitten again, by the originality and force of his thought. I asked him why he’d never offered a course on language at Dartmouth. He replied that he thought this subject would best be taught at the graduate school level. The athletics-obsessed Dartmouth students were able to digest his teachings on the history of revolutions—and world history, but he had not felt confident about courses on language.

            I offered to group his seven manuscripts into a book and seek a publisher for them. When that effort failed, I proposed to found a publishing company, Argo Books, which could bring out a book on language as well as his other unpublished works. Thus, Speech and Reality saw the light of day in 1970.

            Argo published a closely-related book, The Origin of Speech, in 1981. There he

distinguishes between two kinds of speech. On the one hand, we have the formal or “high” speech that we use “to sing a chorale, to stage tragedy, to enact laws, to compose verse, to say grace, to take an oath, to confess one’s sins, to file a complaint, to write a biography, to make a report, to solve an algebraic problem, to baptize a child, to sign a marriage contract, to bury one’s father.” On the other hand, we have the informal or low speech that we might use to show “a man the direction to the next farm on the road” or to stop “a child from crying.” Such low speech, which makes up “our daily chatter and prattle,” often serves “the same purposes as animal sounds.”

It was only after reading that “Origin” essay that I came to a full appreciation of what Rosenstock-Huessy meant by “speech.” He meant the intentional, relational, and dialogical speech, the fully articulated speech we use when we seek to tell the truth or establish relations with others. It is the language we use to advance any cause, large or small, social or personal.

            It also helps to grasp the idea of high speech when we make a distinction between what we mean by language and what we mean by speech. Language can be simply any use of words, while true speech involves not only speaking but listening. The word that we have heard from another stays with us and frames what we do, from our smallest to our largest actions. In other words, high speech always implies its own enactment. The words that initiate such speech stay alive and guide us through their realization. We never leave the fields of force created by high speech, from a well-timed word of encouragement from a parent or teacher to an order given in combat. While it is certainly not always the higher form, even what goes on inside our minds is speech. As Rosenstock-Huessy puts it, “thinking is nothing but a storage room for speech.”

            Returning now to Speech and Reality, let me sum up its core messageof just how four kinds of speech create that Cross of Reality in which all of us live:   

      1. First, imperative (or vocative) speech toward the future, addresses us as thou. Parents and teachers, religious leaders, and politicians, often address us this way.

      2. Second, the subjective speech of our inner self, our I, arises when we consider our possible reply to an imperative.

      3. Third, historical speech, records what we did in response to imperatives. Such speech preserves the past, telling how we and other people formed and maintained institutions, as we.

      4. Fourth, objective speech can look at what happened in the first three stages of any complete experience—and provide an analysis of them. It considers how we impacted the world, or persons, around us. Now we see persons as he, she, or they. 

            That summary shows us that the Cross of Reality is not a static image. It depicts the process through which we become and remain human. Rosenstock-Huessy once wrote a compact and beautiful statement about that four-stage sequence of speech: 

The soul must be called “thou” before she can ever reply “I,” before she can ever speak of “us,” and finally analyze “it.” Through the four figures, thou, I, we, it, the word walks through us. The word must call our name first. We must have listened and obeyed before we can think or command.   

            The reader may now find it helpful to look at the diagram of the Cross of Reality in Appendix I, since it depicts that sequence—and shows how the four kinds of speech affect every realm of our experience.


The Four Forms of High Speech

Rosenstock-Huessy has shown us that all high speech takes just four forms—imperative, subjective, narrative, and objective, as summarized above. Those forms, taken together, create the Cross of Reality, the speech matrix in which we live. Now I’d like to focus, even more closely, on how these quite different ways of speaking orient us throughout our lives.

1. Imperative or Vocative Speech: Toward Future Time

Imperative or vocative speech, addressing us as “thou,” is what calls us to any important undertaking in life. It establishes our commitments, loves, avocations, and (if we are fortunate) our vocations. Thus, “vocative,” which emphasizes “calling,” is another name for the imperative. We hear such speech from parents, teachers, or any other person whose guidance we seek. We hear it as the Ten Commandments or Isaiah; as Luther’s 95 Theses or the Declaration of Independence.

We hear such speech in the words of anybody who cares for us, addressing us as thou. Any speech that casts a net of faith into the future is a vocative, like “Will you marry me?” That is not a request for information.

A person who is starved for such speech cannot discover who he or she is and therefore cannot speak his or her own imperatives. A society that cannot speak its own imperatives gives way to decadence. Decadence is the inability of one generation to communicate imperatives to the next. All education, therefore, that is not simply technical, aims to create and maintain imperatives. This future-creating speech precedes and determines all the others. Until we sense this orientation and feel overwhelmed by it, we never really begin anything new in our lives.

In religious terms, it is hard to imagine a resurrection for the person who has not been moved by the imperative, and lives simply for his or her own time. We are only a little lower than the angels, and we are supernatural, because we are the creature that can hear the call to enter the future.

2. Subjective Speech: Toward Our Inner Space

Subjective speech arises in response to imperatives and vocatives. It creates the inner space, our I, where we begin to feel personally responsible for the appropriate answers to life’s questions. Now just why is it that subjective speech follows the imperative in a necessary sequence? What is the connection between listening to the imperatives of a leader or a teacher who inspired you, and going to the theater, listening to music, or simply sitting and reflecting? Well, after you hear somebody tell you to change your ways, you want to stop and sort things out. That is why the speech that takes us from the call of the future to our inner orientation is in the subjunctive, conditional, or optative mood. We turn inward, start questioning, and consider different responses.

Art, music, literature, poetry—in fact, all the voices of culture—are subjective speech. The arts remind us of all the possible ways to reply to imperatives. We can be the doubting Ivan Karamazov or we can be the faithful Alyosha.

A critical kind of interior speech is prayer. Prayer is a concentrated pondering of one’s reply to the callings of the future. Prayer means a listening to God’s imperatives, a recognizing that we are being addressed.

We develop our unique personality by selecting, from the many imperatives that address us, the particular callings and the particular causes that move us to respond. We are not just bundles of nerves, but we are just bundles of responses.

“Go thou,” the prophets of preceding generations say to us. “I’m not sure whether I’ll go,” we reply. As we question and decide just what we will do, we discover our identity, our I. We then feel different from “the establishment” of any preceding generation. From an orientation toward the future of the whole race, created by the imperative thou, we proceed to the singular, inward space of the individual who replies, I.

3. Narrative Speech: Carrying the Past Forward

We enter historical time when we leave the subjective orientation of I, and decide to express ourselves openly in the world. That means taking responsible action, with some other person or group. This is our answer to the questioning that went on in our second, interior orientation. It may mean marriage or becoming wedded to one’s career, but in every case it forms a dual relationship: You cannot act historically by yourself. You incorporate, you embody. Therefore, our speech and actions are now in the narrative mood and the grammatical person of we.

Marriage is the most obvious dual required to continue past creation, but unmarried persons form generative attachments whenever they relate themselves to some significant cause or institution.

Through narrative speech we participate in past time, not only as a part of the world’s history but also as a part of the “current history” of our own lives.

4. Objective Speech: Toward the Outside World

Our life in the first three speech orientations—imperative, subjective, and narrative—comprises all of our “high” experience. But we cannot live through these experiences, we cannot complete them, understand them, or be open to new experience without our fourth orientation via objective speech. Thus, this strictly rational orientation plays as vital a role in our lives as the first three. The only mistake made by today’s academic, scientific, and technology-obsessed minds has been to identify such speech as the primary and supremely “real” one.

Objective speech states as an outward fact what was first a powerful calling (thou), then an inner secret (I), next a shared experience (we), and now is simply a commonplace for everyone (they, he, she, or it).

In our daily lives we hear objective speech whenever we analyze our own or somebody else’s experience. Most journalism is objective speech. So are all the facts and figures, all the data that we use to organize our lives and our economies. Mathematics and statistics are, of course, quintessentially objective.

The Four Moods of Literature, Music, and Theater

Rosenstock-Huessy made clear that high speech is more than aural when he described how all literature, music, and theater express themselves in just four moods, four primary kinds of speech. And each mood relates to one of the four fronts on the Cross of Reality.

First there is the dramatic, heavy and imperative in style, challenging us to move toward the future. Second, we have the lyric, which is light, personal, and includes comedy. Its inner orientation is subjective. Third comes the epic, the historical narrative, such as the Iliad or the Odyssey. Fourth, and finally, we have the prosaic, the outward and objective presentation of life, the “realistic.” A musically-adept friend of mine told me that the Cross of Reality had seemed an abstract idea to him until I pointed out how these four moods were found in all the performing arts.


In the preceding sections, from Camp William James onward, I have sought to show how the four forms of high speech make up the Cross of Reality in which all of us live, not only today but throughout our history. Thus, I’ve been concentrating on that cross as a model of the human condition. Now I’d like to take up the cross as a method for dealing with our problems—personal, social, and global.

Rosenstock-Huessy sometimes called this new method “the grammatical method,” but he had no objection when I called it “the speech method” in my introduction to Speech and Reality.

He recognized that there was a pedantic sound to the word “grammatical.” Therefore, I will continue here to call it “the speech method.”

In very broad terms, Rosenstock-Huessy said this method “is the way in which man becomes conscious of his place in history (backward), world (outward), society (inward), and destiny (forward).” He called it “an additional development of speech itself, for speech having given man this direction and orientation about his place in the universe through the ages, what is needed today is an additional consciousness of this power of direction and orientation.” What he means by “additional consciousness” here seems to mean consciousness of the Cross of Reality, which leads me to conclude that the model of that cross, as described in sections II and III above, is the heart of the method. Model is intrinsic to method (as I now realize is the case with the “scientific method” by which we unlock the secrets of nature).

This brings me back to what I said, at the beginning of this paper, when I discussed Camp

Camp William James in the light of the Cross of Reality. Let me repeat it: “A person who uses common sense already interprets his or her life and history this way, from the four perspectives that the cross shows us. In other words, the cross simply codifies common sense.” When I used the word “codify,” I was thinking of just what Rosenstock-Huessy meant by the cross as giving us “an additional consciousness” of the powers of speech.

What I’d like to do now is spell out the four common sense elements of the Cross of Reality as method, namely “the Speech method.”

It is only common sense to examine any issue in terms of:

1. One’s hoped-for future outcome, that is the imperatives (or vocatives) involved. Rosenstock-Huessy suggested we call this being “prejective.”

2. One’s subjective inner consideration of what action might be taken, reviewing all


3. Gathering allies and taking the action, thus entering into history. Rosenstock-Huessy suggested we call this being “trajective.”

4. Analyzing whether the goal established at the outset has been achieved, and if so, making this plain to the persons involved—or the general public. Now, of course, we must be objective.

What the Cross of Reality suggests is that we give adequate attention to each phase of that four-part process, and address any issue in that order. This will be exemplified in the following example, based on a paper by Dr. Hans Huessy, Rosenstock-Huessy’s son, who was a professor of child psychiatry at the University of Vermont Medical School.

The Speech Method Applied to Psychiatry and Psychology

Hans Huessy points out that modern psychology began by imitating the natural sciences. It constructed its pyramid of knowledge by starting with the most elementary building stones, the most trivial, objective raw data. This approach put all the emphasis on the physiological level of human functioning: seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, and sex. While much can be learned by studying our behavior on this objective or outer front, the speech method posits that there are three other fronts of equal importance. For example, in our prejective orientation, as we attempt to create the future, we live at the level of love and self-sacrifice. Doctor Huessy says that most psychological and psychiatric theory ignores these higher levels of human performance or “explains them away as pathology.” Thus, psychoanalysis is likely to think of our personal and subjective “artistic creations as a compensation for neurotic complexes.” Similarly, “heroic deeds are explained as defenses against psychopathology.”

He then shows how the Cross of Reality reveals the normal and desirable sequence of any human experience. Emotional disturbance may be described as getting stuck in one particular phase, or it might be the result of an attempt to skip one. The speech method reveals four basic phases in any significant experience: (1) inspiration, (2) communication, (3) institutionalization, and finally, (4) history.

We see this sequence when we fall in love and get married. Our falling in love cannot be an objective or logical experience. We must be swept off our feet, inspired. Then we enter a subjective phase in which we must communicate our new relationship through love letters, singing, and talking. In the third phase, institutionalization, when we marry before witnesses, our experience has begun to enter recorded history. Finally, usually after our first child is born, we experience ourselves as an objective family unit. In each phase we have had new and different emotions.

Doctor Huessy says, “I would view these meaningful experiences as tying up considerable emotional energy, to borrow from psychoanalytic theory, and I think it is essential for us to see these experiences through all four stages so that this emotional energy becomes freed and available for new experiences.” As we go through any important experience, the movement from one phase to the next always involves some change, and change is usually accompanied by pain or “psychiatric symptoms.” But such symptoms are not necessarily indicators of pathology. Psychiatrists may do positive harm by mistaking the symptoms of healthy change for psychiatric illness.

Finally, he challenges Freudian psychology’s assumption that one begins with the ego or I and then works out to include additional members of the social group. The I, he says, is not the first form in which we come to consciousness of ourselves. As a child, and even later in life, we become a subjective I only after having first been addressed vocatively as thou. “One might say that children are spoken into membership in the human race. They are not born into such membership.” In other words, our ego does not produce itself. It is produced by the vocative or imperative address of our parents, our society, and our tradition. Since his specialty was child psychiatry, doctor Huessy was able to document these points. Children, he says, learn the pronoun I last. Autistic children do not learn to use I until very late in their development.

Within the limits of this essay, I cannot cite other applications of the speech method. But I should point out that my discussion in Part II touched on how Rosenstock-Huessy applied the method to describing pre-Christian history as well as the revolutions which filled the second millennium. Then I had earlier provided an application of the method in my presentation of Camp William James.


In the Introduction, I referred to W.H. Auden’s comment on Rosenstock-Huessy’s motto, Respondeo etsi mutabor (I respond although I will be changed). Near the end of Out of Revolution Rosenstock-Huessy offered this as a more all-embracing motto than Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am (with its corollary that everything else must be doubted until proven). Rosenstock-Huessy does not deny the usefulness of Cartesian doubt and objectivity when applied to the natural sciences. However, he says we have made the mistake of adopting it, in large measure, for the social sciences.

Besides advocating his new speech method, in his books Soziologie and Speech and Reality, Rosenstock-Huessy suggested that the higher sociology he was seeking might be named “metanomics.” With “nomics” derived from the Greek “nomoi,” for laws, he wanted the proposed science to be grounded in laws provable in social life and history, not on abstract theories.


Early in this paper I noted how Martin Buber had generously applauded Rosenstock-Huessy’s work in the realm of history. However, as founders of what has been called “dialogical thinking”, or “speech-thinking,” the two men took quite different approaches. Buber became world-famed through the publication of his little book Ich und Du (I and Thou) in 1923. There he wrote that any person, an independent I, can choose to have either warm dialogical I-thou relationships or cold objectifying I-it relationships, with others or with God. One does not become a fully realized person until one chooses the I-thou relationship. As Buber put his key insight, “as I become I, I say thou.”

Rosenstock-Huessy, by contrast, maintained that there is no such thing as an independent I. One becomes an I only as one is addressed by others, and by God, as thou. The proper grammatical order is thou-I, not I-thou. It is when we hear imperatives, when we hear ourselves addressed personally as thou, that we enter into the human story. As Rosenstock-Huessy put it, “The first form and the permanent form under which a man can recognize himself and the unity of his existence is the Imperative. We are called a Man and we are summoned by our name long before we are aware of ourselves as an Ego.”

Having discussed Buber, I should note Rosenstock-Huessy’s close friend and intellectual partner, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), who worked closely with Buber, in the 1920s, on a new translation of the Bible. Rosenzweig has been widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. What is often overlooked is that Rosenzweig credits Rosenstock-Huessy with having been “the main influence” in leading him to write his magnum opus, The Star of Redemption, published in 1924. An echo of that influence can be heard in this line from The Star: “One knew that the distinction between immanence and transcendence disappears in language.”

Returning to Buber, I’d like to tell a touching story. One of Rosenstock-Huessy’s students, Marshall Meyer, lived at the Huessy home during 1952, when he was a Dartmouth undergraduate. He went on to become a prominent rabbi in Buenos Aires and then in New York. While at the Huessy’s, he would often drive Rosenstock-Huessy to events and meetings. Meyer recounted a story about driving Eugen to the train station in White River Junction, Vermont, to pick up Buber for a visit. Meyer described his feelings when he watched their warm embrace on the platform. He said their arms seemed to reach back to the early 1920s—to include Franz Rosenzweig who had collaborated with both of them during those postwar years.

No comments:

Post a Comment