“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, June 02, 2012

McTaggart and Borges

If you are a man of a certain age, according to all the wisdom literature I know, and it is a peaceful Saturday morning, and the adventures that have been the wind in your back or the life you have sloughed have come to a standstill, for one moment, then you turn your reflections to time and its possibility, or even its possible non-existence, a non-existence that would annul the fact that you are a man of a certain age, that it is Saturday, that adventure could have ever happened to you, and that you have a moment to reflect.

But reflect on time one must, because we are not watches. Watches toil not, neither do they sow – even though our language has given them hands and a face. Instead, they infinitely visit the same neighborhood of numbers. One can imagine watches different –one can imagine a little computer that you could strap to your wrist and that would just record the seconds, like a timepiece on a bomb, and thus give you a finegrained sense of your slice and dice advance towards death – or why stop there? Buried with such a thing, it could go on slicing and dicing your decay, your dust, your evaporation from this world. But at no point in its slicing and dicing would there be a moment, an aberrant moment, in which it wondered if it was really going anywhere, or measuring anything.

My two favorite essays on time are McTaggart’s The Unreality of Time and Borges’ A new refutatation of Time. Borges, in the introduction to his essay, acknowledges the awkwardness of refuting time one more time again – and concedes that it may be that the evident solecism of the title may represent the hidden solecism that skews every sentence, so drenched is language in time, or at least, so much do our assumptions about time live in our language. It is through Borges I first heard about McTaggart. Borges’ essay is all low violin sounds, all elegy and fugue – McTaggart’s, on the other hand, is that curious thing, English idealism, in which the brisk dispatch of a philosophical problem seems in stylistic contradiction with its import. Indeed, it is a question that is little asked why idealism took so long to take any root in Europe, and why, when it did, it chose the most material of cultures to do so, Britain. One expects the true idealist to be scrawny, nearly naked, and with a beggar’s bowl before him – not peruked, buttoned up, and with snuff and ale within easy reach. But I would guess that the introduction of idealism in Europe through Britain has something to do with the British tradition of the ludicrous. English literature loves the ludicrous – it loves the Liliputians for their own sake. It loves a certain kind of children’s literature, it loves limericks, it loves to add that one extra and unnecessary feature that is not at all the effect of the real, but the effect of the unreal in the real – hence, Dicken’s penchant for describing the tics of his characters. If we think of idealism as the quintessence of the ludicrous, then I think we get close to why idealism first found a place in Britain – and why it is so different there than in, say, the philosophical systems of India, even if there exists some similarity of arguments.

John Ellis McTaggart came, of course, at the end of the great British idealist tradition. And he was overshadowed by Russell and Whitehead. In Arthur Quinn’s The Confidence of British Philosophers, there is a story that I would like to juxtapose to my ludicrous theory. When McTaggart died, he had only one disciple left, it seems: C.D. Broad. Broad edited the second edition fo McTaggart’s The Nature of Existence (1928), which fell still born from the press – and unlike Hume’s Treatise, which had a similar fate, never experienced any resuscitation by the next generation of philosophers. Broad was disgusted by the reception of his master’s masterpiece, and wrote a three volume exposition of the work, which ran to 1200 pages. And in this exhaustive work, according to Quinn, Broad praised McTaggart’s arguments for their clarity, and showed that “McTaggart’s most important proofs were virtually all fallacious...” From the deeper idealistic level, Broad could not have done McTaggart a greater favor. Truth is one of the superstitions one must remove from one’s mind in order to truly de-provincialize it – for after all, holding onto the truth is only a means of separating oneself from God, or Nothingness.

With this caution, I’ll move on to McTaggart’s paper.

McTaggart begins with a premise that subsequently became famous.

"Positions in time, as time appears to us prima facie, are distinguished in two ways. Each position is Earlier than some, and Later than some, of the other positions. And each position is either Past, Present, or Future. The distinctions of the former class are permanent, while those of the latter are not. If M is ever earlier than N, it is always earlier. But an event, which is now present, was future and will be past."

McTaggart calls the series of earlier and later the B series, and the Past Present Future series the A series. In the B series, given an event (for McTaggart, the fundamental elements of the two series), its description, with relation to another event, will always be described as earlier or later. Broad always follows McTaggart, down the library-ridden years to the final conflagration. But in the A series, oddly enough, all three descriptions will apply. Broad planned to write his book, the book, appeared, the book is now history. At one point an event will be present, at another point it will be future, and at one point it will be past.

McTaggart throws in another characteristic of time -- he connects it to change. And it is here that the two series designated under one concept – time – does its work for McTaggart:

It would, I suppose, be universally admitted that time involves change. A particular thing, indeed, may exist unchanged through any amount of time. But when we ask what we mean by saying that there were different moments of time, or a certain duration of time, through which the thing was the same, we find that we mean that it remained the same while other things were changing. A universe in which nothing whatever changed (including the thoughts of the conscious beings in it) would be a timeless universe.
      If, then, a B series without an A series can constitute time, change must be possible without an A series. Let us suppose that the distinction of past, present and future does not apply to reality. Can change apply to reality? What is it that changes?
      Could we say that, in a time which formed a B series but not an A series, the change consisted in the fact that an event ceased to be an event, while another event began to be an event? If this were the case, we should certainly have got a change.
      But this is impossible. An event can never cease to be an event. It can never get out of any time series in which it once is. If N is ever earlier than O and later than M, it will always be, and has always been, earlier than O and later than M, since the relations of earlier and later are permanent. And as, by our present hypothesis, time is constituted by a B series alone, N will always have a position in a time series, and has always had one.{1} That is, it will always be, and has always been, an event, and cannot begin or cease to be an event.”
McTaggart has cleverly entangled time in its own net, here. If series B is all that really changes, and if series A never changes – which is how we know that series B changes –then, fundamentally, there is no change. There is only and always series B, the logic of which refers to series A, which confutes the reality of series B.
McTaggart writes: “But it does not follow that, if we subtract the determinations of the A series from time, we shall have no series left at all. There is a series -- a series of the permanent relations to one another of those realities which in time are events -- and it is the combination of this series with the A determinations which gives time. But this other series -- let us call it the C series -- is not temporal, for it involves no change, but only an order. Events have an order. They are, let us say, in the order M, N, O, P. And they are therefore not in the order M, O, N, P, or O, N, M, P, or in any other possible order. But that they have this order no more implies that there is any change than the order of the letters of the alphabet, or of the Peers on the Parliament Roll, implies any change. And thus those realities which appear to us as events might form such a series without being entitled to the name of events, since that name is only given to realities which are in a time series. It is only when change and time come in that the relations of this C series become relations of earlier and later, and so it becomes a B series.”
It is at this point, as the series under the great daemon Chronos threaten to get out of hand, that we can turn to Borges, who of course adored this idea, as it popped the whole world into a short story that reflects on the order of its own events  - like a watch that stops to ponder whether it will go from one o’clock to one o one, or if, instead, it will go from one clock to the corner liquor store to buy a bottle of cheap Irish whiskey and sit in the shade under a tree near a slow street and ponder its doings.
Borges takes up the refutation of space and matter, which he claims ensue from Berkeley and Hume’s arguments, and asks, reasonably enough, why they retain the idea of continuity in time. And he then – (this then figures in a logical simulacrum of time, a sort of fixed set of relations, like series A) -- writes:
“Once the idealist argument is admitted, I see that it is possible -- perhaps inevitable --
to go further. For Berkeley, time is "the succession of ideas in my mind, which flows uniformly, and is participated by all beings" (Principles of Human Knowledge, 98); for Hume, "a succession of indivisible moments" (Treatise of Human Nature, I, 2, 2). However, once matter
and spirit -- which are continuities -- are negated, once space too is negated, I do not know
with what right we retain that continuity which is time. Outside each perception (real or
conjectural) matter does not exist; outside each mental state spirit does not exist; neither
does time exist outside each present moment. Let us take a moment of maximum simplicity:
for example, that of Chuang Tzu's dream (Herbert Allen Giles: Chuang Tzu, 1889). Chuang
Tzu, some twenty-four centuries ago, dreamt he was a butterfly and did not know, when he
awoke, if he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly who now dreamt he
was a man. Let us not consider the awakening; let us consider the moment of the dream
itself, or one of its moments. "I dreamt I was a butterfly flying through the air and knowing
nothing of Chuang Tzu," reads the ancient text. We shall never know if Chuang Tzu saw a
garden over which he seemed to fly or a moving yellow triangle which no doubt was he, but
we do know that the image was subjective, though furnished by his memory. The doctrine
of psycho-physical parallelism would judge that the image must have been accompanied by
some change in the dreamer's nervous system; according to Berkeley, the body of Chuang
Tzu did not exist at that moment, save as a perception in the mind of God. Hume simplifies
even more what happened. According to him, the spirit of Chuang Tzu did not exist at that
moment; only the colors of the dream and the certainty of being a butterfly existed. They
existed as a momentary term in the "bundle or collection of perceptions" which, some four
centuries before Christ, was the mind of Chuang Tzu; they existed as a term n in an infinite
temporal series, between n-1 and n+1. There is no other reality, for idealism, than that of
mental processes; adding an objective butterfly to the butterfly which is perceived seems a
vain duplication; adding a self to these processes seems no less exorbitant. Idealism judges
that there was a dreaming, a perceiving, but not a dreamer or even a dream; it judges that
speaking of objects and subjects is pure mythology. Now if each psychic state is selfsufficient,
if linking it to a circumstance or to a self is an illicit and idle addition, with what
right shall we then ascribe to it a place in time? Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly
and during that dream he was not Chuang Tzu, but a butterfly. How, with space and self
abolished, shall we link those moments to his waking moments and to the feudal period of
Chinese history? This does not mean that we shall never know, even in an approximate
fashion, the date of that dream; it means that the chronological fixing of an event, of an
event in the universe, is alien and external to it.”

Borges does not mention McTaggart in his essay – in the end, after going through Berkeley, Hume, and Schopenhauer, he turns to the very root of idealistic thinking, in India. Near the end of the essay, he quotes this very beautiful passage that I am going to end this little essay on, and which it will always end on, having been unfolded in my mind and on this screen, and which it will not ever end on at the same time, having refuted itself in every sentence and thus having no “it” to unfold:

A Buddhist treatise of the fifth
century, the Visuddhimagga (Road to Purity), illustrates the same doctrine… "Strictly speaking, the duration of the life of a living being is exceedingly brief,
lasting only while a thought lasts. Just as a chariot wheel in rolling rolls only at one point of
the tire, and in resting rests only at one point; in exactly the same way the life of a living
being lasts only for the period of one thought"

Take any event -- the death of Queen Anne, for example -- and consider what change can take place in its characteristics. That it is a death, that it is the death of Anne Stuart, that it has such causes, that it has such effects -- every characteristic of this sort never changes. "Before the stars saw one another plain" the event in question was a death of an English Queen. At the last moment of time -- if time has a last moment -- the event in question will still be a death of an English Queen. And in every respect but one it is equally devoid of change. But in one respect it does change. It began by being a future event. It became every moment an event in the nearer future. At last it was present. Then it became past, and will always remain so, though every moment it becomes further and further past. Thus we seen forced to the conclusion that all change is only a change of the characteristics imparted to events by their presence in the A series, whether those characteristics are qualities or relations.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

the book of the world

The sign, the text and the title formed a devise so powerful that its counterpart, in the end, seemed to be the world itself. At first the physical world and the heavens, for the cuneiform cultures, were defined by the boundaries marked out by the gods – there was a world for the humans and a world for the gods, which the latter ruing the former. But both worlds came into focus as the counterparts of the text. From a very early point in the history of writing, written signs were compared to the world’s objects: the stars in the sky to the words on a writing surface, for instance.

So when we speak of the book of the world, we are speaking of the text’s relation to an object that is defined in relation to some magical first text. In Genesis 1:14, the relation between the world and the text is, as it were, sealed in the very act of creation: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” What is created to be a sign is already on the way to being the book of the world. There is a long scholarly tradition in Germany, going from Curtius to Hans Blumenberg,  which has excavated the metaphor of this book, showing how it arose in the various worlds of the Mediterranean.  The metaphor has not only a great and irresistible charm for the scribes  – who copy and scribble - but possesses the baroque virtue that it inscribes itself within itself – for the book of the world holds the book in which the metaphor does its transformative work, which in turn holds the world, or at least the point of view that we, the scribes, have dubbed the world.  

The signs are there, as well, in the early modern era, where there is a question of the type of sign: is the book of the world composed of an alphabet (Francis Bacon’s favorite metaphor), or of hieroglyphs (John Dee’s preference) or of mathematical symbols (Galileo’s choice)? Galileo makes perhaps the most interesting use of the book of the world metaphor, incorporating it into the weave of natural philosophy just as the signs were incorporated into the creation story in Genesis, but with a certain twist: “I truly believe the book of philosophy to be that which stands perpetually open before our eyes, though since it is written in characters different from those of our alphabit it cannot be read by everyone; and the characters of such a book are triangles, squares, circles, spheres, cones, pyramids and other mathematical figures, most apt for such reading.”

Most apt indeed – so much so that the problem of why mathematics gives us such a model of the universe took a long time to present itself in the physics community. Eugen Wigner in 1960 finally gave definitive form to the problem of why mathematics is “most apt for such reading” in the physics community. Perhaps a lesser noted problem is the role that this metaphor played in making possible the presentation of the logic of substitution, which is unthinkable in a world that wasn’t considered “readable”.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

some small bank reform suggestions

An article by Thomas Phillipson is summarized here:

“I find that the unit cost of intermediation has increased since the mid-1970s and is now significantly higher than it was at the turn of the twentieth century. In other words, the finance industry that sustained the expansion of railroads, steel and chemical industries, and later the electricity and automobile revolutions seems to have been more efficient than the current finance industry.”

He further finds “that this (annual) unit cost is around 2% and relatively stable over time. In other words, I estimate that it costs two cents per year to create and maintain one dollar of intermediated financial asset.”

The bottom-line of Philippon’s findings is that bankers’ compensation is increasing, contributing to a static unit cost, even though technology is automating:

“The income share grows from 2% to 6% from 1870 to 1930. It shrinks to less than 4% in 1950, grows slowly to 5% in 1980, and then increases rapidly to more than 8% in 2010. Surprisingly, the tremendous improvements in information technologies of the past 30 years have not led to a decrease in the average cost of intermediation, or at least not yet.”

And this is the industry we just hugely subsidized. When the state could take advantage of the information technologies, set up a bank in post offices, and pretty much supply commercial banking at a fraction of the price to mainstream America. In my view, banking should be divided up into commercial banking, investment banking, which lends to real companies, and casino banking. The latter includes all derivates and whatnot. It should simply be merged with casinos, and taken out of the financial system entirely. This would allow the gamblers to gamble to their heart's delight without affecting anything outside their sphere. If pension funds were hooked up with the poker prowess of some superbowl poker player, I think it would violate the rules in place. But pension funds are hooked up with other more dangerous poker players. Cut that thread, and we could get back to the real economy of real wealth that is basically unthreatened, at the moment, by a crisis.

Monday, May 28, 2012

christine lagarde puts on the cloak of distance, but it has a hole in it

If I could become rich simply by wishing the death of Chinese mandarin on the other side of the world, would I do it? This is a question that comes up in a famous passage in Pere Goriot, expressing the moral seduction of Rastignac by Vautrin. Rastignac asks a friend of his, Bianchon, if he remembers a passage somewhere in Rousseau “in which he asks the reader what he would do if he could become wealthy by killing an old Chinese mandarin, without leaving Paris, just by an act of will?” Carlos Ginzburg, in his essay, the Killing of A Chinese Mandarin, has traced the way Rastignac’s inexact memory of Rousseau (the passage seems rather to come from Diderot and Chateaubriand) articulates a long tradition, in moral philosophy, concerning distance and the good. Ginzburg points out that distance, in the way Aristotle considered it – where it plays approximately the same role as Gyges rings, a manner of hiding oneself -  becomes, necessarily, different when distance itself becomes different. “… the emergence of a worldwide economic system had already turned the possibility of a financialgain,  involving much longer distances than Aristotle had imagined even in his wildest flights of phantasy,into reality.”

Distance is, in Ginzburg’s take, not portable; it is not something one can wrap around oneself. It is relational and spatial or temporal. However, if we consider it a kind of hiding, it does seem portable. When the airplane pilot drops bombs, the distance is not only relational, a matter of weakening the tie of sympathy that would make the pilot save someone near and not even that dear – but the distance is also portable. It is carried by the pilot into the scene of the bombing; it operates as a cloak.

As a cloak, distance can also be imported into the near. We have seen this happen extensively in the last thirty years. When complaints are made, in the U.S., that free trade is, for instance, destroying the middle class, it is not uncommon for neo-classical economists to take the near – the U.S. worker – as self-indulgent, and the far – the poor third world worker – as the true worthy moral subject. This seems like a rhetorical trick too far… who could possible buy this story? And yet this variation of the distance story is rather popular among economists, who, perhaps to compensate for being rich themselves and advocating policies for the rich, need to validate their own moral bones – hence, where the unfeeling U.S. worker has been killing Chinese mandarins on his way to a living wage, the free trader comes in to avenge the mandarins by denuding the worker.  In this way, the old truism, charity begins at home, is turned upside down.

There is, of course, a problem with the idea that the economist is really helping the Chinese worker – since of course this is a byproduct of helping the Chinese businessman, and the same ruthless logic applies to those Chinese workers, who, garnering a slim, slim part of the social productivity that is based on them, should never demand too much. Still, in moments of “compassion trolling”, the traditional notion of distance is reversed – or rather, the economist wears a cloak of distance that puts him or her at a distance from what is near.

Perhaps this helps us understand Christine Lagarde’s counterproductive comments about Greece. When, in her by now infamous interview with the Guardian, Lagarde was asked about the Greek meltdown, this is how it went:

“So when she studies the Greek balance sheet and demands measures she knows may mean women won't have access to a midwife when they give birth, and patients won't get life-saving drugs, and the elderly will die alone for lack of care – does she block all of that out and just look at the sums?
"No, I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens." She breaks off for a pointedly meaningful pause, before leaning forward.
"Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax."
I say this is counterproductive – because even though this does represent the true heartlessness of the predator class, even that predator class has to prey. By putting the terms of the deal so harshly, Lagarde upset the effort of the EU to entice the Greeks to take the loans that will really simply circulate back to banks and hedgefunders in the EU and the U.S. Once Greece is taken out of the picture, the plutocrats will just have to get the funding directly from the EU states – and this is going to upset people. Moreover, it is French banks and German ones that will follow the Greeks down.
So what was the compulsion there that caused this blip, this moment of truth, in which the claws came out? Perhaps it was the comfort with the cloak of distance. The millionaire to billionaire class has grown very comfortable with morality at a distance. Even if, as we know, the IMF would not lift a finger if all the little villages in Niger were thrown into the sea if if meant that Niger or Nigeria or any other place upset the system of exploitation in place, still, the image of that distant suffering has a very strong symbolic value – a strong shaming value. It can shame the near. Interestingly, the plutocrats have effortlessly poached an old left trope, which rubbed the face of the West’s prosperity in the detritus of the enslaved and the exploited, the colonized and the robbed. The plutocrats borrowed the form, not the content. And as the left has died, the right has played this game to their hearts content. Lagarde was just pushing some old buttons. She must have forgotten that you have to put on your cloak of distance properly. Just as she forgot that it was easy to discover that, as a matter of fact, she herself pays no taxes on her salary.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

the scribe and the title

Almost all the titles are lost. That is, almost all the titles of the ancient Egyptian texts that we now possess are lost. “The title of the book, a summary of its contents, or the opening words, were at times written on the reverse side or at the outside of the scroll’s beginning, with the name of the author (“made by”) immediately after it. As scrolls generally lost their edges first, few titles have comedown to us. Fewer authors were identified..Sometimes, however, lists of titltes were written on the walls of temples or pyramids,though the books themselves have not survived. Small deeds and other documents at times were provided with titles. Onne book of the dead was entitled “Book of the Coming into the Day of Osiris Gathesehen, daughter of Mekheperre.” Long texts were sometimes divided by the chapter numbers, marked by ht, “house”.” (Leila Avrin, 91)

It has been a long time since Jacques Derrida published the chapters of On Grammatology concerning Rousseau and writing in Critique. Since that time, the phonocentric, logocentric paradigm in anthropology and archaeology has definitely shifted. The latest researchers on ancient Mesopotamia refer to a “cuneiform culture”, in which, contrary to the older school that saw writing as a tool captured by a scribal elite, literacy spread. Or a form of literacy, for  literacy as a uniform thing, a single kind of learned capacity, has been well and truly debunked, as archaeologists have made sense of the data they possess that show multiple forms of script and signs within script ‘domains’; they have also come to terms with such discoveries as that of Nippur and Isin, where the majority of houses so far excavated have turned up texts. Furthermore, archaeologists are now more interested in the evolution of  script types that went along with the evolution of materials on which the script could be impressed, scratched or painted, as cursive, a select number of syllobograms, and lighter materials that were easier to correct led to the invention of the personal  and business letter.

In the sixties and seventies, the Mesopotamian evidence suggested to some researchers, like Walter Ong and Jack Goody, that the invention of writing operated to change the very cognitive style of human beings. Goody’s essay on the list is The Domestication of the Savage Mind is still a tour de force survey of the effects of the text, although as he admits, his earlier notion of the text was too tied into the phonetic alphabet, which is seen as “easier” and more flexible to use, thus leading to the ability to “write down one’s thoughts.” This may actually be a property of the material one writes them down on and what one writes with – at least, the archaeologists coming after Goody have found that qualities he attributes to alphabetical writing are certainly present in pictographic or logographic systems.  

Here is the central claim, I think, Goody makes about lists:
“My concern here is to show that these written forms were not simply by-products of the interaction between writing and, say, the economy, filling some hitherto hidden “need”, but that they represented a significant change not only in the nature of transactions, but also in the ‘modes  of thought’ that accompanied them, at least if we interpret ‘modes of thought’in terms of the formal, cognitive and linguistic operations which this new technology of the intellect opened up.”

The idea, here, is not that writing itself changes modes of thought, but that writing devises do – hence, the importance of the list, or the written number. Marc Bloch, the most prominent opponent of Goody’s, has used his fieldwork in Madagascar to construct a case in which literacy, and in particular listing texts (for instance, genealogies) do not organize cultural “modes of thought”, but exist as regions within a largely oral culture. Bloch, in turn, has been attacked for the way he has elevated certain observations into generalities – that is, the way he has evolved what Clifford Geertz calls the “deep text.”

The title, I think, has not yet been enough looked at in this context – or Babel, depending on how you come down on the importance of ecriture. Certainly in oral contexts there are titles, but they seem, at least in my experience, to be very loose things. A typical titling episode would be x telling y to “tell that story about x” – with the title here being the “story about”. And in as much as this stimulus does hook onto a story, it does one of the works of calling a name – you call a name and the named thing comes. So too does the story. Interestingly, though, the “story about”, while it can tend towards a stereotypic norm (the story about the priest, the story about Mavis X, etc.) often varies in its composition. Similarly, titles can occur in oral speech that announce what is coming – not what has already been circulated. So, for instance, a person can be called into the office of his or her superior and the latter can say, I’ve called you in to talk about your tardiness (an example taken from my own life!). The monologue or dialogue that ensues has, vaguely, the title, “about X’s inability to get to work on time”. 

All of which is merely to say that oral speech does have self-labeling moments. Thus, when texts get titled, we are not speaking of a completely different communicative form from that which occurs in the oral quotidian. But I want to argue that the title is “freed” by the text, by ecriture. While it fulfills certain labeling functions, it also proceeds towards something as new, something resembling the name of a person, rather than the label of a person. When John Stuart Mill claimed that the proper name was a description, he was conflating label and name. And there is some warrant for that in names: the smith gets name Smith. But what Mill ignores, as a philosopher, is what is obvious to the sociologist: the name is enmeshed in what it means to be familiar with, to know, to love, to hate, etc. The name is not just used to label. Before children learn to use pronominal shifters, they often self-label – or so I have been assured by numerous mothers. Robert says, that chocolate is Robert’s, rather than that chocolate is mine,  because “Robert” is taken by the child to be an extension of himself in a way that “mine” – that code that refers to its message, to the tie between the individual word and the language system in which it is located – is not. “Mine” seems to be a communal dish which anyone can grab between their fingers and bite into  – “Robert’s” is a special snack reserved for Robert.

Textual devises don’t seem to have that same self-reflexivity. They seem to be labeling all the way down, so to speak. And yet if this is so, the title would simply be a label.

We know that this isn’t so. I would call this, the (en)titling instance, the moment in which the scribe enters into literature, in the broadest sense (visual, aural, scripted). The tradition that ascribes to the scribe a monopoly of power over the written meets, in this moment arising thieflike from within the devise itself, an inner movement that structurally breaks the monopoly.