What Is Is
This is probably the best expansion of the idea “What is, is.” I have ever read. While that sentence has the appearance of a tautology, only an idiot would mistake it for one. (There are a lot of people who pretend to be idiots to force linguistically narrow agendas — I am being aggressive up front to avert any disingenuous conversations about the polysemic nature of language.) The word “is” is obviously being used in two different senses — and some philosophy is probably necessary to understand that there is a question at all, or what question is being answered. Walter Benjamin approaches the idea by proposing expanding a metaphorical use of the word “life” to be the principal definition of the word. He is not mistaking a definition, he is proposing a shift of a definition — and it is not a new one, it is one you are already used to, you just are not used to it as a primary definition.
Here we go:
The idea of life and afterlife in works of art should be regarded with an entirely un-metaphorical objectivity. Even in times of narrowly prejudiced thought there was an inkling that life was not limited to organic corporeality. But it cannot be a matter of extending its dominion under the feeble scepter of the soul, as Fechner tired to do, or, conversely, of basing its definition on the even less conclusive factors of animality, such as sensation, which characterize life only occasionally. The concept of life is given its due only if everything that has a history of its own, and is not merely the setting for history, is credited with life. In the final analysis, the range of life must be determined by history rather than by nature, least of all by such tenuous factors as sensation and soul. The philosopher’s task consists in comprehending all of natural life though the more encompassing life of history.
(from: The Task of the Translator)
Since we are having this conversation after the New Age movement I need to add that he is not talking about everything being conscious. This is not spiritualism — he is talking about taking the word life — as it is used in the metaphor “it developed a life of it’s own” — and making that sense of the word the primary definition, instead of basing the word on the subjective experience of being an animal, or even the objective definitions of biology.
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