Man inhabits two realms: the physical natural (wild) realm, and the ideological world of social (symbolic) conquest. Saturated in the symbolic political realm, the realm of the natural retains less and less prominence in man’s consciousness. Two distinct realms, however, reflect differing governance through different laws.
The natural realm reflects natural law, what we might call physics. The symbolic realm works according to wholly different laws, socio-ideo-political. The natural world remains under the dominion of God. The symbolic world remains under the dominion of man, and functions according to man’s law. There is some overlap between the realms in that man traditionally has taken much of his inspiration from God, crafting his ideological world based on the patterns and predilections of what he sees in the natural. But for the most part the two realms are separate. Yet both worlds influence man; man is embodied in both.
Beginning absolutely, we might define man as the typically language-using, or symbol-using, animal.²
Both worlds are replete with the (linguistic) sign, what Saussure defined as a relationship between signified or the meaning, and signifier or the sign in the world that stands for that meaning. Signs can be visual like images or even words in this text, they can be acoustic like sounds and speech, they can be gestural, etc. The signs in the symbolic world are man-made while signs of the natural word are wrought of God.
This division between natural and ideological claimed the forefront of human intellectual debate in antiquity, seen as the age-old debate between philosophy and poetry, and also in the Renaissance. For the modern man, however, not so much. Modern man remains, in the main, overwhelmed and overcome by ideology.
Modernity perhaps defines a period of man’s “evolution” (the word here used loosely) which combined increasing ability in harnessing forces natural while at the same time man growing exponentially in his symbolic domain. Man had, finally, “perfected” an entirely symbolic “parallel universe” to match the natural world and, increasingly, if not holding dominion over the natural world felt at least a certain sense of mastery over it. Moreover, modernity, and what anthropologist Marc Augre calls “supermodernity”, recalibrated man’s understanding of the natural and gave supersonic impulse to his ideological, in terms of scale: both spatial and temporal.
The spatial dimension was re-envisioned according to capacities of crafting megalithic structures while at the same time peering at proportions on the nano scale. Coincidentally, man also fashioned means of speed travel while also refracting light, and with it, distorting time (think Hadron Collider). So while the natural world seemed ever swallowed by the symbolic, man’s supercilious relating, particularly at the big city exchange, to the natural, grew unchecked: unchecked, and unbalanced.
This symbolic world did not begin with speech language, because language (communication) came to man first through gesture, dance, and rhythm before it came in the form of speech. But speech marks the point of it taking off, a point of inflection in the history of man’s ideological trajectory. And so man once again finds himself at a point of departure, or a point of reconciliation, of the natural and the symbolic; one in which the symbolic world remains surrogate marker of a Darwinian success in the natural.
Indeed man has so entwined the two worlds that for most people they remain indistinguishable. And survival requires mastery of both.
- Augé, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London;New York;: Verso, 1995.
- Burke, Kenneth. Chapter VIII: Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education. In Modern Philosophies and Education. Henry, Nelson B. and National Society for the Study of Education. Vol. 54th, pt. 1. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1955.
- Saussure, Ferdinand De, and Roy Harris. Course in General Linguistics. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.
- Voloshinov, V. N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1986.