paradox of substance

Here obviously is a strategic moment, an alchemic moment, wherein momentous miracles of transformation can take place. For here the intrinsic and the extrinsic can take place. To tell what a thing is, you place it in terms of something else. This idea of locating, or placing, is implicit in our very word for definition itself: to define, or determine a thing, is to mark its boundaries, hence to use terms that possess, implicitly at least, contextual reference. We here take the pun seriously because we believe it to reveal an inevitable paradox of definition, an antinomy that must endow the concept of substance with unresolvable ambiguity, and that will be discovered lurking beneath any vocabulary designed to treat of motivation by the deliberate outlawing of the word for substance.

This refers to Burke's "paradox of substance" in which some thing can only be defined within the context in which it exists. Burke uses this a lot in his analyses of Shakespearean characters: identifying the traits of a character as they are in relation to other characters. These relationships are an imperative consideration prior to making such analyses and definitions. Substance is necessarily ambiguous, as Dr. B. has mentioned several times in class. And definitions necessarily rely upon negations.


DS's picture

I really appreciate these ideas, particularly the unknowable nature of substance, or a thing. The idea of a word or vocabulary giving power to the thing itself is very interesting and ultimately then, does add to the thing itself.