MC Escher, speech acts and the metaphysics of the Eucharist

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MC Escher, speech acts and the metaphysics of the Eucharist

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MC Escher was, as you will probably know, the Dutch graphic artist who absorbed mathematically improbable possibilities into a system of art. In his case, sketching and etching.

It’s very difficult to disentangle thought from the language which describes it. You end up in an Escher loop. That loop reveals much but carries within itself systems of paradox and affirmations of the ludicrous.

Escher etched a situation in which people were in different places at mutually inconsistent times, climbing and simultaneously descending his perplexing staircase. A pictorial representation of contradiction.

And yet, it’s clear that there is a contradiction. How can you see it?

Does that make it possible, or an engineered possibility outside the orbit of our imagination? Well, I suppose it’s no more incoherent than the contradictions embedded in the doctrine of the Trinity and other Catholic teachings (in which I believe).

Is there a logically available distinction — one which avoids the philosophical sin of self-refutation? That the internal paradoxes of an Escher print are a function of the human mind, rather than what that mind is interpreting? This interpretation “returns the serve”.

I guess one way of doing it is to is assert an intimacy between speech and action.  And a way to understand that deep connection is to acknowledge that language is a form of action.

Language is action: if you are read the caution by a badged police officer, then your world is reconfigured, in ways which (in my experience) preclude the normal habits of negotiation.

In his Tractatus, Wittgenstein got it wrong, then realised he was right. Language is not the repository of axiomatizable descriptions of the world, but a form of activity within it. In this linguistic jungle its descriptive force, probably, relies on its active force, most definitely.

More recently, the American philosopher John Searle has written about the difference between forms of utterance which are intended to persuade you, versus those intended to activate you. Searle’s is the conclusion of a well-developed argument in the philosophy of language, one which he could have short-circuited by reaching for a copy of the Gospels.

Speech, language, in certain contexts forms a primary version of action. In Genesis, the world is spoken into existence. God speaks: He does not wave His hand.

At the Last Supper He announces another divine speech act: this is my body and this is my blood. When God announces that, it makes it true. Why? Because He announced it.

The ultimate speech act.

When you think about it, from the quantum level to the mysteries and metaphysics of Creation, the Eucharist and the Trinity, we are constantly invited to embrace contradiction.

Escher’s genius was to nudge us in that direction.

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Member ratings
  • Well argued: 72%
  • Interesting points: 85%
  • Agree with arguments: 65%
20 ratings - view all

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