Some time ago, I wrote myself into a corner in a chapter from Pantheon, in which a character was forced to solve a conundrum: he had to stay at a location, safeguard a highly sensitive museum, but prevent interlopers from coming inside, while not showing himself to them, or destroy them, or the critical objects of desire. The more I thought about this, the less confident I was at solving this Gordian knot. After all, if the aforementioned options prevented all possible solutions, then somewhere there was an assumption that made the conclusion false.
Suddenly it hit me. Perhaps the fact that this situation was impossible was the answer. The paradox is the solution!
In philosophy, paradoxes come from the problems of logic in which statements contain an assumption that made its conclusion false. The paradox lies in the perspective of the context that allows for a contradictory conclusion. Therefore, the paradox is the nature of irrationality. A common paradox is that of the Liar who claimed that all Creteans are liars. But how could that statement reconcile with the very assertion itself, when the Liar was also a Cretean?
While it is true that logicians do come up with great paradoxes, they are ultimately shallow. Logical paradoxes are shallow because they exist only where words contradict themselves, where one meaning is juxtaposed next to a contradictory one. Such as “this sentence is false” or something like that. That’s only at the aleph One level. There are deeper, more fundamental paradoxes that lie at the heart of all meaning, of all language. The thinker who came closest to that insight was Jacques Derrida. At the deepest, lowest, bottom-most level, the aleph zero, language contradicts itself, where the possibility of meaning becomes impossible. It is a formulation that assumes what it denies, e.g., in order to talk about doubt one must assume that there’s certainty.
The paradox of meaning cannot be articulated, because a functional articulation would be the destruction of meaning itself. Derrida himself cannot articulate the paradox of an aleph zero, of course, So what does he do? The very next best thing. He writes “under erasure.” In French this is called sous rature. Of course, for Derrida this is a pun that makes fun of Saussure.
To write under erasure is to write a word and cross it out but leave the word and the strike-through alone. Heidegger came up with this technique, where he tried to critique the word “BEING,” because to say the word presupposes that anything can be. Heidegger wants to attack this presupposition, but it’s too hard to examine or question the possibility of being in a language which exists, because it assumes the possibility. So, Heidegger writes the word as [.] That lets him to point in a metaphorical sense to the fact he can’t help but use the word in the process of questioning its meaning. But his use of the technique suggests that Being does exist and can be apprehended through philosophy. Just like Plato, Hilbert, and others.
Derrida out-Heidegger Heidegger here. He argues that all language is written under erasure. Language is possible only because there is a paradox at the very origin, very source where language comes into existence. Therefore there’s an aleph zero paradox at the heart or origin of language.
Now, back to Pantheon. The solution to the impossible situation belonged to mythology, and where better than the Sumerian story of the Babel? That articulates an aleph zero paradox. Of course, this text is in a language that lacks the limitations of human language. They have to be from a transcendental language that cannot be translated to any human language and whoever reads them cannot ever explain what they just read.
This aleph zero paradox must be a text about itself, because to read it is to instantly experience what it describes. In describing transcendental language, it forces readers into a transcendent state of consciousness. This text renders the USE/MENTION distinction irrelevant, because to mention it is to use it. The nam shub from Sumerian mythology is self-reflexive in this way, where the story of the destruction of language, when heard or read, destroys the language of the readers or listeners.
And just exactly how did Thumos resolve this? You’ll have to read the graphic novel!