At the end of his life, John Wilkins wanted to create a language in which each word contained its own definition. The method was as simple as it was daring: he divided the universe into forty categories, divisible in turn into differences and these into species. "For example: de, means element; deb, the first of the elements, fire; deba, a portion of the element of fire, a flame" (1). If in our language the words "immortality" or "banana" tell us nothing (their construction, though reasonable, is capricious), in Wilkins' language anyone who knows the categories will know the meaning of all things. "Each of the letters that comprise them is significant, as were those of Holy Scripture to the Kabbalists" (2).
Ten signs allow us to name all the numbers, which are infinite. In an ascetic excess, we could keep two: one and zero. Language (what we commonly understand as such) does not have the same advantages. Academies (even some speakers) often boast of the complexities of their languages, of the number of terms to say more or less similar things. Wilkins' attempt did not fail because of this, but because its success depended on knowing the universe and finding categories that did not interfere. Both seem extremely difficult.
The question of language has brought philosophers upside down. "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" (3), wrote the talkative Wittgenstein, as if he wanted to enclose the universe in a text. Although the problem of what can be communicated is a veritable mess, the truth is that anyone can create a language, if they have enough patience to give it rules. There is Elvish, Interlingua, Esperanto and programming languages.
Philosophers lose sleep over a lot of things. Descartes was very angry because the senses deceived him and he invented that of innate ideas. "Be asleep, be awake, two and three will always be five" (4). He believed that he had the mathematical entities in his noggin from always, not because he had seen two things and three things and had inferred from there the five. "There is nothing in the understanding that has not been in the senses before" (5) Aristotle had said. There are more atrabiliary ideas: the idealists came to think that reality is created by perception. The taste of the apple is not in the apple, but in the contact of the tongue with the apple.
We know the shape of the eye or the ear, but not of their small springs. The works that Lluc Baños presents in this exhibition explore these ideas and this lack of knowledge. On the one hand, the petrified objects with which we calibrate our perceptive faculties. On the other, sculptures in the shape of the cells of perception, with which Baños has created an alphabet (what things could be said with this language?). The meeting of these two series creates two interesting itineraries: one that looks inwards (the physiological examination) and the other outwards (the sensible things).
We know that our perception of the world (hence, what the world is for us) is full of limitations and mismatches; yet, I have no doubt that I hold a pencil in my hand, glued to this paper where I write this line. Does this not seem an admirable contradiction?
Text: Joaquín Jesús Sánchez
1. «El idioma analítico de John Wilkins», Otras inquisiciones, Jorge Luis Borges.
3. Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
4. Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes.
5. Ethical to Nicómano, Aristóteles.