LX:35 | The Intention to Speak

We can perceive […] the essence of normal language: the intention to speak can reside only in an open experience. It makes its appearance like the boiling point of a liquid, when, in the density of being, volumes of empty space are built up and move outwards.  ‘As soon as man uses language to establish a living relation with himself or with his fellows, language is no longer an instrument, no longer a means; it is a manifestation, a revelation of intimate being and of the psychic link which unites us to the world and our fellow men. The patient’s language may display great knowledge, it may be capable of being turned to account for specific activities, but it is totally lacking in that productivity which is man’s deepest essence and which is perhaps revealed nowhere so clearly, among civilisation’s creations, as in the creation of language itself.’1

It might be said, restating a celebrated distinction, that languagesor constituted systems of vocabulary and syntax, empirically existing ‘means of expression’, are both the repository and residue of acts of speech, in which unformulated significance not only finds the means of being conveyed outwardly, but moreover acquires existence for itself, and is genuinely created as significance. Or again one might draw a distinction between a speaking wordand a spoken word. The former is the one in which the significant intention is at the stage of coming into being. Here existence is polarized into a certain ’significance’2which cannot be defined in terms of any natural object. It is somewhere at a point beyond being that it aims to catch up with itself again, and that is why it creates speech as an empirical support for its own not-being. Speech is the surplus of our existence over natural being. But the act of expression constitutes a linguistic world and a cultural world, and allows that to fall back into being which was striving to outstrip it. Hence the spoken word, which enjoys available significances as one might enjoy an acquired fortune. From these gains other acts of authentic expression – the writer’s, artist’s or philosopher’s – are made possible. This ever-recreated opening in the plenitude of being is what conditions the child’s first use of speech and the language of the writer, as it does the construction or the word and that of concepts. Such is the function which we intuit though language, which reiterates itself, which is its own foundation, or which, like a wave, gathers and poises itself to hurtle beyond its own limits. (228-9)

[1]Goldstein, L’ Analyse de l’aphasie et l’essence du langage, p. 496. Our italics.

[2] ‘sens’ in French means ‘direction’ and ‘significance’ (Translator’s note).


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 

47, 53, 54

Also CPE Signifier, Signified

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