1, 2, 3...40 and tada!
Is it possible to appropriate “folk wisdom” for high theory? Let’s take a look at an example of folk wisdom as encapsulated in a Turkish proverb: “If you say something 40 times over, it will come about the 41st time” or its more commonly used shortened version “If you say something 40 times over, it will come about”. I could never quite put my finger on it but this saying has always intrigued me. Obviously, there are figures involved, which is always interesting. But the real intrigue of it is that even though at first hearing it sounds very superstitious/religious, at a closer look you can tell it is not necessarily so. It is not praying that you do 40 times over (that would be too truistic even for a proverb); you “say”, “speak”, “utter” something. OK, this might be a more secular interpretation but it doesn’t make much sense, either…Saying something over and over again to bring it about…Sheer discursive repetition inducing a material effect…Hmmm….I think we have a name for that in our circles: performativity.
Seen in this light, the saying in question begins to sound more like Pascal’s motto “even if you don't believe, kneel down and pray, act as if you believe, and the belief will come by itself”, another religious sounding saying which need not be so. The reason why both examples are typically treated as metaphysical injunctions has, in my opinion, less to do with their religious overtones (or contexts as in the latter case) than the denial, obliteration of the materiality of language/discourse. That is, absent an understanding of language/discourse as a sui generis formative force in our universe, it is possible to make sense of these kinds of maxims only in a non-materialist, metaphysical way. With the recognition of the materiality of language, however, comes also the possibility of appropriating such wisdom for materialism. In hindsight, maybe the opening question needs to be rephrased to better capture the purpose of this thought exercise. Is it possible to appropriate ostensibly metaphysical folk wisdom for materialist theory (high or not)? Apparently, it is : )
This is just one example. I’m sure there are many others out there. For example, “evil eye”. Again, on the surface, this is yet another arcane belief in the ability of supernatural powers to bring about something, misfortune in this particular case. Equipped, however, with the conceptual tools of psychoanalysis (e.g. gaze, big Other, etc), it is possible, I believe, to cast evil eye (yes, pun intended) in a materialist light. Anybody want to venture a try?