What is inner semiotics

Cahiers d'Études Germaniques

Lying is not forbidden in the ten commandments.
Walter Benjamin 1

N’allez pas vouloir être si honnête homme que vous donniez à autrui l’envie d’être méchant.
Baltasar Gracián 2

1What precedes the following considerations as a motto may surprise some who were treated with Christian catechisms in childhood. After all, they had learned there: eighth commandment: “You shouldn't lie”. Benjamin's apodictic sentence in the context of several notes on the complex of lies is by no means written out of ignorance of the ten commandments, but reverses a highly problematic shortening and generalization of what is actually in the Hebrew Bible. There it says, in the German wording of the Zurich Bible: “You should not testify against your neighbor as a false witness.” 3 The commandment relates to a very specific socio-legal situation and not to lying per se, as Martin Klopfenstein also notes :

It is not for nothing that the Decalogue does not prohibit lying in general, but, so to speak, the paradigm, the most weighty, hardest, most tangible and most frequent case of it: the testimony of lies in court, where the concrete issue of justice, honor or even life of one's neighbor Impressively, the Decalogue brings the neighbor to speech much more directly than Hammurabi. It is the neighbor to whom the legal protection applies, the neighbor in turn who is deprived of this protection through false witness

2Lies are treated in a highly nuanced way in the Hebrew Bible. If false testimony in court, which can deprive the innocent of justice and life and allow the guilty to triumph, is prohibited, on the other hand exemplary figures and patriarchs can lie with impunity, including the forefathers of the Jewish people Abraham and Jacob. Jacob's lies and cunning, which instead of Esau brought him his father's blessing for the firstborn, can certainly compete with the other great hero of Western culture, the cunning, versatile Odysseus. And Jacob's second youngest son, Joseph, is his father's most worthy son in this regard too

Even God himself can make himself a lying spirit, at least use him:

I want to go and be (or become) a lying spirit in the mouth of all his (sc. Ahabs) prophets.

And now, behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours ... 6

3 Only in the later tradition, and then especially in Christianity, lies and cunning come under absolute prohibition. Of course, Jesus himself seems even more ambivalent. He, who calls himself truth and life, also gives the order to be not only gentle as the dove, but also cunning as the snake. A wisdom that the cunning Jesuit Baltasar Gracián varied in his own way (I quote the excellent French translation by Benito Pelegrín):

Alternez la finesse du serpent avec la candeur de la colombe. Rien n'est plus facile à tromper qu'un homme de bien; celui qui ne ment jamais est très crédule et celui qui ne trompe jamais est toujours confiant. L’on n’est pas toujours trompé parce que l’on est bête, mais souvent parce que l’on est bon.7

4In Augustine there is no longer any question of this. The church father struggles to come to terms with Jacob's lies and cunning. He does what the late Hellenists did with the embarrassing stories of Homer and other myths: they must not take it literally, they argue, but have to reinterpret it allegorically and symbolically.

5It cannot be a question of giving a detailed history of these developments, which incidentally are by no means linear. The interest here is much more in two opposing models, where the place of lies in human action and speech is to be found. If in one model the lie is not simply valorized, but has its irrefutable, albeit constantly changing place, the other model wants to banish it categorically into nothingness and evil. This then has particularly interesting effects on the theories of language: if in the second model the lie appears as an undermining and falsification of what language is supposed to be, the possibility of the lie in a linguistic continuation of the first model appears to be constitutive for the structure of language .8th

6The absolute negation of lies and, accordingly, the pathetic rhetoric of honesty, sincerity, truthfulness do not, of course, guarantee a corresponding practice, neither in Christianity nor in civil society, where this rhetoric has established itself and is currently particularly privileged by politicians. The suspicion: the more pathetic the rhetoric of honesty, the more mendacious the political practice, cannot be dismissed out of hand. In fact, the criticism of this rhetoric has its own story, of which a few moments should be recalled here, for the sake of brevity rather anecdotally.

7I am concentrating first on the 18th century and here again primarily on the German-speaking one, where the rhetoric and the pathos of honesty and sincerity are particularly pronounced. Three levels emerge: a psychological one, where an intensely understood inwardness is supposed to be a guarantee of truth and authenticity compared to an always possible deceptive outwardness; a sociological one, where the honest citizen opposes the deceptive and cunning aristocrat and diplomat; and finally a nationalistic, especially German opposition of the honest, coarse and straightforward German honesty to the oh ’so adroit, polite, deceptive Welsh.

8What is differentiated here as a psychological and sociological level is historically closely linked at the same time. The privilege of inwardness as a source and guarantor of truth reached its climax in the bourgeois 18th century. Of course, it has a long history. This structure is already implied in Augustine's famous definition of the lie: mendacium est enuntiatio cum voluntate falsum enuntiandi9. A lie is a statement that willingly makes a false statement. Already with Augustine the criterion of truth is a certain inwardness, decisive the inner intention, not the objective expression. Harald Weinrich, who quotes this sentence from Augustine, takes this definition more or less as a guideline for the lie, taking what is believed and what is the opinion as a yardstick. Nietzsche of course raised his objections to this ultimately very naive view:

It has long been left to me to consider whether beliefs are not more dangerous enemies of truth than lies (Human, All Too Human I, Aphorism 54 and 483). This time I would like to ask the crucial question: is there any contradiction between lying and conviction?

9Nietzsche's (rhetorical) question anticipates what will then become one of the axioms of psychoanalysis for Freud and which will become one of the leitmotifs of modernity for authors like Ibsen in the 'lie of life'. Nothing more lying than the fundamentally honest convictions of the bourgeois pillars of society.

10But let's stay with the prehistory of this localization of honesty and truth - the connection between these two concepts is itself symptomatic - in an interior that grants authenticity. Only three of the various testimonies are evoked here.

In the second scene of the first act, Hamlet emphatically defends the authenticity of his grief, initially in the traditional metaphysical opposition of being and appearance. When asked by his mother, "Why seems it so particular with thee?", Hamlet replies with indignation: "Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not 'seems'.But this opposition of being and appearance immediately receives a specific differentiation between mere external signs and true internal being. With skilful rhetorical virtuosity, Hamlet designs his construction of apparent externality and true being within:

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspension of forc’d breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passes show
Those but the trappings and the suits of woe. (I.2, 76-86)

12All external signs of mourning - clothes, faces, tears, gestures - are suspected of being playful. Hamlet, on the other hand, invokes something “within that passes show”, something inside beyond all show. Of course, this virtuoso rhetoric takes on ironic traits in a piece where theater and drama are omnipresent and last but not least, the character of the main hero is obscured by obscurity. In the course of the play it becomes undecidable what Hamlet is playing and what he 'is'. He himself, if the word 'himself' is still applicable here, has to decide later, after he has invited a drama company through the medium of acting to bring the truth to light, whether the actor's mourning for Hecuba might not be more truthful has as its own beyond the show.

13Surprisingly, the contrast between the true inner and outer appearances appears in a time and culture which, especially in the German bourgeoisie world of the 18th century, was regarded as the epitome of mere appearance, namely in the French aristocracy of the 17th century and their representation the classic French stage. And yet poses in Corneilles Le Menteur Clarice the question of truth in the same terminology that will then be the dominant one in the 18th century:

Corn pour le voir ainsi qu’en pourrai-je juger?
J’en verrai le dehors, la mine, l’apparence,
You reste, Isabelle, où prendre l’assurance?
Le dedans paraît mal en ces miroirs flatteurs,
Les visages souvent sont de doux imposteurs, 11

The words are, of course, spoken in a comedy, and in the end the liar gets away with it, if not entirely unpunished, but almost happy.

Such ambivalences and ambiguities as in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Corneilles Le Menteur are then radically abolished in Kant. There is nothing left to interpret and to guess at here. It is not entirely by chance that Kant articulates his most radical position and opposition to any form of lie in a polemical work against the French Benjamin Constant.12 In his short text, Kant polemics against a polemic directed against him by Benjamin Constant, which he cites right at the beginning:

The moral principle: it is a duty to tell the truth, if it were taken indispensable and isolated, would make every society an impossibility. We have proof of this in the veryImmediate conclusions that a German philosopher has drawn from this principle, which goes so far as to assert: that the lie against a murderer who asks us whether the friend he is persecuting has not fled into our house would be a crime.

16And Kant goes on to quote Constant with the following consideration: “So telling the truth is a duty; but only against those who have a right to the truth. But nobody has a right to a truth that harms others. ”13 In his counterargumentation, Kant initially shifts the concept of truth to that of subjective truthfulness:

First of all, it should be noted that the expression: having a right to the truth is a word without meaning. Rather, one must say: man has a right to his own truthfulness (veracitas), i.e. on the subjective truth of his person. Because objectively having a right to a truth would say as much as: it depends, as in general with mine and yours, on his will whether a given sentence should be true or false; which would then make a strange logic. 14

Of course, the question arises whether the 'strange logic' is not on Kant's side, because Constant's argument is by no means about a sentence being arbitrarily considered true or false, but rather whether it is permissible, in order to protect another person, saying a wrong sentence. Of course one cannot deny Kant's logical consequence. The only question that remains is what happens when logical consequence is suddenly transferred to practical consequence. It becomes fatal very quickly when Kant actually demands that a lie is not allowed even if a friend is hidden from a murderer in his house. One only has to put this into concrete terms and ask oneself what that would have meant for those who tried to hide Jews and other persecuted persons from the Nazi murderers during the Nazi era.

18 Kant's downright breakneck casuistry of trying to get out of it is, in its childlike naivety - but children are cruel - downright touching:

It is possible that after you honestly answered yes to the murderer when asked whether the person he was attacking was at home, the murderer went out unnoticed and so the murderer did not get into the litter, so the deed would not have happened; but if you lied and said that he was not at home, and he actually went out (although unconsciously), when the murderer met him on the way out and committed his deed on him: then you can rightly as the author of death 15

Of course, one then has to ask the question whether this is not, in the end, exactly the logic of Goethe's Iphigenia is? The difference, however, is that Goethe's play does not set up a maxim of action, but a human ideal: how nice it would be if there were such a thing. Iphigenie's actions only narrowly avoid the deadly tragedy. Only one coincidence, which can hardly be calculated in the end, that Thoas ’“ humanity ”asserted itself at the last moment saves the brother. If, on the other hand, Kant invokes chance in his breakneck example, which could do everything well, he can only do so against his own ethical logic of consequence.

20 However, that is far from the end of the story, and perhaps even almost nothing, about Kant's radical demand, and certainly not the final verdict. To think further and to go further here could lead on strange paths, possibly leading into regions that are closer to Kierkegaard's religious paradoxes than the rational limits demanded by Kant.

21In the course of the 19th century, self-confident honesty increasingly came, which Kant called (veracitas) called, under suspicion. Baudelaire and Nietzsche, and later Ibsen, are among the most astute critics of bourgeois honesty. In an almost inconspicuous shift in the Augustinian definition of the lie, Nietzsche locates the lie exactly where honesty is on display:

I call a lie: something Not want to see what one sees, not something so want to see how one sees it: whether the lie takes place in front of witnesses or without witnesses is irrelevant. The most common lie is the one with which one lies to oneself, lying to others is relatively the exception. 16

22Although initially with the "Not want to see ”and the“ not so want to see “the Augustinian cum voluntate confirming oneself once again by locating the place of the lie in the subject's intention. But this place is radically shifted in Nietzsche's definition. The will with Nietzsche is different from that voluntas in Augustine, which Harald Weinrich identifies symptomatically with the consciousness: "A lie is only there where the other way of speaking is accompanied by a conscious intention to deceive." subjective belief can go hand in hand. For Nietzsche, Carlyle is a prime example of such false honesty:

A constant passionate one Dishonesty against himself - this is his [Carlyles] proprium, so it is and remains interesting. - Of course, in England he is admired precisely for his honesty. 18

23Nietzsche's criticism of honesty anticipates what Benjamin later quotes from his friend Heinle: "I do not associate with someone who puts his honesty outward." 19 In Nietzsche's version this reads:

everything who feels like a “good person” today is completely incapable of taking a stand on anything other than dishonest-lying, abysmal-lying, but innocent-lying, loyal-lying, naive-lying, virtuous-lying.20

Nietzsche's criticism is already anticipated in some ways by Heinrich Heine, who in his witty way wrote the proverbial sentence of the Baccalaureus in Goethe's fist - "In German one lies when one is polite" (v. 6771) - varies:

The men were all so polite and the beautiful women so smiling.If someone suddenly gave me a push without immediately asking for forgiveness, I could bet that it was a compatriot, and if any beautiful woman looked a bit too sour, she had either eaten sauerkraut or she could read Klopstock in the original .

And then it goes on of German rudeness:

Such a boor thinks he must keep the pleasant from us, and his German openness obliges him to only say disgusting things to our faces. In the manners and even in the language of the French there is so much delicious flattery that costs so little and yet so beneficial and refreshing. My soul, the poor sensitive, which had so much contracted the shyness of patriotic rudeness, opened up again to those flattering sounds of French urbanity. God gave us our tongues so that we could say something pleasant to our fellow human beings. 21

26Particularly ambivalent playing in Grillparzers Woe to him who lies Polite appearance, which Bishop Gregor von Chalon positively contrasts with the rawness “In the Rheingau, far beyond Trier”, and a Kantian ethical rigor of absolute truthfulness together.22 In response to Leon's objection: “And if now your nephew drob, [i.e. without cunning and lies] passes? ", the bishop answers uncompromisingly:" So he may die and I will die with him. "23 Ibsen is not the only one against such a deadly love of truth Wild duck raised his protest. Benjamin goes one step further and under certain circumstances makes the lie an obligation:

On the other hand, however, any revolutionary movement that does not methodically make the lie a duty of its followers as the basis of their struggle denounces itself as unfree and fascinated by the most dangerous suggestions of the rulers. These are the impression of honesty as well as the so-called courage of conviction to the opponent. Both only amount to delivering this defenseless into their hands, […] 24

Of course, Benjamin's point of view is complex and methodologically knows two radical extreme poles. If, on the one hand, the lie appears to be a downright duty and “dietary necessity of life”, an even stricter intention to truth appears behind it, which of course can only be redeemed in the rarest of cases. Where this is not the case, honesty becomes unsavory in Benjamin's view:

The lie is a dietary necessity of life for every person who is not constantly uninterrupted with the ultimate, strict intention of truth. If the facts are touched without it, then life becomes pollution and obstruction. It is no coincidence that the unrestricted saying everything is not infrequently found in people who are also externally unclean (vegetarian type); In contrast, the outwardly well-groomed type of diplomat. 25

In the twentieth century, Heiner Müller once again came to the fore in his Philoctetes-Working on the conflict between honesty, absolute loyalty to oneself on the one hand and cunning and lies on the other.26 The positions are divided here between the truth fanatic Philoctetes and the cunning Odysseus with Neoptolemus as a vacillating figure between the two. West German criticism, in some cases still to this day, has almost consistently elevated Philoctetes to a tragic hero who is outwitted and driven to death by a Stalinist Odysseus. Müller rightly resisted this moralizing allegory of the play. But more important than the author's self-interpretation are the language and construction of the piece, which open up a very different constellation of things to a closer reading. In contrast to Philoctetes, who wants to destroy everything in a blind fury of annihilation, shows all the traits of a narcissistically wounded terrorist, Odysseus wants to preserve a lot, himself and others, precisely because he knows that he is one of the butchers with his own people, and more because with primal sadness he knows of the relentless mortality of creatures. He knows that what he warned against Neoptolemus at the beginning of the play also applies to him: “Your flesh is not of the kind that grows back” .27

Of course, the point is not now to glorify the cunning Odysseus as a shining hero. At the end, as already noted at the beginning, we are not faced with a simple alternative between truth and lie, but are drawn into its dialectical entanglements. Their logic can perhaps best be expressed in a condensed structure that found its most concise expression in Freud and the psychanalysis he founded, which can be articulated in two paradoxical axioms: 1) No human being cannot tell the truth. Every sentence, word, syllable, however crazy they seem, is true. 2) Every sentence, every word, every syllable, how reasonable, how true, how honest you may be, are a lie.

There is no definite way out of this paradox. The two axioms establish our speaking existence in every moment.

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