- Analogy as Translation: Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the Law of Language
As Wittgenstein uses the word, analogy is not just an image, an extended simile, or the juxtaposition of objects of comparison, any more than it is merely illustrative, concrete, or poetic. Fundamental both to science and theology, 1 analogy in Wittgenstein’s sense is a traditional method of reasoning from the known to the unknown, and from the visible to the speculative, by carrying familiar terms, paradigms, and images across into unfamiliar territory. This is why Derrida describes analogy as a form of translation—a way of transporting something from place to place, from old to new, from original to copy, and from one (con)text to another. 2 And it is why in the investigations of the later Wittgenstein, questions of resemblance or analogy—the German word Ähnlichkeit, usually translated as “resemblance” in English versions of his text, means both—are considered as questions about the legitimate or illegitimate translation or transposition of words and images from one “region of language” to another, from one system of symbolization to another, and from one context or scenario to another.
In their different ways, Derrida and the later Wittgenstein both alter our dominant concept of the law of language and rule of culture in theory and cultural studies by drawing our attention to the analogical bridges by which language and law are translated from place to place. For Derrida, analogy acts as “a bridge” between different and often incommensurable domains, by creating “a link through resemblance” across “a frontier which is not thereby abolished.” 3 The bridge which Derrida uses in his own writing consists of what Saussure called “the sound-image” of words. A particular sound-image (sans/sang/sens or eau/au/o) or permutations of the “same” sounds (Glas-gla-cla) are Derrida’s privileged vehicle of translation, the passe-partout which carries a word across the frontiers of different languages, texts, and disciplines. In his writing, analogous sounds link a multitude of heterogeneous and largely incommensurable meanings, languages, and contexts in the space of a single word reduced to a pure signifier, to an empty universal form, or to what Derrida calls, following Benjamin, “pure language.” 4 [End Page 655]
Wittgenstein’s later writings foreground and problematize the analogical bridge in a different way: “In all language there is a bridge between the sign and its application. No one can make this for us; we have to bridge the gap ourselves. No explanation ever saves the jump.” 5 Wittgenstein’s later writings mime the problems of the gap, the bridge, and the jump. By forcing the reader’s mind and eye to “jump” from remark to remark, they underline the gaps between the sign and its different applications in different contexts in which it might be used. And by obscuring or eliding the transitions between, and often also within, remarks, they raise questions about the links: How (on earth!) did he move from here to there—from this remark to that, or from this word or command to that translation into symbol or act? Is that really what this word means here? Can we still use this word there? And: Does this use of the word resemble that?
For Wittgenstein, “meaning moves” 6 from case to case by means of analogies. Resemblances or analogies form the bridge. Analogies or resemblances link the different things we call an “experience,” a “muscular sensation,” or “good.” But there is a “gap” between the sign and its application because we use the words for any number of things which have no common essence—for instance, we use the word “good” for roast beef, Greek art, and German music—without any rule to tell us just how and where it must be applied. We have to “recognize each time afresh” that the word “good” may be applied here or that this is a particular instance of “goodness.” 7 And we do so by analogy with previous uses of the word “good”: “What right did I have to speak of a new ‘experience’ or a new ‘muscular sensation’? Surely I did so by analogy with my earlier use of...