chapter  2
19 Pages

Articulating the Abstract: Theories of the Unnameable

The unknown abstracted in the term ‘Thing’ has held a place of prominence in philosophical thought since the Classical period. However, thinking about the ‘Thing’ as an unknowable ‘other’ is more specifi cally a feature of the modern philosophical paradigm. Indeed, the Idea of the ‘Thing’ has produced an abundance of varied philosophical and theoretical writings since the eighteenth century, paralleling considerations of the same in literature and art. The ‘Thing in itself’ in this modern context is the focus of discourses that maintain the importance of recognising the existence of the unknowable, challenging dominant materialist approaches to ontology, epistemology, and aesthetics. Furthermore, the concept of the unnameable has recently come to the centre of the attention of much interdisciplinary study, with contributions to the on-going discussion of the ‘Thing’ from art theorists and historians, anthropologists, and linguists alike. While these contributions form an important discourse of their own, it is important to understand that theories of the symbolic value of the ‘Thing’—and its place within the mind and experience of the subject-necessarily emerge from an extended record of philosophical approaches to the unrepresentable.