'I give you my #word'
Lynne may ask me what I’m saying. The question still surprises me. Wholly without my knowing it, my lips are silently shaping words that are floating like sparrows through the empty branches of my mind.
At the bottom of our hill stands a Pentecostal church, a vast windowless grange. They won’t let me in. I’ve asked. Which of course makes me curious. Thanks to James Baldwin, as well as to a whooping old-believer crane of an aunt (her whooping a sort of courting of Christ who I can’t imagine enjoyed it much) and to a couple of youthful tag-alongs to Pentecostal services, I have some notion of what goes on inside. Especially that weirdest of euphorias––#’speaking in #tongues’. While some may dismiss such glossolalia as gibberish, I like another explanation––that these are #pre-historic languages, rising up through the sybilline ecstasies of the speakers.
We take words for granted the way we take our fingers for granted. If all we had were elbows to touch, fondle and manipulate the world, how clumsy that intercourse would be. But a syllable is like a fingertip, acutely sensitive, divinely agile, able to ice a cake to perfection or stroke a lover’s hair with the legato charm of a Brahm’s concerto.
What does it mean to be human? T’was much mulled over at the beginning to the 20th century. Philosophers like #Wittgenstein and #Benjamin proposed that #language, by shaping our capacity for self-reflection, shaped our world. Our ability to ask a question for which we knew there could be no answer (but that still was worth asking for its own sake) pointed to an abstract, slightly absurd capacity of language that went beyond Kantian logic and touched a metaphysical dust somewhere high in the attic in our minds.
I believe in a better world––the title of a column Lynne and I wrote for many years. Sam Harris calls it ‘the beautifully moral life.’ More and more I’m inclined to wonder how art, rather than being the sometimes jejeune industry that it is, could help us strive toward such a life. Simpler, nobler, more astonishing. In such a task, #art needs language. Walter Benjamin again––language reveals art to itself, language reveals art to the world.
A cynic may say, well (expletive), so much for language helping the world. Look at Ted Cruz. As potent as words can be, they are just as easily thrown away like last night’s uneaten potato chips (see two blogs back). The defenselessness of language against such abuse is as wrenching as the abuse of animals. Every hospital should have a ward for injured, half-dead and Texas-politician words.
It’s a funny thing with words––instinctively we take them at face value. It’s a dictionary instinct––words mean what Webster’s says they mean––blue is blue––in spite of knowing how knowingly street-corner and white house and internet sophists exploit our ‘face value’ credulity––the eternal magician efficiency of any lie.
Or maybe it’s not that simple. Benjamin for a third time: the world itself is a tangled circus of opposites, even extremes; in fact language loves #extremes. Read most current fiction. Any notion of a median truth died a long time ago. Still, we have to get along. Language has the nuance, the fingertips to hold and synthesize multitudes. What saves words from Ted Cruz? Well, call me romantic, but there still exists some metaphysical #integrity inside language, an ancient insistence, a sort of purifying liver of decency, that stands against, and utters against such evil.
Call me romantic.
But in the end I vote for words.
Unorthodox words, whispered words, words that are ‘spoken in tongues’.