between our acting and our thinking

Think of the thousand nameless actions that fill the crevices of your day: modulating your voice to convey interest or disdain; tying your shoelaces; whipping up an omelette or flipping an accurate throw. These are the moves your body knows but would stumble over were you to try describing them. Yet it isn’t until these maneuvers make their way, however shyly, into speech that we can abstract from them and so bring them into the theater of thought.

Language falls between our acting and our thinking; but language itself has two layers, the spoken and the written. The permanence of writing has always made it the more valuable of the two for us, even at the cost of trading in slang for solemnity. Yet not quite always: the Greeks of that golden age had peculiar views, some of them based on the remarkable ability of their singers to know vast epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey by heart. Memory was often equated with knowledge, knowledge with wisdom — so that the external memory of texts (that repository of our culture, binding us to generations gone) must have been for them something like musical scores: you feel a bit let down when a concert pianist has to perform with one in front of him. Perhaps this was why Plato wrote dialogues: they were and were not to be taken at their word. Certainly he deliberately undermines his enterprise in one of them, for in the Phaedrus he has Socrates argue that writing will cause forgetfulness and give only the semblance of truth. This may also be why that earlier philosopher, Heraclitus, made his aphorisms short and perplexing, and why in fact the Greeks invented irony, where you mean only some of what you say but don’t say most of what you mean.

New words are always frisking about us like puppies — one month people go ‘ballistic’ and the next ‘postal’ — but few settle in companionably over the years and fewer still reach that venerable state where we can’t imagine never having been able to whistle them up, there at our bidding. And ideas, large and small: where was flower power fifty years ago — and where is it now? With what fear, fascination and loathing Freudian doctrine slowly took hold and became the canon — and how quickly it all fell apart: who now have complexes, or cathect their libidos onto father-figures?

Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero
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sun-that-will-not-shine, moon-that-cannot-rise

As he had expected, his best friend, Billy Hake, was at the soda fountain, sitting on a stool and drinking a mild hallucinogen known as an LSD frappé.
“How’s the morn, Sorn?” Hake asked, in the slang popular at that time.
“Soft and mazy, Esterhazy,” Marvin replied, giving the obligatory response.
“Du koomen ta de la klipje?” Billy asked. (Pidgin Spanish-Afrikaans dialect was the new laugh sensation that year.)
“Ja, Mijnheer,” Marvin answered, a little heavily. His heart simply was not in the clever repartee.
Billy caught the nuance of dissatisfaction. He raised a quizzical eyebrow, folded his copy of James Joyce Comics, popped a Keen-Smoke into his mouth, bit down to release the fragrant green vapor, and asked, “For-why you burrow?”
The question was wryly phrased but obviously well intended.
Marvin sat down beside Billy. Heavyhearted, yet unwilling to reveal his unhappiness to his lighthearted friend, he held up both hands and proceeded to speak in Plains Indian Sign Language. (Many intellectually inclined young men were still under the influence of last year’s sensational Projectoscope production of Dakota Dialogue, starring Bjorn Rakradish as Crazy Horse and Milovar Slavovivowitz as Red Cloud, and done entirely in gesture.)
Marvin made the gestures, mocking yet serious, for heart-that-breaks, horse-that-wanders, sun-that-will-not-shine, moon-that-cannot-rise.
He was interrupted by Mr Bigelow, proprietor of the Stanhope Pharmacy. Mr Bigelow was a middle-aged man of seventy-four, slightly balding, with a small but evident paunch. Yet he affected boys’ ways. Now he said to Marvin. “Eh, Mijnheer, querenzie tomar la klopje inmensa de la cabeza vefrouvens in forma de ein skoboldash sundae?”
It was typical of Mr Bigelow and others of his generation to overdo the youthful slang, thus losing any comic effect except the pathetically unintentional.
“Schnell,” Marvin said, putting him down with the thoughtless cruelty of youth.
“Well, I never,” said Mr Bigelow, and moved huffily away with the mincing step he had learned from the Imitation of Life show.

Robert Sheckley, Mindswap

deep and inscrutable singular name

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey —
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum —
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover —
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

want harmony, go talk Sanskrit

Look at the English language. The words that express peaceful harmony are so few, so pale, so flaccid, while the words that express disgust, dismay, revulsion constitute a vast and delicious vocabulary. “You’ve got bubblegum for brains, you jackass, you douchenugget, you are so average, did you eat dumb flakes for breakfast? Go sit on your thumb, you feeb, you nincompoop, you fathead” — it goes on and on and on. Shakespeare is loaded with insult from our rich Anglo-Saxon heritage. It’s a language for people who don’t like each other. You want harmony, go talk Sanskrit.

Garrison Keillor, When it’s over, maybe Trump should move to Nebraska

rico eucalipto, más dormir

Tradicionalmente se había considerado que la evolución anatómica de algunas partes del aparato fonador humano (es decir, de los órganos que utilizamos para hablar) podían darnos pistas sobre cómo y cuando había surgido el lenguaje. El descenso de la laringe ha sido interpretado durante mucho tiempo como un hito que conllevaba la producción de habla. Si bien el famoso descenso de la laringe es necesario para poder articular determinados sonidos, se han encontrado laringes igualmente descendidas en otras especies sin habla, como los koalas. A pesar de compartir posición laringal con los humanos, por el momento no parece que los koalas puedan hablar, lo cual es una pena; ¿qué nos dirían si hablaran? ¡Rico eucalipto! ¡Más dormir!

Elena Álvarez Mellado, Anatomía de la lengua

the language dragons speak

“Many a mage of great power has spent his whole life to find out the name of one single thing — one single lost or hidden name. And still the lists are not finished. Nor will they be, till world’s end. Listen, and you will see why. In the world under the sun, and in the other world that has no sun, there is much that has nothing to do with men and men’s speech, and there are powers beyond our power. But magic, true magic, is worked only by those beings who speak the Hardic tongue of Earthsea, or the Old Speech from which it grew. That is the language dragons speak…”

Although the use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it, twisting the true words to false ends, catching the unwary hearer in a maze of mirror-words each of which reflects the truth and none of which leads anywhere.

Yet dragons have their own wisdom; and they are an older race than man. Few men can guess what a dragon knows and how he knows it, and those few are the Dragonlords.

Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Map of Earthsea

“It is not easy — talking to dragons.”

“The dragons! The dragons are avaricious, insatiable, treacherous; without pity, without remorse. But are they evil? Who am I, to judge the acts of dragons?… They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams… We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are.”

“Their blood is cold and venomous. You must not look into their eyes. They are older than
mankind… And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”

Ursula Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

the echoes of those first syllables

They were one of the oldest of the Disc’s religious sects, although even the gods themselves were divided as to whether Listening was really a proper religion, and all that prevented their temple being wiped out by a few well-aimed avalanches was the fact that even the gods were curious as to what it was that the Listeners might Hear. If there’s one thing that really annoys a god, it’s not knowing something.

The fact is that the Listeners are trying to work out precisely what it was that the Creator said when He made the universe.

The theory is quite straightforward.

Clearly, nothing that the Creator makes could ever be destroyed, which means that the echoes of those first syllables must still be around somewhere, bouncing and rebounding off all the matter in the cosmos but still audible to a really good listener.

Eons ago the Listeners had found that ice and chance had carved this one valley into the perfect acoustic opposite of an echo valley, and had built their multi-chambered temple in the exact position that the one comfy chair always occupies in the home of a rabid hi-fi fanatic. Complex baffles caught and amplified the sound that was funnelled up the chilly valley, steering it ever inwards to the central chamber where, at any hour of the day or night, three monks always sat.

Listening.

There were certain problems caused by the fact that they didn’t hear only the subtle echoes of the first words, but every other sound made on the Disc. In order to recognise the sound of the Words, they had to learn to recognise all the other noises. This called for a certain talent, and a novice was only accepted for training if he could distinguish by sound alone, at a distance of a thousand yards, which side a dropped coin landed. He wasn’t actually accepted into the order until he could tell what colour it was.

And although the Holy Listeners were so remote, many people took the extremely long and dangerous path to their temple, travelling through frozen, troll-haunted lands, fording swift icy rivers, climbing forbidding mountains, trekking across inhospitable tundra, in order to climb the narrow stairway that led into the hidden valley and seek with an open heart the secrets of being.

And the monks would cry unto them, “Keep the bloody noise down!”