|Cy Twombly: Apollo and the Artist 1975|
It is impossible that one with even a tangential interest in modern culture has not suffered through a conversation on the power of language, a topic discussed ad nauseam in political discourse, academia, literary circles, theology, blah blah blah. Yet what is little discussed outside the arts (and esoteric, modern philosophy -- hi, Derrida), is what the desire to speak says about the human condition. We find it necessary to cognitively coral things within our experience, yet beyond another's, so that through speech they may indeed experience it. The human animal finds its own reality so endlessly fascinating, or unbearably terrifying, that it is impossible not to blather on about it, no matter who is or is not listening. What else explains the constant speaking into the void that is Twitter?
The three writers below speak to the absurdity that we need to speak, by speaking, which is of course an absurdity of its own. The first poem has trickled down through the centuries from the far-away-lands of India, by the pen of the mystic poet Kabir. The subsequent pieces are modern interpretations on a similar theme: the use of language saying, and saying away ourselves.
Except That It Robs You of Who You Are
Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
Speech diminishes you.
Speak with a wise man, there’ll be
Much to learn; speak with a fool,
All you get is prattle.
Strike a half-empty pot, and it’ll make
A loud sound; strike one that is full,
Says Kabir, and hear the silence.
(translated from the Hindi by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra)
Taken from New York Review of Books
By Octavio Paz
I read in a poem:
to talk is divine.
But the gods don't speak:
they make and unmake worlds
while men do the talking.
They play frightening games
The spirit descends,
but doesn't speak words:
it speaks fire.
Lit by a god,
of flames and a tower
of smoke and collapse
of syllables burned:
ash without meaning.
The word of man
is the daughter of death.
We talk because we are mortal:
words are not signs, they are years.
Saying what they say,
the words we are saying
say time: they name us.
We are time's names.
The dead are mute
but they also say
what we are saying.
Language is the house
of all, hanging over the abyss.
To talk is human.
(translated from Spanish by Mark Strand)
Taken from The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry
Excerpt from the play, The Maids
by Jean Genet
Solange: She would like to smile but she is dead…. She enters her apartment – but, Madame is dead. Her two maids are alive: they’ve just risen up free, from Madame’s icy form. All the maids were present at her side – not themselves but rather the hellish agony of their names.
(translated from the French by Bernard Frenchtman)
-By Adam Shutz