…was the Word
One of the insights gathered from studying and attending to the nature of language is to see how close to the body and physical senses everyday language and speech is. The word language itself is derived from the latin “lingua,” or tongue.
When speaking of our native tongue, we might say that we have two tongues; the one in our mouth and the language we speak with. Here, perhaps, is the basis of metaphor and points to the idea that it is our use of language with its ability to both ground us in descriptions of sense and the physical nature of experience, and also to move us beyond that grounding, to an understanding that we also have ideas about the world. Here we see and think beyond the physical factual world into what lies under, over and beyond it to what might be called, primal knowledge.
The spacial quality of the metaphor intentionally expands our notions of ourselves and the world into dimensionality because life itself is multi-dimensional.
I am no scholar, or linguist, but experiencing the beauty of how language opens the world up to us and has itself a creative element, fascinates me. It’s important then, I think, to not think of language only as a device for reporting. The reporting style of speech, which likes to stick to the facts and get to the point, is one among many styles of speech, but perhaps has come to dominate our western culture today, permeating every corner of our lives from the family circle, to educational curriculums, to business speech. To get along in this world, yes, one must be able to understand this style of language, but that need not exclude us from appreciating and using other styles of speech.
Any style of speech will color how we see and experience the world. So, perhaps, the more styles available to us, the bigger the palette. Language also shapes the stories we tell ourselves and others. The answers we give when replying to everyday questions explaining what happened, why, where and how, are shaped by the language we use. Most of us, most of the time, like to think we speak out of necessity, and are telling the truth, a value deeply embedded within our culture. But this expectation forces our hand, demanding an expertise and honesty on a level that’s not always as easy and available as we may assume.
Language, which is of the body, is susceptible to habits, and behaves similarly to a virus. How much of our experience of life is driven by the assumptions embedded in the way we use language depends on how well we hear the implications of what we say and how aware we are of the ideas available to us. We don’t, it seems, have a choice to experience life without language.
“The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.” William Rice Burroughs
But, the virus isn’t necessarily a sickness or a parasite is it? Beyond any notions of taming, eliminating or dampening the capacity for language, what else is there? Is the day-to-day practicality of informing and staying informed the only game in town? Could our relationship to language have rather a symbiotic quality?
Language, when seen as a way to bridge a variety of levels of experience, may lead us out of speaking for the sake of practical reporting and into a place where we see all things anew.
Language that aims for endings, conclusions and summaries of what we believe and think of as the truth, may reflect something deep inside us that refuses the challenge of living in a world between order and chaos. How safe do you want to be, the world may be asking us, and at what cost? One of the costs of truth is exclusion. By making a selection as to what the truth is, we are also making a valuation which excludes other meanings and possibilities deeming them as “not truth.” This is tricky, because we will make choices, perhaps because of the recognition of the exclusive nature of our choosing. To refuse choice and meaning, and to not live within the givens of our environment and culture, would be putting ourselves at the far end of the spectrum where order disappears and chaos reins.
Chaos though, in many mythologies, is both primal and necessary, understood as the source of the world. From Hesiod, 7th or 8th century B.C.:
“Verily at the first Khaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Gaia (Earth), the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus . . . From Khaos came forth Erebos and black Nyx (Night).”
Or as one among several original elements. From Aristophenes:
“At the beginning there was only Khaos (Air), Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (Hell’s Pit). Ge (Earth), Aer (Air) and Ouranos (Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros (Desire) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated [or fertilised] in deep Tartaros (Hell-Pit) with dark Khaos (Air), winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race [the birds], which was the first to see the light.”
From Ovid’s Metamorphosis:
“Ere land and sea and the all-covering sky were made, in the whole world the countenance of nature was the same, all one, well named Chaos, a raw and undivided mass, naught but a lifeless bulk, with warring seeds of ill-joined elements compressed together.”
And finally, from Genesis, which presents creation as coming into being from what is formless and void through separation:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”
Order and chaos may be seen then as two poles necessary for life, for aliveness. Too much of either eliminates the possibility of any life – order stifles movement, chaos refuses the containment necessary for the discrete recognizable entities that we, and each “thing,” is. It may be that the source of the world is unified or chaotic by nature, but identity, with its inherent job of separation, knows of others by being a self. This, I believe is our predicament, and not something to be overcome, but seen through as if we are walking between the two extremes, aware of both the desire for order and the need for renewal through a bit of chaos.
Ironically, to see through may come from a softening of vision, double vision, or second sight. It’s the hard and fast rule and desire for orderliness that sees sharp edges, well-defined boundaries, divisions of truth and lies, black and white, dead and alive. Double vision loses these distinctions by blurring the edges, seeing likeness and similarity in things habitually seen as different. Habit is how we are ordered, poesis, or soul-making is how we are disordered, broken by chaos for the sake of the new. This opening is an exchange with the gods and may be painful as we give up something cherished, protective, habitual, but may also be freeing. Freeing, as we not only disidentify with ownership of an idea or belief, but freeing as expansive in the boundaries of what is “me” and “not me.”
As John the Baptist says, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” This does not have to be understood in a Christian sense only, but as a way to express a willingness towards states of immersion. As we immerse ourselves in conversation with others, ideas and the invisibles, we disappear for the sake of the other. Other meaning, what presents itself to us as the veil is lifted, the walls come tumbling down and the bridge between order and chaos opens up where we may then experience the liminal, non-ordinary at any given moment.
In conclusion, well, sort of, we might see beginnings in every moment, life perpetually coming out of the void, where the void is the source of life itself. We might see beginnings as not something that happen once, or even twice as in rebirth, but beyond historical happenings into that which is happening perpetually; chaos forming into order, refining into structures that eventually fall apart from too much structure, back into chaos where they mix and mingle, formless and once again ready to be ordered anew.
Is exactly like
Where you are right now
Only much, much better.” Laurie Anderson