Untamed Speech

…always a rage against the blind harmony of an anaesthetized life. Instead, a life amid the salient, the awkward, the pathologized; buffeted and discontent, at peace only in a rough sea.*

Is it possible that the very fight away from our experience of pathology misses the beauty of its necessity, removing us from artful expression of the most rooted, inherent place we find ourselves in, a place that by necessity calls for struggle? Instead of the fight against pathology, which demands that we heal, fix and remove the soul’s infirmities, rather, might we not rather seek a perspective that gives the passions their due, by listening for their mythological background that conjoin the most personal sense of ourselves with the eternal happenings of a world.

Perhaps we must first acknowledge things from a mythological perspective that conjoin to the eternal; seeing ourselves and others not only as products of family, culture, time and place, but also as characters expressing the struggles inherent in every age, time and place. Death then is the primary protagonist. That battle against which remains hopelessly futile, for it is life itself that brings death into being. Can we, like Dante did, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here?”

Crazy talk maybe, especially in a frequently literalized, anesthetized world where the sensibility of ‘life as art’ is often exchanged for artifice, making believers rather than lovers out of us all. In this world, language itself is in danger of extinction, especially the beauty and danger of an untamed speech.

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The gate of Hell. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For I want to suggest that untamed speech of the widest reach and wildest pitch effects vengeance in itself. And further to suggest, that the docility of speech, the absence of vehemence and hyperbole, the balanced phrases of the nightly news, reporting the facts of worldly horror, force the Furies underground, ultimately, since the repressed returns, and directly causing yet more facts of worldly horror to be reported with that same calm mask and blank smile. Could it be that were our words wild enough, our worlds would be more inhabitable? Could Shakespearean hyperbole be a cultural remedy?*

dante-alighieri

“Love hath so long possessed me for his own And made his lordship so familiar.” Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just as we have pushed death underground and transformed the underworld from a place of shades, shadows who awaken us to unseen presence, they’re out of sight, into the hell of the damned, a cavernous fault where the dark repressed lies unseen, and so, feared. Now, speech too must be cleaned up by removing its ugly, so-called hateful words. As if winning the battle against death and language would change the heart and soul of humanity? It is no longer only a personal fear of death daily driving the passions, but a more out of reach fear of a destruction of the entire planet that makes us crazy for solutions, fixes and cures. Which myth(s) provides the background that instills the belief that it is uniquely up to humanity to save ourselves from ourselves? What if the dysfunction, the inherent pathology, lies within the very heart and soul of so-called civilization? What if our very desire for peace, harmony and a world without suffering were driving the very pathology we seek to eliminate?

I am suggesting that the patient’s disorder, that he and she cannot function in the civilization, is the civilization itself declaring dysfunctional bankruptcy. For what is the value of a civilization if its citizens are made ill by it? And what is the value of a therapy if it only abets the growth of civilization; in a civilization that measures its standing rank by gross domestic product (GDP)?*

As Hillman notes, shall we not also consider whether or not fixing our personal pathology means aligning oneself to the pathology of a civilization that is in the grip of its own inherently self-destructive end as it plays out the mythological battle of good vs. evil both within and between cultures? Although sometimes blamed on religious ideology, perhaps the root of apocalyptic endings lies within the heart of any culture that pathologically denies any place for its shadows, ever-believing that light can and should overcome them, striving always to beat them into submission by reforming their contents, rather than accepting the message of struggle that shadows reveal to us.

By shadows I mean not only all that cannot be seen, known and understood, but that which is forever out of human reach to change the nature of: death, both of the individual and the planet; along with all of the little deaths experienced every moment, every day; the loss of a loved one, a job, a home, a friend, a belief, innocence, one’s health or youth. So much in life forever lies unobtainable: truly knowing another’s thought and heart, what the future may bring, security, a life without pain-whether one’s own or another’s, or what happens after death.

But neither fax nor even flesh can satisfy the fantastical appetite. We are impoverished psychologically when we are impoverished linguistically. The bridges are down because the moon is down, imagination beclouded by literal information. We have forgot Coleridge’s warning about “the danger of thinking without images” and so our minds, our very civilization, succumbs at one and the same time to both cynical nihilism and full-faithed fundamentalism.*

We know we have taken the bait anytime we find ourselves within a fantasy of good vs. evil that clamors for nothing less than a real-world outcome of a personal or collective idea of “how things should (or shouldn’t) be.” The more our ideals express purity and perfection, favoring the light over the dark, the darker our world seems, and so becomes.

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Orestes Pursued by the Furies, William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although the counter to the argument that we need more untamed speech might rightly warn that limits are necessary in a culture that places emphasis on actions over ideas, but I would suggest that it is this very loss of ideas as something outside of us, and loss of any recognition of the need for reflection, because we don’t own them, they own us, that prematurely urges us to action. We fail to see ideas as actions in themselves, which act on us.

This argument against bombast makes me refine my proposal. It’s not heightened speech as such but, rather, our relation with it. An inverse proportion between words and acts — the wilder the words the less wild the acts — holds only insofar as we enjoy the language for its own sake; the vehemence, the insult, the braggadocio become pleasurable acts, giving a delightful satisfaction.*

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When an individual becomes the owner and purveyor of ideas, to not act is a reflection upon them, as we declare, “all talk and no action.” Who though, hasn’t experienced a rage so powerful that it scares us? While rage was once understood to come to us from the furies (hence the word”furious”), if there is no longer even an idea of the furies, “I” am all that is left to carry meaning and expression into the world.

The archetypal imagination underlies and embraces all together; all the world’s a stage, and we in our seats are in the play, since its words are voicing our souls. How hard this is for us to conceive today, since, for us, all the people we know are people first, and then they speak, words issuing from them as secondary phenomena.*

*All quotes: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations, Chapter 5, You Taught me Language (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Expression

“In culture, any culture, we are bound to that which is deemed possible. In the comparative imagination that can relate consciousness to culture and culture to consciousness, we begin to free ourselves for the impossible.”

Language

Language can be seen as one mode of expressing aspects of the unseen. Through definition we divide and separate the world into things. Words, however combined and multiplied, cannot express the true essence of the things they refer to. But words, as referents to the essence of things, serve as portals to what is currently unknown, or impossible, to a future in which the impossible becomes possible.

Erfurt in the 19th century1820 paintings. Letters in art. Trompe l’oeil in Germany

Language not only divides, but conjoins. It’s use becomes a sexy, reproductive participant in creation. Language reveals layers of meaning, expanding awareness through metaphor, imagination and suggestion. Writing becomes an art of being authored, or written, in which we in turn are authoring, or writing the impossible into being. The once impossible becomes possible, not only in the sense of the creation of tools, technology and artifact, but through the discovery of other realms and beings at one time invisible to us. If this sounds far-fetched, think only of dreams and all that you encounter there. But if you write or read as a creative practice, you probably have experienced the power of language, ideas and symbols to expand your awareness.

Cosmology

People in every culture have expressed a cosmological belief of some kind. From stories of the gods and creation myths, down to our modern language of mathematics and physics, cosmology can be seen as culturally dependent expressions of current states of consciousness, or perhaps, expressions as what the cosmos itself is aware of.

Our current understanding of a theory of evolution that believes we are the result of a series of mutations of life forms through a force called natural selection, would disagree that the cosmos is “aware” of anything. The belief that Intelligence or consciousness of any kind is a participant in the creative process is suspect, and so, called anthropomorphic. Consciousness and intelligence are here understood as mere by-products of a neurological brain.

“Krao”, the “missing link” : a living proof of Darwin’s theory of the descent of man : special lectures, 2.30, 5.30 & 9.30… : all should see her : [jungle illustration].

The theory of evolution is also an expression of a culture that believes in a Cartesian duality; seeing with a mind split from the body. If consciousness is a by-product of evolutionary processes, it could not have been a participant in anything prior to its existence, so the story goes.

It is curious to me that there is no current recognition of evolutionary mutations beyond us humans, except allowing for the possibility of alien life forms. If we can’t see it, touch it and measure it, it doesn’t exist. Consciousness as something generated by matter has implications for how we understand ourselves and the nature of reality. But, if consciousness is experienced as an expression of a primary intelligence of the cosmos, than we are also participants in the evolution of a reality that intends to expand the limits of our current awareness.

Expression

The sense of separation that we experience may be what helps to bring into being the impossible into the possible. The suffering of separation and division through thought and language, perhaps seeds the cosmos through a dialectic between what is possible and impossible. We are perhaps then, the cosmos creating itself into powers and realms not yet known, or perhaps, not yet existing. This can only be possible when we admit the possibility that consciousness is not a by-product of matter, but a primary aspect of the cosmos.

Jeffrey Kripal suggests that somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century, modern culture began to disdain any notion of metaphysical aspects to reality. His book, Authors of the Impossible, recalls a multitude of modern accounts and stories of people’s adventures in other realms, which we now call dreams, OBE’s, NDE’s, UFO abductions. He says:

“We are magicians all. But as whole cultures extended through centuries of time, we are much more than a collection of knowing and unknowing magicians stumbling about with their consensual spells called Language, Belief, and Custom. We are veritable wizards endowed with almost unbelievable powers to shape new worlds of experience and realize different aspects of the real.”

In closing, I must add that the ideas, except as noted, are my own take on the ideas in Kripal’s book. Although in so many ways, I remain indebted to the ideas of others and those discussed in his book, Authors of the Impossible.

“To author one’s world, however, whether literally or metaphorically, implies the use of language, which is a left-brain capacity. So an author of the impossible is not someone who has shut down the left brain with all its critical and linguistic powers and tender sense of individual identity. I do not mean to be so simply dualistic . Rather, an author of the impossible is someone who has ceased to live, think, and imagine only in the left brain, who has worked hard and long to synchronize the two forms of consciousness and identity and bring them both online together. Finally, an author of the impossible is someone who has gone beyond all of these dualisms of right and left, mystical and rational, faith and reason, self and other, mind and matter, consciousness and energy, and so on. An author of the impossible is someone who knows that the Human is Two and One.”

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Our Lady of the Well

Language is originally and essentially nothing but a system of signs or symbols, which denote real occurrences, or their echo in the human soul.” Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious

In the midst of reading Jung’s Red Book, the idea of words and language and their relationship to the underlying wordless reality has begun to haunt me. I understand that trying to use language to discuss language presents the same problem as does seeing the eye with your own eye, but if that’s the case, where does that leave us? Can we trust language, can we not trust it?

What is the difference between the world we create through the understanding and choice of our words and the unspoken essence that cannot seem to be put into words? When we cannot articulate the pure essence of the ineffable, assuming that there is one, how can we know it when and if we do? I know the world goes on, but all the searches for truth seem to be suspect if we cannot locate the bridge between language and what it tries to convey. Even if this problem is only sensed, maybe it can partially account for why there is mistrust between people with differing opinions?

“Words are the physicians of the mind diseased.” Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC), Prometheus Bound

How close does language come to articulating all that the world is, or as some might say reality? Can language only approximate reality? How do we know? So much, it seems can be taken for granted in the natural ease of our speech and use of language.

But if there is, and I believe there is, a world apart from language, can we prove that? And if not with language than with what? I wouldn’t say math because it too is a language, a representation, yes?

 “Touches are better than words, but words are better than nothing.” Dick Summer

Who hasn’t sensed that there is an underlying-ness that language approximates by putting the ineffable into words? A metaphor that works for me in describing the ineffable is the image of a well, a very deep well and that when we have immediate, non-verbal experiences in which we sense that there’s something beyond, we’ve fallen in the well. Resurfacing allows us to live in both worlds by using a bucket to visit the depths by dipping down into the well. But as much as I like this metaphor and sense it pointing to a truth, maybe it doesn’t. Or does it?

Is it consensus then? If enough people sense and agree that a metaphor approximates reality, do we then know the truth?

“Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.” Benjamin Lee Whorf

We might think that animals don’t have language or certainly trees, plants, stones and the elements don’t have language, but maybe they do. Jung often noted that psyche and soma are inseparable, and if that’s the case, some form of language could be said to exist for every and anything. Then language ceases to be merely representational and has its own underlying ineffability.

When the starlings go quiet and suddenly fly away in formation is that language?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” Is that what John 1:1 is trying to tell us ?

I’m sure better minds than mine have already figured this stuff out and that there is a way out of what seems like a strange loop, even if it means to accept that language and reality are one and our best bet is to work at using language. But then reality truly remains at least a partial fantasy of sorts, but even that is saying too much as it implies that we can make a distinction between the two.

“Here we stand and without speaking  Draw the water from the well  And stare beyond the plains  To where the mountains lie so still ” Jackson Browne

If You Could Read My Mind

“Whatever is not being said is not being thought…and if it’s not being thought it is lost, and it is just those things that are lost that we need.” Michael Meade

Somewhere in my late teens, I began to struggle daily for that feeling of peace and belonging I was sure everyone else must have. But more than that it felt as if I were losing the sense of the familiar in the day-to-day of living, including the natural ability to use language. People would talk to me and all I could hear were the sounds. Yes, it was scary. People Talking Clip Art

It came and went over the course of a few years, ebbing and waning during the period of my life where the sense of my identity seemed most fragile. The experience changed my relationship to language. It was as if the location of my awareness had slipped far beneath the surface where language was once readily available – and in order to feel at ease with language I had to learn to translate non-verbal awareness into words.

This sensation of perceiving from some deeper non-verbal place of awareness, remains with me to this day and in some ways still hampers, or at least slows, both my ability to write and to speak. I am an incredibly slow writer, and editing is most of the work. Reading back what I’ve written invites the chance to refine what is being said, forever reaching down into the well in the hopes of bringing to the surface what seems hidden.

But along with the practice of writing, what continues to bridge the verbal and the non-verbal world is the practice of reading.  It is through developing the skills of language that a renewed understanding of the nature of the world and a broadening of the sense of what is possible is continually enhanced.

IMG_20130824_091312_984During my struggles with language, I picked up one of my favorite childhood books, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and started there. It took a couple of months until reading felt seamless again, and it renewed in me a curiosity for ideas and knowledge that have not left me since.

Reading set me on a quest to want to know everything about anything. How did we get here? Where are we? What are we? Why do we have a level of abstraction that seems far beyond what is necessary for survival?

Perhaps the reason we talk is the same reason that birds sing. Auntie and Uncle 1663

But all language, by its very nature constricts, defines and narrows. All language comes through the context of the writer or speaker. Language can never, by itself, say all that the world is. And yet, without it, how diminished our world would be!

Perhaps that is why we keep on talking, writing, reading, to ourselves and to each other. We never quite get around to saying exactly what we meant to say. There’s always more ways to say more.

And that is why by myself, I will never be enough, but need you, dear reader, dear fellow writer. Our language may never be quite the same, but when we get close enough to rub shoulders, feeling touched, we know we are not alone.

“In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see” Gordon Lightfoot

Reflections

Not sure why I never thought to poke around in the blogosphere here on WordPress but having recently done so, am happy to have found a few kindred spirits who also have a passion for ideas and writing. Many of you have been quite kind and inspiring, which is very much appreciated! Thank you!

185This morning I woke up a little earlier than usual with a vague, dreamlike, can’t-quite-remember-it, song from the past trying to find its way into my waking world. All I could recall from the lyrics was the word reflection. No surprise, as I have been pondering how much the reflections between self and other shape us after having a sudden insight and appreciation that so much of my analytical nature comes from my relationship with my father.

Eventually enough snippets of the song, Reflections, by a Scottish band called Marmalade, surfaced just enough to go to the computer and look up the song. So, it prompts me to reflect here a bit about the self/other relationship, opposition and ideas.

Perhaps I am slow to realize this, but it occurs to me recently how absolutely necessary the other is to self and how throughout our human experience we assume and consume the self/other relationship. It is only over time that we slowly build a self of our own out of all that we take in, as it is reflected back to us from others.

Little wonder that our primary experience of family and friends is not only a lasting impression, but incorporated into all that we are and continue becoming. Our language, our sense of meaning and purpose, assumptions, choices we make, all are reflected in the back and forth between ourselves and the people we experience early on, and expanded upon throughout our lives, as we continue to engage others which in turn shapes and forms who we are.

Not that we necessarily become like others, for each of us seems to have a unique way of taking the other in; digesting and making sense of the world that shapes us, and frees us to a certain extent – depending on how much daring and separation both we and those around us can tolerate. And it seems too that we each are called, in a most mysterious way, to articulate and express some facet of human beingness, whether it be through a creative pursuit, or relational pursuit or more likely a little of both.

Pondering just how much we humans are always in relationship – to people, things, places, ideas, it occurs to me that ideas too are in relationship with each other.

Seeing that ideas are in relationship helps me to understand the emotional tone that seems immediate in their presence. For example, there is often a temptation to polarize ideas and so to view things in opposition. Perhaps because oppositional pairing is so primary to our experience:

Dead, alive

Good, bad

You, me

Male, female

Day, night

Coming, going

North, south, east, west

Hero, villain

…and my favorite:

Fantasy, reality

Ideas, whether oppositional or not, are as much in relationship to each other as we are to them. They sit face to face and define each other having meaning only in relationship to what connects them. The temptation in language is to forget that words are words, giving them the power to concretize our understanding, removing the fluidity and gradations that we know from experience, in much the same way as a picture might come to define an entire era of our personal or shared history.

But face to face, I try to remind myself, does not necessarily mean a conflict, a battle stance, but may also be a lover’s embrace, a visit with a long-lost friend, a confession to a priest, therapist or family member. Here is where the emotional tone can change from one of anger, fear, loss or hatred, to curiosity, admiration, compassion and abundance. Perhaps when we broaden the possibilities of meaning  in our ideas, the meaning of the oppositions that we find between us may also expand – inviting curiosity, admiration, compassion and abundance as we look into every strangers eyes.

I am reminded of, and will leave you with a lyric from Roger Waters’ album, Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking;

In truck stops and hamburger joints

In Cadillac limousines

In the company of has-beens

And bent-backs

And sleeping forms on pavement steps

In libraries and railway stations

In books and banks

In the pages of history

In suicidal cavalry attacks

I recognise…Myself in every stranger’s eyes

And thanks to the Marmalades for the theme…

Words

“Is there a reality that is not framed or formed? No. Reality is always coming through a pair of glasses, a point of view, a language–a fantasy.” James Hillman

From a very early age, I have always loved words. Long before I could write in cursive I would scribble in my composition book endlessly pretending to write important things. I surely didn’t know at the time the power of language nor was I aware of the beauty of words, thoughts and ideas. Later on in my life, struggling with a deeply terrifying sadness and pain that led me into a very dark place that seemed inescapable, James Hillman’s words and ideas played a part in reuniting me with my old love of language.

Through language, the words and ideas we have available to us for understanding the world, we shape and define events and experience. Committed to memory and to the limits of our imagination and understanding, the story of our lives begins to stick. What is made static often remains static until such a time in which our stuckness becomes unbearable, if we’re fortunate enough. I say that because quite often it’s the woundedness itself that becomes the healing, making the wound a necessary part of who we are.

We live in a world yearning for change, in which a materialist perception of life has hardened our hearts and turned our souls into stone images or better yet, imageless stones. Without psyche or soul, we look out there at the stuff of life and it’s a mess. For the materialist in us all, there is nothing else but the stuff of life. So we try to fix the stuff with politics, shopping, food, pills and other people. But the confusion and mess of the world is bigger than us and hasn’t been fixed in thousands of years of trying. So, can we live with that? Or, how do we live with that?

It may be much more helpful to accept that ideas and feelings more often than not have me, and not the other way around. In this way, when we find ourselves sick of being subject to an awful mood that we’ve talked ourselves into, we find that we are not the feelings, but we are in their sway and then might ask ourselves, “what is it doing for me?” Our lives are complicated and the world can be an awful place in which sadness and anger are fairly appropriate responses to our vulnerability and limitations that we live with- we’re not always obligated to have a nice day- especially in a world that is not always very nice to live in.

Hillman loved the mythology of the Greeks and saw in them the archetypes of human psychological experience. In reading their stories we find the immortal, polytheistic nature of  psyche that each of us experiences. Where psyche, or soul can be seen as polytheistic, influenced by a pantheon of gods, our devotion to, and insistence upon the singularity of our identity, loses its grip on us. As Hillman says, “…the puzzle in therapy is not how did I get this way, but what does my angel want with me?”

“Besides, giving up on language betrays our own human nature. I think that the human form of display, in the ethologist’s sense of “display,” is rhetoric. Our ability to sing, speak, tell tales, recite, and orate is essential to our lovemaking, boasting, fear-inspiring, territory-protecting, surrendering, and offspring-guarding behaviors. Giraffes and tigers have splendid coats; we have splendid speech.” James Hillman, excerpt from Animal Presences

“Now, I’m standing here. 
Strange, strange voices in my ears, I feel the tears 
But all I can hear are those words…” The Monkees