language is your medium

March 7, 2020

Any writer who tries to press against the limits of prose, who’s trying to write something genuinely different from what’s come before, is constantly aware of these paradoxes about language’s power and its limitations. Because language is your medium, you become aware of the extent to which language controls and directs our thinking, the extent that we’re manipulated by words—and yet the extent to which words necessarily limit our attention and hence misrepresent the world around us. Orwell dealt with all this in 1984 much better than I’ve been able to when he said, in effect: Let me control the language and I will control peoples’ thoughts. Back in the 1930s the Japanese used to have actual “Thought Police,” who would come around and say to people, “What do you think about our expedition to China?” or something like that. And if they didn’t like what you replied, they’d put you under arrest. What Orwell was driving at, though, goes beyond that kind of obvious control mechanism; he was implying that if he could control the language, then he could make it so that you couldn’t even think about anything he didn’t want you to think about. My view is that this isn’t wholly true. One of the dumber things you see in the comic books occasionally is where, say, Spider Man falls off a building, looks down and sees a flag pole, and thinks to himself, “If I can just grab that flagpole, I’ll be okay.” Now nobody in those circumstances would actually be doing that—if you’re falling off a building, you don’t put that kind of thought into words, even though you’re somehow consciously aware of needing to grab that flagpole. You are thinking below the threshold of language, which suggests there is a pre verbal, sub level of thinking taking place without words. Orwell didn’t deal with this sub level of thinking, but the accuracy of his insights about the way authorities can manipulate people through words is evident in the world around us.

Gene Wolfe
Interview with Larry McCaffery, November 1988

The language of dream

March 1, 2020

There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists.

Derrick Jensen
A Language Older Than Words

Yes, ‘I’m Happy’

February 1, 2020

I went looking for someplace to hide
the ocean. Selfish girl.
Trying to shut my eyes in a wave.
Line all the walls with water.

The ceiling keep screaming at me.
Dad too. Who knew
there was a continent called Zealandia
hiding in the Pacific
with a crust thicker than the ocean floor?

We live on top of plates
growing all our bodies and fir.
Blood oranges and hills.
We live like a pack of roads
howling over the earth.

I let my mouth open for language.
Siwihtâkanâpoy. Ocean brine.
Sometimes we pay for the things
we know. Soap in the mouth.
I’ve been told to expect damage.

Here’s an earthquake warning from the government:
Learn the Risks. There’s a 1 in 4 chance
you’ll be happy or shaken.

Selina Boan

Dulzura

January 7, 2020

Make love to me in Spanish.
Not with that other tongue.
I want you juntito a mi,
tender like the language
crooned to babies.
I want to be that
lullabied, mi bien
querido, that loved.
I want you inside
the mouth of my heart,
inside the harp of my wrists,
the sweet meat of the mango,
in the gold that dangles
from my ears and neck.
Say my name. Say it.
The way it’s supposed to be said.
I want to know that I knew you
even before I knew you.

Sandra Cisneros

Words

November 30, 2019

Language games, playing with language. Using the dictionary is fun. Words play leapfrog with each other. Letters disappear. And, unexpectedly, poems appear…

transformed by orgasm

October 26, 2019

When I see a woman’s face transformed by the orgasm we have reached together, then I know we’ve met. Anything else is fiction. That’s the vocabulary we speak in today. It’s the only language left.

Leonard Cohen
The Favourite Game

Language is my home. It is alive other than in speech. It is beyond a thing to be carried with me. It is ineluctable, variegated and muscular. A flicker and drag emanates from the very idea of it. Language seems capable of girding the oceanic earth, like the world-serpent of Norse legend. It is as if language places a shaping pressure upon our territories of habitation and voyage; thrashing, independent, threatening to drive our known world apart.

Yet thought is not bounded by language. At least, my experience of thinking does not appear so bound.

Vahni Capildeo
Five Measures of Expatriation

no word in my language

October 5, 2019

if i have a name,
let it be the sound his lips make.
there is no word in my language for this.

Billy-Ray Belcourt
Gay Incantations

Wolf Woman

October 1, 2019

I’m trying to evolve into all wolf all the time. It seems possible if I let go of the idea of my body, if I fall into my dream headfirst, if I accept words as signals more than language, if my love sounds like a howl in the forest – doesn’t it already?

Chelsea Hodson,

Artist Statement, Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays

We inhabit a deeply imagined world that exists alongside the real physical world. Even the crudest utterance, or the simplest, contains the fundamental poetry by which we live. This mind fabric, woven of images and illusions, shields us. In a sense, or rather, in all senses, it’s a shock absorber. As harsh as life seems to us now, it would feel even worse — hopelessly, irredeemably harsh — if we didn’t veil it, order it, relate familiar things, create mental cushions. One of the most surprising facts about human beings is that we seem to require a poetic version of life. It’s not just that some of us enjoy reading or writing poetically, or that many people wax poetic in emotional situations, but that all human beings of all ages in all cultures all over the world automatically tell their story in a poetic way, using the elemental poetry concealed in everyday language to solve problems, communicate desires and needs, even talk to themselves. When people invent new words, they do so playfully, metaphorically — computers have viruses, one can surf the internet, a naïve person is clueless. In time, people forget the etymology or choose to disregard it. We dine at chic restaurants from porcelain dinner plates without realizing that when the smooth, glistening porcelain was invented in France a long time ago, someone with a sense of humour thought it looked as smooth as the vulva of a pig, which is indeed what porcelain means. When we stand by our scruples, we don’t think of our feet, but the word comes from the Latin scrupulus, a tiny stone that was the smallest unit of weight. Thus a scrupulous person is so sensitive he’s irritated by the smallest stone in his shoe. For the most part, we are all unwitting poets.

Diane Ackerman
Language at Play