Everyone knows that a proper sentence is supposed to convey a complete thought – but can a complete thought only be conveyed, or received, via a properly constructed sentence? I think all artists inherently know that the answer to this is No, thoughts can be conveyed rather nicely, even powerfully, with or without the assistance of words. Any sculpture or well conceived painting can give proof enough of this.
Have you seen the movie 'Saving Private Ryan'? There are many powerful scenes in it, but I’m not talking about the carnage of the battle scenes, but merely the opening scene of the aged veteran shuffling, speechlessly, unstoppably up the path to the cemetery at Normandy, his family following behind, a little confused and even concerned for the elderly gent. The American Flag fluttering in the breeze – its appearance somewhat silvered in the glare of the sun and the rows of headstones, rippling in the breeze. The old man pushes on, breathing heavily, almost sobbing until finally he stops at the grave of a comrade... dead for decades, surrounded by so many others....
I don’t know about you, but I was already choked up at that point and the movie hadn’t even really begun. No words. But the essence of a soul wrenching task, of incomparable sadness, grief, loss, even guilt is conveyed just through imagery.
But no words.
So, what gives? We all know we need words, but why? To do what for us? Why do we go to school (for our purposes here, lets assume the schools are worthwhile)?
No doubt that Communication is Immensely improved by the use of words, no doubt... (really no doubt? Hmm) but that is not their greatest value to us; I have become quite sure that that is not the reason why we a species have struggled to build the languages and vocabularies we have today, not to mention those we've lost in the past. These languages that are always growing, re-focusing, ever changing – alive like us, alive through us, are not cheifly for us to communicate to each other, or at least that is not its essential purpose and value to us.
Now there’s no need to worry, I’m not going to go off on some newagey “feelings! Nothing more that fee-eelings!” tangent. There are few people I know who are more convinced of the necessity and crucial importance of words, and a well defined philosophy to structure them within, but this question needs to be considered.
What is the relation between Thoughts and Words? Not in an wackademic sense, but in the sense of a living word within us, inspiring us, guiding us for good or ill – what is the nature of that relationship between Thought and Word, and what does it mean to us and to our lives?
There are many, many things which words can do and accomplish for you, but of those things only a very small few of them are what Aristotle would call essential to their identity, and I think that not having their essence identified, is detrimental to your thoughts and mine, and our ability to use words effectively, and to ward off their being used ineffectively. Strangely enough, it is seeming to me that the ineffective use of words can be far more dangerous than even their intentionally malicious use.
A couple of days ago over in the comments section of One Cosmos, Commenter in Chief, Will, pointed out that Grammar and Glamour have a common ancestry. A site “Word Detective” goes deeper into this relation:
"Glamour" and "grammar" are essentially the same word. In
classical Greek and Latin, "grammar" (from the Greek "grammatikos," meaning "of
letters") covered the whole of arts and letters, i.e., higher knowledge in
general. In the Middle Ages, "grammar" was generally used to mean "learning,"
which at that time included, at least in the popular imagination, a knowledge of
magic. The narrowing of "grammar" to mean the rules of language was a much later
development, first focusing on Latin and only in the 17th century extended to
the study of English and other languages.
Meanwhile, "grammar" had percolated into Scottish English (as "gramarye"), where an "l" was substituted for an "r" and the word eventually became "glamour," used to mean specifically
knowledge of magic and spells. "Glamour" was then introduced to English (by, among others, Sir Walter Scott), and took on the meaning of "enchantment," and later "alluring charm" and our current "exotic and fashionable attractiveness."
This relation bears some further investigation.
Now I won’t go in depth into another myth just yet, but just to gloss the myth of Hercules and the Hydra, is I think of particular note here. A thumbnail view is that Hercules was tasked with a number of labors, tasks to accomplish, one of which was to kill the monster we know as the Hydra. This was a beast with numerous viscious heads which, once cut off, grew two more back again in it’s place. Hercules and his friend Iolus soon discovered that if you cut off the head and immediately burned the wound with Fire, the head could not grow back again, either alone or in pairs. Soon they hacked off and burnt the flesh of each writhing neck, leaving the immortal head at their center which Hercules swept off and buried under a massive Rock. The blood of the Hydra, which was poisonous, Hercules conserved and dipped his arrows in it, for possible future deadly use.
At one level of this Myth there is the adventure story, and also a lesson that you need to get to the root of a problem, not just attack its effects, and the hint that you can use an enemies tricks, poison, against other enemies, if you are careful and clever. There are many ways of interpreting this myth, some Christian interpretations have been of the heads standing in for the phases of the moon and pagan activities forever assailing you until you renounce the beliefs at their center.
At another level, the Hydra can be seen as the cardinal signs, the need to not fight the sinful act itself- for if you take away the wine, you will surely find the whiskey, or though you stop sleeping with your secretary, you may wind up with your neighbors wife; but that it is necessary to change your flawed thoughts at the root of their 'sin', the need for Values, for developing a strong and sound Character, and then and only then, the sinful head will no longer grow.
If you persist in right behavior, in strengthening your Character, eventually you will arrive at the central head, and with that one cut off, though its original sin is immortal – if you bury it under a heavy rock of wisdom, you may escape its clutches, you'll never be completely safe of course, but free none the less. And there is also the knowledge that the essence of those sins, the life blood of them, those can kill - and if you allow the thought and conduct that fosters them to continue, or to deal in them yourself, they will produce death and destruction on their own.
Then there are also the well meaning dolts who helpfully offer up explanations such as “The Hydra probably was a giant squid, whose tentacles could have appeared as multiple necks and heads to primitive men, and in the telling the tale grew”. Again, these types are as deluded and senseless as those who believe that Hercules actually physically fought a 9 headed Hydra which grew more heads back as he cut them off.
Now here we have one tale, one seemingly flat narrative, but with many thoughts able, and even competing, to be conveyed through it – by way of what? It’s words? Not directly, not solely through the words alone, but through the imagery painted with the words, and that imagery... well there in lies much magic. As Will, the enforcer and (nominated) poet laureate over at One Cosmos pointed out the other day in the comments section of One Cosmos, “...The medium through which a "glamour spell" travels must be metaphysical in nature, even if the glamour is not spiritual per se...”
In other words, these 'words' of ours are magic, there is something in the structure of words, that allows meaning at the metaphysical roots to be conveyed, and that meaning is able to travel... from the source, into your mind... and with an internal meaning of its very own (perhaps dependent on your internal meanings), independent of the words which spawned it, directly and deeply, into your heart.
I think that that medium is something that exists not only in the relational realm of Idea and Thought and Word, but in their unlabeled, and little defined, nature – that nature that nearly leaps out of the glowing embers of a campfire as a tale teller spins a story of adventure, fear, danger and quest. It is also the nature that lurks behind words and phrases of many meanings, words and phrases which actors and supreme court justices can use, or be used by, to sway us, to hide our most precious values and freedoms from us (and even themselves) right before our eyes.
I’ll take a look at that labeling, non-labeling and mis-labeling system we employ daily, and how it weds thought to word and to poetic image, next time.
To be continued... soon.