Saturday, January 20, 2007

Words, Words -- What Are They Good For?

Again, it seems, I am thinking about words -- about what they fail to accomplish, despite their glaring, and often sinister, yet seductive nature. I love words. I admire those to whom words are enslaved, those who have mastered both the promise and duplicity of their (and our) utterances. Yes, of course, there is the argument that words are merely, at best, a facsimile of what's going on inside our minds, our hearts. Tonight at dinner, in fact, my favorite mentor and I discussed the issue of translation as extensional thinking as opposed to representational thinking (a topic for a different post), and I got to thinking that all language is extensional, midrashic even, on some level.

But I don't want to theorize about words right now. I don't want to run philosophical circles around what is really the heart of that matter, literally and figuratively.

Sometimes there is nothing to say. Sometimes I have nothing to say, despite feeling that it is the moment for me to say something, and for it to be magical. But perhaps it would only be magically misleading.

For all of my confidence in the world of words and interpretations of words, I feel as if I am enacting some sort of masquerade when I come home and find a dear, beautiful friend emotionally torn, crying even when her tears have long since run dry. I watch myself, as if from another vantage point, with horror as I try to comfort her and as she looks at me as if I am about to give birth to the words that will begin the healing.

But I have nothing, except my presence. Maybe that's enough.

Actually, that's not true. I do have something. I just don't know what to do with it, what to make of it. I fight the impulse to form words that make up sentences that contain the promises once given to me in what often seems like another lifetime:

This, too, shall pass. (And when it doesn't?)

Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (And when the night is endless?)

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Why must mourning and loss precede comfort?)

I keep these promises, and their undersides, to myself.


Anonymous said...

I hope I am not out of place in saying something here, but I was wondering if our presence can occur in the form of words (not necessarily the words of promise that you criticized, but some other words like the words confessing the lack of words)?

I am thinking especially of those times when a friend is on the telephone in the midst of a tragedy. It is always difficult to find the fitting words or any words in those moments, but some come to assure those friends of my attention or presence (loosely speaking).

Alexis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexis said...

Perhaps, we can say that our silence is a kind of word. That a hug, that a look is a kind of word, or more rightly, a kind of text, in that it is as communicative (if not more) than actual verbal utterances. And sometimes words, the spilling of thoughts from the brain into "concrete" sounds or the exchange words allow is cathartic. Those of us who make a living playing with words, who believe we have acquired some mastery of the language, perhaps we can only find comfort in words--both our own and those of others. After all, the world will end not with a bang, but with a whimper--with a word.

Anonymous said...

I want to make sure to underscore that I am trying to say something complementary to what you wrote, because I agree that often our presence is the best we can offer someone. It is just I have found that in some cases my words bear the burden of presenting my embrace.

Monica said...


You are certainly NOT out of place in saying something here! Sorry I've been so slow on my responses . . . busy times. I think your point about using words to articulate the lack, or futility/emptiness of words (in some situations), is helpful because language IS important. I think the most important thing is presence, and being THERE, and conveying that presence in whatever way you can.

I think, for me, it may be more of my own self-consciousness that arises from feeling like I don't have the "right" thing to say -- I suppose it's about learning about alternative modes/methods of communication.


I like the idea of silence as "a word" or text (of course it's SO midrashic :). I think it's especially interesting that you characterize T.S. Eliot's "whimper" as a kind of word. Then again, if by "word" we really mean, for the purpose of this conversation, a "text" then certainly a whimper is a word, though it feels more like something that happens in the absence of words. I think I'm having trouble with the idea of conflating "word" and "text" though . . .

Monica said...

Maybe . . . silence not as an absence of language, but a language of absence?