Sometimes I view language the same way a scientist might see gloves anchored into the side of a containment box—better than nothing but still not the same as handling the subject.
Most of the time, I don’t separate words and what they name, but occasionally the labels come off or, even if they stay on, obscure the things under them. Why do we still call a computer a “computer” when the actual computing it does is negligible? Who decided “dog” or “cat” fall under “pets”? How can the same orchid have an “odor” to one person and an “aroma” to another?
Perhaps the brain needs dreams to elude language, to find terms less distant from what they describe. Though I’ve always heard you can’t read in dreams, I seem to. Yet, oddly, those words are more objects than signals, their identity pure text—curves and lines, spacing and thickness.
Writing poetry approaches the dreamy feeling language is a thing. Sometimes the music of the poem is already written, and I need only find words—maybe any—to go along. If a struggle ensues, it’s between the underlying sound and the accompanying language’s insistence on meaning and logic. The words have to go together, after all, and be understood by someone else. Otherwise the best they might aspire to is opera, lovely gibberish.
But I love gibberish.
Ludwig Wittgenstein thought language defined and limited our world—it was not the vehicle but the driver, he thought. “Uttering a word,” he said, “is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.” The word creates the thought, and when we disassociate a word and examine it instead of what it describes, we find ourselves on what he called “frictionless ice,” lost and unable to rescue ourselves.
Maybe, but lots of organisms seem to do quite well with language much less devoted to abstraction. We want to be able to put words to everything, as if we meant to equip all reality with handles. Do ants, butterflies or mountain goats want anything so ambitious? Wittgenstein said, “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.” Living closer to the world as it is rather than as it’s described, his lion might not need to talk about freedom or angst. He might have words only for the basic needs our language buries under mounds of verbiage and lets molder.
Sometimes I wonder if words are our species’ fatal flaw, the reason we can’t live in the world without warring against it. I wonder if language is the germ of our extinction.
I have to believe in a wordless world, if only to escape the double life of being and thinking. If you desire to live in the present, you have to sense it without intermediaries, to see it without its armature of vocabulary and syntax. You must dream it.