To Speak or Not

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From L'Engle's Circle of Quiet:
During one dinner, [a friend] mentioned the men who feel that it is not God who is dead, as some theologians were then saying, but language that is dead. If language is to be revived or, like the phoenix, born of its own ashes, then violence must be done to it.

This seemed to me to be a distinct threat. If language is dead, so is my profession. How can one write books in a dead language? And what did he mean by "doing violence to language"? I began to argue heatedly, and in the midst of my own argument I began to see that doing violence to language means precisely the oppo0site of what I thought it meant. To do violence to language, in the sense in which he used the phrase, is not to use long words, or strange orders of words, or even to do anything unusual at all with the words in which we attempt to communicate. It means really speaking to each other, destroying platitudes and jargon and all the safe cushions of small talk with which we insulate ourselves; not being afraid to talk about the things we don't talk about, the ultimate things that really matter. It means turning again to the words that affirm meaning, reason, unity, that teach responsible rather than selfish love. And sometimes, doing violence to language means not using it at all, not being afraid of being silent together, of being silent alone. Then, through the thunderous silence, we may be able to hear a still, small voice, and words will be born anew.
(Circle of Quiet, p. 133.)

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