Words, what are they? One tear will say more than all of them. – A. W. Schlegel
It is a difficult task… using words. Feelings, ideas, emotions are fleeting. Once you open your mouth to express them, they have already gone. What to do then? Keep your mouth shut tightly? Hold on as long as you can to the essence, the fragrance of the feeling before it disappears into the atmosphere like a wisp of smoke? We want to vocalize our feelings, our ideas, so that others can understand them: so that they may become “real.” Nothing is “real” unless others acknowledge its existence. Otherwise, we will be driven mad by the power of our hallucinations.
We say “I love you” to our beloved so that they may know that our love is “real.” But… (to paraphrase Barthes) what need is there for such words when the orgasm speaks so clearly.
Words are often unsuitable messengers. They relay a message that is partially true, and ultimately, entirely wrong. We struggle with intention. The things we say muddle and misdirect. So that, in the end, we have said nothing at all about idea we so earnestly wished to convey.
Things become less clear the stronger my intention. As if the intensity of my gaze has rendered the object unperceivable; hazy. If I stare at something long enough, I not only begin to lose sight of the object but I neglect its relationship with its surroundings. Out of context, the object begins to lose meaning, I forget why I once found it so compelling.
In Wagner’s opera Lohengrin it is the vocalized expression of love that leads to love’s destruction. Words are dangerous: they analyze and question, and thus, seemingly destroy faith and devotion. (Words are unfaithful to the truth which the body knows.) They blaspheme and convert sacred visions into profanities. (Don’t speak the true name of God: Tetragrammaton.) Words have power. They are magic incantations.
Music in Lohengrin is a language superior to words. It renders the truth which words seek to mangle and masticate. Once we hear the music… clarity. Emotions become sensuously intelligible though not verbally comprehensible.
I am still at a loss for words.
We are too direct. We rush, headstrong, towards our goal. We only see our own victory as the objective; our fortitude, our proud command of the language. We try to bend words with the strength of our will. Therefore, they become misshapen; deformed. Loss of clarity. Loss of the purity. We follow gnarled fingers which point us in directions both unfamiliar and inhospitable.
A young man drowned in the bog chasing the will-o’-the-wisps.
Perhaps we must use evasive language. Only when we avoid the direct route can we happen upon the true meaning by chance (Bonne chance!). We rid ourselves of all intention and merely journey out in the direction of our fickle heart’s immediate and capricious desires.
Desire must not be purged of the bodily or involuntary images that fuel it. – Theresa of Avila
We humans, we have forgotten. Forgotten the bodily, the bestial. The body holds, within its dark, soft, animal core, the power to convey desire acutely. Nevertheless, what need have I to express my desires through movement when I can proclaim them through words? Surly, language is far more dignified?
Dignified – Regal – Noble – Aristocratic – Refined – Superior – Pompous – Flaunting. We feel the need to embellish. Out of our need to beautify our feelings or ideas through the elegance of language, we elaborate unnecessarily and retain none of the original. The same tactic is used with movement; the body’s actions no longer communicate the simple direct desire. Limbs flail and feet falter. The voice struggles to be heard through the suffocating coffin of the flesh. This excessive adornment distracts, it does not reveal. We have forgotten what it is to be animal (simple, pure, authentic) in our search for the sublime. Perhaps, the recognition of this animal authenticity is what is necessary to communicate something “real.”
The Roving Shadows by Pascal Quignard
Taking its title from French Baroque composer Francois Couperin’s composition, “Les Ombres Errantes,” Quignard combines philosophy and phantasy in a book dedicated to the necessity of art. Part fiction and part critical theory, Quignard draws upon history, mythology, folklore, mysticism, personal narrative, classic works of literature, art theory and aesthetics to create a love letter to literature; to the pleasure of reading and writing.
Shadow is one of the book’s most prevalent themes. In one instance, shadow is the Jungian archetypical figure described by Ursula K. Le Guin as; “man’s thwarted selfishness, his unadmitted desires, the swearwords he never spoke, the murders he didn’t commit. The shadow is the dark side of his soul, the unadmitted, the inadmissible.” The shadow is the uncanny other; the doppelganger or double, the mirror image, or the twin. The artist must confront this repressed side of himself, to know madness and terror, and to risk ruin and death, but he must not indulge in this side: “man begins to contemplate himself life a Narcissus loving himself to excess, to the point of disfigurement.”
In another instance, shadow represents the beauty of things forgotten or unseen, those things society deems undesirable or disgusting; the “border dwellers.” Quignard references Tanizaki and his work, In Praise of Shadows and the beauty “of streaks of soot on bricks; of the peeling paint on wood; of the marks of weathering; of broken branches, wrinkles, unraveled hems, heavy breasts; of bird droppings on the balustrade.” Later, he continues: “We constantly have an eye out for the other, for what is socially or sensorially unclassified, for parasites, mice, saliva, for what is marginal, for what lives in the interstices…sperm, pins, nail clippings, sweat, phlegm, ghosts, phobias, fantasies (which hack through the wall that should separate wakefulness from sleep.) Art is a parasitical production.”
Quignard reminds readers about the connection between terror and beauty; just as Rilke wrote: "For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying." Art, indeed, is a terrifying endeavor.