My smallest child is beginning to fill her mind with language. Or perhaps she has forever been familiar with it, since her zygote stage, and I am just now aware of the fact. One will never know.
Her most focused activity is to point at an object and say, “That?” She wants me to name her world, a responsibility that feels both simple, obvious and at the same time overwhelming, a task fit for an inventive goddess.
Wouldn’t it be more interesting, somehow cleaner for her consciousness, if her brain were to remain for as long as possible free of artificial notions? As soon as something is named, differentiation is born, concepts develop, separation ensues.
Her interest in language has sent me back to my old philosophy books, the neglected jewels of my home. I am reminded of Heidegger’s famous quote that “language is the house of Being (dasein).” The presence and development of Being – existence – takes shape under the rubric and within the confines of language. But then, I wonder, once the house has been built does it somehow become a prison, both intellectually and creatively?
At the park the small child wanted to know the name of this creature:
“Squirrel,” I told her. Then I regretted it. What if, instead, I didn’t answer, and allowed the cathedral of her mind, her “dasein,” to develop with more silence than noise? Would the ceilings not have larger arches, the windows greater light?
As I grow older, and as I live through the alternating forces of despair and ecstasy that Being bestows upon the mind (or is the mind?), I more and more believe that language, that rope that ties us, each to each, has value only when one sees the interstitial threads – the glittering pause, the purposeful silence, that binds it all together.
One nowhere finds this perception more illuminated than in the language of music. When one listens to Bach’s violin partitas and sonatas, it is possible to hear both the voice of the instrument and the austere, infinite silence that offers itself as backdrop and frame. Both are music, just of different sorts.
So, too, with the human voice in its finest form. As Emily Dickinson tells us: “Could mortal lip divine / The undeveloped freight / Of a delivered syllable, / ‘T would crumble with the weight.”
The small child in my life is discovering the power of the “delivered syllable.” As the syllables multiply, and the home of her language expands, evolves to “knowing,” my hope for her, for all of us, is the recognition that the caesura, the conscious break between the sounds is where much of the meaning lies.
“This?” I ask her, pointing to her “That?” And we name: “Hibiscus bloom,” I tell her.
Or, here, “desert grass.”
Nameless, the breath between.