words

“Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
-T.S. Eliot

Words. Such mercurial and imprecise things. We take them for the real – we may respond to words with visceral intensity forgetting that they are symbols. (A symbol of course can be a powerful thing). Here we move into the mysterious area of semiotics or “… the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication” (Wikipedia).

In spite of the existence of dictionaries and the best intentions of etymologists (not to be confused with entomologists!) words mean different things to different people. And even when we succeed in grasping these little eels by their tails, they wriggle madly in their determination to connote, imply, signify, suggest. They mislead even as they inform. To one man, God suggests a benevolent father-figure. To another, the word God is synonymous with an unpredictable and vindictive tyrant. To an abused child, father may be a word that inspires fear and self-hatred even as it inspires respect and affection in a child from a loving home. Such is the power and the enigma of words. That words can have multiple meanings doesn’t help us at all, for then we rely on context to understand.  Contranyms are words with completely opposite connotations: I cleave (join) to my wife yet cleave (seperate) a log in half. I am bound (restrained) by ropes but I am bound for a foreign land (travelling to). To the people or the then eastern bloc who experienced the oppression of the Soviet union, the word comrade easily carried within it sinister undertones. Yet in the South African trade union movement and in “Struggle parlance” comrade remains a kind of benign shibboleth.

Words shift in meaning through the years and as they move around the world. “Gay” once meant “happy”. In 1840, “promiscuous” meant “a variety of things in one place”.  the colloquial American “fanny” means backside; the colloquial English “fanny” means vagina. Yet a few generations ago it was a perfectly respectable woman’s name.


 

I have a book by G.Eberle entitled “Dangerous Words: talking about God in an age of fundamentalism”.

 

 

 

what I have lived for

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
 
 I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.
 
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
 
 Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
 
 This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.” – Bertrand Russell 
 
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) won the Nobel prize for literature for his History of Western Philosophy and was the co-author of Principia Mathematica.

A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;… they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; …those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,… a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

Mark Twain

the fastidious demiurge of all things wrong

“A cry of despair is more revealing than the most subtle thought”

-Emil Cioran

An article by Paul Stubbs, October 2013 (quoted liberally):

https://paulstubbspoet.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/toward-a-vegetal-wisdom-an-essay-on-the-writings-of-e-m-cioran/

“A hysteric of ataraxia in the face of the worlds beyond our own Cioran crushed everything into the dust of his own mind, and then to appease us, allowed us to listen to the shifting of the world’s disappearance through the hourglass of his every word, the tragicomedy of the subtraction of his own bones from space…

“In the case of this writer, the aphorism is most undoubtedly a shard of broken glass abandoned to the shorelines of eternity where Cioran waits for God to cut open his foot on…

“In Tears And Saints we find a Cioran lifting, for the first time, the needle from the gramophone of his own voice in order to hear God’s; while pulling down epochs in the weight of a teardrop and attempting to live out the metaphysical drama of an angel…

“When we approach a mind like Cioran’s, we feel suddenly engulfed by the authenticity of a terrible nullity, we listen to the dripping of our own pulse into the well of a neutral abyss. Nihilism, an accursed trick, has been proven by Cioran to be less powerful than cynicism, he who was himself a fastidious demiurge of all things wrong.

“… alas even our ‘nature’ is in itself no more than a geometrically delineated void, a cage separate from us, but from behind whose bars we eternally scream.

In reading Cioran I ‘leap’ to the paintings of of Francis Bacon. Interestly when I found my way through cyberspace to Paul Stubbs’s poem “The End of the Trial of Man”, behold! A Bacon! Below: Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud – 1965:

images (5)

And writing against Cioran:

“All too easy of course is the assumption, even for the flatulent mind of the atheist, that if no god created the universe, then the universe would go on existing, but without the idea of a god ever having existed; this is a truth which, if ever assimilated by the atheist, would (thankfully) wire-shut his jaw for all eternity. Faith has always been beyond Cioran for the same reason that theology fails continually to explain ‘theology’; ‘faith’ to fulfil itself doesn’t need a borrowed language but merely one interested heart. Nothingness interests a thinker like Cioran because it is a sanctuary in which he could undoubtedly protect himself, a sole means of offering up to the spaces of the universe his ownsolitude as a backdrop to the galaxies still to come.”

disequilibrium

“I would be surprised if another Cioran arrives soon, because as an incorruptible mannequin he aped only his own contradictions while ultimately his pitiless dismantling of everything found at the depths of the human heart left him bereft of anything else to say: ‘One can imagine everything, predict everything, save how low one can sink.

Every human being, whether a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh or a Christian, differs only in opinion from each other; they are nevertheless made of the same flesh and are destined, if only chronologically, to rejoin each other on the loom from which they came. Blaise Pascal wrote:

‘Man’s greatness. Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.’

“Therefore Cioran must never be read as anything other than as a man repudiating man, to ‘believe’ in his writings is only to believe in the law of the unhealed wound, that and the failure of religion, anthropology, science, to support the supposition of pain as a consequence of any future re-birth of man. To denounce Cioran’s writings would be to denounce the worm itself, the endogenous time-zones of its mind. If I am not to make any more distinctions among Cioran’s ideas it is because they are all themselves nothing but worms.