On Words and Images (excerpts from a personal journal)

Nebuchadnezzar, William Blake

If I knew what was good for me in any sense I’d go to the desert. But as long as I’m still here, there’s nothing to guarantee that I will ever become conscious of even the most obvious connections between my blind desires and what is salutary.

One is tempted to say that the image is superior to the word. After all, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

But in fact the word, precisely because it is a crystallized distillation of being, is far superior to the image. The image must work harder to achieve what the word arrives at by its very nature—and vice versa. But what the word aims for is better.

We love images because they are easy, we absorb them without even having to think. But a word must be comprehended, digested. We offer mental images to the word like primitives offering virgins to an angry deity.

Note: It’s a shame that “primitive” is now seen as insulting. From the latin primitivus, “first of its kind.” A name which ought to inspire awe, not derision.

True silence is not blank nothingness but the great primal womb from which all that has come to exist was first conceived.

But without putting anyone down, [A] has the word. But what [B] possesses is this beautiful luminous being which dwells in the interstices between the words. [A] may possess the words but [B] possesses the space between them, and in my estimation that is far more precious.

Silence is ineffable; words kill. They’re like tacks which nail dead butterflies to the wall. That’s their dark side, the cruelty hidden in their nature. A world of words, where everything could be expressed in human language, would be somehow hellish. That is the hell of positivism. And it is, in fact, the world in which we now find ourselves.

But the people who are most dexterous with words and language are those who are most aware that they are not enough. Thus Aquinas was a true mystic, though from the abundance and rigor of his writings one might be forgiven for thinking that he thought that he could explain all that exists. But this is a dilettante’s mistake — it is not St. Thomas. As he writes somewhere, our intellect is so limited that a lifetime would not be long enough to contemplate the being of a single bee—let alone express it.

But is there really a difference between the positivists and St. Thomas? There is. Both would agree about the case of the bee, they would even agree that there is a finite amount of things to be known about the bee.

But positivists confuse the map for the territory. “The world is all that is the case.” Fine. “The world is the totality of facts, not things.” Idiotic.

Facts are obviously about things, somehow secondary to things. Even if in principle we always see them together, the thing is ontologically prior to the facts.

Anyway. That is the major mistake of positivism.

And that is what [B] represents. This numinous being who dwells in the place without words.

I wish I could stay there more often. We need each other, else the words would runtogetherinacrampedandfranticmess or [B], conversely, would be struck dumb and live like an animal. Like Nebuchadnezzar.

Of course none of this is the truth. These are all just quick sketches. [A]’s heart is open to the mystery of being just as [B] is more than capable of articulate speech, advanced thought, etc. it sounds silly to even say that.

But in a way I think that we have come to see that it is not so much about our powers as it is about what it is in us to desire.

In fact, in some ways, a greater mastery of stiff, dead, formal language deprives it of its totemistic power and helps point the way within oneself to “the beyond”— and conversely one must know how to speak very well in order to remain silent in a way that is conspicuous of that same beyond — else one would be dull as a stone. Again, Nebuchadnezzar.

But the question is not so much what we really are or even what we are given to desire as what we stand for in one another. What we symbolize to one another. Or maybe; it is not so much what we can be as what we want to be, or what we ought to want to be.

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