I am listening to another thought-provoking Entitled Opinions show-- this time on later Heidegger. "Poetically Man Dwells"-- in several of his essays on poetry, Heidegger suggested that the greatest danger language faces is its objectification as a kind of tool; as something that we "use." He was, of course, reacting against the triumph of the clear, precise and efficient use of technological language-; that is, journalistic speech.
I have said this here before, but we find ourselves in a strange state of affairs. While the rest of us feel the need to "use" language in as clear, precise and factional manner as possible, our journalists seem to do everything but that-- as they seem more concerned with weaving narratives and making commentary. This is something I really notice when I travel to the Western part of the empire. Where are "just the facts please?" I always find myself wondering as those non-journalists around me remain engaged in a helluva lot of reporting.
Heidegger likewise was categorically against this concept of language as some kind of "tool" that we "use" to make our inner world knoweable to the outer world. This was in great part because Heidegger discounted this idea of an ecapsulated inner world. Da-sein as "being there." There is no being apart from the "there," right?
It's the basic old Whorf hypothesis about language shaping our world, but two different Facebook associates posted this article from Newsweek to their status bars last week, "Why Language May Shape Our Thoughts." Probably anyone who speaks two languages that are linguistically far enough apart can attest to the way a person changes according to the language they speak.
To wit, last week, Madame Huizi (also known as my mom) looked at me and said, "You know, it's like you are a different person this time." I smiled because I knew exactly why she felt that way. I have spent the past 4 years in rather extenuating circumstances, such that 95% of my communicating with other people was in Japanese. It was the only language I use for communicating with people at home, for work, with Adonis and my online life too was basically all-Japanese. Starting this blog was a surprising endeavor in that it brought English speaking friends, and then with the start of my facebook life, well, it was just a matter of time before I started reconnecting with all kinds of old friends... In my current state of exile on shores delectable, those statistics are surely reversed. Japanese is at an all time low and except for work-related missives and some emails to Adonis' father, I am back to thinking and dreaming in English.
The result? Well, my own mom says it's like I am a different person. For Madame Huizi to see me acting more "native" to the culture here would be a positive thing. To me, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. That is, I agree with Herr Heidegger that language opens up worlds for us; it makes possible different ways of being or different styles in thinking.
And, I do think that Japanese is very much more condusive to being poetical or to telling tales. (I am sure that my classical Japanese literature professor in grad school told me that 物語する "telling tales" was a poetical way of referring to making love. I think he said that, but I could have just imagined he said that too). Japan, too, is becoming increasingly under the gun to order things in terms of efficiency-- so it is probably only a matter of time before Japan takes on this kind of journalistic expression as a standard for "good writing." And a day may come when people no longer shed a tear when statues are destroyed thousands of miles away or no longer take sides in the battle of the blossoms. For now, though, I do think that my conversations are richer in many ways in Japanese.
a window on one of the upper floors flew open—
wind had caught the casement, a silken length
of curtain filled like a billowing sail ---
Some of you will remember our friend the Count. A veritable Joseph Conrad, he is so linguistically talented that he continually took my breath away. I am not sure I know many native English speakers who have as strong a command of English as the Count does as a second language. He is also proficient in Chinese, Japanaese and French (he says he can't speak Thai, but that is unlikely I think). He once told me that he regretted making English his main language for thinking and dreaming. He said, "I can't really communicate the way I'd like in English-- communication styles being restricted to reporting and people only seek to talk about the efficient. I prefer to talk of minutiae."
The Dear Readers of these Pages will agree, I am sure that the most delightful things in life are found in inefficient details-- in the stort-telling.
If we agree that language opens up possibilities and worlds, then it stands to reason that a person will undergo a change in the way they think depending on the language they are thinking in. And no matter what language that is, Heidegger felt that poetry served as a model for what thinking should be.
began to stream out from her hair, straight
to the single opening in the high facade. Inside,
a moment later—the sound of screams. --Eleanor Wilner
That is to say that poetry is top priority. Poets alone among us perhaps remain committed to asking the important questions about our being in the world. In the ambiguity of their ambiguity (another favorite Heideggerism of mine!) they seek to light up possibilities of being that are open to us; lighting up the everyday to us. The poet, therefore, stands with her eyes open; attentive.
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses."
I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead."
Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.
the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?"--Machado
Written as I imagined myself talking about all this at Yuzu with my dear associate, Eric Selland. My translations done years ago (that Eric inspired me to dig out) are uploaded above in the Chieko Poems category. The only poems ever written by a man for his wife in the history of Japanese literature, they are (I recall hearing) the largest ever best seller in poetry in Japanese publishing history.
It's hard to believe but a whole year has past since I started the blog. I decided to take down the picture of the woman I dreamed about and put my facebook profile photo up instead. I changed my About Page as well. The Tibetan woman's photo is there where it will always remain, on my dream post about her-- I still can hardly believe I found a photo so closely resembling a woman I dreamed myself to be-- to be so beautiful....