On Language Pt. I
In his Letter on Humanism, 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger writes that “language is the house of Being.” Inside of language we develop an identity. Our language is telling of where we come from. (Montréal French being different from Parisian French, for example). We refer to certain “other” people in the same way. We use the same slang, for example. When we’re far from home and overhear someone who speaks the same first language as us, it gives us a sense that a friend is near. Inside of language we find the stuff that allows us to bond. Through language we give voice to our hurts and our wounds. Through language we come to forgiveness and resolution.
Language doesn’t always come easy when we find ourselves in new places, or meet people we’ve never met before. It’s also true that when unexpected things happen, like if and when we lose a friend or a family member, or when we move into a new position at work, or into a new neighbourhood, new language is required. Along with the “trying out” of a new language, we risk moving into new vistas, incorporating new cultures to our every day , and we also risk losing what seems like a part of our identity.
Sometimes, if man senses that he’s on the brink of such a risk, he‘ll wish to be the arbiter of meaning in the new language that he attempts, and want to set the terms. He’ll take to being bossy in the new language. Sometimes he’ll even take to creating an entirely new language. “Well. Whoever my new friends are, they’re going to speak this language.”
Language, however, doesn’t answer well to this kind of power-hungry endeavour. Language is a shared enterprise. Language can’t be regulated by any one body. Language can’t be created out of thin air, either; it can only use previously used materials, and in that way, all language contains at least some characteristics that make it intelligible. If we don’t understand the words that another person is speaking, we have their body language to read, or they can draw a picture for us to help us along with their communication.
Along the same vein, mimicking another’s language word for word, gesture for gesture, is never quite it’s duplicate, and it never quite has the same meaning as the original. Language is always begetting more life. It’s an infinitely abundant currency that finds and loses us, through our own demands with experimentation. Language can’t be considered a language at all unless and until it’s affirmed by another as intelligible, and appropriate.
Language is also part of the stuff out of which politics is affirmed. Politics, I like to stress, is a dimension of human life. It isn’t an interest, and it isn’t a choice. Our language is a political decision. It’s telling of “who’s side we’re on”, and where we want to end up. Language is an indication of what “kinds” of people we’ve had had a history of communication. What our capacities are. What kind of culture we’ve explored. Where we’ve traveled.
I think the kind of personality who isn’t resistant to the cross-pollination of ethnicities and identities, the kind of personality who would rather not be aggressive, and would rather talk things through, is the kind of personality who, from time to time, makes use of the language of others, is the kind of personality who takes the risk thats required and loses their identity, sometimes in jest, even. Making use of the language of others is an umbrella term for dress, and gesture, and culture…which leads to music, film, etc.
The making use of the language of others is the self initiating the risk that is required across all forms of human relation. It’s the self saying, “I’d rather voluntary offer myself as an experimental tool for what may be the advancement of human civilization, as opposed to fixing to some dogged ideology about what kinds of destinies certain ethnicities are bound to.” It’s the self saying, “I know for certain that if I lose one facet of my identity, another is right around the corner, and so much the better. There’s really no *losing* in this process at all. There’s only learning about how multi-faceted I can be, and am.”
It’s the kind of personality who actively looks for ways to incorporate new, valuable qualities to their life, even at the risk of abandoning the acceptance of communities that they’ve been bound to for time.
I write this so that the next time we can’t help but to feel uncomfortable at another’s risky attempt at a new language; when we can’t help but to think, “that’s fake. that’s not them.”, we instead take a step back and just reassure ourselves that “it’s none of our business.” That that person is moving into a new identity that may or may not be fruitful for them, but that is nevertheless their movement. It’s nothing more than a new trajectory.
I don’t think that we’re bound to the stereotypes of the regions and localities we were born in or raised in. I think that where ever we come from, and whatever community identity we’re principally bound to, we can always download Hamlet in 5 acts off of iTunes, and let the changes take place. I also think that people who typically maneuver strict, formal every-day lives may be inclined to listen to 2pac more often because that’s a release for them, and a direction that would behoove their over-all health.
Justice is the allowance that we give to others in expressing themselves to us, without repercussions. The nooks and crannies of our psyche surface in language, and in the choices we make about the kinds of language we listen to in music, and the kinds of film we watch. When we recognize that thats what we’re witnessing in another, the nooks and crannies of a new identity budding, we should remember the risk and the scrapes that’s inherent in growth.
In a concrete way language can help us to move beyond our stagnant identities, “black identity”, “Puerto Rican identity”, “Canadian identity”. Language can help us forget, and in so forgetting, literally move beyond. New language is man saying, “I’m more than these basic categorizations. Look. I can speak this other language too. I can understand all sorts of people. I can be all sorts of people.” New language helps us understand how large and powerful we are as individuals. It’s tremendously therapeutic in a world that’s seemingly much bigger and flashier than us and “more powerful” and “richer”. It’s a cultured kind of culture, I like to think. A quiet but powerful and dignified one. The beginning of something.
Language is ultimately a creative endeavour. i can’t think of a better way to deal with the nooks and crannies of our psyche than with creativity. Language helps round out the corners of our psyche, and of our multi-faceted desires and personalities. With “language as the house of Being”, man is always inside of a moving home. He practically lives in a trailer park. This home is a direction; it’s a vector. If we let language move us into new territories, without entirely losing that sense of self that keeps us happy with ourself, we might garner so much momentum that arriving at death’s doorstep in the final hours of our life might just be problematic for death itself. We’ll bulldoze right past it. Transcendence.