sentence is a story.
is narrative. We are story-makers, story-devourers, story-inhabitants.
We create complex stories, some of which we call history or
dramas or novels, some of which we call religions. We create
other stories which we call knowledge (or science).
is a conspiracy.
Gray writes: 'Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from
religion, which humanists have recycled into science.' This
is patently untrue: we are unique because of language, not to
mention writing. The question is whether language is a useful
method of communication or not, whether the perceived advantages
outweigh the unperceived drawbacks.
addicted to explanation.
words like 'progress', which intensify and narrow the narratives
into which we put our lives. But, generally speaking, 'by and
large', our only 'progress' is technological, material, which
is pretty pathetic in evolutionary terms, since we are now at
the mercy of machines, corporations and bureaucracies as well
talked to the beasts. He did not listen to them.
The Bible, predictably, warns against listening to animals,
morning I heard two BBC radio programmes, one after the other.
The first was about glaciations of the planet and levels of
carbon dioxide over millions of years. After the second - a
visit inside the poet Sylvia Plath's very disturbed head - I
felt distinctly disoriented.
is a bizarre labyrinth in which each of us is shoved like the
Minotaur - a labyrinth in which each of us picks our way. And
it is also the skeleton, the structure of our 'theatre of perception'
: words define world. In the beginning was the Word.
humans we know to have been without it are feral
and 'Wolf-children', who of course were treated abysmally
because no-one thought that they were extra-special, 'uncontaminated'
or even 'liberated' humans. Naturally, once they acquired language,
they were unable to describe how they thought before they were
we die, we area unable to report what dying 'was like'. Once
we have language, we are unable even to imagine what non-narrative
being might be like. And this is probably the main reason why
we treat animals so appallingly.
can describe only what language (even imagistic language, simile,
metaphor, paradox) can describe, and it is very two-dimensional
(so to speak). It is no more transparent than television, and
in some ways even more limited because it doesn't integrate
simultaneously with music or pictures.
all music, because it is linear, is narrative. Sound that is
not narrative we call 'noise'. 'Noisy' or 'white' noise can
disorient and distress us. We like and seek out patterns. Endlessly-repeated
patterns can entrance us. Is trance supra-linguistic or is it
no more than dream ?
since it is frozen in time, is not necessarily narrative. We
seek and can often find or create patterns in abstract art (as
in clouds) - even paintings by Rothko are susceptible to involuntary
'interpretation'. The most abstract or 'pure' abstract art is
not interpreted by narrative, but 'is what it is', not very
different from clear blue sky or sea. This can disturb us, because
we tend to try to describe our feelings to ourselves. Amongst
the most abstract of art is 'op-art', which plays on optical
illusions. For this reason, paintings by Bridget Riley can be
helpful in clearing the mind of narrative - though it is still
tempting to 'interpret' them - in this example, as a wavy-chessboard.
is the ultimate Authority - if only that it is only through
language that authority can be wielded systematically, institutionally.
way of doing this was through oratory - or, on the other hand,
through oracles. Oratory is always narrative, whereas oracles
were often paradoxical, enigmatic. Indeed the word 'enigmatic'
describes the state of being puzzled by behaviour or language.
Oracles seemed to connect to the non-language of symbols and
Jungian archetypes, which may in fact themselves necessarily
be products of narrative. And because psychoanalysis depends
largely on language (and symbols) we cannot really 'let go'
to 'free association'. Language is itself a censor, as Freud
himself realised. It is Authority itself.
it is a huge weight on our eager brains. It suffocates intuition,
which may be the nearest we ever get to wisdom, or, to put it
more keenly, 'the wisdom of the animals'.
we remember are those to which we can apply narrative. We don't
say that we had a red dream with blue spots, because that seems
'meaningless'to us, and we tend to remember meaning, which is
no more than narrative.
who believe in 'heaven' or indeed any kind of afterlife, invoke
a narrative - usually a rather inane and silly one. Heaven is
a kind of imagined dream to which we do not apply the narrative
of reason, but to which we apply some images or processes like
'floating in eternity'.
in eternity' includes the image or process of floating in water
or under a parachute. 'Eternity' and 'infinity' (unlike beauty)
present our narrative-oriented minds with no image, no sound,
nothing that we can describe through narrative. They are mantric,
unlike 'aspiration' which, though an apparently empty and abstract
word, sets off a whole - unending - monologue in our heads.,
and cycle of destruction across the planet.
is formed of sentences, some single words often are non-narrative.
Not just zero, infinity or number, but merely grammatical words
incapable of forming an image or a process like to, it, or,
as - or words unknown to us, or in a language unknown to us
- or nonsense words which do not chime with words than we know.
words can be mantras, combinations of syllables chosen because
they have no meaning, in order to enable us to transcend language.
can we, as victims of language, recognise transcendence ? Especially
when we think all other - non-linguistic - animals inferior.
We imagine transcendent gods or spirits or some great consciousness,
but they can only be in our own image and formed by our crude,
linear minds. Linear, because language is linear.
not every idea just a figment of language, not even a miasma,
not even a faint smell - not even a hallucination ?
think that ideas produce knowledge, perhaps even wisdom, once
very important to certain reflective male minds. It is probably
the advance of technology, global trade and with them mass-destruction
(by economic as well as explosive means) that has banished the
very idea of wisdom from our minds. We can make 'wise choices',
but that's about the height of it. Wisdom is not a word we often
hear. It is falling from the language, hence our consciousnesses,
like the word 'wholesome', or the word 'honour'.
depends on a certain withdrawal. We need to look through the
'wrong' end of the telescope. Even the slightly perceptive are
locked in isolation as well as in language :Russian eggs or
Chinese boxes, spheres within spheres...
(which is usually non-explanatory) sometimes almost transcends
language - through what it sometimes says between the lines,
or through conjuring piles of images as in Coleridge's Kublai
Khan or Yeats' Byzantium. I write a rather prosey
(and, I confess, explanatory) 'sort-of-poetry', wary of obscure
or 'mystical' poetry like that of Mallarmé and Wallace
Stevens, because that sort of poetry appeals to the mindless
academics who make careers out of reducing it to pieces and
patchworks of structure and ideas.
our minds are shaped not just by language and explanation, but
by particular languages and particular explanations, we are
like children born in a warderless, windowless prison who live
their entire lives within its walls, not knowing that they are
prisoners. Thus we are no more 'evolved' than deep-sea fish.
'Life is a trap.' This is another story, which 'gets us nowhere'.
When people take psychoactive drugs and drink to get drunk,
it is a narrative- the tormenting thoughts in their heads -
that they are trying to blot out. I suspect the same is true
of suicide: it's not life we want to get away from, but the
cage of consciousness which is language.
when I take, say, cannabis, thoughts race around my head almost
kaleidoscopically, and I go deep into the shit of language rather
than escaping from it.
and dance seem to be able to by-pass language to some extent,
especially non-European classical music, particularly Indian
dhrupad, but also classical middle-eastern music. Nevertheless,
even the most abstractly-interpreted indian raga depends on
melody, and a melody is a musical sentence.
always been attracted by the idea behind Original Sin. It seems
obvious to me that we are all tainted soon after (if not before)
we are born. I now think that 'original sin' is language. Not
nakedness, but the word 'nudity' associated with the word 'shame'.
vague awareness of consciousness unmoderated by language may
be what we call 'innocence' in the new-born, or 'soul' - in
which case we are amongst the only animals without souls.
we have learned it, nothing short of brain surgery can allow
us to escape language. It is easy for us to confuse language
with life - for beyond both stretches the vast nowhere of existence,
of which we know only the tiniest particle.
language which has enabled humanity's reign and rain of ruin
upon the earth. The longer that language and our species last,
the more ruined will be the planet. Language is at the centre
of our hubris - the tyrannical control-centre, for our fear
of death is the fear of nothingness, which, to our imprisoned
minds is absence of narrative, the Blue Screen of Computer-failure.
language to talk about what its limitations or its transcendence
might be 'gets us nowhere'...
is maybe 'the best place' to be... Being rather than talking
inside or outside our heads. Being rather than doing. Being
rather than demanding 'meaning'.
nihilism (another purely abstract word to which we cannot
attach narrative) ?
that the world is without meaning, we are liberated
from confinement in the meaning we have made. Knowing
there is nothing of substance in our world may seem
to rob that world of value. But this nothingness may
be our most precious possession, since it opens to us
the inexhaustible world that exists beyond ourselves."
John Gray, in The Silence of Animals.
people take drugs, or drink to get drunk, it is certain narratives
in their heads that they wish to suppress. Or indeed all narrative.
If animals experience life as a sort of David Attenborough TV
series - without Sir David - how attractive it is to those who
are permanently oppressed by the running commentary inside their
head!. The intention behind many suicides may be not to erase
life, but to erase the narratives of life and the conspiring
that infect and cripple our consciousness like cancers or viruses.