We do not have to believe the things we say, though we may well. The things we say are objects, and we place them in front of us in order to consider them.
There may be some repetition in this. We may find ourselves making the same sounds over and over, writing the same words. Perhaps this has value.
I am proposing that we think of words as objects and of language as its own special kind of event.
We need to make mistakes.
What is language made of?
It is possible that everything is made of language in some very real way.
But before we come to that, I think what I would like to ask is what kind of thing is language, is talking? Or maybe what does talking do?
Talking is descriptive. What do we use talking for? To describe something other than language, something that is not here.
Talking is then a sort of hole. Talking, in a very real way, is not there. It’s about something, but it’s not about here.
Still, when we speak we make something. We make the experience of speaking or of hearing speech.
Talking points to what is absent, which turns out to be everything but talking itself.
Talking is a concrete experience, apart from any concrete experience it might point to or evoke.
The nature of language is that it must be experientially present in order to provide access to the absent.
The trick is duration. Talking has become a kind of experience that has broken off from what it is anticipating or remembering and exists concretely, uniquely, in a perpetual present.
By speaking, we order the past.
We make the past tidy. It has been messy, and we clean it out for new uses. We place the past into an order, a sequence we can use for present purposes.
We put the past in order in order to use it. In doing so, we order it up out of the past.
Speech is a kind of recording, a way to conjure up into the present.
What we record most often is ourselves recording the recordings of ourselves. We remember remembering.
An empty table. Empty chair. Papers. Water glass full, waiting. A microphone, center.
Suggests testimony. Witness. Interview. Interrogation. Lecture.
Suggests a one-sided conversation, a conversation in which one side has set the terms.
Power cord connects out, across the floor. Connects to something unseen. Remote.
The speaker is coming. We are waiting. He is about to arrive.
The speaker has left, left the means of address – his chair, his notes, his water – behind. In haste. Because he has spent them. The objects no longer hold their ritual power. Their power of invocation has been transferred onto a listener and they are no longer held here.
This is not the site of the event, but the event is here. And we are waiting.
For our own perfect moment?
For that which will allow us to go?
To leave or return?
To turn towards something or to turn away?
This is what a table supposes. A conversation. A landscape across which two things meet.
We are ready to be addressed. To be taught. And it turns out that is what this table is. A teaching table.
Learning breeds learning, we are always between ignorance and knowing.
How do we build a language within ourselves?
We make something. We repeat it. We connect it to something else. We mount it. It is all relative. All relational, that is. And it begins to amount to a vocabulary that means something.
This new vocabulary means something within its own system, independent of its ability to be understood.
There is a way that meaning, that language can be exclusive. And there are times we desire this. Times when what language provides most is a kind of privacy from understanding. At these times, distinct vocabularies function as a kind of delineation.
But there is a way, too, that discrete meanings can be entered.
Such private meaning can be accessed, it seems, through modeling the process by which the vocabulary was built.
Idiosyncratic language, then, is not impossible to understand, it just needs to contain, like the map to any unknown territory, a key as to how to decipher it.
Once opened, however, such meaning holds even within another context. Still holds, in fact, when a given word acquires additional, even opposite, meanings.
In this way, we build ourselves an excess of meanings to use across the boundaries of discrete individual systems. In this way, the results multiply.
More than for any other purpose, we use language in conversation. And when there is something that we want to tell to someone else.
Once thought enters the world, it is vulnerable to being challenged, interrogated, rejected.
What we do when we talk to another person is compare models of the world.
Day to day we monitor our experiences by describing them. Our individual modes of description invent the possibilities, and the limits, of what we can know.
What it ends up being is a casting into a conceptual center, a shared public sphere, some version of which we all carry around with us. It is only through this collective agreement that the world, as it were, “holds.”
A lecture is a particular mode of telling. It replaces absent knowledge with a formal knowing. An authoritative knowing.
In the lecture, the position of authority has left the body of the speaker and resides in the relationship of speaker to audience.
A lecture is not primarily a first-hand account, a lecture is a vehicle for a kind of telling. Formally, a most impersonal kind of telling. Even the personal can be rendered impersonal by the formal container of the lecture. My own story, a fit topic for a lecture.
The unique human presence delivering a lecture has been pressed bodily into service to the needs of the lecture topic.
This presence in the lecture is emphatic, a kind of human italic which lends the lecture the engagement of human presence and the urgency of time.
Speaking as someone else is a singularly lonely experience.
The power to be found there comes in multiplying an idiosyncratic voice into the embodiment of a shared event, one life’s stories become a kind of experiential commons.
It might be worth our while to pay attention to the intentions of the speakers toward the object they are speaking for.
Not a bad notion to keep in mind as a kind of gut check in any act of deliberate telling: What do you mean? And why do you mean it?
One question to ask of any act of speech is how will it act in the world?
The discovery, perhaps, is that in finding our own voices, we find a multitude. Through the act of placing language into the world, we forge a possibility, we make real the metaphorical and the speculative every time we speak.
At some point, the white noise of speech becomes too constant and prevalent to be useful or meaningful and all we long for is silence.
Ira S. Murfin is a writer and theatre maker. His writing has appeared in elimae, Fiction at Work, Lark(!), Mobius, and the book The Mind Garden. Ira is Co-Artistic Director of the Laboratory for Enthusiastic Collaboration and a founding member of the Laboratory for the Development of Substitute Materials, two devised theatre collectives. His solo and collaborative writing and performance work has been presented at the Peter Jones Gallery by Walkabout Theater, Links Hall, SAIC’s Gallery 2, Version Fest, The Neo-Futurists, Ox-Bow, SSTART Gallery, Prop Thtr, Chicago Calling Festival, and the Red Rover, Powells North, Quickies & Reconstruction Room reading series. He is also the former Head of the Soleri Book Initiative at the urban design project Arcosanti. Ira is a graduate of the Dramatic Writing Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and holds an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.