Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Loss of Words

The recurring theme for me is that the life of the mind, with all its hints and allusions, its soup of coexisting ideas has no choice but to funnel itself into the poor vessel of language. This is all we can do.

A perfume smell ignites a memory of a first kiss. The musty stink of abandoned boxes evokes the electric thrill of discovery. The mistake is to confuse language with thought or with memory. The carnival roar complexity of thought and imagination, of memory and longing are left to be ignited by, to hang upon dull associations of the senses, mere colors, textures and smells.


The Letter of Lord Chandos is a letter of defeat, of the loss of literary innocence.

As once, through a magnifying glass, I had seen a piece of skin on my little finger look like a field full of holes and furrows, so I now perceived human beings and their actions. I no longer suc­ceeded in comprehending them with the simplifying eye of habit. For me everything disintegrated into parts, those parts again into parts; no longer would anything let itself be en­compassed by one idea. Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes which stared at me and into which I was forced to stare back-whirlpools which gave me vertigo and, reeling incessantly, led into the void....

I have troubled you excessively, my dear friend, with this extended description of an inexplicable condition which is wont, as a rule, to remain locked up in me.
You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, "to compensate for the loss of our relationship." Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out har­moniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a lan­guage in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge

-Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Letter of Lord Chandos

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