Friday, November 6, 2009

Words, Babbling Words - 2009.11.06

Well, I've been dipping into more Jung. This time, I revisited him via an old favourite collection:

C.G. Jung.
The Basic Writings of C.G. Jung, ed. Violet S. de Laszlo, New York: The Modern Library, published by Random House, 1959.

And my random pick was appropriate — From "Two Kinds of Thinking" from Symbols of Transformation — given my reading the Zen books and their emphasis on moving from living in the mind to moving beyond mindfulness to being alive completely in the moment. What Jung says is straight forward, in a way, but I find it interesting because he is hinting at both the limitations of words/language, and their power to go beyond the prosaic, and into delusion. His quotation from Anatole France is delightful, and the main reason I transcribed this. Jung writes:
The material with which we think is language and verbal communication — something which from time immemorial has been directed outwards and used as a bridge, and which has but a single purpose, namely that of communication. So long as we think directedly, we think for others and speak to others. Language was originally a system of emotive and imitative sounds — sounds which express terror, fear, anger, love, etc., and sounds which imitate the sounds of the elements: the rushing and gurgling of water, the rolling of thunder, the roaring of the wind, the cries of the animal world, and so on; and lastly, those which represent a combination of the sound perceived and the emotional reaction to it. A large number of onomatopoeic vestiges remain even in the more modern languages; note, for instance, the sound for running water: rauschen, rieseln, rĂ»schen, rinnen, rush, river, ruscello, ruisseau, Rhein. And note Wasser, wissen, wissern, pissen, piscis, Fisch.
Thus, language, in its origin and essence, is simply a system of signs or symbols that denote real occurrences or their echo in the human soul [not mind]. We must emphatically agree with Anatole France when he says:
What is thinking? And how does one think? We think with words; that in itself is sensual and brings us back to nature. Think of it! a metaphysician has nothing with which to build his world system except the perfected cries of monkeys and dogs. What he calls profound speculation and transcendental method is merely the stringing together, in an arbitrary order, of onomatopoeic cries of hunger, fear, and love from the primeval forests, to which have become attached, little by little, meaning that are believed to be abstract merely because they are loosely used. Have no fear that the succession of little cries, extinct or enfeebled, that composes a book of philosophy will teach us so much about the universe that we can no longer go on living it (15-6).
Anatole France.
Le Jardin d'Epicure (Paris, 1895), p.80.
France seems to be suggesting that words are... problematic. Or, more specifically, what he may be suggesting is that the abstraction of words away from their sensual origin is the problem. If he is in this passage — and that could well be disputed — he is approaching Zen thinking.

And so, what are words? Well, besides being one of the biggest impediments to great communication, they have been described variously. There are two description I particularly love, the best being from Chuang Tzu:
A fish-trap is for catching fish;
once you've caught the fish you
can forget the trap. A rabbit
snare is for catching rabbits;
once you've caught the rabbit
you can forget about the snare.
Words are for catching ideas;
once you've caught the idea,
you can forget about the words.
Where can I find a person who
knows how to forget about
words so I can have a few
words with him?
Chuang Tzu. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1994. Translated by Victor H. Mair.
Another one I love is from Socrates:
In Plato's Phaedrus Socrates reports a conversation between. The Egyptian god Thoth, the inventor of letters, and the god Amon. Amon says:
This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls [not minds!], because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be bearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Socrates continues:
I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question, they preserve a solemn silence, and the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer.
Plato. Phaedrus. Toronto: Penguin, 1973,p. 84. Cited in Mass Communication in Canada, 3rd Ed. by Lorimer and McNulty, Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20.

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