I like the way an orange feels in my hand when I bring it out of the crisper, cold and round and porous. It feels good to curl your fingers around an object, a tool, a breast, a doorknob. It is a better way to understand the universe than to merely think about it. The weight of things, their texture and shape, their density and temperature, express a great deal.
I rarely wear a tie. But when I do, the way the fabric slides through my fingers is a nice sensation.
The feeling of hot water splashing against the skin in the shower after running a few miles in cold, rainy weather is a remarkably good feeling.
It seems sadly ironic that the things that cause the most hate and violence in the world aren’t things at all. Religion, ideology, belief. Things without weight, texture, form, odor, temperature, density, velocity, or flavor. They aren’t even a gas. How can this be?
How can a belief about the origin of the universe or a prescribed form of behavior according to the narratives surrounding the origin of the universe cause so much havoc and death?
It is a little easier to understand the conflicts that arise out of political ideology. Ideas about conduct are imposed on you and have a direct consequence on the quality of your life. But it’s important to realize that the philosophies surrounding the construction of laws are abstractions. Conceptions. Theories. Mental erections with no actual foundation. Nothing solid holding them up. They’re less than air. Not even atoms. Mere electro-chemical impulses in the brain.
Then where do a sense of right andwrong come from, and are they fabrications, inventions of thought, or do they have a reality of some sort, however intangible or diaphanous? Is compassion innate? Is joy innate? Is the impulse to destroy innate? Do animals have compassion, or a sense of guilt? I believe that some animals have compassion, but that no animals experience guilt. But this is just thought, an opinion I have, which is based on little evidence. If I were attacked by a lion on the African savannah, I might not be so disposed toward believing animals, lions especially, have real compassion. Or is hunger the ultimate driving force in all situations?
How do words refer to sensations, asked Ludwig Wittgenstein. Can we imagine a language in which a person could write down or give vocal expression to his inner experiences -- his feelings, moods, and the rest -- for his private use? -- Well, can’t we do so in our ordinary language?
I can’t see why not. Though a word is only a sign, a symbol. How might I communicate my inner life with symbols? That automatically creates a filtration. The language is a medium, like a skin, or tissue, in which sensations lose much of their purity.
My inner life and outer life are interrelated, the same way it is for everyone, all sentient beings. But the emotion I experience while producing a poem is hard to share with anyone who isn’t enamored of poetry. Most people are not. And what is that emotion? It is similar to the high produced by inhaling cocaine. It is a state of extreme sharpness, sensual acuity, and euphoria.
If I could communicate that sensation fully and accurately I would certainly sell a lot more books. So clearly, something is not working. Is it the fault of the poem, or the fault of language in general? Does the same sensation, or emotion, come out differently in French or Japanese than it does in English?
In what sense, Wittgenstein further asks, are my sensations private? That’s an excellent question. We have names in the English language for quite a range of emotion: love, hate, anguish, fear, anxiety, depression, euphoria, perturbation, exhilaration, irritation, exasperation, impatience, self-confidence, shame, embarrassment, joy, jubilation, enchantment.
And what of the word ‘soul’? It is “a kind of floater in the language,” says Robin Blaser. “They have said the word means breath, but that is the meaning borrowed from spiritus, an inhalation and exhalation of the world.”
It is “the inseparable freedom of a primal ambiguity, this convulsive beauty insisted upon by Lautréamont.”
Ponder, if you will, the secret, inseparable blackness of milk.
The feeling of light through a window in mid-August, warm, voluptuously warm, and golden. Shadow of a leaf trembling on the surface of a round, skull-shaped rock. Imagine the dreams inside that rock. The silence inside that rock. The cold, dark heart of the universe inside that rock.
The blue stream at the edge of thought, writes Blaser.
I wish I had ordered a root beer to go with my tea and water last night at Uptown China. The food was highly seasoned, salty. I love that food. But it makes me thirsty. Thirst is universal. No animal goes without thirst. So that we then know precisely what is meant when we say that we thirst for knowledge. As if knowledge were the cold hard water of a spring, a glistening under fern fronds where the water trickles from the ground, collects, and moves where gravity tugs it.
In those places on earth where it is still possible to stand in quiet and watch as the day darkens and the first few stars appear, it is not at all accidental to wonder how the planet manages to float around a single star day after day and not lose its course, drift, of a sudden, deeper into space. Or, at least, try to imagine what existed before the universe came into being. Before space and time and root beer and antelope came into being. How could so much appear out of total nothingness?
It is obvious that we all need a can opener. And love and affection.
Here is a definition of language: absence suddenly melding with presence.
And vice-versa, so that the presence of anything equally implies the absence of which it is composed. Which is a paradox, like Solomon’s knot.