“All philosophy,” observed Paul Valéry, “is born knowingly from illusions which are illusions of language.” Words are signs for things and not the things themselves. Words are illusions. Their relation with things is uncertain, inconstant, and indeterminate. But here is a paradox: since words are untethered to the concrete world, their representation of experience is infinite, and because it is infinite, it is real. There is no limit to the variety of phenomena and sensations already in existence or in which there is a probability or possibility of bringing them into existence. The words themselves might serve as their own experience. This is a situation in which illusion assumes the audible ineffability of inconceivable harmonies. The patterns that make Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik a tour de force of transcendent beauty, that give it its enery and clarity, its buoyancy and depth of emotion, are stunningly real. But in the truer sense of the real, the reality of stone and water, the reality of bone and refrigerator, the music belongs to the higher abstractions of time and wave.
When one is conscious of, or knows, an object, it is an error to say that the object in itself and our knowledge of the object are two distinct facts. Hyper-objects, such as government, are particularly interesting: government has no reality, there is nothing tangible about government, government is a concept; and yet government is quite real. We pay taxes to it, elect officials to it, expect it to provide us with streets and libraries. Government is a product of language. Language creates laws, breaks laws, tells stories of outlaws. Language is the ultimate outlaw.
Taken in this sense, unicorns, dragons, and brigadier generals all lay equal claim to being, and having, a reality. What gives them that reality is the way in which we experience them. Imagine them. A single word, such as the pronoun “I,” can serve as the nucleus for a range of experience including peacocks, obsequies and clover. Tapioca, doors, and pumpkins. In the realm of illusion, I is an other: its reality is called into being by the simple act of writing. Of talking. There is an otherness to it because as soon as an identity is proposed as a symbolic entity, its reality changes. It enters into an arena of magic, of profound sorcery. Whenever someone says “I,” we - another pronoun with the weight of a helium balloon - know that the stream of verbiage issuing from that personhood of “I” is an eye into the storm of their being. We also know that the word “I” and the person claiming that “I” as a locus of intimate experience, has just entered into the vast ocean that is language, has diffused into its boundless horizon.
In other words, “I,” “We,” “They,” and “You” are all propositions, all shades and inclinations of personhood in relation to oneself or other people. But in what sense do any of them have reality? The word “you” cannot be eaten, tasted, squeezed, pressed, ironed, nailed, packed or crushed. But it can be spoken. It can be written.
You are reading an essay when along comes a dragon and invites you to go on a journey to a realm of illusion. Are you real? Or not real? Is the dragon real, or not real? The dragon is, in fact, a yearning fleshed out in wing and claw. It has a thyroid, lungs, and mild case of bursitis.
My eyes, ears, skin and hair are all real. But when I convert them into words they blaze into deputation. Their dilations are sleeves of sensual being. I must speak in metaphor because words are sites of resistance, combustions of internal fire.
“Language is a reality,” Valéry further observed, “a usage of indeterminate coefficients.” A coefficient is a multiplicative factor in any term of a polynomial, a series or any expression. As soon as two or more words are brought into combination they multiply their associative power. Syntax is fundamentally a probability. A spoon is a prelude of refractory light. Each sentence is as structural as a lobster and sculptural as a rib. Call it a tapestry. Call it a comprehension. A consolidation. If it is a living sense it is because the mind has given it life.
The poet works at the frontier of nonsense. There is no incompatibility of words that some poet can bridge. The power to create new contextual significations is limitless. What initially appears to be nonsense can begin to make sense as soon as the mind discovers new relations among things. This is a rare ability, but one which can be developed. There will come a time when it will be impossible to exhaust the connotative resource of words. The greater the semantic distance among a group of words, the brighter the illumination.
If language had not been invented, what sound would you make to indicate the sun? How would you describe the sun? Nothing in life is predictable, except death and taxes. Everything else is up for grabs. Words inspire me to be a better addict. I agree with Baudelaire: one should always be drunk. Drunk on words, drunk on wine, drunk on virtue, drunk on poetry. However you choose.