Thursday, June 19

bringing language back to its original source

Therefore, when speaking of poetry we may say that poetry is not doing what Stevenson thought—poetry is not trying to take a set of logical coins and work them into magic. Rather, it is bringing language back to its original source. Remember that Alfred North Whitehead wrote that, among the many fallacies, there is the fallacy of the perfect dictionary—the fallacy of thinking that for every perception of the senses, for every statement, for every abstract idea, one can find a counterpart, an exact symbol, in the dictionary. And the very fact that languages are different makes us suspect that this does not exist.

For example, in English (or rather in the Scots) we have such words as "eerie" and "uncanny." These words cannot be found in other languages. (Well, of course, we do have the German unheimlich.) Why is this so? Because men who spoke other languages had no need for these words—I suppose a nation evolves the words it needs. This observation, made by Chesterton (I think in his book on Watts), amounts to saying that language is not, as we are led to suppose by the dictionary, the invention of academicians or philologists. Rather, it has been evolved through time, through a long time, by peasants, by fishermen, by hunters, by riders. It did not come from the libraries; it came from the fields, from the sea, from rivers, from night, from the dawn.

Thus, we have in language the fact (and this seems obvious to me) that words began, in a sense, as magic.

-- Jorge Luis Borges This Craft of Verse