The Forge of Language

by Antonio Dias

Sometimes writing is an act of excavation. Sometimes it is digging things up. Sometimes it is digging one’s self out….

What is writing? What is it for? Why? How?

Once asked, these questions proliferate. Looming over them all,

Why ask? Who is asking?

These all circle around and bring us back to language.

Writing is an immersion in language, hard to get around that! Language keeps pushing us into object/subject. It’s the way these packets of language called sentences are organized. We are continually returned to this form of thinking with the pressure it exerts on us to complete each sentence, each paragraph, each piece. These questions are all judged by this one criteria. That is,

How do they hold together, cohere, find completion?

Here’s another imperative within language, this implicit pressure to reach conclusions, to find and craft endings. To resist these forces within language is to court illegibility. At some point the expectations implicit in a form – when they are repeatedly broken – leave a reader doubting that there is anything there of value at all. Instead of leading themselves and their readers into new ground a writer risks alienation from even the most patient, willing reader.

Is this what happens so often in poetry? In any attempt to grapple with Being within an act of writing? Is this why Zen writing, for instance, continually bounces us off the limits of intelligibility?

Is this a bad thing? A good thing?

Does the question transcend good or bad? Is it a question of the inherent impenetrability of any confrontation with Being that includes an attempt to articulate the act of experiencing while refusing the ready traps of our conditioning to ignore what is and throw us back on what has been collected? The force of conditioning’s power to substitute experience for experiencing, thought for thinking, is at the heart of the limiting powers of conditioning. There is a constant pressure to fall back on experience, to remember past thoughts; instead of diving into experiencing, into thinking in response to what is here now.

What comes to mind is that language, as it constrains us in this way, is exerting the same pressures on us that we feel in any interaction with, well, anything! It may just be that this is because of the primacy of language. This may be inevitable to language, or to certain flavors of language. It is said that this language, English, is the most compelling in this way, and that this is why we are caught within its imperialising traps; almost as if this habit of thought, this particular form of conditioning, were a mental virus inevitably leading us to and holding us in its “illness.”

The thunderous CLAP! of existence can snap us out of this vertiginous reverie! However we get here, whatever the dynamics, we are here, and no amount of wishing it were otherwise will change that. Existence is a confrontation with what is made by various creations as they interact with their world. Some of them are organisms that have some form of coherence that lends their actions form. We may be particles and waves, mostly empty space with some incredible quantity of en-massed energy, or bags of cells in which the number of cells making up a “me” may be equaled or surpassed by the microbial life within us and upon our every surface. However we look at our situation, we either deal with where we find ourselves or we thrash about wishing.

As much as we are immersed in a whole that surpasses understanding, we function within the specifics of our capacities to perceive, and we act as though we were distinct. This is more than just pragmatism, or some sign of surrender to an individualistic nature. Any facile acceptance of an overall unity is as deluded as any rejection of that unity. We live in the spaces between.

In this way, frustration at our tools, whether of language or anything that has evolved from our grasping, throwing arms; because they provide resistance to some easy resolution; is just another form of the wish to escape that seems so embedded in the forms of our language.

That language leaves open the potential, asks for, even demands, that there will always be another word. This returns us, again and again, to the forge. Each form that is wrought, no matter how hard, how intractable it may seem in its obdurate completion; only brings us back with a renewed hunger to find some other way to bend our tool to conform it to the specifics of our current engagement with Being. Old forms corrode, or break.

What is hard is also brittle.

We turn our heat to recasting fragments and remainders. We retest them; in fire, under hammer blows, and in quenching waters. Their red-hot glow fades to a cool gleam, and we are strengthened in the process; revitalized, as we turn our new tool to old endeavors.

Language is an opportunity for craft. As with any craft, its processes prepare us for Art as they guide and nurture us in everyday life. The same actions that craft a tool will also create a sculpture. The ways in which we meet our necessities will also lead us to forge expressions of meaning. These acts of engagement with life strengthen us as they focus our attention on what is.

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