In the Prison House of Language

I am obsessed with words, yet, I find language to be extremely limiting. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who said in the closing passages of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, ‘ That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent ‘. Yet, he did a complete turnaround from his earlier ideas when in his later work, Philosophical Investigations, he suggested, creating meaningful statements is not a matter of ascertaining the logical form of the world as it was a matter of using conventionally defined terms within ‘language games’ that we play out in the course of everyday life, that have their own rules. ‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, he claimed and it is these rules, unique to each language and tribe that we find ourselves enmeshed in on a regular basis that also creates our narrative reality for us.

I had written earlier in the post on Remamos and the Inner Voice, that we are also not witness to the inner self talk of people, that inaccessible sub-conscious, the ephemeral unconscious, the wellspring of our actions, emotions … we make sense of our lives stitching stories together of the experiences that become us at the same time, we set the stage for the world to understand us on how we communicate this to the outside world, either in words or in silence.

In addition, I have been meaning to write on echo chambers for a while. It is interesting how the subtlest in words can alter meanings in communication, bring about an exclusion or inclusion in groups and cliques based on a shared language. It is disturbing that we may be misunderstood or we may misunderstand based on language alone. It is also unfortunate, that humanity heaves under the burden of not being able to communicate effectively, if at all, beyond words.

Perhaps, I am on a tangent here, but the poem becomes a springboard for me to explore linguistic relativity. I hadn’t known anything about the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis until today, and that linguistic relativity was explored in the sci-fi movie Arrival, which I happened to quite like. It’s a philosophical sort of movie based on communicating with aliens that have arrived on Earth. The hypothesis itself suggests that |the structure of a language affects its speakers’ worldview or cognition, and thus people’s perceptions are relative to their spoken language |[1][2][3]

Language appears to be the only defining feature of our human poetry, where we constantly try to make ourselves known to others, to know others through words and narrative. There isn’t another crutch. My poem is more exploratory than a stamp of finality on my views on language. As always, the philosopher in me is plainly musing.

Time colours in different brush strokes
a strange evolution of the abecedary,
in love sonnets* of deceased days,
that now sound like a dirge,
on a hot summer day /A gulf of Eden,
this / Your words drowning, seeking
a page in my lexicon and I want
to nest in your poems //

In the tower of Babel, I watch the sunset
West, windows adding length to shadows
of sounds measured into meaning, the sun
rises in the East and my eyes sparkle
in delight, for the yolk appears
that I know is round //

At the door, those who embroider birds
into memory insist, an exact trilling skein
may be lacking for my opaque cosmogony,
but proffer a redeeming syllabic chant //

Earthy tribes in the plains and narrow
valleys of life, possess no flowery tome
stamped in antique language, as they
plough away the sunlight in tepid sweat,
nor the ones, that pixellate their own sun
in shadows, bent over canvases of creations //

They speak of light like a distant memory
in the lunacy of neon aphorisms //

The cracking ice moans for Spring, they
all know, the cuckoo sings of Summer
and Jasmine’s silenced a hundred ways
namelessly fragrant in every fall //

Of those locked in a tower for lights
narrow ingress and some closed doors,
are warily, blindly feeling circular walls,
passwords changed for knocking, storied nuance
in the admission, glass domes too slippery for sky,
restroom piss gendered in euphemisms and the chamber
grants inclusion to echo in the litany of flushes //

Some days, I want only to string prayers,
in the boundless of the wind that screams
into the clouds, the hum of the earth
swaddled in a lullaby of roots, while
I slowly breathe in the forgiving universe //

Is it a sin to exhale seismic tune to erode
the ivory dunes, breathe a fire to set ablaze
smug grasses of tolerance, so a different leaf
may root in the aridity of the savanna?

How does one wait in the eye of a storm
when all around rages passion,
to be still enough to gaze at a wildflower,
in a wordless poem? Teach me to pray.


* Shakespeare has to be understood under regimented study or his language escapes us. So it is with all literature that simply does not touch a chord if we are not schooled in it. I remember trying to read V. D. Savarkar’s masterpiece ‘ Kala Pani ‘ in Hindi once. It was written in 1913 and I couldn’t identify with the language used then, even the simplest words of address seemed based in another time, another era. The redeeming chants are about oral traditions and the inspiration for Babel comes from Jorge Luis Borges’s 1941, The Library of Babel and partly, the biblical.

I think this poem became everything in a way and nothing at all. I wish to stop writing sometimes, even if for a while, cite a lack of genuine audience, an igneous ‘writer’s block’, an invisible husky chewing all of my papers, but I turn to Rilke here, who spoke words that I make my own.

Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write” ~ From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, where she cites his ‘Letters to a young poet’ [4]

I choose to write, words or none, despite how limiting and imperfect I find language to be, it truly only seeks to heal because it aspires, more than anything, to understand.

On my playlist today: My pre-pandemic anthem by Gaël Faure Siffler