Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Language as transformative practice

Continuing from this post, I referenced Levin's "Before the voice of reason." Re-reading it I'm struck by how he wants to reestablish a link with that pre-linguistic and embodied connection with the world which sets the stage for language. As is my wont I immediately see image schema as fulfilling this role, though Levin is not thinking in those terms. He does get close to this in the following passage, noting that our pre-liguistic connection to nature requires that “there can be no memory without entanglement in the fabulations and alembications of the imaginary” (61).

And it is not by chance that these image schema ground and develop into linguistic metaphor, metonymy, etc. Hence we get our mytho-poetic language as gateway into both the always already and the not yet, inspiring us to open to mystery and wonder and communicate it via such embodied language. Hence a good poem can actually lead us to the experience, as does a good work of any other form of art. I know dance, both as performer and spectator, does this for me with emotional and aesthetic intensity. And I'd add so does rhetoric, as it too is an art form that reconnects us to our body and nature, yet also takes flight into and elicits the not yet of the unprecedented.

Also of interest is this passage on Heidegger's deconstruction of metaphysics, indicative of my earlier ruminations about how our language presupposes ontological premises:

“In particular, of course, it is their scandalous reversal, their radical overturning of anthropocentrism, of Cartesian egoity, their radical displacement of the speaking subject, hence of the subject-object structure and its ontology, reflected in rules of grammar, and seeming to introduce an unjustifiable metaphysics” (54).

Such languages developed from the ego-logical perspective, which imposes its strict dualistic rules and categories not only on language but on nature. It's a metaphysics not only of presence but of such abstract disconnection to its roots in image schema and metaphor. It even creates such distinct categories of the latter type into 'art,' which is unrelated to everyday language. Lakoff and Johnson, among many others in the cognitive linguistics movement, show that even everyday language is dependent on these embodied schema that connect us to our world.

So it seems a matter of rearranging our grammars to fit that embodied paradigm, to change how we speak and write in a manner more conducive of ecological awareness. Instead of saying “I must protect the rainforest” we might acknowledge “I am part of the rainforest” (69), and we both need stewardship. Language is an outgrowth of the world, as is thought, and when put in ecological perspective is just an effective means of connecting to and transforming that world and its mystery as any other mode, from meditation to ritual performance.

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