"Language is the means by which our rationality and our relationality are enabled simultaneously." Ken Myers, creator and host of Mars Hill Audio Journal, captured my attention and inspired my imagination when he made this statement while introducing his conversation with professor, poet, and author, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I love Meyers' introductions and often find them as enlightening and thought stimulating as the conversations themselves, however in these case his proposition was but a foreshadowing of a thought provoking dialogue about to begin.
With four teenagers at home (for one more day) we had recently been discussing the twists and turns our use of language has taken over the years, individually, communally, and culturally. (Hmm, I wonder who instigated these discussions...) Thus, the observations made by Meyers and McEntyre served to confirm some of my own reflections and to bring some of my intuitions into the realm of ideas by furnishing them with words.
I quickly ordered McEntyre's new book and after reading one chapter decided that she is an author of whom I would like to read more~she's also written three books of poetry on the art of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gough and I enjoyed perusing her website.
Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
I haven't yet finished this book, so this isn't a proper book review, but rather an ejaculation of enthusiasm for McEntyre's ideas and the gracious and loving way in which she expresses them. The first chapter, Why Worry about Words, elicited copious underlining:
She effectively employs an environmental metaphor in her discussion of language:
"Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulates. Like any other resource, it needs the protection of those who recognize its value and commit themselves to good stewardship."
"Caring for language is a moral issue. Caring for one another is not entirely separable from caring for words."
"As unable words are lost, experience becomes cruder and less communicable. And with the loss of subtlety, clarity, and reliability of language, we become more vulnerable to crude exercises of power."
"to converse was to foster community, to commune with, to dwell in a place with others. Conversation was understood to be a life-sustaining practice, a blessing ,and a craft to be cultivated for the common good."
And all this from just the first six pages.
One final quote of a quote, and perhaps this is only back-patting--I always find it encouraging to enunciate a thought or idea only to read it elsewhere in more elegant language by someone much smarter than myself. Dear husband and I were discussing the the relationship between morality and language and I proposed that a deterioration of language portended a deterioration of the understanding of truth, and ultimately, morality: "So our language goes, so go we." Dear husband countered that the opposite was true. Soon after I read this claim by George Orwell, quoted by McEntyre:
"[The English Language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible."
It's always nice when we can both be right.