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Finding a Sense of Stability in Literary Language

23 Feb 2017 10:21 AM | Sanda Ionescu (Administrator)

Guest post from former GWG member, instructor and great friend Carmen Bugan, now living in the US. For a beautiful review of her latest collection of poetry, see here. You can buy her book here. Meanwhile, just sit back and enjoy this brief meditation on the redeeming power of language in literature.

I have said elsewhere that today's English language suffers, and I keep returning to that thought because the evidence is everywhere.  Our language suffers from materialism, texting-talk, marketing-speak, slogans, an obsession with celebrity, a fear of 'the other'.  You could say it reflects our character which craves a fast answer for every want and constantly searches for the easiest way out, a quick scheme to get rich and a magical recipe to eternal youth.  I wonder how much this contributed to the recent election, and more-over, to keeping in the White House a man who makes life-changing political pronouncements via Twitter. We are all better than that and deserve more than being tossed from one quick promise to another. We are capable of self-reflection.  Signs of this abound in the endless stream of protests on the streets where you could feel America is more alive than ever before.

The English language itself has resources that could help us heal.  One of these is stability of meaning expressed in fiercely beautiful words.  I am returning to classics and here I want to quote an excerpt from Jack London's The Call of the Wild, which I know will mean different things to different people:

'There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise.  And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing to quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time.  He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew and that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in  movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.'

Metaphorical as it is, literary language constitutes a major resource.  The protests on the streets of this country, the loud town-halls that are becoming a force of nature, might be touching the nerve of life as ordinary people are feeling ‘war-mad on a stricken field and refusing to quarter.’  Maybe the spirit of America is Buck, ‘leading the pack’, ‘sounding the deeps of his nature’ harking back to freedom.  Or maybe readers will find the resilient spirit of this country in other books, in other stories, in other metaphors, in other words equally filled with ‘the tidal wave of being’.  In the current political situation, which is chaotic and mad, there are books which we can open and could open us and perhaps, for the moment, they could be our first aid by keeping us steady.


 


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