For the last few weeks I have been pondering at some length on the silence induced by the chair I recently finished, and many thoughts and ideas have whirled around my head, some easily dismissed, some more reluctant to depart.
When I closed the door that evening was I totally deflated by what I saw sitting quietly in the fading light? Did I see a flaw, a mistake, a visual defect that grabbed my eye and held it? Were all my efforts wasted? If so, do I finish it, finesse it, or just toss it aside, as just another thing I fail to complete or follow through on, taking the path of least resistance, and use it as an excuse justifying laziness, failure, and a lack of skill, talent, or artistry? Maybe!
Or, did I see only the second chair I have made that I thought, for some reason, truly beautiful? A chair that rooted me, held my gaze, and made words frivolous?
Beauty, in all its forms, does this to me – all the time – it reaches for my heart and holds it still until I catch my breath, and I want to brush my fingertips over it, possess it, never let it go and feel this feeling every moment of my life. But, in the next heartbeat, it moves into the distance, becoming a tiny spec in a whirling multitude of humanity, lost forever, and the memories start to fade, until all the colour is gone, leaving a washed out black and white image with not a hint of sepia to embellish it – and the sting of loss takes over from the awe of the beautiful, the joy of seeing, feeling, touching and listening to beauty.
I remembered Greg. He passed away a little while ago, but, before doing so, invited me to witness his landing amongst the stars – he had been aiming for the moon but knew he would not make it. Greg loved language and its correct use. He believed it was possible, and our duty to use language to communicate even the most esoteric thoughts and feelings. That we need to talk, to share, and learn – but also, importantly, that the listener had a duty to listen, to make the effort to understand. I argued that not everything should or could be expressed in words, and that not everyone made the effort to listen and understand – what can I say? I’m a contrarian!
I argued that the most we can hope for is that language can point to, hint at, guide towards, allude to, ultimate truth, or knowledge, or even, in a more mundane way, our feelings and emotions – that we have a need to verbalise, where it’s maybe not possible, but that it’s a need we have, an urge to fulfill. But, even if we had, and could express ourselves in clear, precise, terms, it may still all be for naught.
Language, words, allows us to get along, and, for the poets, to express things in quite staggering beauty on occasions. The nature of some experiences, maybe, are that they are not meant to be shackled by language – the mystic, who understands negation, starts by using language to think and begin his quest, but ultimately, it becomes ‘understanding’ – a lightning strike of illumination – that no language, words, can adequately describe, or transmit the actual full and true knowledge to another. Maybe our expectations of language are too great.
Can I adequately express myself, even if I had a good vocabulary? Could I tell anyone exactly what I see, what I feel? I don’t think so. When I look at a painting, maybe a Turner, one of his steam hulks in an estuary, can I clearly explain the turmoil that creates inside me? Did Turner, when he was creating it, use his paints as a language, to convey something in particular, or, was he simply painting, even just his interpretation of the scene? Obviously in art there is usually an underlying narrative – but, what I get from it, and what someone else gets from it, may be different, or exactly the same – I can never know.
What I do know, is that we are human, we all have, or are capable of having, the same experiences. We all have the same feelings and emotions and thoughts – we are human, we may have them with differing degrees of intensity or clarity, or understanding of why, but we have them. For some reason we have a need to express them to others, with utter clarity, that does not allow for misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or dismissal as unworthy. We need to be worthy, to be understood.
Maybe the mystic knows that language does not allow for true religious experience to be contained within it, to be fully and adequately expressed by it. It has to be experiential. Surely with negation comes the knowledge that it is unnecessary, and impossible, to try to contain the limitless?
Thinking of Greg, our discussions and the silence I have been wrapped in I realised I have, for a very long time, been moving into the realm of experience, the belief that some things cannot be adequately expressed through language, and that to do so is to diminish them. I’m beginning to cherish silence – and, I’m beginning to understand ‘Noble Silence’.
I never got to conclude my discussions with Greg, which is a shame because I would have learned a great deal from him – his intellect was quite staggering – and, he may have saved me from travelling down a road, that I may realise in years to come, is a dead end. But, maybe not!
I read a paragraph by G. Tucci, in which he explained that the religious experience of solitude, worship, and experiential knowing cannot, and should not be translated into words – that it was impossible, and to try is to destroy it. I continued to read, and search for, the opinions of other knowledgeable minds – I read about leaving the past, and ignoring the future, keeping the mind in the now and allowing it to focus on what it is experiencing; not to do so is to create fear, trepidation and misunderstanding. That does not denigrate language, it is essential, but it is not supreme and above all else.
More recently, I heard a composer refer to J.S. Bach’s music as the language of God. He left it there and would not be drawn to explain. He resisted resolutely, as to do so was to lessen the music and what it did, expressed, the emotions and feeling that arose as a result of hearing it. Some things, he stated, are un-expressible in language. I felt a wave of release, of vindication and I smiled deeply and broadly – from the very depths of my being.
While looking at the chair, feeling its silence, lamenting the absence of words, and thinking about language, I have been wrapped in the music of Karin Dreijer Anderson – one piece in particular, that to try to describe in words would be futility and desecration – a piece that has rooted me, held me, and made words frivolous.
“Out of the darkness comes blinding light! From the depths we soar to unimaginable heights – we look all around on the world and see wonders, too high to see the sorrow.”