Words

Transcript:

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past. The splendid word “incarnadine,” for example – who can use that without remembering “multitudinous seas”? In the old days, of course, when English was a new language, writers could invent new words and use them. Nowadays it is easy enough to invent new words – they spring to the lips whenever we see a new sight or feel a new sensation – but we cannot use them because the English language is old. You cannot use a brand new word in an old language because of the very obvious yet always mysterious fact that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. Indeed it is not a word until it is part of a sentence. Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great poet knows that the word “incarnadine” belongs to “multitudinous seas.” To combine new words with old words is fatal to the constitution of the sentence. In order to use new words properly you would have to invent a whole new language; and that, though no doubt we shall come to it, is not at the moment our business. Our business is to see what we can do with the old English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer. Think what it would mean if you could teach, or if you could learn the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper you’d pick up, would tell the truth, or create beauty. But there is, it would appear, some obstacle in the way, some hindrance to the teaching of words. For though at this moment at least a hundred professors are lecturing on the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still – do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote four hundred years ago when we were un-lectured, un-criticized, untaught? Is our modern Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan? Well, where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most un-teachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems lovelier than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy. Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady’s reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid.

Thus to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless. A few trifling rules of grammar and spelling is all the constraint we can put on them. All we can say about them, as we peer at them over the edge of that deep, dark and only fitfully illuminated cavern in which they live – the mind – all we can say about them is that they seem to like people to think before they use them, and to feel before they use them, but to think and feel not about them, but about something different. They are highly sensitive, easily made self-conscious. They do not like to have their purity or their impurity discussed. If you start a Society for Pure English, they will show their resentment by starting another for impure English – hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as good as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society. Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Perhaps that is their most striking peculiarity – their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being many-sided, flashing first this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity, this power to mean different things to different people, that they survive. Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing today is that we refuse to allow words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination…

This is the only known surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice. It is part of a BBC radio broadcast from April 29th, 1937. The talk was called “Craftsmanship” and was part of a series entitled “Words Fail Me”. The text was published as an essay in “The Death of the Moth and Other Essays” (1942).

La voz de Virginia Woolf

Esta es la única grabación que aún perdura de la voz de Virginia Woolf. Es parte de una emisión de radio de la BBC del 29 de abril de 1937. La charla se llamó “Artesanía” y fue parte de una serie titulada “Las palabras me fallan”.

Excesiva simetría

“You cannot use a brand new word in an old language because of the very obvious yet always mysterious fact that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. Indeed it is not a word until it is part of a sentence. Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great poet knows that the word "incarnadine" belongs to "multitudinous seas.”

V. Woolf

 

DSC01724
Corcubión, Galicia

Después de un parto prolongado, el cráneo del niño se presenta como un molde del estrecho inferior de la pelvis maternal.

S. Freud, «Un tipo particular de escogencia de objeto en el hombre» (1910), trad. D. Berger. J. La vida sexual. París, PUF, 1969 (ed. revisada y corregida, 1977), p. 50-51.

anamnesis material

un lugar para perder el espacio

resuena siempre en futuro, un hueco sobre el alma.

¡Todo huye! Porosa es mi presencia

y la santa impaciencia también muere.

15-16

¡Rompa el cuerpo esa forma pensativa!

ebria en tu carne azul

17

Paul Valéry, El cementerio marino. Versión de A. Gutiérrez Hermosillo.

Wreckage, 2016

Cada uno es mucha gente.

El poeta es un fingidor.
Finge tan completamente
que finge que es dolor
el dolor que realmente siente.

(Autopsicografía)

Comprendí que las cosas son reales y totalmente diferentes una de otra:
Lo comprendí con los ojos, jamás con el pensamiento.
Comprenderlo con el pensamiento hubiera sido encontrarlas
todas iguales.

(Si, después que yo muera…)

F. Pessoa, Tengo pena y no respondo. Antología poética.

 

Una habitación propia (1929)

Nadie podría exponer el asunto más claramente. «El poeta pobre no tiene hoy día, ni ha tenido durante los últimos doscientos años, la menor oportunidad… En Inglaterra un niño pobre no tiene más esperanzas que un esclavo ateniense de lograr esta libertad intelectual de la que nacen las grandes obras literarias.» Exactamente. La libertad intelectual depende de cosas materiales. La poesía depende de la libertad intelectual. Y las mujeres siempre han sido pobres, no sólo durante doscientos años, sino desde el principio de los tiempos. Las mujeres han gozado de menos libertad intelectual que los hijos de los esclavos atenienses. Las mujeres no han tenido, pues, la menor oportunidad de escribir poesía. Por eso he insistido tanto sobre el dinero y sobre el tener una habitación propia. Sin embargo, gracias a los esfuerzos de estas mujeres desconocidas del pasado, de estas mujeres de las que desearía que supiéramos más cosas, gracias, por una curiosa ironía, a dos guerras, la de Crimea, que dejó salir a Florence Nightingale de su salón, y la Primera Guerra Mundial, que le abrió las puertas a la mujer corriente unos sesenta años más tarde, estos males están en vías de ser enmendados. Si no, no estaríais aquí esta noche y vuestras posibilidades de ganar quinientas libras al año, aunque desgraciadamente, siento decirlo, siguen siendo precarias, serían ínfimas. (Páginas 77-78)