Posts Tagged ‘Marilynne Robinsoni’

Caring for Words, XIII: Words Cannot Contain…

Saturday, January 6th, 2018


Epiphany, Theophany, Three Kings Day. Gifts, carried by the wise, in oddly-fashioned coffers. After twelve days spent pondering the health of words in a sickened language, we end where we began: marveling at the power and fragility of these vessels of meaning. I hope the journey better prepares us to defend them from the cynics, the forgers, the looters.

Care for the words you receive. Honor the words you share. Rejoice at their abilities. Stay mindful of their limits. Attend carefully to those passages in a life when words can do no more than gesture beyond themselves. Rather than mourning what seems like failure, imagine their exhilaration, poised at the edges of signification like climbers on a volcanic rim, dangling their aching legs over the abyss. Return there often. Feel the rising heat, the alpine wind. If words cannot contain our lives, they can show others the way.

“The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers. Although its poise is sometimes in displacing experience it is not a substitute for it. It arcs toward the place where meaning may lie. When a President of the United States thought about the graveyard his country had become, and said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it will never forget what they did here,” his simple words are exhilarating in their life-sustaining properties because they refused to encapsulate the reality of 600, 000 dead men in a cataclysmic race war. Refusing to monumentalize, disdaining the “final word”, the precise “summing up”, acknowledging their “poor power to add or detract”, his words signal deference to the uncapturability of the life it mourns.”

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