magically murky moments (1)



Let me first express my gratitude to nuruL H: the sheer zest of her buoyantly alliterative posts & titles is justification enough for alliteration, this lovely linguistic mannerism (in which I too like to indulge).
In many contexts, however, alliteration has a bad reputation (just as rhyme has): it is considered as frivolous & superfluous. A silly ornament, distracting from the message.

I’m of course quite used to accept humbly society’s strictures on the aesthetic (2) , but as far as language is concerned, I do beg to differ, & to grumble: there’s more to alliteration than a silly play!

Looking for a smack of serious science to back this up, I found a reference to the
memory-enhancing benefits of alliteration.
Which may suggest that our brain not only stores words as symbols or signs, but also according to their sound. (3)
But of course I would prefer alliteration to be just a bit more than a cerebral storage & retrieval trick, I would want it to have meaning!

Daniel Tammet (a high-functioning autistical savant, with extraordinary fluency in both numbers and language) claims just that: words are no mere arbitrary conventions to denote reality. Words, or more precisely, how words sound, have intrinsic connotations .
It is no meaningless coincidence that following words start with “b”: ball bean bubble balloon.

But I must admit, my objective judgment in these matters is totally compromised by my own love of language which is so intimately bound up with my longing for meaning. So of course I would project magical meaning in alliteration.

Anyway, it gives me a good excuse to quote (again) Adam Kirsch, from his wonderfully insightful article about Walter Benjamin’s poetic longing for meaning.

“Of course, secular reason holds that human languages are purely conventional, but Benjamin would not countenance the idea that words are arbitrary. […] The vision of language that Benjamin advances here is moving precisely because it is beyond logical proof, and because it expresses so eloquently his longing for meaning in a world that usually presents itself as mere chaos. [..]

“Quod in imaginibus, est in lingua” . How crucial the notion was to Benjamin’s thought […] he felt that names and things belonged together, that a rhyme had revealed a reality."






Notes
(1) In fact, this post was just going to display the two photos. Evoking some dear moments, filled with ambiguous light: one taken once upon a spring evening, lost in thoughts on a train and another, coming home from work late, rejoicing in the magical mix of artificial and natural luminosity ( “l’heure entre chien et loup”). But then the ‘murky moments' title popped up and then there was nuruL’s ‘may messages’ post. Too many signs to ignore – hence the mutation into a ponderous post about alliteration.
(2) I always have to run a thorough alliteration-purging check on memos I produce in a work context, since the merest hint of playfulness would of course ruin the memo’s credibility.
(3) It never ceases to amaze (& depress) me how different the conventions of “efficiently communicating a message” in a business context are from the conventions of “conveying meaning and insight” in the artistic & philosophical realm.
(4) Personally, I’m significantly more inclined to exuberant alliteration in English than in my mother tongue. Perhaps because I’ve acquired so much of my English by looking up words in an alphabetically organized dictionary? And that would be why my brain has stored the word “fragment” quite close to the word “frivolous”?


7 comments:

antonia said...

meaning :) [i love footnote 2]
been reading about the differences between animal and human languages: "Nevertheless one element, which is characteristic of and indispensable to all human language, is missing: we find no signs which have an objective reference or meaning." Cassirer, an essay on man. in order to create meaning, one needs awareness & reflection:
"Man evinces reflection when the power of his soul acts so freely that it can segregate from the whole ocean of sensation surging through all his senses ONE wave, as it were; and that it can stay this wave, draw attention to it, and be aware of this attention. He evinces reflection when from the whole wavering dream of images rushing through his senses he can collect himself into a moment of waking, dwell on ONE image spontaneously, observe it clearly and more quietly, and abstract characteristics showing him that THIS and no other is the object. Thus he evinces reflection when he can not only perceive all the qualities vividly or clearly but when he can RECOGNIZE one or several of them as distinctive qualities...Now by what means did this recognition come about? Through a characteristic which he had to abstract, and which, as an element of consciousness, presented itself clearly. Well then, let us exclaim: Eureka! The initial character of consciousness was the language of the soul. With this, human language is created." Cassirer quoting Herder, Ueber den Ursprung der Sprache

Roxana said...

oh - but how could anybody not love alliteration?! frivolous and superfluous?! let them tell this to Eliot, please!

Red river, red river,
Slow flow heat is silence
No will is still as a river
Still. Will heat move
Only through the mocking-bird
Heard once? Still hills
Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,
White trees, wait, wait,
Delay, decay. Living, living,
Never moving. Ever moving
Iron thoughts came with me
And go with me:
Red river, river, river.


the thought of the lingua adamica is so fascinating, isn't it? refuting that horrible arbitrary of the spoken signs, sigh (i simply had to invent this to get the s-repetition :-), even if i am not at all good at this game). but i think all poets know better than Saussure (even if i am quite impressed with his linguistic achievements).

notes:
(can one have notes in a comment? :-)
1. i so love the first image, is so dreamy and so... ffflaneur!
2. it's so hard for me to picture you as an economist, how come, actually? (i think i must have told you this before, but this blog hasn't got anything against repetition, what a relief :-)

ffflaneur said...

thanks, A., for adding more momentous meaning to this post! it is só not postmodern-ly correct, this 'language of the soul' (and thus so apt)

ffflaneur said...

ah Roxana, lovely Eliot lines ( TSE was a bank clerk by the way), full of sound-differences & -repetitions, wholly arbitrarily connected to experience.:-)
Wonder whether Saussure liked poems?

One is not obliged to answer questions asked in notes to comments, is one? (Especially if the answer might trigger full blown mid-life remorse? :-))Maybe it's this society's loss: that run-of-the-mill diligent professionals are no longer expected to care about fine arts, literature, philosophy, etc.....?

But you are a trained "linguist" yourself?

Roxana said...

i am so sorry that i couldn't reply earlier...
that Eliot parenthesis was a very good point indeed, dear fff :-) and i surely hope that 'full-blown mid-life remorse' was only a figure of speech, because i had certainly not intended to cause such a thing with my tiny note - which in fact was supposed to reflect my full-blown eternal admiration for somebody who can master something as complicated as the causes of the international crisis, for ex., and art and poetry and and and - but again, you are right about specialization, what a loss - perhaps this short Bachelard quote can help us reconciliate with that, after all we still have our dreams and imagination to make up for that :-)

"Rêve d’enfance, rêve qui nous rend à notre enfance ! On a souvent dit que l’enfant réunissait toutes les possibilités. Enfants, nous étions peintre, modeleur, botaniste, sculpteur, architecte, chasseur, explorateur. De tout cela qu’est-il devenu ?"

oh yes, some kind of linguist as well - i had a time when i wanted to be an etymologist and another time when i wanted to be a semiotician. but i have many 'times' like that, i think i wanted to be pretty much everything :-)

but the linguists in poetry are not so bad, actually the whole formalism school (Jakobson a.s.o., Saussure heirs) have had a very interesting take on poetry, that i still treasure - and one that emphasizes the sound qualities of the languages at that! :-)

ffflaneur said...

ah R, speaking of eternal things :) --- please be assured of my eternal gratitude for your mid-life-crisis support and for the wonderful Bachelard quote.

It reminds me of what Weber wrote in his 'l'esprit du capitalisme': "se borner à un travail spécialisé, et par suite renoncer à l'universalité faustienne de l'homme, telle est la condition de toute activité fructueuse dans le monde moderne"

Indeed, only as a child one can blithely indulge in a "universal" imagination, not bothered by even one's own limits.

(Adults may only secretly cherish these universalist yearnings -- in their spare time they then will accumulate books on ,say, biology, economy, philosophy, the universe.... books that will never be fully read, let alone ever understood --- see, there's the dilettante again!)

but anyway - I think you are being very reasonable in wanting everything in linguistics! :-)

nurul huda said...

nurul nudges all nearer towards neurotic nuances

:)