“Once upon a clip there was an old adult female. Blind but wise. ” Or was it an old adult male? A guru. possibly. Or a griot soothing restless kids. I have heard this narrative. or one precisely like it. in the traditional knowledge of several civilizations.
“Once upon a clip there was an old adult female. Blind. Wise. ”
In the version I know the adult female is the girl of slaves. black. American. and lives entirely in a little house outside of town. Her repute for wisdom is without equal and without inquiry. Among her people she is both the jurisprudence and its evildoing. The award she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her vicinity to topographic points far off ; to the metropolis where the intelligence of rural Prophetss is the beginning of much amusement.
One twenty-four hours the adult female is visited by some immature people who seem to be bent on confuting her second sight and demoing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their program is simple: they enter her house and inquire the one inquiry the reply to which rides entirely on her difference from them. a difference they regard as a profound disablement: her sightlessness. They stand before her. and one of them says. “Old adult female. I hold in my manus a bird. State me whether it is populating or dead. ”
She does non reply. and the inquiry is repeated. “Is the bird I am keeping life or dead? ”
Still she doesn’t reply. She is unsighted and can non see her visitants. allow alone what is in their custodies. She does non cognize their colour. gender or fatherland. She merely knows their motivation.
The old woman’s silence is so long. the immature people have problem keeping their laughter.
Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but austere. “I don’t know” . she says. “I don’t know whether the bird you are keeping is dead or alive. but what I do cognize is that it is in your custodies. It is in your custodies. ”
Her reply can be taken to intend: if it is dead. you have either found it that manner or you have killed it. If it is alive. you can still kill it. Whether it is to remain alive. it is your determination. Whatever the instance. it is your duty.
For exhibiting their power and her weakness. the immature visitants are reprimanded. told they are responsible non merely for the act of jeer but besides for the little package of life sacrificed to accomplish its purposes. The unsighted adult female displacements attending off from averments of power to the instrument through which that power is exercised.
Guess on what ( other than its ain frail organic structure ) that bird-in-the-hand might mean has ever been attractive to me. but particularly so now believing. as I have been. about the work I do that has brought me to this company. So I choose to read the bird as linguistic communication and the adult female as a adept author. She is worried about how the linguistic communication she dreams in. given to her at birth. is handled. set into service. even withheld from her for certain villainous intents. Bing a author she thinks of linguistic communication partially as a system. partially as a living thing over which 1 has control. but largely as bureau – as an act with effects. So the inquiry the kids put to her: “Is it populating or dead? ” is non unreal because she thinks of linguistic communication as susceptible to decease. erasure ; surely imperiled and salvageable merely by an attempt of the will. She believes that if the bird in the custodies of her visitants is dead the keepers are responsible for the cadaver. For her a dead linguistic communication is non merely one no longer talk or written. it is dogged linguistic communication content to look up to its ain palsy.
Like statist linguistic communication. censored and baning. Ruthless in its policing responsibilities. it has no desire or aim other than keeping the free scope of its ain narcotic self-love. its ain exclusivity and laterality. However moribund. it is non without consequence for it actively thwarts the mind. stables scruples. suppresses human potency. Unreceptive to question. it can non organize or digest new thoughts. form other ideas. state another narrative. make full perplexing silences. Official linguistic communication smitheryed to approve ignorance and continue privilege is a suit of armour polished to flooring glister. a chaff from which the knight departed long ago. Yet there it is: dumb. predatory. sentimental. Exciting fear in schoolchildren. supplying shelter for tyrants. citing false memories of stableness. harmoniousness among the populace.
She is convinced that when linguistic communication dies. out of sloppiness. neglect. indifference and absence of regard. or killed by decree. non merely she herself. but all users and shapers are accountable for its death. In her state kids have bitten their linguas off and utilize slugs alternatively to repeat the voice of speechlessness. of handicapped and crippling linguistic communication. of linguistic communication grownups have abandoned wholly as a device for coping with significance. supplying counsel. or showing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is non merely the pick of kids. It is common among the childish caputs of province and power merchandisers whose evacuated linguistic communication leaves them with no entree to what is left of their human inherent aptitudes for they speak merely to those who obey. or in order to coerce obeisance.
The systematic robbery of linguistic communication can be recognized by the inclination of its users to waive its nuanced. complex. mid-wifery belongingss for threat and subjection. Oppressive linguistic communication does more than represent force ; it is force ; does more than stand for the bounds of cognition ; it limits cognition. Whether it is befoging province linguistic communication or the faux-language of mindless media ; whether it is the proud but calcified linguistic communication of the academy or the trade good goaded linguistic communication of scientific discipline ; whether it is the malign linguistic communication of law-without-ethics. or linguistic communication designed for the alienation of minorities. concealing its racialist loot in its literary cheek – it must be rejected. altered and exposed. It is the linguistic communication that drinks blood. laps exposures. insert its fascist boots under hoopskirts of reputability and nationalism as it moves unrelentingly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out head. Sexist linguistic communication. racist linguistic communication. theistic linguistic communication – all are typical of the policing linguistic communications of command. and can non. make non allow new cognition or promote the common exchange of thoughts.
The old adult female is keenly cognizant that no rational soldier of fortune. nor insatiate dictator. no paid-for politician or rabble-rouser ; no forgery journalist would be persuaded by her ideas. There is and will be bestiring linguistic communication to maintain citizens armed and build uping ; slaughtered and butchering in the promenades. courthouses. station offices. resort areas. sleeping rooms and avenues ; stirring. memorialising linguistic communication to dissemble the commiseration and waste of gratuitous decease. There will be more diplomatic linguistic communication to permit colza. anguish. blackwash. There is and will be more seductive. mutant linguistic communication designed to restrict adult females. to pack their pharynxs like pate-producing geese with their ain unsayable. transgressive words ; there will be more of the linguistic communication of surveillance disguised as research ; of political relations and history calculated to render the agony of 1000000s mute ; linguistic communication glamorized to thrill the disgruntled and bereft into assailing their neighbours ; chesty pseudo-empirical linguistic communication crafted to lock originative people into coops of lower status and hopelessness.
Underneath the fluency. the glamour. the scholarly associations. nevertheless stirring or seductive. the bosom of such linguistic communication is pine awaying. or possibly non crushing at all – if the bird is already dead.
She has thought about what could hold been the rational history of any subject if it had non insisted upon. or been forced into. the waste of clip and life that rationalisations for and representations of laterality required – deadly discourses of exclusion barricading entree to knowledge for both the excluder and the excluded.
The conventional wisdom of the Tower of Babel narrative is that the prostration was a bad luck. That it was the distraction. or the weight of many linguistic communications that precipitated the tower’s failed architecture. That one massive linguistic communication would hold expedited the edifice and Eden would hold been reached. Whose Eden. she wonders? And what sort? Possibly the accomplishment of Paradise was premature. a small headlong if no 1 could take the clip to understand other linguistic communications. other positions. other narratives period. Had they. the Eden they imagined might hold been found at their pess. Complicated. demanding. yes. but a position of Eden as life ; non heaven as post-life.
She would non desire to go forth her immature visitants with the feeling that linguistic communication should be forced to remain alive simply to be. The verve of linguistic communication lies in its ability to delineate the existent. imagined and possible lives of its talkers. readers. authors. Although its poise is sometimes in displacing experience it is non a replacement for it. It arcs toward the topographic point where significance may lie. When a President of the United States thought about the cemetery his state had become. and said. “The universe will little note nor long retrieve what we say here. But it will ne’er bury what they did here. ” his simple words are tickle pinking in their vital belongingss because they refused to encapsulate the world of 600. 000 dead work forces in a cataclysmal race war. Refusing to monumentalise. contemning the “final word” . the precise “summing up” . admiting their “poor power to add or detract” . his words signal respect to the uncapturability of the life it mourns. It is the respect that moves her. that acknowledgment that linguistic communication can ne’er populate up to life one time and for all. Nor should it. Language can ne’er “pin down” bondage. race murder. war. Nor should it hanker for the haughtiness to be able to make so. Its force. its felicitousness is in its range toward the indefinable.
Be it expansive or slender. burrowing. blasting. or declining to consecrate ; whether it laughs out loud or is a call without an alphabet. the pick word. the chosen silence. unmolested linguistic communication surges toward cognition. non its devastation. But who does non cognize of literature banned because it is interrogative ; discredited because it is critical ; erased because surrogate? And how many are outraged by the idea of a self-ravaged lingua?
Word-work is empyreal. she thinks. because it is productive ; it makes intending that secures our difference. our human difference – the manner in which we are like no other life.
We die. That may be the significance of life. But we do linguistic communication. That may be the step of our lives.
“Once upon a clip. …” visitants ask an old adult female a inquiry. Who are they. these kids? What did they do of that brush? What did they hear in those concluding words: “The bird is in your hands” ? A sentence that gestures towards possibility or one that drops a latch? Possibly what the kids heard was “It’s non my job. I am old. female. black. blind. What wisdom I have now is in cognizing I can non assist you. The hereafter of linguistic communication is yours. ”
They stand at that place. Suppose nil was in their custodies? Suppose the visit was merely a artifice. a fast one to acquire to be spoken to. taken earnestly as they have non been earlier? A opportunity to disrupt. to go against the grownup universe. its miasma of discourse about them. for them. but ne’er to them? Pressing inquiries are at interest. including the 1 they have asked: “Is the bird we hold populating or dead? ” Possibly the inquiry meant: “Could person state us what is life? What is decease? ” No fast one at all ; no absurdity. A straightforward inquiry worthy of the attending of a wise one. An old one. And if the old and wise who have lived life and faced decease can non depict either. who can?
But she does non ; she keeps her secret ; her good sentiment of herself ; her gnomic dictums ; her art without committedness. She keeps her distance. enforces it and withdraw into the uniqueness of isolation. in sophisticated. privileged infinite.
Nothing. no word follows her declaration of transportation. That silence is deep. deeper than the significance available in the words she has spoken. It shivers. this silence. and the kids. annoyed. make full it with linguistic communication invented on the topographic point.
“Is there no address. ” they ask her. “no words you can give us that helps us interrupt through your dossier of failures? Through the instruction you have merely given us that is no instruction at all because we are paying close attending to what you have done every bit good as to what you have said? To the barrier you have erected between generousness and wisdom?
“We have no bird in our custodies. life or dead. We have merely you and our of import inquiry. Is the nil in our custodies something you could non bear to contemplate. to even think? Don’t you remember being immature when linguistic communication was magic without intending? When what you could state. could non intend? When the invisible was what imaginativeness strove to see? When inquiries and demands for replies burned so brilliantly you trembled with rage at non cognizing?
“Do we have to get down consciousness with a conflict heroines and heroes like you have already fought and lost go forthing us with nil in our custodies except what you have imagined is at that place? Your reply is disingenuous. but its artfulness embarrasses us and ought to abash you. Your reply is indecorous in its self-congratulation. A made-for-television book that makes no sense if there is nil in our custodies.
“Why didn’t you reach out. touch us with your soft fingers. detain the sound bite. the lesson. until you knew who we were? Did you so contemn our fast one. our modus operandi you could non see that we were baffled about how to acquire your attending? We are immature. Unripe. We have heard all our short lives that we have to be responsible. What could that perchance intend in the calamity this universe has become ; where. as a poet said. “nothing demands to be exposed since it is already barefaced. ” Our heritage is an insult. You want us to hold your old. clean eyes and see merely inhuman treatment and averageness. Do you believe we are stupid plenty to perjure ourselves once more and once more with the fiction of nationhood? How daring you talk to us of responsibility when we stand waist deep in the toxin of your yesteryear?
“You trivialise us and trivialise the bird that is non in our custodies. Is there no context for our lives? No vocal. no literature. no poem full of vitamins. no history connected to see that you can go through along to assist us get down strong? You are an grownup. The old 1. the wise 1. Stop believing about salvaging your face. Think of our lives and state us your particularised universe. Make up a narrative. Narrative is extremist. making us at the really minute it is being created. We will non fault you if your range exceeds your appreciation ; if love so ignites your words they go down in fires and nil is left but their scald.
Or if. with the reserve of a surgeon’s custodies. your words sutura merely the topographic points where blood might flux. We know you can ne’er make it decently – one time and for all. Passion is ne’er plenty ; neither is skill. But attempt. For our interest and yours bury your name in the street ; state us what the universe has been to you in the dark topographic points and in the visible radiation. Don’t tell us what to believe. what to fear. Show us belief s broad skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s greater omentum. You. old adult female. blessed with sightlessness. can talk the linguistic communication that tells us what merely linguistic communication can: how to see without images. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language entirely is speculation.
“Tell us what it is to be a adult female so that we may cognize what it is to be a adult male. What moves at the border. What it is to hold no place in this topographic point. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to populate at the border of towns that can non bear your company.
“Tell us about ships turned off from shorelines at Easter. placenta in a field. State us about a wagonload of slaves. how they sang so quietly their breath was identical from the falling snow. How they knew from the intuition of the nearest shoulder that the following halt would be their last. How. with custodies prayered in their sex. they thought of heat. so Sun. Raising their faces as though it was at that place for the pickings. Turning as though there for the taking. They stop at an hostel. The driver and his mate travel in with the lamp go forthing them humming in the dark. The horse’s null steams into the snow beneath its hooves and its hushing and thaw are the enviousness of the freeze slaves.
“The hostel door opens: a miss and a boy measure off from its visible radiation. They climb into the waggon bed. The male child will hold a gun in three old ages. but now he carries a lamp and a jug of warm cyder. They pass it from oral cavity to talk. The miss offers staff of life. pieces of meat and something more: a glimpse into the eyes of the one she serves. One assisting for each adult male. two for each adult female. And a expression. They look back. The following halt will be their last. But non this 1. This one is warmed. ”
It’s lull once more when the kids finish speech production. until the adult female breaks into the silence.
“Finally” . she says. “I trust you now. I trust you with the bird that is non in your custodies because you have genuinely caught it. Look. How lovely it is. this thing we have done – together. ”