There is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, viperslangs, and specialized languages. There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogeneous linguistic community. Language is, in Weinreich’s words, “an essentially heterogeneous reality.” There is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within political multiplicity. Language stabilizes around a parish, a bishopric, a capital. It forms a bulb. It evolves by subterranean stems and flows, along river valleys or train tracks; it spreads like a patch of oil.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
The nature of words is to fail.
A blonde girl is bent over a poem. With a pencil sharp as a lancet she transfers the words to a blank page and changes them into strokes, accents, caesuras. The lament of a fallen poet now looks like a salamander eaten away by ants. When we carried him away under machine-gun fire, I believed that his still warm body would be resurrected in the word. Now as I watch the death of the words, I know there is no limit to decay. All that will be left after us in the black earth will be scattered syllables. Accents over nothingness and dust.
Zbigniew Herbert, “Episode in a Library,” trans. Czeslaw Milosz
We sleep in language, if language does not come to wake us with its strangeness.
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I consider myself in my minutiae. I put my finger on the precise point of the fault, the unadmitted slide. For the mind is more reptilian than you yourselves, messieurs, it slips away snakelike, to the point where it damages our language, I mean it leaves it in suspense.
I am the man who has most felt the stupefying confusion of his speech in its relations with thought. I am the man who has most accurately charted the moment of his most intimate, his most imperceptible lapses. I lose myself in my thought, actually, the way one dreams, the way one suddenly slips back into one’s thought. I am the man who knows the inmost recesses of loss.
The only sure thing [in me] is a desperate resistance to any reductive system. For each time, having resorted to any such language (expressive or critical, and at the heart of the critical, the several discourses of sociology, of semiology, and of psychoanalysis) to whatever degree, each time I felt it hardening and thereby tending to reduction and reprimand, I would gently leave and seek elsewhere: I began to speak differently.
Roland Barthes, Critical Essays
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite.
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The symbolic view of things is a consequence of long absorption in images. Is sign language the real language of Paradise?
There are grammatical errors even in his silence.
The words emerge from her body without her realizing it, as if she were being visited by the memory of a language long forsaken.
Marguerite Duras, Summer Rain
The urn of language is so fragile. It crumbles and immediately you blow into the dust of words which are the cinder itself. And if you entrust it to paper, it is all the better to inflame you with, my dear, you will eat yourself up immediately.
Jacques Derrida, Cinders
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Language always betrays us, tells the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness when we would most like to be precise.
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What is in a word? What lies at the core of language? It can only be the silent, empty[.] Nothing of the tomb, the pyramid of the dead letter, as in the letter A. For language abstracts from things, it memorialises life, it voids presence. Yet, language says this nothingness in so many beguilingly soft, sweet, subtle and insinuating ways. The textures of words make it palpable, their sonorities render it audible and their suggestively shapely letters display it graphically. At the core of a word, beneath the crust of its consonants, is the liquid of its vowels, and these vowels in effect liquidate the word until it flows into the ocean of nothingness.
Was it language robbed yes of its yesness?
That sand into which we bury ourselves in order not to see, is formed of words…and it is true that words, their labyrinths, the exhausting immensity of their “possibles”, in short their treachery, have something of quicksand about them.
Georges Bataille, L’expérience intérieure, translation by Leslie Ann Boldt
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