Language

You’ll be thinking about a plate of shrimp, and all of a sudden someone will say plate, or shrimp, or plate of shrimp.1
–Miller

I am tortured by language. I speak to myself constantly; the “voice in my head” seems to me most of the time to be myself. I experience myself not as a body but as a speaker, a kind of hectoring lecturer always about the insufferable business of telling “my” body what to do. That is, I have a technological or teleological relation to myself. So when someone asserts that the human subject is a linguistic construction, I know only too well what she’s talking about. But I spend a lot of time experiencing my need to escape from that notion of subjectivity.2
–Crispin Sartwell

It is indeed becoming more and more difficult, even senseless, for me to write an official English. And more and more my own language appears to me like a veil that must be torn apart in order to get at the things (or the Nothingness) behind it. Grammar and style. To me they have become as irrelevant as a Victorian bathing suit or the imperturbability of a true gentleman. A mask. Let us hope the time will come (thank God that in certain circles it has already come) when language is most efficiently used where it is being most efficiently misused.

As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute. To bore one hole after another in it, until what lurks behind it—be it something or nothing—begins to seep through; I cannot imagine a higher goal for a writer today. Or is literature alone to remain behind in the old lazy ways that have been so long ago abandoned by music and painting?

Is there something paralysingly holy in the vicious nature of the word that is not found in the elements of the other arts? Is there any reason why that terrible materiality of the word surface should not be capable of being dissolved, like for example the sound surface, torn by enormous pauses, of Beethoven’s seventh Symphony, so that through whole pages we can perceive nothing but a path of sounds suspended in giddy heights, linking unfathomable abysses of silence? An answer is requested.3
–Samuel Beckett


  1. “Repo Man”. Dir. Alex Cox. Performer (cited), Tracey Walter. Universal Pictures, 1984. Film. 
  2. Crispin Sartwell, End of Story: Toward an Annihilation of Language and History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000; (“Introduction”, p.5) 
  3. Samuel Beckett, from a letter to Axel Kaun in 1937 
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