World-Making Words

Northrop Frye. The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. I am tempted to be seduced by the tale he tells in a before and after fashion …

[…] when we speak of the subject of a book. These are puns, but puns can give useful clues to the way we relate words to experience. It is not a difficult step from here to the feeling, often expressed in contemporary criticism and philosophy, that it is really language that uses man, and not man that uses language. This does not mean that man is being taken over by one of his own inventions, as in science-fiction stories of malignant computers and self-reproducting robots. It means rather that man is a child of the word as well as a child of nature, and that, just as he is conditioned by nature and finds his conception of necessity in it, so the first thing he finds in the community of the word is the charter of freedom.

On a previous reading I thought what was at stake was the nature – world opposition. However, the text seems rather to pit nature against word. But that is a retrospective tension created by the freedom-necessity pair. And reading again closely one finds on one side a “conception” and on the other a “charter”. Somehow the prose generates a space outside either freedom or necessity, a place caught up in neither conceptions nor charters. Things at play in the world. A word bubbling but never surfacing.

And so for day 822

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