Drowning in a Sea of Words

Words, words, words—talk, talk, talk.  It is as if techno-urbanized humanity, “living” within a consensually shared delusional-system, actually believes that experience must be verbalized and analyzed in order to be real.  Every day, our ears/eyes (if not brain) are assaulted by the interminable stream of “news”—an incident-packed “tale told by an idiot [NPR?],” to quote Macbeth, “signifying–nothing.”  Newspaper and TV commentators opinionate constantly, adding to this garrulous cacophony: a sewer (not tower) of Babble.  Most of this relentless barrage is what Aristotle called “base rhetoric”: the clever, if insidious, arts of “persuasion”–in order to manipulate and control (i.e., constant marketing and political propaganda).

But, even in our personal relations: couples endlessly discuss their “problems” and friends constantly barrage each other with their trivial “messages.”  Cellphone ringing—better check e-mail—“need to tell” somebody (everybody?) about the latest/newest/fastbreaking…ad nauseam.  Yet the enduring core of intimate bonds is nonverbal: sympathetic attention, the gentle hug which communicates more than verbal reassurances ever could, the ever-so-soft, touching-with-fingertips, of a loved one’s face.  (Sound ridiculous?—try it.)

For endless millennia, the individual—even when engaged in cultivation, herding, breastfeeding—would pause to reflect, to gaze up and ponder racing clouds or enveloping twilight, to listen acutely to the strange music of the forest.  A “passive-receptive” awareness: sensing and directly experiencing each moment of living and loving.

Moreover, the experiential regions explored by great art—say, the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony or Bruegel’s painting “The Way to Calvary”—far transcend any verbal, reductionist analysis.  Ultimately, each of us lives experientially based on the degree of perception and awareness, the cultivation of attentiveness and introspective observation, and the empathic “feeling-into” the inner life of others (intuition).  Such non-verbal, non-rational faculties even aid us in sensing out the character pathologies of the people (especially politicians) we encounter.

In keeping with my topic, I conclude; “brevity is the soul of wit” (Polonius).

William Manson is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press). Read other articles by William.