Kanji symbol for cherry blossom
Linden tree fossil
In his book On the Way to Language (1959), the philosopher Martin Heidegger includes a philosophical dialogue between an “Inquirer“ (I) and a Japanese man (J). This particular exchange really stirred my imagination, though I do not speak or understand Japanese at all:
“I: What is the Japanese word for ‘language‘?
J: (after further hesitation) It is ‘Koto ba.‘
I: And what does that say?
J: ‘ba’ means leaves, including and especially the leaves of a blossom-petals. Think of cherry-blossoms or plum blossoms.
I: And what does ‘Koto‘ say?
J: This is the question most difficult to answer. But it is easier now to attempt an answer because we have ventured to explain ‘Iki‘: the pure delight of the beckoning stillness. The breath of stillness that makes this beckoning delight come into its own is the reign under which that delight is made to come. But ‘Koto‘ always also names that which in the event gives delight, itself, that which uniquely in each unrepeatable moment comes to radiance in the fullness of its grace.
I: ‘Koto‘, then, would be the appropriating occurrence of the lightening message of grace
J: Beautifully said!“
I think the passage from Heidegger captures the profound mystery and beauty of the origin of language. Isn’t it is a wonderful coincidence that the Latin word “liber” (book) signifies the inner bark of a tree? I sense a deeper significance to this than just the fact that books are made of paper, which is made from trees. Before papyrus became popular, people used to write on leaves and barks of trees, especially on the bark of the linden tree. The Greek word for linden tree is Philyra, who in Greek myth was mother of Chiron. The gods transformed her into a linden tree because she could not bear looking at her monstrous Centaur son. She was known as the goddess of writing. I see parallels between the birth of Pegasus, the winged horse, patron of poets and the source of their inspiration, and the transformation of Philyra. Philyra mated with Cronus, who came to her in the shape of a stallion and later gave birth to the wise Centaur Chiron; Pegasus sprang out of the monster Medusa’s blood after Perseus slew her. The source of poetry seems to be far from ethereal: it is fleshy, bloody, characterized by paroxysms of passion.
Saturn and Philyra: the naked goddess, on the right, is holding the head of the god turned into a horse; both are floating among clouds. 1548 Etching, via:http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1404765&partId=1&people=40500&peoA=40500-1-7&page=1
Hmm. This was apropos. Finished reading Episode 14 of Ulysses this morning (post coming soon) which was written in a manner that was intended to reflect the evolution of the English language, beginning with Latin-type prose and alliterative Anglo-Saxon, then morphing as the episode progresses. It was challenging to read, but had some moments of sheer brilliance. Anyway, thanks for your timely and awesome post.
Hi Jeff, I am looking forward to your analysis. I have officially give up hope that I will ever read Ulysses but I am still relying on you to broaden my horizons. As you have probably noticed, I am really passionate about language. When I started learning English as a child I was really engrossed. I did learn some Anglo-Saxon at university and found it quite interesting, too.
Hi Monika. I can’t say I blame you. Ulysses is without a doubt the most difficult book I’ve ever read, and I have fought my way through some dense texts. I’m glad you are enjoying my posts, though, and as always, I love getting your insightful comments on them. I hope your weekend is fun. Best wishes!!!
I am always excited when I see you have a new post. This one, like all of them, has left me simultaneously content by your wonderful insight and eager for more! 🙂
Thank you. I know what you mean because I feel that this post is unfinished. I have added a little afterthought now.
As always, Monika, fascinating, informative and thought-provoking material. Thank you for your sharing. I lived in Japan for a brief two years and (in hindsight) know I only scratched the surface of its people, its language, and its beauty. It is messages such as your that rekindle my fondness for the Japanese culture, way of thinking, and being.
Eric, thank you. You do have a Zen quality about you that I can sense. I have never been to Japan but I can feel a magnetic pull of this culture.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: The Lightening Message of Grace | lampmagician
In the spirit of sea-farers, I have been drawn to delving into the
storytelling of the lands that are close neighbours to mine (Australia).
The link will take you to one of a few “travel memoirs” Capt. M. Enriquez
wrote 98-100 years ago about Burma. It is a treasure trove. Enjoy.
From “A Burmese Loneliness”
…”Pegasus, the flying horse, is found in at least four places in Keng Tung..”
There could be another name for the flying horse and that Capt. Enriquez,
having read his Greek classics, automatically thought “Ah, Pegasus”.
It was the mention of Pegasus that prompted me to share the Burma links.
There was another child of Medusa: Chyrsaor, who is so often left out, that
I think he must be an archetype of the “Red-Headed Stepchild”.
Thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Chrysaor, described as a golden winged boar. I agree that he is often overlooked, which is a pity. He deserves more attention, but perhaps not in a post dedicated to language.
Love this. So much to unpack here. The thing I love most is the idea that language is “pure delight of the beckoning stillness.” Is that which “gives delight,” which “comes to radiance in the fullness of its grace.” I also very much like what you said at the end: “The source of poetry seems to be far from ethereal: it is fleshy, bloody, characterized by paroxysms of passion.” That has been my experience.
Thank you very much for your kind words. I agree that the best writing comes from the depths and is marked with our flesh and blood.
Pingback: How Does Perspective Change When You’re Feeling As If You’re Living On A Wavelength Different From Others – Seraphin Perihelion