Thinking and speaking

We need now to take a firm grasp of a connection that has been hovering on the edges of the argument throughout—the connection between imaginative insight and its articulation in words. The effect is actually reciprocal. Insight needs verbal expression both to reflect it back to the subject, so clarifying the experience, as well as to communicate it to others in order that they may share in it and verify it for themselves (or not, as the case may be). But the words that are available to us (together with their logical combination in concepts) actually condition how we interpret reality. They enlarge or restrict the scope of experience that is possible for us. There is no insight or imaginative experience that can be had in the absence of words, for the words we inherit inform all our experiences. Profound words and luminous conceptualities facilitate imagination. There is a genuine hermeneutical circle here. The words of poets (or prophets) open a window on reality—as Shelley says: 'Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world' (Shelley, 1888, vol. 2, p. 11). But what is revealed there will change the meaning of the words from within.

Our environment of meanings is our symbolic world and it is primarily constituted by language. Heidegger called language 'the House of Being'. Karl Kraus said that language was 'the mother, not the handmaiden of thought' (quoted in Gombrich, 1972, p.130). The 'order of signs', that is the milieu within which we position ourselves in order to try to test its adequacy as a faith to live by, is larger than the linguistic—it includes tangible symbols such as sacraments—but its prime constituent is language. Words are the go-

betweens that make connections and mediate meaning from one unique and unrepeatable situation to another. Through the medium of words we are enabled to share the same 'personal space' as other persons. Communication creates community. Shelley wrote in Prometheus Unbound:

He gave man speech, and speech created thought, Which is the measure of the universe.

For Wordsworth, poetic vision was 'embodied in the mystery of words'. Coleridge claimed that 'things take the signature of thought' (Coleridge, 1993, p.36). Words, for Coleridge, have constitutive force: 'For if words are not THINGS, they are LIVING POWERS, by which the things of most importance to mankind are actuated, combined, and humanized' (ibid., p. 10). The 'shaping spirit of imagination' works through words and gives them their creative power.

In Blake's writings, whether poetry or prose, his words have the power, authority and inevitability of the Bible in the Authorised Version. This is not unconnected with the fact that Blake earned his living for forty years—and expressed his extraordinary vision—by engraving on copper. As Ackroyd says: 'Words were for him objects carved out of metal'; they had a material, tangible reality (Ackroyd, 1995, p.44; cf. p.142). So strong was his sense of the objectivity of those words and that they were not under his control that he testified to Henry Crabb Robinson that he only wrote when commanded to do so by his angels and that, the moment he had written them, he saw 'the words fly about the room in all directions' (ibid., p.342).

When the Romantics claim, as Coleridge does, that words are 'living powers', they are asserting the objectivity of the meaning of words—that they are already given, that they are not arbitrarily manufactured, that they have authority and vitality. They are not falling into the crass error of postulating an exact correspondence between words and what they signify. As Urban has observed: 'For any but the most primitive and naive views of language, the word is never identical with the thing, and the relation is, therefore, in some sense and to some degree, symbolic' (Urban, 1939, p.37). As proponents of symbolism themselves, such thinkers as Coleridge knew this better than most. When Coleridge affirms that truth and being are correlative (Coleridge, 1965, pp.80, 144f., 149ff ), he is continuing his protest against purely analytical notions of truth that would confine truth to propositions. He is explicitly reiterating the medieval scholastic principle that truth is the conformity of the mind to reality ('the truth is universally placed in the coincidence of the thought with the thing'; ibid., p. 144). He is not saying that language and reality, word and thing are exactly correlative. Similarly Newman consistently affirmed against all forms of prepositional fundamentalism that 'revelation is not of words', ultimate truth is 'beyond words' and the saints know the truth 'without words'.

Language expresses our experience of reality rather than reality itself. Max Black writes:

the concept of language as a mirror of reality is radically mistaken. Language must conform to the discovered regularities and irregularities of experience. But in order to do so, it is enough that it should be apt for the expression of everything that is the case. To be content with less would be to be satisfied to be inarticulate; to ask for more is to desire the impossible. No words lead from grammar to metaphysics.

(Black, 1962, p.16) Of course the medium of language refracts as well as reveals reality like the pearl-diver's hand trembling under water Towards his store of food and beauty...

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