Friday, June 19, 2009

Language & soul

In college, I only took one philosophy course. It wasn't an intro...somehow I landed in a 300-level "Philosophy of Language" class of students who were pretty confident with their bulky metaphors and convoluted sentences. As our college ran on the Block Plan, the course was 4 weeks long, so our nightly reading averaged 300 pages. It was a remarkably challenging way to dive into continental philosophy, and I loved it!

What especially stood out to me, though, was this: much of what we discussed simply gave spoken form to realities of which I was already intuitively aware. I grew up bilingual, and was working towards a degree in literature. I was steeped in the practice of language and found the ideas I was reading matched my lived experience. Language does shape my reality. It influences my understanding, and underpins culture in powerful, persistent ways.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep so much as a page of notes from that class. But I continue to find myself wrestling with language. The books I love best, I love for their powerful, evocative language. I find I am a selective (read: snobbish) reader. Translation intrigues me, as does the practical application of linguistics.

In particular, though, I'm learning to read the Bible with a sharp eye to its language. Of all the books out there, the language of this one has been uniquely encrusted with layers and layers of human meaning. These layers have a tendency to obscure the power of the text, and lead the reader to conclusions that are not, in fact, inevitable (or incontrovertible). I find, now, that if I can wrestle with the language--say, pull one word out and turn it over, look at it from different angles--entirely new meanings arise from the text. I find it to be, as it claims, living!

One of the reasons I started to blog was to track my exploration of language, and in particular, biblical language. In upcoming posts I'll periodically engage some of the words & phrases that are finding new meaning (and by meaning, I mean life-altering influence)for me.

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