ARRIVAL POINT V: DUNE DU SUD (LANGUAGE AND WIND II)

Am I a being,
                being land?
Or am I a being, 
                being water?
Or am I a being

             

            — being air, being fire?

Responsive Writing Exercise: I re-wrote "land water air fire" over and over, each time allowing my sensory experience of the wind at Dune du Sud to more deeply inform the shape and contour of the words. 

I've been reflecting on language. As an English speaker, I'm a minority on the archipelago. With the exception of two English speaking communities, the dominant language is French. Even though I grew up in southern New Brunswick - which means I took French classes until I was in grade 9 - I'm decades out-of-practice. And, even in grade 9, my fluency was far from mastery.

Since being here, there have been situations where I have been communicating with someone who speaks no English. Maybe a few words. In these moments, I've found myself simultaneously trying to recognize French words, but also paying attention to the shape of the words, their texture and tone, and how they're carried in the body of the speaker. Through the latter awareness, I feel I'm sometimes grasping a deeper level of meaning in the language. Something resonate with the landscape.

Back in the Winter, I suffered a concussion. I hit the left side of my head very hard on a wooden beam. What followed was three months of healing. In the first month, I had shifts in sensory experience, particularly with sound and language. There were moments where I would experience words through the senses, however there was a delay interpreting them through cognition. For instance, if I heard the word water, I wouldn't be able to immediately attach the word to language, and the meaning of water. It was as if I was having the opportunity to hear language through origin-al place, rather than a superficial understanding.

In all of this, I felt drawn to birds. I would listen to them for hours. Knowing they too spoke a language. A language that was comforting to me. 

"Only by altering the common organization of his senses will be able to enter into a rapport with the multiple nonhuman sensibilities that animate the local landscape."

I wonder what it would be like to embody the rhythms and the contours of the wind, in language? To write words that become sounds, and sounds that become contours, reflective of landscape, movement. Can we dis-member and re-member language so that it becomes embedded in real landscape, rather than being a landscape in itself that is floating above and away from the natural world?

Whenever we of literate culture seek to engage and understand the discourse of oral cultures, we must strive to free ourselves from our habitual impulse to visualize any language as a static structure that could be diagrammed, or a set of rules that could be ordered and listed. Without a formal writing system, the language of an oral culture cannot be objectified as a separable entity by those who speak it, and this lack of objectification influences not only the way in which oral cultures experience the field of discursive meanings, but also the very character and structure of that field. In the absence of any written analogue to speech, the sensible, natural environment remains the primary visual counterpart of spoken utterance, the visible accompaniment of all spoken meaning. The land, in other words, is the sensible site or matrix wherein meaning occurs and proliferates. In the absence of writing, we find ourselves situated in the field of discourse as we are embedded in the natural landscape; indeed, the two matrices are not separable. We can no more stabilize the language and render its meanings determinate than we can freeze all motion and metamorphosis within the land.

If we listen, first, to the sounds of an oral language - to the rhythms, tones, and inflections that play through the speech of an oral culture - we will likely find that these elements are attuned, in multiple and subtle ways, to the contour and scale of the local landscape, to the depth of its valleys or the open stretch of its distances, to the visual rhythms of the local topography. But the human speaking is necessarily tuned, as well, to the various nonhuman calls and cries that animate the local terrain. Such attunement is simply imperative for any culture still dependent upon foraging for its subsistence. Minute alterations in the weather, changes in the migratory patterns of prey animals, a subtle shift in the focus of a predator - sensitivity to such subtleties is a necessary element of all oral, subsistence cultures, and this sensitivity is inevitably reflected not just in the content but in the very shapes and patterns of human discourse.
— David Abram

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