Bog is just an eemya anyway, just a slovo that we horn about in radosty or strack. A zvook that rolls off the old yahzick, but do we really pony the messel of it’s meaning? Do words hold sacred meaning beyond what the ears can hold for that 10% of the brain in gear? If you were stuck at home on Friday night, the 23rd of June, there’s a chance you caught Bill Moyer’s transformative conversation with novelist-provocateur Salman Rushdie. Moyer’s PBS special takes us from his unforgettable journey into the Power of Myth, as he kindles the coals of Faith and Reason. During their conversation, for it would belittle Moyer to call it an interview, he dipped into Rushdie’s well of quotable sound bites and pulled up: “To try and find the spiritual life without mentioning the name of God is a stupid thing to do.”
It’s quite a dilemma for a novelist to be lost for words, and for Rushdie this has meant searching, as he said, “…to find a language to express our sense of what is not material, you know, without having recourse to the ready made ideas of religions.” Well there is one name that can cushion Rushdie’s blows against the wall of writers’ block, Anthony Burgess. If you didn’t recognize that mash of linguistic mumbo jumbo in the first two sentences, it’s straight from the glossary of Burgess’s brilliant A Clockwork Orange. To avoid dating his book with hipster slang, Burgess created the language of Nadsat, a sassy rhythm of English and Russian phonetics primed for a British accent. From the lines above can you guess what the Nadsat word for God is? If you can’t figure it out, well that just defeats the whole point of this essay, but if you did then you pony the point that it’s all about context.
Actually, reading A Clockwork Orange is a bit like listening to a heavy Scottish accent, it takes a few minutes to adjust. Once it catches on though, the dialect roles like fire through the mind, as the brain grasps concepts with words it has never heard before. Burgess’s protagonist, Alex, is an archetypal teenager, a somewhat twisted hero living the mythology of the modern age. Alex’s mind is flooded with pop-culturized junk media, serving a literal metaphor for the brainwashing of youth. While this hero’s journey is a downward spiral into a dystopia, we learn something from Alex through his language. He and his friends adapt to society by creating a vocabulary all their own to uniquely express their own interpretation of the world.
That may be a lesson for any gallivanting troupe of teens trying to make sense of the world, but also a profound microcosm for the history of humankind. To put this is proper context, we can build off another pillar of the late 20th century’s canon of literature, the man in the white suit, Tom Wolfe. In his speech as Jefferson Lecturer for the National Endowment for the Humanities Wolfe proposed a new definition for Homo sapiens, coining the term Homo Loquax. Where the Latin origin of Homo sapiens is wise or knowing humans, the Homo Loquax is talking or reasoning humans. Perhaps Wolfe just really loves words and wants to define all of humanity by language, but his revelation is rooted firmly in that talking distinguishes us from the beasts. While whales and birds may communicate with elegance not even Pavarotti could match, the cognitive complexity of language harvested agriculture and drew the blueprints of Babylon. Furthermore it wrote the word of Bog…I mean God.
In his speech Wolfe offers Book 1, 1st verse, of the Book of John in the New Testament, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He continued that, “this has baffled Biblical scholars”, but he interprets it to mean that without speech man did not know God, nor Religion. With language humans could ask away their heart’s desire and as Wolfe mentioned one of the first questions was “undoubtedly…his sudden, but insatiable anxiety as to how he got here and what this agonizing struggle called life is all about.” This of course led to our often feeble, though at times poetic descriptions of God and creation in the vastness of existence. Like a troupe of gallivanting teenagers, humankind developed their own unique expression to interpret the world.
Returning to Rushdie’s dilemma we encounter a world where even the immensity of the word God is being stretched beyond the Milkway’s waistline. The culture has shifted into a D.I.Y. paradigm and even elders like Wolfe have implored Burgess’s technique of inventing one’s own vocabulary. If Homo sapiens don’t suit you, Homo Loquax it is, or maybe you prefer Gooly Lewdies (walking people). Anything goes in an age of the open source ethic, where the software is free and the only limits of application are in the depths of imagination. All this bezoomny chepooka over a eemya will make lewdies itty oddy knocky.