The Air of Words – of Language and Identity
Man is nothing without his memory. On the one hand, he needs it like bread in order to know himself; on the other, he must every now and then abandon it and venture into the imponderable. Language gives him the power to see himself and others in the past, the present or the future. Inward images are thereby coupled with words, like small bridges.
Where does the foot of the “I” begin, where the finger tip of a biography? Where do they end? Whatever path we take, we cannot get round our creative power. Though this is not learned in the cradle, it is learned in inwardness and then by our own voice with every newly learned word.
Speaking is a becoming par excellence. Language is always movement. It cannot be anything else. “Move; then you are beautiful”, the writer Peter Altenberg once wrote. Only what we are able to say makes us what we are, makes something in us and with us into a movement. A fresh wind is drawn into our lungs, a new tail of a cloud into our souls, when we renounce words as weapons, and move only in being. But our “I”, our real inwardness, are only marginal districts of a much greater region which belongs to all human beings. Nature, too, lives in this human region, and is sometimes the cause of the silence and dignity of words. As in a forest, so too in words a form of nature is at work, which conceives its own colours and colour nuances. And which seeks to protect the use of words. If the “I” is as hard as curd soap, it can only scrub with words; it cannot be soft and loses the relation to inwardness.
Lovers are always conscious of their own being of their own accord. When one loves, one has no hand free to cast stones; both hands are needed to draw on unlimited resources. Love is not borne; it is lived with one’s whole being, and both lovers are equal, have the same rights, the same joy; such at any rate is the nature of all true encounters. The other needs not only our respect: this is only to tolerate the other. It is contrary to the dignity of human beings that they should be only tolerated. Every human being needs the whole, the open view, the greatest possible affection. Whether as individuals or as peoples, nations, countries, we need the whole tenderness of the eye, its whole attention; and this can be rooted only in understanding, in approaching the other in language. How can one approach another without bringing oneself along? That is impossible. That is not movement.
Identity is nothing other than the capacity to move, remembering, in one’s own inwardness. What can a being do, in life, for itself, for others, if it has no word for friends, if it cannot read, if it doesn’t know its own alphabetic rivers, words-moors and seas of sentences? What can a being then do at all? What is its speech? Its world? Its human soil?
Rivers, moors, seas are soft, even if also imponderably deep. One’s own movement in these regions needs to be practiced – and must become, where the pebbles stop, a skilful swimming. If we give others the power over our own movements in life and language – and both have been dovetailed to belong together – we are endangered in our deepest ground. We can only founder and perish. In dictatorships, this phenomenon may be observed in every step people take. Thus when they leave matters to the official doctrine, and every regulation of language is a doctrine, they lose the basis of their own inner balance. And then the “I” no longer has its own air, then words no longer have their own air, no “I-air”, no heart-air, no sea air, no air at all. No breathe. We have, if we treat the legacy and the archive of words so heedlessly, surrendered everything that we ever had. And we have also surrendered ourselves, because we are no one without words.
In the visible world we have nothing. It only looks as if we were here and there owners. Passport owners, house owners, address owners. Real possession moves only in the invisible world, is managed at an invisible savings account that registers with seismographic precision all our movements. We all have only invisible, only unprovable little suitcases, words, breathes, effects – we can carry them only in ourselves, only in language. Even if our language were the purest silence.
2001 the Hermann Lenz Grant
2002 the Heimito von Doderer Most Promising Young Writer Award
2003 the Adalbert von Chamisso Most Promising Young Writer Award
2006/2007 A year’s grant from the German Fund for Literature
2007 The Literature Prize of the Berlin Academy of Arts
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The author was born in 1973 in Svib/ Dalmatia, today Croatia, and has lived since 1983 in Germany. She studied cultural anthropology, psychology and Slavonic studies in Frankfurt am Main. Bodrožić is the author of poems, short stories, novels and essays. Following stays in Paris and Zurich, she now lives as a freelance writer in Berlin.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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