What Must the Stones Think of Us?

Steven Millhauser, “History of a Disturbance,” Dangerous Laughter, 2008

[…] Something uncapturable in the day had been harmed by speech.

[…] It was as if some space had opened up, a little rift, between words and whatever they were supposed to be doing. I stumbled in that space, I fell. […] The words I had always used had a new sheen of strangeness to them. […] [B]etween the thing and the word a question had appeared, a slight pause, a rupture.

[…] I wondered what it was I’d seen before the word tightened about it.

[…] Not to speak, not to form words, not to think, not to smear the world with sentences — it was like the release if a band of metal tightening around my skull.

[…] Always I had the sense that words concealed something, that if only I could abolish them I would discover what was actually there.

[…] I began to sense that there was another place, a place without words, and that if only I could concentrate my attention sufficiently, I might come to that place.

[…] How could I explain to you that words no longer meant what they once had meant, that they no longer meant anything at all? How could I say to you that words interfered with the world? […] I tried to remember what it was like to be a very young child, before the time of words. And yet, weren’t words always there, filling the air around me?

[…] My vow of silence sought to renew the world, to make it appear before me in all its fullness. […] Words harmed the world. They took something away from it and put themselves in its place. […] I began to wonder whether anything I had ever said was what I had wanted to say. I began to wonder whether anything I had ever written was what I had wanted to write, or whether what I had wanted to write was underneath, trying to push its way through.

Think of the terrible life of words, the unstoppable roar of sound that comes rushing out of people’s mouths and seems to have no object except the evasion of silence. The talking species! We’re nothing but an aberration, an error of Nature. What must the stones think of us? […] My own heaven would be an immense emptiness — a silence bright and hard as the blade of a sword.

Listen, Elena. Listen to me. I have something to say to you, which can’t be said.

As I train myself to cast off words, as I learn to erase word-thoughts, I begin to feel a new world rising up around me. […] We are shut off from the fullness of things. Words hide the world. […] I see a place where nothing is known, because nothing is shaped in advance by words.

[…] I had thought that words were instruments of precision. Now I know that they devour the world, leaving nothing in its place. […] Search out the space, the rift. […] [R]ip yourself free of the word-lie. […]

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