In the Beginning Was the Word

/ May 2023

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.

So begins the Book of John, one of the central texts of the most influential book of communist poetry ever written. These short lines explain my fascination with religion and holy texts despite having always been an atheist. How incredible it is that so many billions of people worship literature, the holy Word, turning to poetry for guidance throughout their lives. Though I have a different metaphysical narrative which does not admit the supernatural, I too worship the Word. Moreso, I even view the Word as bestowing upon us, in some sense, the power of spellcasting. We change the world around us through speech. Our tongue gives us the power to make friends, enemies, art, and revolutions. It is through the Word that we teach and learn, that we transmit hopes and fears, that we form with other lost souls collective beings fighting against the setting sun.

Let us begin by discussing one of the most important categories of words, the Name. I invoke again my oft-cited Genesis 2:19,

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

It is a common folkloric trope that the namer gains power over the named, the true name of an entity being closely guarded to protect against enchantment (we can think too of the Jewish prohibition on speaking or even writing the true name of God). To call something by its true name implies some deep understanding of it, some wisdom into the inner workings of the named creature. We can think of the great passage in Macbeth in which the witches prophesize Macbeth’s identities:


All hail, Macbeth hail to thee, thane of Glamis!


All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!


All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Macbeth, being truly named as the thane of Glamis, becomes a victim of the witches’ enchantment: the second true-named identity of thane of Cawdor soon comes to pass by circumstance, giving Macbeth the cruel confidence needed to make a play for the throne to fulfill his third naming.

A scrupulous reader might argue that Macbeth was not enchanted, saying that the witches merely divined the future and it was Macbeth’s existing greed which led to his descent into evil. This distinction is the first which I would like to attack. Even if the witches’ speech had no supernatural accompaniment, the very act of speech alone served as enchantment. To name the reality of Macbeth’s status was to captivate him, and to name the possibility of kingship was to construct it in Macbeth’s mind, the imaginary future taking on a certain reality status in his cognition which led to his attempt to realize it. Be it by word or by magic (what difference does it make?), Macbeth was spellbound, setting into motion the great drama.

This is what most fascinates me about the Word. It has a supernatural power over its listeners. To name something is, at some ontological level, to bring it into being, to make it an interactable object for our minds. This is why this essay begins with, and shall center on, speech as spellcasting. The centrality of the Word in folkloric depictions of magic is ubiquitous, with tales from the Bible to Viking sagas to Shakespeare to Harry Potter relying on language as the primary medium for the expression of magic. This is wonderfully captured in The Tempest, in which Prospero performs magical deeds by literally speaking and arguing with the spirit Ariel:


Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains,
Let me remember thee what thou hast promised,
Which is not yet perform'd me.


How now? moody?
What is't thou canst demand?


My liberty.


Before the time be out? no more!


I prithee,
Remember I have done thee worthy service;
Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, served
Without or grudge or grumblings: thou didst promise
To bate me a full year.


Dost thou forget
From what a torment I did free thee?

Such a domestic argument belies the great physical power which the duo exert, summoning the titular storm at the outset of the play and continuing to use the supernatural to direct the plot. These god-like powers are mediated through ever-so-human speech and bickering, the distinction dissolving between the acts of argumentation and spellcraft.

To return to the Name, let me quote an excellent line from Octavia Paz’s El Laberinto de la Soledad, discussing the alienation that the author felt in the United States:

Cómo quieres que me gustan las flores si no conozco su nombre verdadero, su nombre inglés, un nombre que se ha fundido ya a los colores y a los pétalos, un nombre que ya es la cosa misma?

How do you want me to like the flowers if I don’t know their true name, their English name, a name which has merged with the colors and the petals, a name which is now the thing itself?

How indeed can the flowers be real to the author if he cannot true-name them? How can he accept them as meaningful if he cannot verbalize what they are? The act of naming inaugurates the reality status of the named (a central truth, even, in the latter-day speech of computer programming). God needed Adam to name his creatures to finish their creation, the human needing to speak the animals into being.

Language, of course, has long been cited as a fundamental distinction between humans and other animals. I oppose this usage politically, since any such distinction can be wielded antagonistically to justify the enormous amount of violence our species performs against others in our quest to transform their homes into sites of resource extraction for our machines. Further, it is clear to anyone who has observed groups of non-human mammals that complex verbal communication is not unique to our species. That being said, I imagine that the complexity of our language exceeds that of others, and offers us a unique opportunity to express enchantment and playfulness through the Word.

Among the most ancient expressions of this trope can be found in Gilgamesh, in the incredible scene in which Enkidu, a savage human created by the gods to challenge Gilgamesh’s despotic rule, is civilized through romance with a prostitute. Immediately after their week-long love-making, we read:

But when he turned his attention to his animals,
the gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
the wild animals distanced themselves from his body.
Enkidu ... his utterly depleted body,
his knees that wanted to go off with his animals went rigid;
Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before.
But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened.
Turning around, he sat down at the harlot's feet,
gazing into her face, his ears attentive as the harlot spoke.
The harlot said to Enkidu:
"You are beautiful, Enkidu, you are become like a god.
Why do you gallop around the wilderness with the wild beasts?
Come, let me bring you into Uruk-Haven,
to the Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull."
What she kept saying found favor with him.
Becoming aware of himself, he sought a friend.
Enkidu spoke to the harlot:
"Come, Shamhat, take me away with you
to the sacred Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull.
I will challenge him ...
Let me shout out in Uruk: 'I am the mighty one'
Lead me in and I will change the order of things;
he whose strength is mightiest is the one born in the wilderness"

Aside from the incredible resemblance to the Biblical Eden scene in which female intervention bestows the man with wisdom (to the extent that the “become like a god” motif is shared), what I find striking about this scene is how the previously-animalistic, mute Enkidu is transformed into a wise and well-spoken political actor. Concurrent with this awakening of self and language is Enkidu’s alienation from his previously-loving animals and his desire to seek a human friend. Language here is antonymous to physicality, the visceral lifestyle of beasts being replaced by the cerebral socializing and plotting of humanity.

Our capacity for language allows us to play magnificent games, creating realities and unrealities with our silver tongues. Two relevant plays, both centered on namings and misnamings, come to mind here: Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and Corneille’s Le Menteur. In the first, two pairs of identical twins are constantly mistaken for each other, leading to confusion, violence, and plot. Crucially, the story relies on the twins being not only identical, but sharing the same names: there is a pair both named Antipholus and a pair both named Dromio, with the master-servant dynamic existing equally between each Antipholus and his corresponding Dromio. The Name defines the reality, the identities of the twins merging (with physical consequences) as a result of their shared names. Of course, this ontological confusion is narrativized into a comedy. There is a playfulness in our power to reshape reality through the Name and the Word, the madness of switched selves becoming a farcical representation of the real power of speech.

This ludic aspect of naming and speaking is also central in Le Menteur, an absurd tale in which protagonist Dorante fabricates increasingly elaborate tales in an attempt to woo Clarice, a process made vastly more complicated by his confusing her name with that of her friend Lucrece. Again, the name mixup, as well as Dorante’s quick-witted lying, serve both as inversions of truth and comedic fodder. Our speech, our story-telling, has the incredible power to reshape reality, but this ability is often wrapped up in playful social games rather than being taken more seriously. This is a joyful and beautiful use of our capacity for language. We can create worlds freely and carelessly with our tongues, so why not enjoy it? Why not play games of building realities and counter-realities among friends, rivals, peers, and lovers? Word play and verbal imagery lets us experiment with our mighty abilities in casual social settings, honing our linguistic power while letting us swing along in a complex verbal dance which lets us demonstrate shared attitudes, perceptions, and values without any of them needing to be explicitly stated.

We experience life as a collection of enchantments and disenchantments, and the Word is one of our mightiest tools to gain control over this process. We can think of the great passage from Paradise Lost occurring after Lucifer and his band of devils is cast into Hell, and in which Lucifer narrativizes to himself why his defeat is, in fact, a triumph:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.

The mind’s power is that of storytelling, of narrativizing one’s experiences to transform reality. Lucifer’s self-referential passage performs what it extols by positively narrativizing his exile, regaining dominion and entering into a newly-imagined world of success and glory. Lucifer here has performed the magnificent act of self-enchantment, to tell oneself stories which succeed in altering your reality.

The finest literary example of self-enchantment, of course, is my beloved Don Quixote. The wonderful irony of the story is that Don Quixote is a hapless and inept knight, but an incredible incarnation of another medieval type-character: the enchanter. As I discussed in my earlier essay “There Are Other Worlds,” Don Quixote enchants not only himself, but those around him. His faithful tool is not his inevitably ineffectual sword, but the Word. It was the Word of written stories which first enchanted him into beginning his quest of auto-reimagination, and it is the spoken Word of his obstinate unreality that enchants those around him into following along with his deluded schemes. Don Quixote’s words have such narrative willpower that their reality supersedes the physical one which would otherwise bind the hero into the meaningless drudgery of bottom-rung nobility. Don Quixote’s more beautiful life is facilitated by his physical actions, but it is driven and defined by his words, his storytelling which lets him reinterpret reality as he sees fit. While perhaps a hapless knight, Don Quixote is as mythical a sorcerer as any he would have found in his knightly tales.

One of the most storied magics that the Word may wield is that of judgment. We can think of the judge Holden in the great Blood Meridian, a ruthless villain but one who acts with a personal narrativization of divine grace. He takes it upon himself to render judgments on the things of the world, writing down descriptions of plants and animals before killing them, leading to this incredible dialogue:

Toadvine sat watching him as he made his notations in the ledger, holding the book toward the fire for the light, and he asked him what was his purpose in all this.

The judge’s quill ceased its scratching. He looked at Toadvine. Then he continued to write again.

Toadvine spat into the fire.

The judge wrote on and then he folded the ledger shut and laid it to one side and pressed his hands together and passed them down over his nose and mouth and placed them palm down on his knees.

Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.

He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can acquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.

The judge titled his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

I don’t see what that has to do with catchin birds.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

That would be a hell of a zoo.

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.

The judge is a violent man. He kills humans and animals, and is the great villain of the novel. But he commands a mythos. We can think of the scene in which the judge is introduced, in which he strides into a lay-preacher’s service, accusing him:

Ladies and gentlemen I feel it my duty to inform you that the man holding this revival is an imposter. He holds no papers of divinity from any institution recognized or improvised. He is altogether devoid of the least qualification to the office he has usurped and has only committed to memory a few passages from the good book for the purpose of lending to his fraudulent sermons some faint flavor of the piety he despises. In truth, the gentleman standing here before you posing as a minister of the Lord is not only totally illiterate but is also wanted by the law in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Oh God, cried the reverend. Lies, lies! He began reading feverishly from his opened bible.

On a variety of charges the most recent of which involved a girl of eleven years–I said eleven–who had come to him in trust and whom he was surprised in the act of violating while actually clothed in the livery of his God.

A moan swept through the crowd. A lady sank to her knees.

This is him, cried the reverend, sobbing. This is him. The devil. Here he stands.

His judgment rendered, the Reverend is killed by the crowd. Soon after in the bar, when asked how he had found out about the Reverend’s crimes, the judge responds:

I never laid eyes on the man before today. Never even heard of him.

He raised his glass and drank.

There was a strange silence in the room. The men looked like mud effigies. Finally someone began to laugh. Then another. Soon they were all laughing together. Someone bought the judge a drink.

The judge imposes his will on the world with physical violence when needed, but overwhelmingly through his use of the Word. He weaves damnations and curses destined to come true because of their intoxicating power over the spell-bound listeners. He speaks many languages and successfully negotiates with anyone he comes across (dramatized by the kid’s ultimate defiance of the judge’s tongue and following consequences). What makes him the judge is his ability to speak so well that his spoken judgements become reality. He is an enchanter though the beauty of his language.

In this way, he aspires to claim the powers of God. He must know the infinite breadth of creation (a mortal desire explicitly rebuked by God himself in the concluding whirlwind scene of Job, as I discussed in “Stories of Self and Suffering”), so that he may master it. So devoted is he to the Word as his source of power that he writes descriptions of everything he comes across, so much of which he destroys, in his fabled book. It is the great curse of the human experience that we cannot read the book of fate, and the judge seeks to compensate by writing it himself. So too do we all aspire with the Word: to write what we cannot read, to speak our own version of truth into being.

We can think of the epic narrative of final judgment rendered in the Book of Revelation, of which an enormous amount could be written but which I will give a very brief note. The story of the apocalypse is filled with various fantastical characters speaking the actions into being, angels and beasts of fable narrating aloud the mythical annihilation of mortal life. As the Lamb opens the seven seals of the book of fate, progressive disasters befall the world, until the final seal is opened:

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.

And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. (Rev. 8:1-6)

The trumpets, of course, bring more destruction, but I find the interim pause of silence telling. Silence is the suspension of judgment, the relinquishing of judicial power. In the case of Revelation, this happens as a sign of finality: Heaven is silent because it has nothing left to say. The book of fate has been unsealed, the end of time has come, and language has ceased to wield power over the world. Nothing said can anymore influence what shall be written, for the book is now being read.

And so our speech, our production of words, is a magnificent attempt to reclaim the book of fate, to guess at its secrets while awaiting the final revelation. This is the god-like aspiration of judge Holden and, to some extent, all who engage with language: that while we may never read the dreamt-of judgment of our lives, objective and righteous, we can write our own while we wait.

Language is a tool against the passage of time. We can describe the future and thus gain power over it, compose tales of our moment to carry the present forward, invoke stories of the past to view its ghostly image. We trick ourselves into thinking we’ve tricked chronology. We can think of the great scene of Gilgamesh outrunning the sun, sprinting through its nighttime tunnel to get to the end of the earth before the sun finishes its daily course and comes dashing back to begin the next day. We speak against the ravages of time, using our language to write our own fates.

But perhaps what is most fascinating about language is its limitations. Every other form of art besides the Word reveals what cannot be spoken. Moreso, the vast majority of our experiences cannot be communicated. They are simply too complex. All we can do with our tongues and tools is break off narrativized fragments to try to transfer some piece of self. As Whitman says in “Song of the Open Road,”

I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.

The poet knows how much cannot be said. The complexity we bring through our presence, our motions, our grins and glances and shifts and spacings, so often exceeds, as far as human connection, our tired tongues.

We can think also of Enkidu self-describing himself with

he whose strength is mightiest is the one born in the wilderness.

In the context of what I discussed above about Enkidu shifting to a verbal, social world, his strength is that too of his tongue. Those who speak best are those who know silence. We can quote Marianne Moore’s “Silence,”

The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.

These passages point to the Taoist concept of non-doing. To be silent is to understand that there is a time to speak and a time to be still, that to choose restraint is as valid as choosing to act. Through this practice, we can aspire to move through the world according to natural rhythms rather than ultimately artificial patterns which we impose on ourselves. Speech is the expression of the unquiet mind, for those who have nothing to prove need say nothing more. In the Taoist context, the great restraint which we need to live without doing is to restrain ourselves from judgment, from evaluation, from overrationalized decision-making. Our decisions should be made in the course of the natural motions of things, not imposed by the mortal Word.

But it is terrifying to feel stripped of our judgment. We cling to our senses of self because they give us objects around which to write our justifications. To relinquish the self is to accept that we will not pass judgment, but will simply live. This is to relinquish our power of the Word to reinterpret our own stories, to move beyond storytelling. We can think of the end of the amazing Tarkovsky film Stalker (1979), in which neither of the two men who have come so far to reach it enter the room that grants wishes, knowing that it does not grant what is asked but what one truly desires. The noble imagination of speaking our desires into being is replaced by the haunting danger of the psyche being read, naked without its linguistic guardian. So fearsome is silence for it leaves nothing hidden.

Limited though it may be, the Word retains an enormous amount of power. Through naming things into being (or into our realm of understanding), through enchanting others, through speaking of other worlds, the Word is perhaps our most critical political tool. There are bountiful examples of the motif of language as political reality, from the canonical Newspeak of 1984 to the constantly-updating dictionaries, which tend to lose words, in Godard’s surrealist Alphaville (1965).

But what I would like to discuss for the moment are the political opportunities and limitations of Naming. We can look at the excellent 2016 poetry collection Look, by Solmaz Sharif, in which the poet incorporates capitalized vocabulary from the U. S. Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms in her critiques of the American imperial misadventures in the Middle East. Quoting the beginning of the collection’s first and titular poem, “Look,”

It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me.Exquisite.

Whereas Well, if I were from your culture, living in this country,
said the man outside the 2004 Republican National
Convention, I would put up with that for this country;

Whereas I felt the need to clarify: You would put up with
TORTURE, you mean and he proclaimed: Yes;

Whereas what is your life;

Whereas years after they LOOK down from their jets
and declare my mother’s Abadan block PROBABLY
DESTROYED, we walked by the villas, the faces
of buildings torn off into dioramas, and recorded it
on a handheld camcorder;

The naming of military terms sanitizes them, rendering them from complex and horrifying acts of violence into routine references to preexisting concepts. Doing so makes it harder to critically engage with the industrial violence of the military, the scope of its cruelty being hidden behind an innocuous, technocratized dictionary. Sharif deftly reintegrates these terms into real language, displaying the inhuman madness of this quest to sanitize a violent reality by taking control of its descriptors. As declares the opening line of the collection, “It matters what you call a thing,” for we have such trouble engaging with concepts when we feel we do not know their true names, a name which sufficiently describes or indicates the complexity of the whole.

The tragedy of our current political situation is that Naming has become as profligate as it is directionless. There is, on the one hand, the fascist project to spawn names en masse of conjured fears and imaginary foes, names designed to obscure reality and offer signifiers around which to center hostile storytelling. This is standard fascist propaganda, amplified by our ever-expanding industrialized production and consumption of images.

Perhaps more concerning, as a sign of impotence if nothing else, is the pathological obsession with Naming among the “progressive” movement. So much energy is spent litigating names, labels, descriptors, and other linguistic items that one could easily forget that the central problem of leftist struggle is to change the material balance of wealth and power. Of course it is important to name accurately the problems, the perpetrators, and the resistance to cruelty, but I fear that the progressive movement falls victim to the same name-obsession which has come to plague our whole society.

The archetype of our over-naming lies in the form of products; how much of our daily speech now revolves around brands, trademarks, or other words spawned from the minds of advertisers. But the sickness spreads much deeper. Every quirk of lifestyle or manner of being must now fall into a labeled category. No longer does one merely eat the foods they like, they must now describe which diet they fall into (to the absurd extent that resistance to this categorization is itself integrated as a diet, called “intentional eating,” that is to say, eating the way living things normally do). Study methods, mundane personality traits, aesthetic preferences, sexuality – every aspect of our selves must now be Named, rendered into a discrete algorithm-ready tag to help align us with similar social groups.

This proliferation of naming attempts to deconstruct the self into a collection of monadic traits capable of more easily being shared digitally. No longer must one meet me in person, see the glint of my eyes and the shifts of my palms, to know who I am; they can read my online attribute-list of which Named labels I participate in, quickly deciding from the assembled data if I am worthy of jobs, friendship, or sexual relations. Such is the dangerous violence of the Name: just as we gain power over something by naming it, we take away its power over itself. The act of Naming is to ossify, in the minds of the listeners, an aspect of the Named’s complex identity. It is to preclude the Named from defining itself.

The intensification of Naming, to me, fits naturally into the decline of our imagination. Unable to imagine radical transformations of self or society, we retreat into dissecting, one careful name at a time, the stagnation that defines our culture and the senses of self within it. How little of our names apply to our dreams, and how many to our limitations.

So let us regain the power of speech not as a tool to transform ourselves into searchable word-clusters, but as a power of true imagination. The first step of a revolution, of the self or of the world, is to envision it and speak it into being. What we need in this moment are not more names for what is, but prophecies for what is not. Through the magic of narration, let us return to the mighty Word as a means of epic self-enchantment, a way of convincing ourselves that a better world is possible. Perhaps if we can speak a sufficiently beautiful story, we can finally realize a newer world.

Let me conclude with this excerpt from Octavio Paz’s El Laberinto de la Soledad:

El primer deber del escritor, nos dice, estriba en su fidelidad al lenguaje. El escritor es un hombre que no tiene más instrumento que las palabras. A diferencia de los útiles del artesano, del pintor y del músico, las palabras están henchidas de significaciones ambiguas y hasta contrarias. Usarlas quiere decir esclarecerlas, purificarlas, hacerlas de verdad instrumentos de nuestro pensar y no máscaras o aproximaciones. Escribir implica una profesión de fe y una actitud que trasciende al retórico y al gramático; las raíces de las palabras se confunden con las de la moral: la crítica del lenguaje es una crítica histórica y moral. Todo estilo es algo más que una manera de hablar: es una manera de pensar y, por lo tanto, un juicio implícito o explícito sobre la realidad que nos circunda. Entre el lenguaje, ser por naturaleza social, y el escritor, que sólo engendra en la soledad, se establece así una relación muy extraña: gracias al escritor el lenguaje amorfo, horizontal, se yergue e individualiza; gracias al lenguaje, el escritor moderno, rotas las otras vías de comunicación con su pueblo y su tiempo, participa en la vida de la Ciudad.

The first duty of the writer, one says, lies in his fidelity to language. The writer is a man who has no other instrument than words. Different from the tools of the artisan, of the painter and the musician, words are filled with ambiguous and even contradictory meanings. To use them means to clarify them, purify them, make them true instruments of our thinking and not masks or approximations. To write implies a profession of faith and an attitude which transcends rhetoric and grammar; the roots of words confuse themselves with that of morals: the critic of language is a historical and moral critique. All style is something more than a way of speaking: it is a way of thinking and, thus, an implicit or explicit judgment on the reality which surrounds us. Between language, by nature social, and the writer, who only creates in solitude, arises a very strange relation: thanks to the writer, language, amorphous and horizontal, straightens and individualizes; thanks to language, the modern writer, the other means of communication with his people and his time being broken, participates in the life of the City.

So stands the Word, our tool of judgment and political collectivity, captured now by our conditions of stagnation but holding still the promise of reimagination. So let us render judgments thoughtfully and intentionally, resist the limitations of Naming but embrace the power it gives us, and speak into being worlds unseen. In the beginning was the Word, for in the end, nothing more will need be said.

Postscript. How incredible that, so soon after I wrote this essay, came the great wave of chat bots. Now the mechanization of our thoughts (see “Tales from the Algorithm Age”) has made an irreversible leap forward into replicating our language. What critiques are even left to say? I’m sure that soon, one will be seen as a fool for writing their own correspondences instead of letting their AI slave tend to such trifles. But why stop there? The ever-wise Algorithm will help us decide what to buy, what hobbies are best suited for our personality, which romantic partners most fit for reproduction – and instead of boring old ads, it’ll talk to us, our new best friend! Ah, what a world.

I can only hope that we be so lucky as to remember that before language was used to sell juice-makers and prosecute climate activists, it was used to create collective mythologies. We will be expected to forget non-commercial uses for language now that inane knowledge-work has fallen to automation. But indeed, the magic of the Word to reimagine our senses of self cannot be done by a machine. The premise of art is to create what has never been created, not based on pattern-matching, but based on the reflective silence of the human spirit. There is no doubt that this will always be a task only doable by humans – the question is if we allow ourselves to be duped into believing the contrary.