For the wounded normally fall in the direction of their wound: the blood spurts out towards the source of the blow; and the enemy who delivered it, if he is fighting at close quarters, is bespattered by the crimson stream. So, when a man is pierced by the shafts of Venus, whether they are launched by a lad with womanish limbs or a woman radiating love from her whole body, he strives towards the source of the wound… His speechless yearning is a presentiment of bliss.
Sensation and Sex
To cast a phenomenon as ineffable is effortless but is that you, writer, hiding from your hard work of bringing to words? Do you lay deceit upon your less than best so that you may settle? What labours allow you to articulate the speechless of being?
It’s not you, it’s them; words. Have you ever noticed how words will not stay in place? Will not stay where you set them? Will not grind as you command?
You are not alone.
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still…
(T.S. Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’ 152-156)
It took three hefty gods to chain and rivet the Titan Prometheus to Mt Caucasus. In Aeschylus’ play, Prometheus Bound (430BC), the gods of strength (Kratos), violence (Bia) and black-smithing (Hephaestus) fix Prometheus to the rock.
Kratos says to Hephaestus, “Now drive the adamantine wedge’s stubborn edge straight through his chest with your full force.”
“Alas, Prometheus,” says Hephaestus shortly before exiting the scene, “I groan for your sufferings.”
Defying Zeus, Prometheus gave us fire. Yet, in a speech delivered to the choir of visiting ocean spirits, chained painfully to the rock, Prometheus declares that he also gave us writing. He gifted us the stringing up of letters with which to hold all things in memory.
From Prometheus, we are able to write things down so we will not forget them. Over space and time the things we have written persist.
Do not struggle with your writing. Do not feel it has left you. In a brave and selfless act writing was given to you by a noble hero. It is yours for the taking.
There is an appeal against the worth of words, placed in the mouth of Ajax by Antisthenes (c. 445-365 BC, founder of the Cynic school of thought).
In an instructional speech delivered against Odysseus, the mythical character Ajax says,
Do not look at words when judging heroic virtue but, rather, at deeds. For war is decided not by word but by deed: we cannot compete in debate with our enemies, but must either conquer them by fighting or be slaves in silence (53.7)
What, then, can words do? What can we judge from words? When might a word have worth? Are not actions, after all, nothing more than the meaning of a word?
My name, for example, is a word, not a deed. It has worth, to me. My name will tell you things about me and only the one who knows it can call me home on the wild nights.
One of our tasks, as good writers, is to choose words more sturdy than the deed.
Prove Ajax wrong.