The blogosphere, the noosphere, the world-wide web. The labyrinth, the Matrix. The garden of the text. All variations on an age-old gnostic dream that we must finally repudiate, lest it become the altar on which the dismembered corpse of the real world is offered up. Within the world of literature, readers and scholars must remember that all the texts ever committed to writing – let alone those that have survived to the present – represent a tiny fraction of the total body of songs and stories ever created.
If the term texts seems biased, what shall we call them? The critic George Steiner writes about art in general as counter-creation. So for works of language, I am thinking of something like answers to Creation, in the sense of both response and explication. What the world calls up within us.
But we must remember too that words are made by spelling; speech can be charming. The world can still be enchanted, could still be spell-bound. Words are as alive as that other invisible thing, the wind or breath (pneuma, ru’ah, anima): in fact, they are almost the same phenomenon. For the right words can penetrate to the farthest corners of the cosmos, can reach to the very beginning of thought. Like breath they can create and destroy in their own right, and they animate every element of creation: earth and sky, water and especially fire.
These originary sparks of meaning may once have been more concentrated, true, but their scattering throughout the visible world does not make them any less real.
Nor does that scattering challenge the facticity of matter: the maternal, the universal matrix or womb/network that is still essential to survival, even (or especially) for us arrogant moderns, who have devised so many devilishly clever ways to deaden our senses.