At the outermost limits of language, where it swirls into eddying vortices of nonsense, anything can happen. Climates can change. Seas can rise. Meaning can melt. What, then, is worth saying? What utterance is worth its weight in warm air? Today I watched yet another documentary about global warming. Save the plant, was its urgent, impassioned message.
It is true that I wouldn’t want to live in a world without elephants or sloths. But ours is not a story of humanity versus nature. We are nature. We are its elite agents, its shrewdest operators. We shouldn’t be blaming ourselves for our disgusting, destructive behaviour. It is merely nature circling in on itself, lashing out at its mad dictums, desperately eluding its tyrannical impulses.
I truly marvel at nature: the fact of it is a miracle. And yet I see through its little surges of excitement and splurges of emotion. Its stories, above all, are exhausted (except the ever-receding one about progress). How many times can we hear the same words without despairing at their repetitiveness? Every election is a painful reminder of how meaningless language has become. Its apparent urgency only masks an underlying sense of exasperation. We have heard it all before, right back to our founding myths.
Yet it goes on. Because on is a preposition. Signifying movement. Portending progress. Meaning hope. Hope of what, exactly? I can console myself that my carbon footprint barely leaves a trace: it is the spoor of a fleet-footed ghost. Because I want nothing from this life except to die with a modicum of dignity. Hopefully not today, or tomorrow, because I love this life with a suicidal passion. But this endless need to narrate one’s existence is utterly exhausting and debilitating.
My favourite dog in the whole world is called Kafka. And he is every bit as sensitive as his famous Czech namesake. My dearest friend (let’s call her J) had an excellent theory about him. She believes his sensitivity (let’s call it that) gets in the way of his basic canine instincts: thus he suffers like no dog I’ve ever met. He is easily made happy, like all dogs, but there is a constant conflict gnawing away at him which we humans would conceptualise with a few modal verbs: could, should, must, might.
Kafka the dog is a tribute to nature at its best: striving, on some primitive level, to battle his instincts. In Kafka’s case, I am sure it is because he was the runt of the litter and he was forced into submissive and deferential behaviour. But still, it heartens me to see a dog do battle, for whatever reason, with its nature. I find Kafka’s heartrending groans and heartfelt sighs infinitely more touching than the hysterical noise that passes for language in so many people.
You will have noticed that I have nothing to say. Save the planet. By all means. Race towards a dystopian future. Go for it. The same old stories will go on, regurgitated like the pappy boletuses birds feed their screaming young. Good versus evil. Right versus wrong. Left versus right. Now versus then. Us versus them.
At the outermost limits of language anything can happen. People live happily ever after. Purpose-providing careers pursue a 45-degree trajectory. Rousing speeches save the day (hurrah!). Glaciers melt. Entire rainforests are felled and burned so people can eat a tasty snack on their sofa half way round the world. Pigs can fly and dogs can cry. Can we change things for the better? Yes we can. No, really…