Naming, Language, and Freedom

From Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

We cannot name or be named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator. When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles–we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than “the way things are.”

In [dictatorships], teachers are suspect; writers are suspect, because people who use words are able to work out complex ideas, to see injustice, and perhaps even try to do something about it. Simply being able to read the Bible in their own language made some… suspect.

I might even go to the extreme of declaring that the deliberate diminution of vocabulary by a dictator, or an advertising copy writer, is anti-Christian.

Everybody hates mankind these days, Christians no less than others. Of course, they are kind and sweet to the people they run into, but the things that make us human are despised. They get in the way of responsibility (i.e. profit-making). People hate the use of correct grammar, which is to say, those who respect language. They don’t think Christians should waste their time on the arts. Need I go on?

The point is, they hate the Divine Image in man. And they feel quite pious for doing so, because at the root of this hatred for man, is a self-loathing that even turns God into some not worth loving.

Hating mankind, they yearn to enslave those who seek freedom.

For him who has ears to hear.


4 Responses

  1. L’Engle’s fiction does a great job conveying the significance of naming and language as well, particularly the Wrinkle in Time trilogy. I wrote my senior English thesis on restoration of language in L’Engle and Lewis, so I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on the subject. Thanks!

  2. How do we measure a respect for language? 🙂

    Good thoughts. I’ve just been viewing the lectures from the Teaching Company course *Building Great Sentences,* and Professor Brooks Landon of U of Iowa is delving into the concepts of postmodern style, in which the sentence itself has value separate from its message, as up against 16th-Century style, in which the sentence has value as a tool to convey the message. Lots to think about!

    • I really enjoy that course. It respects the complex sentence and doesn’t cry that people can’t read them. A balanced sentence is a natural marvel!

  3. I am reminded of a section in Through the Looking-Glass where Alice enters the wood “where things have no names”. She worries that without a name she will be lost and that someone/something else will have taken her name. The Fawn that comes upon Alice in the wood does not act according to its nature as it it not at all frightened. It is only after they are out of the wood that the fawn recognizes Alice as a human child and itself as a fawn. Because nothing else is named in the wood she is unable to name herself and the fawn has lost all memory of its name.

    I think without ‘proper’ names our culture becomes lost in a dark wood where we are unable to recognize danger, we lose our memory, and we lose all sense of propriety towards nature, humanity, and God.

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