Some final insights from the poet, novelist and teacher Ocean Vuong:
What happens to the great, advanced technology that is language when it starts to fail at its function, and obscure rather than open reality?
“How are you” in its most pedestrian form is a greeting and no longer a question. Asked when there is genuine interest, and time and space for a response, it is still an invitation, a possible opening. A lot of the time, it just means “hi.”
What do we do then, when we are really in trouble? For the sick, the lonely, the desperate, the suicidal – what language can they resort to when they need help.
What is the language equivalent of a fire escape?
When shame is part of vulnerability, rendering vulnerability impolite, inappropriate, risky … we are encouraged to police access to ourselves. And so we can spend a lifetime talking with the people we love and still not know who they are. We can talk with others until the proverbial cows come home and never get to the truth that the building that is us is on fire, and we need a linguistic way out before we are consumed.
Our “how are you?” has failed us.
Fire escapes are a reality in our buildings – no one would suggest they aren’t essential.
Our house is on fire; everyday more people succumb in one way or another to the flames.
What about the reality of fire escapes in our language?
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