Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Prayer, God, and Aphasia

This post will grow in the coming days. For now, two quotations from the ninth chapter of Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat:

"...speech--natural speech--does not consist of words alone, nor (as Hughlings Jackson thought) 'propositions alone. It consists of utterance - an uttering-forth of one's whole meaning with one's whole being - the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition. And this was the clue to aphasiacs' understanding, even when they might be wholly uncomprehending of words as such. For though the words, the verbal constructions, per se, might convey nothing, spoken language is normally suffused with 'tone', embedded in an expressiveness which transcends the verbal - and it is precisely this expressiveness, so deep, so various, so complex, so subtle, which is perfectly preserved in aphasia, though understanding of words be destroyed....Something has gone, has been devastated, it is true - but something has come, in its stead, has been immensely enhanced, so that - at least with emotionally-laden utterance - the meaning may be fully grasped even when every word is missed." (81)

"Thus the feeling I sometimes have - which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have - that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily...." (82)

What would it be like to converse with God, to pray to God, if you believed that God was an aphasiac? Would you construct your sentences differently? Would you worry about your sincerity? Would you cease to care about sounding a certain way, focusing a certain way? Would you switch languages?

What if God had agnosia, was unable to assess tone color? Would you add in emphases and inflections and cries for your own sake? Would you make sure you meant the words? Would you stop caring?

1 comment:

Danny Cohen said...

fascinating. reminds me of some of the Baal Shem Tov's exploration of prayer and moving beyond the meaning of words to something more transcendent