Sunday, November 21, 2010

Words are a Lens to Focus One’s Mind

Reading books concurrently is a terrific way to discover and possibly strengthen important ideas common to the books.  Taken individually from very different sources, the following passages made enough of an impression on me to make mental or marginal notes:
"By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it."
Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1818, on wanting to communicate with the cottagers.

"They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance.  The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder."
Frederick Douglass, in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Himself, 1845, upon reading Sheridan’s speeches on emancipation.

"For the flash of one instant, she thought that here, before her, in James Taggart and in that which made him smile, was a secret she had never suspected, and it was crucially important that she learn to understand it.  But the thought flashed and vanished."
Dagny Taggart, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, 1957, when she saw her brother gloat at his victory over her.

What these three brief quotations offer within their respective books is that explicit expression of an idea, with words, either to oneself or to others, is of critical importance in man’s life.  Without words, the idea remains a vapor, a nagging nebulousness, or worse, undiscovered.

As Rand’s character, Hank Rearden, thinks to himself, “[W]ords were a lens to focus one’s mind . . .

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