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  • Daniel Kephart

Stupefy: Language, Magic, and Living

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

When we pick up a book we pay homage to the idea that the Word has the ability to shape reality.


Even those who do not consider themselves "readers" believe this. The young woman is offended when someone calls her "Mary" when her name is, in fact, "May." The gruff oil-worker refuses to have his firstborn son named "Zack" because he was bullied by a boy named Zack during his own childhood.


When a child is born, we pick up the Word and use it as a mold in which to pour their new identity. We judge books, not by their covers, but by their titles. The Word defines our reality and, at times, breaks it. Someone calls us a foul thing and we feel ourselves shrink.


Avid fans of Harry Potter confess this idea by asserting that the spell-casting world of Hogwarts "makes sense" in some way. Those who refuse to read Harry Potter acknowledge it as well, though in a different fashion, claiming that there is something about the idea of bending language to cast spells that is dangerous.


Yet, we know, individual words are not immutable. Harmless terms may be twisted into slurs. Pet names can become dreadfully sinister. Sacred terms may become banal and inane. We determine the effect of our words and build a reality accordingly.


The quantum physicists tell us that there is something about the observation of a thing which solidifies or realizes it. This is not so surprising. We grit our teeth when we cannot think of the name of a film-actor or a pop musician. To name them would be to give reality to the memory of them; and this memory in held in the shared space we call conversation.


This is to say that we know nothing till we share it. The speaking of a thing or the writing of a thing or the drawing of a thing--this is what breathes reality into it. The Lie, then, is an almost unfathomable crime against existence--for it brings into being that which is not. It is a warping of the structure of the world; both in the mind of the liar and the mind of the listening.


Worse still, though, is the word that is bent towards doing evil, towards unmaking reality: "I hate everything," or "to hell with it all," or "nothing means anything."


Tricks of grammar mask these phrases as being indicative of a reality, as though they are expressions of personal feeling. They are not. They are commands, words bent on shaping reality so that it corresponds with the phrase uttered. If we attempt to stupefy the world, calling out "nothing means (or, rather, ought to mean) anything" we should not be surprised when meaning vanishes from the world around us.


Yet we know this is not true. Life has meaning. Perhaps, even, everything has meaning.


Say it. Write it. Defend it.