Margaret, Bottom, Paul and the Inexpressible

Paul W. Gooch

Article Type: Article

Publication Date: 7/1/1986

Issue: What Words Will Do (Vol. 6, No 3, Summer, 1986)

The work done by words is remarkably complex, and includes the work of describing what they themselves do. That seems to generate a kind of self-limitation on language, since we cannot discuss it by stepping outside it; but it is not that limit which this study investigates. Instead it begins from the fact that we speak about the failure as well as the success of language. Many people hold that words, though equal to most occasions, falter when faced with the task of describing certain special experiences. Religious believers in particular may argue that there are experiences which can be known and recognized, but which cannot be expressed, uttered, or communicated. Union with the divine, revelations of glory, the moment of self-enlightenment— such experiences are full of meaning but utterly resistant to expression.

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