Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Knowing People


About two weeks ago my friend, Raycene, asked me if it is possible to really know people. I replied that one can learn to know people but only to a certain extent. The thing with people is that they are not very stable - they are like radioactive atoms just waiting to go berserk. I'm reading A Passage To India for my English Literature class and the same question popped up, this time in a different guise. Can human beings really know the world around them? The linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, tells us that language is arbitrary and that the words we use to describe things are just random letters assigned to objects we wish to describe for the sake of convenience. A cat does not look like the letters C-A-T but when one sees the word cat the animal that it represents comes to mind. In this sense language is like an allegory for reality; words stand for real objects in the world. The primary tool that people have for interacting with the world and each other is language but the snag lies in the fact that we do not know anything other than language to describe ourselves and our world. Imagine standing in a cave and having an experience that shakes you to your foundations and trying to tell it to someone else. Words fail to truly capture what you felt, they simply fall short. We have nothing outside of language to work with or to critique language with. Humans and language, I think, cannot be independent of each other. Language can be regulated by people but it is also self-regulating. I can get, in my mind, a glimpse of someone else through language and I can give other people a glimpse of me by language. God gives us a glimpse of Himself in language, a way to get closer to Him. I thus figure that it is not possible to truly know every aspect of someone else or the universe in our current state. Every single person I know hardly know themselves. There comes a point where language is not enough, a point that requires a being to transcend. This whole business is like the arguments Job and Orual (in C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces) present before God and then they realise that language fails when one sees God face-to-face. Orual says: "I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words." I think that we cannot truly know ourselves, other people or the world in which we find ourselves in Till We Have Faces, we have to transcend above something that is not language. I personally believe that that something is God.
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