Thursday, December 01, 2005

Part One: How Chaucer Defined The English Language

Chaucer 1340-1400: The Life and Times of the First English Poet
Richard West

Ask anyone who reads widely, and I am hoping there will then be agreement for some of my following assertions. English Literature is in struggle for meaning and the writing around and the studious deciphering of its shadows,in that it is more than an esoteric, artistic exercise.

It is a pandemonious search for meaning, spectacular identifications get tracked across the stars, and ruminations upon the significance of collections of words, like constellations, the fittings of frames of reference, the flit or the feather of phraseologies rill about like rifts and ripples of sand, the moulding of contexts, the chiseling of patterns, all these means to meaning and their in-betweens, all these attempting to discern, infinitely incapable fully to define the present from the past, distinguish the past from the present, eclipse the thinking dualities and multiplicities of interpretation, to probe, tether and stir the venerable depth of cultural intrinsic knowledge of the reader as the listener, with one's own burbling wells in quenching of its thirst. Where that self may be as every other self may be. Heard.

To some effort, such aspirations leave their heavy marks upon those who began such an exercise with a love for reading. It remains a bitter irony, the more I read, the more I must read, the less I know for certain, the more certain I am there is more to know. The more certain I am that reading is the path of best pursuit of clear vision, resolution, and strength. What else is love anyway? Certainly more to know yet than those who would encourage me only to tune in or tune out to the media of the day, the medium and its message, and mass musings of and often purposelessly dis-evolving culture, one which rants without let, one which often appears not to discern character from shift, that which we call "The West", "The Democratic", "The Meritocratic", "La Merde".

It appears one may live on the verge of a new Dark Age in any and all ages, not only in what is written but that which in effect goes unread or unwritten. And with me there were many years I believed, but never felt in fact at heart, that I had nothing to write worth reading. It was never at heart that I was told that. I was taught that. So goes my unravelling and unlearning, I see the mummy that lies beneath it and I dredge the depths to which one must often encounter no other merely to find a voice in the silence. One's own voice worth seeking.

In many effects, in my best gloomies and moods, I am engaged in a search for the self. For how else does a man leave a mark on the future than with some eloquent or erudite scribblings, scratches, or ordered passages and letters? Shakespeare himself spoke of only two means by which a person could attain certain immortality. It seeks those who seek it according to Venerable Eagles, one he surmised was by creating a work of Art, one perceived of tenuously and guarded over the ages by those finding it worthy of any rememberance, or the other means, by far the more common, and infinitely easier mark to attain, through the simple act of pro-creation. Thine spawn thus being thine immortality proven. Who needs a pen in that case? Or a book?

It seems then more darker the longer future appears, indefinite, murky, and dim-witted, the more likely one is struck with a desire to defy, to deny, to repel, to write back into the morass of complacency, criticism, outright injustice of the status quo perpetuated even in my own head which does not appear to hold. That within which one most singular a voice almost goes unheard, merely the lowing of the herd does reach the masses in my own mind, the more violent or bitter the reproaches of which I have read I fear the trampling of the herd, the harder the heart grows silent, the smaller the ear of learning becomes and the words which one may write or read from and to grow grow fewer. One does not write as more than one voice. One does not read as more than one listener. One may know a little more than another, or less. One whispers in such remorse. The herd knows no remorse.

So here rides Chaucer, in his pilgrimage. His characters are defining lights in a spectrum of language never unfolded before his time. Each character as a shaft of riven attack upon silence, made plainer by a linguistical debate unending as referencing the Anglos or the Normans and the browbeaten, disheartened dear French. Richard West retells a story that has already been told. Perhaps in words plainer, or thus "dumber" than those who came before. It seems a thinner and thinner accounting, until, at which point then, would there be nothing left to write on Chaucer? Who would remain interested enough to read it? Fossiky crones, marms or old men to boil away in the soup maybe, cheek by jowl out of favour, as they would not pick their lines from any bestseller's list, merely because it was there, hundreds of years ago, that Chaucer built the very rack upon which most pulp rests or retires, as pulp withers away and moulders into mires under the dust and trailings of its own readers bones and brittle beliefs.

There was Chaucer like the longest longbowman on the front lines of English affairs nearly from birth, scraping himself up off of the cobblestones of The Great Hall of Westminster Palace every morning for at least three years. I hope he had some pile of warm trash or yesterday's newspapers to curl up in while he quite did "page" his way up through the system. He was a thief of ideas, a wolf in wolf's clothing in terms of the classical authors and their collective themes, but one creates quite a connundrum these days if one even assumes one's ideas are one's own. One should never assume that has not always been said.

It is apparent that each wants to claim good ideas as one's own, as if some seal of approval guarantees the mark of quality. Perhaps original ideas and works of written literature are indeed sincerely a private and personal draft between one's own brains and the accumulated works of diffusive readings. But the stickiness of thoughts thus remain legitimate only in their connections, and those endearements which they peak in each one's reader. For it is only from readings that a mind may gleam upon such passages, and it is only in attempting to write about what may be found there, namely what can be communed at without being plainly or overly said, what can be thus said without being claimed, what can be first, singular, uniquely untied and at the same time united to the whole yarn of thread? And who said that first? That such passages are bathed in the light of shared insights, only then may they be seen, in plain human nature, is it possible one may say what has always been said but in a completely new, individual, singular way? Or have I merely misled myself into believing I am too bored to write what I think I have said?

So in his way, as in each writer's way, Chaucer stuck to those tested and true scenes, settings like fingers to a strung bow, tauntly drawn upon and plucked upon trysts which so obviously stuck in his mind similarly as in others. It was a time of great human upheavals, not unlike present human times as "The West" carelessly delineates what one should seriously read or not. One might say everything is worth reading at least once. So I think of "Ou-Oueste".

No comments: