2008-07-09

How bad can it be when you just don't get it?

I can speak English (hi there!), French (salut, tout le monde !), Spanish (hola ¿qué tal?), Portuguese (oi, tudo bem?), some Italian (ciao, come stai?), some words in German (alles gut, nichts, nein, das ist kalt, wie heiß Du?) - and I used to think that was ok. No problems in France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. Actually, Germany was the toughest one: they seemed to be willing to speak only German to me, and I DON’T UNDERSTAND GERMAN. I know how to pray in German (ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein…), I know how to sing in German (kommt ein Vogel geflogen…), I know how to ask “How are you?” (Wie geht’s?) and say that I drink milk in German (ich trinke Milch), but I DON’T SPEAK GERMAN. Well, at least I could always have an idea of what they were saying - providing they included one of the 50 German words in my internal German vocabulary, obviously.
This morning I came across a new comment on this blog. Actually, a linkback. A linkback to another blog, written in some mysterious language. It wasn’t as mysterious as Japanese or Chinese, what would make quiet and resilient: I would never understand Japanese or Chinese or any of its variants. It would be totally useless to even try. But this language… what could it be? Danish? Norwegian? Croatian? Hindi? As Google seems to present a solution for anything, I tried their Language Tools, inserting a couple of sentences extracted from this unknown blog. Most of the times, it would return no results. It could get to translate two or three words into some of the languages available. To mess with me, completely different translations.
I felt lost and non-existent on that weblog. The link back was there, “printedwords” was there, I was there. But it made no sense. I made no sense there. Then I thought of aphasia, the inability to speak or to understand language. I thought of depression, Ginger feeling that this world was not for her. I thought of autism. And, of course, it made a lot of sense. To play the game, you have to understand the rules. If you’re not able to get it by yourself or by Google, someone’s got to help you. Then I even thought of psychoanalysis, Lacan insisting on the importance of naming: the mother has to name the world to her son or daughter. She has to teach them the rules. What if, after knowing the rules, we just can’t play the game? Can it happen? Or, once we understand the rules, we can always play, some better and some worse, improving with practice? And what if we don’t want to play the game, the only game we have? Why would it be? Can it be changed?

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