A Sentence Whose Sweet Edge Divides You
It is through words that words are to be overcome. (Silence may only be a tying of the tongue, not relinquishing words, but gagging on them. True silence is the untying on the tongue, letting its words go.) To write standing face to face with a fact, as if it were a scimitar whose sweet edge divides you, is to seek not just a style of writing but a justness of it, its happy injuries, its ecstasies of exactness. The writer’s sentences must at each point come to an edge. He has at all times to know simultaneously the detail of what is happening, and what it means to him that it happens only so. A fact has two surfaces because a fact is not merely an event in the world but the assertion of an event, the wording of the world. You can no more tell beforehand whether a line of wording will cleave you than you can tell whether a line of argument will convince you, or an answer raise your laughter. But when it happens it will feel like the discovery of an a priori, a necessity of language, and of the world, coming to light. One had perhaps seen the first stalk of a returning plant asserting itself with patches of snow still holding their ground. Thoreau writes: “So our human life dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity.” That these words should lay aside their differences and join upon this ground of sense, proposes a world which mocks of cowardice of our imaginations. Nature, no more than words, will leave us alone. If we will not be rebuked by them, and instructed, we will be maddened by them, and turn upon them to make them stop.
[Stanley Cavell, Senses of Walden]