Future Words

December 23, 2015

Encyclopedia. — Encyclopedias trouble themselves a great deal about words fallen into disuse, never about words still unknown, burning to be uttered.  But just as each of us is ready to exchange everything he knows of history for a single glimpse of his own future, the study of languages to come seems to us to surpass in terms of urgency the analysis of a faded idiom which is flaking away like a dead skin.  We do not know all that well what we are, so much does our vocabulary define us, in the manner of a lasso firmly anchored from behind; but if it were possible for us to catch, be it only in snatches, the language that is yet to come, we would immediately become men of more than one time, as the polyglot is a man of more than one country.  This enterprise will appear foolhardy to some, but since it is by no means proven that that which must be does not already exist and that the division of time into past, present, and future is not due solely to our present incapacity to embrace everything in a single glance, the method we envisage is perhaps an expedient, a short cut, which will enable us to reach where other, more ambitious disciplines show themselves incapable of leading us.

Who, for example, observing a child, will deny that, for him, the discovery of language is not the realization of a present but foreknowledge of the future?  Words tell him, not what he is, but what he will be.  Thus his present existence is the prefiguration of his future existence, which is revealed to him in advance by words.  He mimes it outwardly like an actor expresses a sentiment which is not his own but to which a text gives him the key.

Adulthood is defined as that age at which the gap between behavior and words becomes so tenuous as to coincide, here and there, fairly exactly.  Old age as that at which one finds oneself confronted with only one word: death.

However, from a realm where, as yet, the grammarians have not yet established their police, there flies up a whole swarm of vaporous expressions, butterflies of language, which sometimes, in a chance sally, we can catch in flight.  By chance also they may strike against your forehead and mark you with a sign, seemingly indecipherable, but which, by means of wily contrivance of mirrors yet to be invented, it is justifiable to envisage the translation, or at least the reduction to a system of equivalences.   To be sure, the language of the future is by definition unintelligible to us.  It is by the very reason of its obscurity that we are able to recognize it; that which too rapidly becomes familiar can come only from an immediately neighboring zone, just as one easily learns the patois of the next village.  But, if it seems presumptuous to dream of putting together in its entirety a language that still does not exist, it does not appear beyond realization empirically to isolate certain terms already accessible. It is thus that the Ancients, thanks to incursions into distant lands, from which they brought back trophies, perfumes and women, succeeded as a result of that constantly renewed contribution in only just escaping stagnation.

The effect of these words on behavior is likely to be considerable.  It is not with impunity that one becomes initiated into a foreign language, and every one of the future words one pronounces will necessarily break some link with the time of the effective present.  The meaning of each term, were it to remain totally undeciphered, could not fail to exercise an influence comparable to a comprehensible injunction, but if a word of traditional magic never provides any access other than to a world fallen in ruins of which it is a vestige, the future word, by raising us up towards that which is still intact, obliges us to invent, outside of any precedent and, by the same token, any etymology, the wholly new meaning that glimmers in the distance.

In the absence of any valid lexicon or of any known fairy, our interpretation cannot but be hypothetical, and we cannot claim to verify for ourselves its approximate exactitude since neither the language we are striving to speak, nor the universe in which it will be currently understood, exists.  But an encyclopedia worthy of the name cannot trouble itself with realistic considerations.  It has a duty to remedy so striking a deficiency, and it is beyond any doubt that its scientific value will be measured by the number of future words and expressions to which it affords space.

— from the Encyclopedia Acephalica (1995), p 123-124

— from the Desk of the Unconscious 

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