Spring 1961 • Vol. XXIII No. 2 NonfictionApril 1, 1961 |

The Retreat from the Word

The Apostle tells us that in the beginning was the word. He gives us no assurance as to the end. It is appropriate that he should have used the Greek language to express the Hellenistic conception of the Logos, for it is to the fact of its Greek-Judaic inheritance that Western civilization owes its essentially verbal character. We take this character for granted. It is the root and bark of our experience and we cannot readily transpose our imaginings outside it. We live inside the act of discourse. But we should not assume that a verbal matrix is the only one in which the articulations and conduct of the mind are conceivable. There are modes of intellectual and sensuous reality founded not on language, but on other communicative energies such as the icon or the musical note. And there are actions of the spirit rooted in silence. It is difficult to speak of these, for how should speech justly convey the shape and vitality of silence? But I can cite examples of what I mean. In

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George Steiner is a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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