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F R A N K W A T E R S Taos, New Mexico Words* When Dr. J. Golden Taylor informed me that the Governing Board of the Western Literature Association wished to appoint me as an Honorary Life Member in the Association, I was beset with some qualms. If I now accept the honor, more gratefully than gracefully I’m afraid, it is because it has forced me to attempt to account for my reservations. For after having been a professional writer for many years, I’m just beginning to realize what a dangerous game I have been so inadequately playing in writing words, and more words about words, and still more words about words written by others about words. I question my own assent to becoming a life member in a literary association unless I realign my sights on what must surely be the common aim of us all. This writing, criticizing, reviewing, lecturing—this hawking of words, to put it crudely—is more than a craft whose products occasionally achieve the dimensions of art. It is a magic, as often black as white. And so I feel like a sorcerer’s apprentice who, after mastering a few little tricks, views with trepidation his initiation into the esoteric mysteries of the trade. To the black race of Africa the word was a sacred and powerful magic. Janheinz Jahn defines it by the Bantu word Nommo as the vital force that gave life to everything through the power of the word. The Bantus believed that conception and birth were not sufficient to produce a human being, a Muntu. The new-born child •T his paper was delivered at the annual meeting of the Western Literature Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in October 1968. 228 Western American Literature remained simply a “thing”, a Kintu like animals, plants, and stones, until he was designated with a name. So too the life-forces in all things were freed only through the power of the word which could be conjured by man. No crops would grow, no wood-carving could take proper shape, unless called forth by the word. Black Africa below the Sahara, about which we yet know so little, did not develop a written language. It relied upon the audible language of the drum, a communication medium subtle, swift, and far-carrying. This was expressed not by a Morse code of sorts as we commonly suppose, but by a complex system of pitch, tonality, modulation, and rhythm. The “Divine Drummer” was trained from childhood on the specially prepared drums, and was accorded the highest privileges of tribal rank. He possessed the magic power of the word. The brown and yellow races of Asia believed, as did the black race of Africa, that the whole universe was impenetrated by a com­ mon and unlimited life force. Out of this emerged those limited individual entities of our temporal world when given form, Rupa, and defined by name or word, Nama. The word was a Mantra, “a tool for thinking”; its sound called forth its content into a state of reality. Hence there developed in India a system of Mantra Yoga; and in Tibet not only the word but every letter in the alpha­ bet was a sacred symbol. This impersonal spirit of life the red race of the Americas called by various tribal names such as Orenda by the Iroquois, Wakan by the Sioux, and Huaca by the Incas. From its revelations through dreams and visions, warriors, mountains, and rivers derived their ceremonial names. The words imbued power, and were seldom spoken. “In the Beginning was the Word”. So begins the Gospel of St. John in the Judaic-Christian Bible of the white race. The Word with which all Became. Whatever it expressed came to pass: deeds, acts, worlds. The birth of language was the birth of humanity. We explain this in our scientific terminology as the transition of percepts, or registrations of bodily sense impressions, into general­ ized or common recepts as mankind emerged into simple conscious­ Words 229 ness. Then the work of accumulation began on a higher plane. Hundreds of recepts were combined into a composite concept, a word, a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 227-234
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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