Pensive Prowler #15 by Dmetri Kakmi
Craft Your World with Words
“Craft your world with words.” I’m captivated by this sentence on the cover of a writing program. There’s no end to the implications, permutations and possibilities in that short construct. And because I’m interested in origins, the beginning place of things, I think of meaning, language and creation. The mere utterance of the word, the sentence implies, can give birth to personal and impersonal realities. In turn we think of the Judeo-Christian god who understands better than most the power of utterance.
And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. He said it and it happened. Cause and effect.
The phrase ‘Let there be light’ comes from Hebrew. In its Greek translation (και είπεν ο Θεός γενηθή τω φως και εγένε το φως) it’s often used for its metaphorical meaning of dispelling ignorance. But Jehovah, the Old Testament god, used the four words to separate order from disorder. He used words to bring form to chaos.
Isn’t that what writers do when they sit at the computer to type words? Don’t they bring order to the chaos that resides inside their muddled brains? And doesn’t the act of creation confer a kind of godhood?
“Craft your world with words.” Five words. Three nouns. One possessive determiner and one preposition. Together they make a sentence. But what does “Craft your world with words” mean?
“Craft” comes from old English creft, meaning strength, skill; and is of Germanic origin, kraft. In modern English it means an activity involving skill in making things by hand or a skill used in deceiving others. We also use craft to mean magic, as in witchcraft.
“World” means the earth together with all of its countries, or human and social interaction, and it comes once again from the Germanic compound welt, meaning “age of man.”
“Word” means a distinct meaningful element of speech or writing to form a sentence or a single conceptual unit of language. You won’t be surprised to hear that this word too is of Germanic origin, wort, from an Indo-European root shared with Latin verbatum.
In esoteric terms “Word” is the Greek Logos. It can mean ‘discourse’, ‘speech’, ‘argument’ — and is derived from lego, “I say.” Under Hellenic Judaism it was adopted into Jewish philosophy to mean “the word through which all things are made”, giving it divine connotations.
In a sense “Craft your world with words” means the writer uses her skill to define and give shape to the world or to the age in which she lives. Writing is a record of who we are, who we were and what we can become. Writing is also an enchantment that entices the reader away from their world into the author’s creation, a purveyor of spells.
A writer might also define the world in his own image. From the King James Bible comes this: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
In my world that means god was a hermaphrodite, or an androgyne. Who was it said we see the world not as it is but how we are? We are closed in on ourselves. That’s why we turn to writers—to access a perspective that is different from ours. And of course a writer can also use her skill to deceive, to complicate, to draw a veil, for good or ill. It’s a complex co-mingling of factors and motivators that makes or breaks existence.
There are examples of this in the media.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s famous ‘misogyny’ speech in parliament — to my mind the first great feminist statement of the twenty-first century — is a good case in point. In attacking opposition leader Tony Abbott she used trenchant, incisive, caustic language to turn herself from a scorned prime minister to a feminist heroine. Her popularity shot through the ceiling, especially among women. A week or so later Gillard’s own government put words to Orwellian use to excise the Australian mainland from the immigration zone. If they succeeded Australia would cease to exist; refugees would have nowhere to go. They would set off on a journey to a land that will be swallowed by the bureaucratic application of legislation. In essence, words invoked by a government would have altered the fabric of reality to remove an island continent from the map.
In the USA Chaplain John McTernan used words to yank the world back to old testament days. He announced on a Christian blog that Hurricane Sandy was god’s punishment on America for supporting ‘the homosexual agenda’. The chaplain went on to state that if Obama and Romney did not support gay marriage, Hurricane Sandy would not have struck New York. Not wanting to be left out, preacher Pat Robertson added that acceptance of homosexuality will result in earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist bombs and meteor strikes; a virtual disaster movie.
Netizens were outraged, but I loved it. The idea that gay people are in touch with natural forces appeals to me. When I heard the bizarre utterances, my first reaction was they’re right. Gay people are responsible for natural disasters. We can drawn down powers that put us in touch with forces beyond the reckoning of mere heterosexuals. Global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy. Gays did. The night before the hurricane slammed into New York, gay icon Grace Jones performed her aptly named Hurricane tour in Manhattan. In reality this was a magic ritual gays and their goddess performed to call on the destructive forces of nature. Hence, Hurricane Sandy.
You can see what I’m doing, right? I’m crafting my own tapestry by unravelling the warp and weft of the chaplain’s words and re-weaving them to suit my outlook. You notice I use the words “weaving,” “fabric,” “tapestry,” “warp and weft” to talk about the way words craft the world in which we live. There is a good reason.
In the ancient world and in some contemporary traditional cultures, the principle of weaving, the drawing together of two sets of interlacing threads to produce fabrics of great complexity, becomes an image of the mystery of existence. A good example is the Islamic prayer rug. The floor covering is not just comfort for knees. The patterns and designs on it are the crossing of time and space, where the visible and invisible worlds are woven together to form the tapestry of life.
Weaving or spinning means to create, to make something out of one’s own substance. Cloth resembles language. Words form syntax similar to how threads produce fabric. “Text” and “textile” share a common root, meaning “to weave.” In some traditional cultures, weaving and speech are poetically combined to form a coherent cosmology. The mouth and the vocal cords of ancestor figures are a loom from which words and cloth emerge. The Dogon people of Africa refer to the loom as ‘secret speech’. They say ‘to be nude is to be without words’. The designs woven into fabric are a form of storytelling. Helen and Penelope in the Odyssey acquire voices through weaving, through telling their own stories on tapestries. That’s why we say, “She is weaving a tale” or “He is spinning a yarn.”
Every writer has his or her own reasons for writing. I write to communicate with an often perplexing world. I write not in Greek or Turkish, my native tongues, but in English, because that is the language of my adopted country; however, my sensibilities and my inner landscape are an admixture of Anatolian and Australian. Sometimes these juxtaposing elements are at odds with one another. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they create something that is alive and new. Something that has not existed before. Sometimes, not. That’s how cultures talk to each other, how they evolve and open out to encompass all of life and humanity. Not by closing down and holding on to what is exclusively theirs.
As Carlos Fuentes said, “Culture perishes in purity or isolation… Like bread and love, language is shared with others. And human beings share a tradition. There is no creation without tradition. No one creates from nothing.”
To which I add: Sometimes all you need do is speak the word.
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.