Sunday, October 07, 2007

In Praise of the Pause

Security is an insipid thing, and the overtaking and possessing of a wish discovers the folly of the chase. -- William Congreve, Love for Love

Let us take a moment to celebrate the vitality of nothing. The future perfect particle is one of the most life-sustaining and indispensable components of language. It is the catch that occurs in the mouth rather than the throat, and it signals the world that what comes soon is not currently not available. Give me, uh, a second, because, um, the thing I want to explain is, uh, not really, sort of, fitting right now in the words that, um, are at my, my, fingertips.

The particle testifies both to hope, faith, and regard. It says that I want to, um, improve, or at least polish what is about to rush out, and that I think I can, well, do it. You are important to me, or, uh, I want you to think so. You probably are important to me, but, um, what I'm trying to do here is important, and I have the, uh, well, utmost regard for my task and my listener. You need to believe me, or, at least, um, believe in me.

Speaking of which, there are times when the future perfect particle is used in a different syntactic position. If you see a woman breast feeding at church, you may be overwhelmed. Why, you may wonder, is she breast feeding? Are her breasts hungry? They appear well fed as it is. What is the expression on that baby's face? Is it different from the expression you wear with a hot fudge sundae? You may think that it's natural and begin revising your impressions and holding back the flood of quips with your mental thumb in the mental dike. It is, um, natural, and, uh, there are many natural bits of the biological nature that we prohibit in public, so should you pull the thumb out or go get the mortar? Is church, like, a better or, uh, you know, much, much, much worse place for this bit of nature? Is this so she can attend the sermon more closely? The baby isn't really, uh, listening, and, uh, you know, none of the others on the pew are, either. Is she trying to avoid distracting people by going outside with the baby? Really? Because, you know, it kind of seems that the distraction is, uh, really, kind of happening anyway.

So, you go through the future perfect particle, but it isn't being used that way at all. Instead, the same particle has an entirely different function. Here, it is the orientation interjection. It is the, uh, anchor morpheme.

Speaking of morphine, sleep, which is Morpheus's domain, has always kept the human mind awake. As Roethke points out,
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go. -- "The Waking," by Theodore Roethke
If we do not sleep, we doze. If we do not dream, we hallucinate or die in life, for "Youth dreams a bliss on this side death," as Matthew Arnold wrote (a neglected poem). Go without sleep for seventy-two hours in a row, the way I did when studying for the final exam in "The Rise of Rome," and all sorts of things will happen to you, although only a few of them will be real. (They're still offering the class, and I made a C.) If you want to be alive, invested, present, and pregnant with or nursing your emerging ego, you had better sleep. In sleep, we clear cut the forest of free standing, new growth facts and sensations. We take the vet visit, the veterans on TV, and the fete we attended and clear them out, ejecting the noisy hangers-on of our memories. We expel all of those trivial sensations, the superfetation of tis en (sorry, but I can't figure out how to get Greek characters...that was supposed to be witty reference to T.S. Eliot), trailing clouds of fooling from our ears and napes, thereby evacuating the floor for new dancers in the daily dance of stuffing out brains. Morphemes have their own shapes and cast their own extraneous little shadows.

The pause that flees, the hidey hole of meaning, enables our verbal acts and our exclamations, so let us now praise the most meaningless of particles, the most useful of noises, the mantra of the extemporaneous speaker, the mane padme hum of "Um."

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