We could argue that the ancient Egyptians were positively constrained by their hieroglyphic system of writing to express abstract qualities in a crudely physical way. Against such an interpretation, it is important to bear in mind that language is not simply the vehicle of expression of a given mentality, it actually is that mentality giving expression to itself. The very structures of language are the articulation of the mentality. We should be wary of thinking that the ancient Egyptian mind was “really” like ours, but was constrained by the hieroglyphic script. Rather, the hieroglyphic script was the medium most appropriate for the articulation of the ancient Egyptian mentality. Far from being crude, it reflected richly symbolic modes of conceiving and relating to both the physical and the psychic spheres of existence. It has already become apparent that these two spheres were not experienced as separated from each other—as we today tend to experience them. It is now necessary to go further, and seriously consider the idea that psychic attributes were indeed experienced as “situated” in various parts of the body. The pictorial character of the hieroglyphic form of writing made possible a quite effortless translation of this experience into the written word. For the hieroglyphic script, because it was pictorial, had not yet created a division between concrete and abstract, between “outer” and “inner.” And it had not done so just because the ancient Egyptian mentality had not done so.
― Jeremy Naydler, Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.
And the only way he had ever found, the only code, the only language by which he could speak and be heard by other men, could communicate himself, was with a bugle. If you had a bugle here, he told himself, you could speak to her and be understood, you could play Fatigue Call for her, with its tiredness, its heavy belly going out to sweep somebody else’s streets when it would rather stay home and sleep, she would understand it then.
But you haven’t got a bugle, himself said, not here nor any other place. Your tongue has been ripped out. All you got is two bottles, one nearly full, one nearly empty.
― James Jones, From Here to Eternity
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps by Lance Cpl. Alejandro Sierras/ Released
She sang, as requested. There was much about love in the ballad: faithful love that refused to abandon its object; love that disaster could not shake; love that, in calamity, waxed fonder, in poverty clung closer. The words were set to a fine old air–in themselves they were simple and sweet: perhaps, when read, they wanted force; when well sung, they wanted nothing. Shirley sang them well: she breathed into the feeling, softness, she poured round the passion, force: her voice was fine that evening; its expression dramatic: she impressed all, and charmed one.
On leaving the instrument, she went to the fire, and sat down on a seat — semi-stool, semi-cushion: the ladies were round her — none of them spoke. The Misses Sympson and the Misses Nunnely looked upon her, as quiet poultry might look on an egret, an ibis, or any other strange fowl. What made her sing so? They never sang so. Was it proper to sing with such expression, with such originality — so unlike a school girl? Decidedly not: it was strange, it was unusual. What was strange must be wrong; what was unusual must be improper. Shirley was judged.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.
― Martha Graham, as quoted in The Life and Work of Martha Graham by Agnes de Mille
For all the pain you suffered, my mama. For all the torment of your past and future years, my mama. For all the anguish this picture of pain will cause you. For the unspeakable mystery that brings good fathers and sons into the world and lets a mother watch them tear at each other’s throats. For the Master of the Universe, whose suffering world I do not comprehend. For dreams of horror, for nights of waiting, for memories of death, for the love I have for you, for all the things I remember, and for all the things I should remember but have forgotten, for all these I created this painting—an observant Jew working on a crucifixion because there was no aesthetic mold in his own religious tradition into which he could pour a painting of ultimate anguish and torment.
― Chaim Potok, My Name Is Asher Lev
I spray the sky fast (sic). Eyes ahead and behind. Looking for cops. Looking for anyone I don’t want to be here. Paint sails and the things that kick in my head scream from can to brick. See this, see this. See me emptied onto a wall.