March 29: Exclusion from a palace

Exclusion is part of life. It is the negative space we may choose to focus on. Poignantly, when you hear, say, a group of chattering Russian children it is difficult not to feel a deep sense of being outside a world of beauty, of wit, of spontaneity, along with the illogical though instinctive sense that these children must be of high intellect to be able to converse in this tongue that is a mystery to me. Fortunately, they are often dullards.

George Steiner wrote of the Icelandic language lying “like a thorn hedge around those who can neither understand nor speak it”. Does this minority tongue represent an elite space to its initiates or a shameful under-tongue?

Proust’s child protagonist undergoes similar exclusion:

“Une langue que nous ne savons pas est un palais clos dans lequel celle que nous aimons peut nous tromper, sans que, restes au dehors et desesperement crispes dans notre impuissance, nous parvenons a rien voir, a rien empecher.”

(A language that we do not know is a closed palace in which the person we love can deceive us and,where, locked on the outside and desperately stressed and impotent, we are unable to see or do anything.) 

Characteristically, Proust gives it an erotic charge.

Well, nobody can be included everywhere. The older we get, the more we feel excluded from beauty, from fun, from unthinkingness. And the crime of youth is often to desire too much to be included everywhere. There are so many spaces and understandings of spaces, it is wise to opt out of a broad slice of them.

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