Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Development of Language - Lindsey Kasmiroski

When I was in middle school, a handful of my friends and I had a secret code, so that we were able to pass notes back and forth in class with the security of knowing that if they were ever intercepted, no one else would be able to understand what they said. At some point in most childrens' lives, codes and/or languages are made up as either some way to keep parents and teachers in the dark of whatever the secret may be, or just a fun way to share a special interaction between friends. When it comes to Peter Stillman in Paul Auster's City of Glass a completely different side of the creation of language can be seen. His lack of proper language skills and a myriad of made-up words is a result of a completely lack of developmental opportunity. In an essence, Peter Stillman somewhat created a more pure and natural way of speaking, rather than his verbal skills and vocabulary being clouded and influenced by those trying to teach him.
After spending the majority of his childhood in a dark room with little to no contact with anyone other than an abusive father, it is clear to see why Peter Stillman had to learn how to speak at a later age than most children. It is easy to go off in the direction that Peter's language is merely a product of his upbringing and not bat another eye at it, but one must delve further to gain a true understanding of what could possibly be going on in his obviously distorted mind. Whereas many will allude to the "boom, boom, boom" he suffered from as an excuse for his speech, but it more closely related to his lack of development. Being placed in a dark room with no contact at the age of two for nine years is a pretty sure way of preserving childlike behavior and distorting the child's mind. Without social contact, there was no opportunity to mature and grow, and without the opportunity learn and speak, Peter lived securely in his own mind. And in his mind, is where his own version of language was born.
One of the first things that Peter says can be linked to a sentiment his father expresses in his own manner later on in the book. "There are words you will need to have. There are many of them. Many millions, I think." This can be paralleled to Peter Stillman Sr.'s idea that man has taken language for granted, that with the evolution of humanity, language needs to evolve as well to remain valid. The example of the umbrella that he gives Quinn shows this. If the umbrella is broken and is no longer serving its function of protecting someone from the rain, can it really be called an umbrella? The two Peter's have become adept at creating their own words for their own languages, but clearly for different reasons. The "millions of words" that they both focus on poses a question: if Peter Stillman Jr. does not know the word for umbrella due to his lack of a verbal upbringing, does he know that even if it no longer serves its original purpose due to the fact that it is broken, it is still referred to as an umbrella? And furthermore, would Peter Stillman Jr., like his father, create a new word for it entirely?
Without ever having any sort of real parental contact with his father, in some way, Peter Stillman Jr. shares similar views when it comes to creating a language and the millions of words that can be used to describe the objects of the world. While Peter Jr. creates them out of necessity for not knowing the true word for it, Peter Sr. creates them due to his disdain for what the modern language has become. An argument can be made that these two men have the truest form of language in the world. Without being influenced by outside sources, and being like Adam, creating names for the creatures and the objects of the world, the Stillmans could have been the next step in the evolution of language. The reader can be left wondering after examining Peter Sr. and Peter Jr; what would a new language be like if created collectively between the two of them? Whether it was a similar written code like that of my friends in middle school, or a secret language shared between children so that their parents don't know what's going on, the childlike mentality of the Stillmans could have produced an evolution of words never seen before.

1 comment:

  1. What I would ordinarily say - and I'm still going to say it, in a particular way - is that your idea only emerges clearly in the last paragraph. That doesn't bother me too much, because the route you take to get there is very interesting. The question of what would happen if the two of them could work together is fascinating and rather central to the novel (although it never occured to me to ask). The related question of whether language continues to, or needs to, evolve, is also very pertinent to the novel.

    The ideal revision would manage to answer your question of about the 2 Peter Stillmans, and how/why their ideas can(not) work together. For instance, you might want to consider whether Quinn/Wilson is able to bring their ideas into dialogue with one another, whether he tries but fails, or whether he doesn't even try.

    So this is clever and thoughtful and I'm a fan of the general approach - but it remains too general. You need to try to answer questions as well as asking them (even when they're really good), and you need to always find a way to work with the details of the text. (which you do a little, but not enough0