Further thoughts on Aline’s “Natural Linguistics – The Power of Speech”

I find Aline’s analysis on the poem “Natural Linguistics” very interesting. Auden seems quite concerned with the power of linguistics and speech per say, which as Aline argued, can have an enchanting power (whether for good or evil). However when I was reading the poem, it seemed that Auden was to some extent mourning the loss of the language of gesture and of our natural instincts (“urban life has, alas, sadly impoverished ours”).

Thus, during the after-reading of the poem, the words that crossed my mind were: free will and rationality; which are quite often paired with language and speech. Speech brings us the possibility of thought, and the act of free will is dependent on thought and more crucially reflective thought. Humanity is intrinsically the combination of the animal/instinctual self and the free willing, rational and self reflective being. Thus it seems interesting how the alienation of our most primary self has led us to still engage in colossal destructive behavior. Morality in the Kantian sense, relies strictly on our capacity to be rational and rationality offers us the scope to understand consequences and responsibility, thus being deeply intertwined with morality. Free will, on the other hand, offers the choice to act or not act, after considering rationally the consequences of any action or word pronounced. Therefore, the empowering of the individual through speech and thought, could be considered in an utopian sense the perfect path for a moral style of life. Nevertheless, as we have seen in Auden’s poem, it is this unique feature of human existence that separates us from ‘them’, which has brought torture for a point of belief and a procession to war. Auden was strongly influenced by the events of the mid 20th century and there is no doubt that one of the most astonishing things of the Second World War lie in the manner in which the Nazi ideology was capable of leading to war one of the most educated cultures within the whole of Europe. It seems therefore that Rational Linguistics of morality (and by this I mean morality derived from our human rational speaking self) are not congruent with a realistic capacity to be moral and therefore practice ‘Good’.

I would therefore see from Auden’s poem a plea to not neglect the second half of what means to be human, therewith claiming that we need both Natural and Rational Linguistics. Have we become so mechanized and thought/speech subdued that we forgot how to balance our instinctual self with our rational self leading all our ‘natural evil’ to become more than mere instinctual drives, and growing into giant individual and group harmful rationalized drives?

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