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The Sorcery of Language

Text by: E. David Knox
Photography by: Roger Ruth Photography

Charles Baudelaire said that, “to handle language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.” The magic of language, when mastered and used well, can work any number of miracles. Entire worlds that would otherwise exist only in an author’s imagination can be contained in words and disseminated to other minds. Poets can stir our emotions from distant places and distant times.
In the hands of the powerful language can be used to free, or to subjugate, an entire people. Language is powerful and sacred, yet familiar and comfortable. The degree to which an individual masters their world is directly proportionate to the degree to which they are able to master language. It is not necessary to go rushing off to wrestle with the reading of Latin or Greek at the cost of mastering the simple idiom of children. Babies need baby talk. Lovers need pillow talk. We all need the simple language of friendship and familiarity. The beauty of simple words is exquisite. There is however, tremendous value in striving to master complex and difficult language. By ignoring language that is difficult we deny ourselves access to sublime thoughts and beautiful images that can change us forever. We also deny ourselves of our most effective means to influence others, and defend ourselves from the tyranny of the well-intended despot. Within the limits of a reasonable and descent society, a powerful will and strong mind are more likely to be swayed by effective language than by force or violence. Where it is possible, a converted ally is more valuable and useful than a defeated enemy. Our mastery of language should be such that when we are engaged
in a contest of words, our opponent cannot weaken us with a barrage of language that we cannot deftly deflect, defy, or deconstruct. A weak understanding of language leads to timidity and gullibility, whereas a command of language leads to confidence, and prevents the unwanted or accidental imposition of another’s will on our own mind.
The sorcery of language does not only create dream-worlds in poetry and fiction. Language creates and governs the society that we live in every day. Such language is difficult and complex. It is our task to master that language so that we can participate fully in our society. By doing so we help to ensure that the language that governs us remains not only powerful, but beautiful. The sorcery of language can be studied by any student at any level, and in any language. The first tool required is a dictionary. The second is a text. It can be anything from a classical poem, to a modern novel, to a municipal code. The only requirement is that the text challenges the reader. The second tool must require the use of the first to be effective. Mastering the sorcery of language allows an individual to create, rather than merely occupy, their world.