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kkazan's picture

The inadequacy of words

William James' "The Stream of Thought"

"One may admit that a good third of our psychic life consists in these rapid premonitory perspective views of schemes of thoughts no yet articulate. How comes it about that a man reading aloud for the first time is able immediately to emphasize all his words aright, unless from the very first he have a sense of at least the form of the sentence yet to come, which sense is fused with his consciousness of the present word, and modifies its emphasis in his mind so as to make him give it the proper accent as he utters it." pg.44

This quote, more than any other, brought to light the constant struggle that James is having with the English language. He expresses the shortcomings of the language he writes in almost as often as he expresses a new idea. At one point he suggests that Latin might serve his purposes better, but I wonder? Isn't this always the case when expressing something for the first time? Just as when thinking it for the first time. Language has not quite caught up to where James' mind is leading from. But this is the case with everything, and it is almost, as if by pointing out the lack of appropriate words he has to work with, showing you the lack of reference your brain has to work with at the conception of a new idea. Is James really annoyed with the English language, or is he using it as an example to show the reader what the consciousness must do at the conception of a new 'stream' of thought or reference point? It's one in same...isn't it. A lack of precedence or familiarity with the new subject, in James' case.

Maybe I have misunderstood his meaning in and among all of his outbursts of inadequacy, but this I have gotten: William James is expressing something which has never been expressed before in the terms of the old. It seems the first thing he ought to do is define specific terms which will aid in his unfolding of ideas.

Can the new be expressed in the same terms of the old?


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