Margo's Magical Letter Page
· Gregory Bateson (audio tape):
This is a very serious matter... that the way that human beings think, certainly the way that I think, is in terms of stories... Now what is a story? A story, if it so please you, is a metaphor... If you look at these two plants, you will see that they are essentially metaphors, one of the other, that metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive...
These are stories, a story being an aggragate of formal relations scattered in time... It has a certain sort of minuet or formal dance to it. It gets more complicated, because this is where we live. And the funny thing about living there is that we care about it intensely. And when the metaphors get jangled by unfortunate events... we get very upset. You see, the idea that there is any mental process going on that isn't metaphoric is a very late, school-marmish idea. What they were killing each other over in the 14th Century was metaphor. Is the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ. The Catholics said yes. The Protestants said no; it stands for body and blood. And they felt that this was worth burning for. No one would ever think that now. (Margaret: unless you're a linguist :-) )
The set of mental processes - aesthetics, feeling, poetry perhaps - is precisely where dream is made... And the Protestant view of the sacrament was a policy decision to exclude from the church that part of the mind which is concerned with poetry, feeling, fantasy, metaphor, stories...
What follows is only the beginnings of a system of thoughts that are percolating in my mind. The observation I wish to discuss here was spurred by something I heard or read by Joseph Campbell, namely that the mistake that cultures make is to confuse levels and to take a myth as historical fact rather than as a metaphor for a psychological reality. I too in certain frames of mind view this as the Error that we as humans make. We confuse levels, confuse our theory with our data, our map with our territory. It is this process that is inherently divisive. Consider the motto of Communism 'from each according to his ability to each according to his need'. There is a state of mind from which it is clear that that's how everything in fact inherently works anyway. But just look the hell that descends on us when we try intensionally to put in place what already is the case. It is the same hell that descends on us when we try to state what we must presuppose, when we take as literal that which must be understood metaphorically.
I think ultimately this error is rooted in an inability to recognize the reality of anything but the literal, the incapacity to see that the metaphorical lives and breathes and cannot be so readily dismissed.
At this Web site, I endeavor to show that every consonant and vowel has a meaning. That is, in information-theoretical terms, each consonant and vowel carries information. Put another way, semantic (meaning) domains are not evenly distributed among the consonants and vowels. This can be observed on (at least) two levels.
On one level, the speech sounds carry what we call 'iconic' meaning, using a term introduced by perhaps the great semioticist, C.S. Peirce. On this most basic level, the meaning of a sound is what the sound is. There is a feeling-tone associated with a 'g' sound and a 'm' sound and a 't' sound, and that gets conveyed so that if you look at just one semantic domain, like verbs for light, you find that the 'm' and the 't' convey different things to the words 'glitter' vs. 'glimmer'. And 'glimmer' in turn differs from 'shimmer' in a way that you can't characterize in words, because it's conveyed by the sound itself... iconically, and what we call synaesthetically. That is, the experience of the sound 't' is conveyed to a different medium, that of light to produce a specific effect.
On another level, we have something we call 'clustering'. This is not direct association of sound with meaning. Rather, it's the process in language which seeks to imbue each linguistic form with a single, coherent meaning or semantic domain. This is really obvious in the case of words. We use a string of speech sounds 'shoe' or 'brontosaurus' within certain quite narrow contexts of meaning. When we do use a word in several different meaning contexts, like 'wash the dishes', 'wash one's hands of', 'complete wash out', etc.. we try to interconnect the different contexts in our mind. This same thing we do subconsciously to insure that words only get used in a narrow range of contexts, we also do to insure that consonants and vowels only get used in a narrow range of contexts. Of course, since there are so few consonants and vowels compared to the number of words in the average person's vocabulary (28 vs. 100,000), the consonant and vowel meanings cannot be nearly as narrow as the word meanings... Word meanings must about 4000 times as narrow, so consonant and vowel meanings are much harder to get a handle on. In my experience, it takes some practice and a lot of time before you start to see them.
I've observed that although iconic meanings only convey a feeling tone, this clustering deals with concepts and classes of words and can be understood also conceptually. Indeed, I suggest that clustering of meaning on the level of consonants and vowels results in an archetype. The clustering meanings of the consonants are literally gods. The foundation of language, in other words, is a system of archetypes made manifest in the consonants and vowels. And I believe it to be incredibly important to our understanding of the nature of human psychology.
I really believe this to be true. I believe it can be demonstrated empirically by the methods I use at this site. One of the best known facts of linguistics is that Eskimo has 50 words for snow... I don't even know if that's true, but the fact is that within certain parameters, a culture proliferates terms in domains that are important to them. On my page of people words, you can observe the same effect for English.
(We English speakers require by far the most diverse and subtle terms for people to insult one another. Following insults, the next biggest class is that of male professions. The best represented female profession by far is prostitution, and whereas most of the words for men in English concern male professions, most words for women concern women as sex objects. This is what we receive subconsciously when we learn the English language. No one seems as impressed with this fact as I am, but there it is nonetheless. I don't think our psychology relative to sex roles can change in our culture until our vocabulary changes, and that's a quite a deep operation into our psyche.)
The main classes for English monomorphemic people words in order of size are:
Now there are a couple major ways in which we may classify words. Consider first a classification which is independent of sound and then one which is dependent on sound.
Type 1. People: (independent of sound)
General /p/, /s/
/p/: people, person
/s/: self, soul
Pronouns /h/, /m/, /j/
/h/: he, her, hers, him, his
/h/: who, whom, whose
/m/: me, mine, my
/j/: you, your, yours
Unprincipled [+labial], /k/, /s/, /h/
/b/: bandit, bastard, beast, bigot, bitch, blight, bogie, bully
/t/: titan, troll, tyrant
/k/: cabal, cannibal, cartel, clique, crook, culprit, kamikazi
/f/: felon, fence, fiend, foe, fox, fraud
/T/: thief, thug
/s/: Satan, scab, scum, serpent, shark, skunk, slime, snake, sneak, snoop, swine
/h/: hawk, heavy, heel, hood, hoodlum, hooligan, hound, junta
/J/: jackal, jerk, jezebel
/C/: charlatan, churl
/m/: mafia, mass, medusa, menace, mob, monster
/r/: rabble, rake, rascal, rat, ring, riot, rip, roach, rogue, rot, rout, roué, rowdy, rubble
/v/: vamp, vampire, vandal, villian, viper, vixen, vulture
/w/: wasp, weasel, witch, wolf, wretch
Aggressive [+labial, +voiced], /h/, /m/
/b/: bandit, bastard, bear, beast, bigot, bitch, blab, blight, bogie, boss, bother, brat, bruiser, brute, bug, bugger, bull, bully
/g/: geezer, grouch, grump
/p/: pest, pirate, prick
/t/: terror, titan, troll, tyrant
/k/: cannibal, crab, crank, kamikazi
/v/: vamp, vampire, vandal, villian, viper, vixen, vulture
/f/: fury, fuzz
/T/: thorn, thug
/l/: harpy, heavy, hood, hoodlum, hound, junta
/m/: mafia, mass, medusa, menace, mob, monster
/r/: rabble, rake, rascal, rat, ring, riot, rip, roach, rogue, rot, rout, roué, rowdy, rubble
/w/: wasp, witch, wolf, wretch
Type 2. The Serpent in /s/ (sound based classification)
The Animal Itself- serpent, snake
Its Body - scale, skeleton, skin, skull, snout, sphincter, spine
Its Shape - cylinder, skinny, slender, slight, slim, straight, string, strip, stripe
Its Texture - satin, silk, sleek, slick, smooth, soft, suede
How it Moves
Scoot - scoot, scuffle, scurry, scuttle, scutter, skate, skid, skim, skirt, skittle, skitter
Scrape - scrape, scrub
Slide - slip, slide, slink, slip, slither
Squiggle - squiggle, squirm
Sway - swagger, sway, sweep, swerve, swim, swing, swish, swivel, swoop
Circle - circle, cycle, spin, spool, swirl, swivel
Sudden - spasm, speed, streak, stream, sudden, swift
People Classification Serpent in /s/ Classification The set of words classified are all those words that have a common element of meaning The set of words classified are all those words that contain some consonant or vowel The classification shows what kinds of words in what numbers are needed to talk about that domain of meaning The classification shows what that consonant or vowel means The classification tells us about what language is used to talk about The classification tells us what we talk in terms of The classification lies in the literal realm. The classification lies in the metaphorical realm The classification shows us what defines our culture The classification shows us what defines our myths. The classification tells us how language is used The classification tells us what language is This classification tells us about what is in the conscious domain of language, what we are aware of This classification tells us what is in the subconscious domain of language, what we are in general not aware of
I could go on. What I want to point out is that language quite clearly manifests the literal and the metaphorical domains and allows us to observe the nature of their interaction. Without the metaphorical domain, we could not speak at all. The archetypes are the blocks we use to speak in terms of. However, without the literal domain, we'd have nothing to say. Language would have no function.
I would also point out that the patterns exhibited in the first classification scheme for people are much easier to change than those in the second class. The patterns in the first change every time a culture acquires a new set of pursuits or changes its attitude toward something. The patterns in the second class, however, are subconscious, and therefore thankfully aren't in our control to change... We couldn't change them if we tried, and I suspect, as Bateson says, that it would be suicidal to try.
I was visited by another thought on this subject today. The linguist Fredinand de Saussure coined two terms - 'langue' and 'parole' - to distinguish the language proper from speech. The language proper is not dependent on the speaker, does not require thinking. It simply is. Parole, on the other hand, is a function of the speaker. It concerns the process of using language 'langue'.
At the level of 'langue', there are no words which are more important than other words. A word exists or it doesn't exist. And on that level, iconism is basic. On the level of 'parole', there are definitely some senses and some words which are more basic than others and around which others form. Consequently, reference is most basic at this level. All other senses can be seen as emanating out from this most basic sense. We think of the various senses of a word as related back to its most basic sense by means of semantic relations, metaphor, etc.. For example, we think of the most basic sense of the word 'tree' as a noun referring to a plant. When we say 'to tree a cat', we think of that sense as derived from the basic sense by certain processes involving location, verbalizing the noun, etc..
But on the level of 'langue', as I see it, this type of relationship between two senses of a word is irrelevant. Rather, on this level, a usage either exists or it doesn't. All senses are created equal. And the senses of a word are not interconnected horizontally in langue the way I described above for parole. Rather, they are connected vertically. The word senses are all emanations out from a common source - which ultimately is the sound of the word itself. This sound is like a light that you shine through various semantic classes like trough prisms. For example, we classify words as animals, plants or verbs of motion and which divide them into nouns, verbs and adjectives. From the perspective of 'langue' - what is as opposed to how it is used - the various senses of a word are interrelated by virtue of the fact that they all are inflections of the same quality of sound.
We're aware of only what's on top.
What we're aware of
I'm excited about this. I have been thinking about it much more linearly in the past, and this adds dimensionality to my thinking. You might say that some words have more shakti, just as some people have more charisma.
If a Shakespeare puts a relatively obscure word in a magical context, it can gain shakti/mana/ka around itself and become more central to the language. Once it has built up this energy around itself, other words begin to relate to it and these horizontal connections begin to form with it as the center. I quote Maurice Bloomfield on this subject. He wrote a couple of my very favorite papers on sound symbolism in the end of the last century.
"Every word, in so far as it is semantically expressive, may establish, by haphazard favoritism, a union between its meaning and any of its sounds, and then send forth this sound (or sounds) upon predatory expeditions into domains where the sound is a first a stranger and parasite. A slight emphasis punctures the placid function of a certain sound element, and the ripple extends, no one can say how far... No word may consider itself permanently exempt from the call to pay tribute to some congeneric expression, no matter how distant the semasiological cousinship; no obscure sound-element, eking out its dim life in a single obscure spot, may not at any moment find itself infused with the elixir of life until it bursts its confinement and spreads through the vocabulary a lusty brood of descendents... The signification of any word is arbitrarily attached to some sound element contained in it, and then cogeneric names are created by means of this infused, or we might say, irradiated, or inspired element."
I see this as very similar to what happens to people. A charismatic person functions analogously to an inspired word. And an obscure person can gain shakti and become a central point out from which others emanate by appearing in an interesting context - not in a sentence, but in the sphere of human concerns and endeavors.
Aside from function words, the most basic words are concrete nouns - firmly rooted in their worldly function and therefore less transparent to the epiphany! That's why it's harder to make a living if you're not a hammer or a nail, but some kind of funky whigamasnopper. The human notion of the family has its correlates in language as well. A word gives birth to other similar words, and their destinies are inextricably tied up, though they do ever after also live independent lives...
8/7/00 - Thoughts on Joseph Campbell, Black Magic, Explanations and Myth
I love Joseph Campbell. What he says about the structure of this world and its relation to myth, I feel can be applied to the structure of language and its mythological elements. In the second of his interviews with Bill Moyers, for example, he says the following:
"What's the meaning of the universe? What's the meaning of a flea? It's just there. That's it. Your own meaning is that you're there. We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value. the rapture that's associated with being alive is what it's all about. We want to think about God. God is a thought. God is a name. God is an idea, but its reference is to something that transcends all thinking. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond all categories of thought. My friend Heinrich Zimmer of years ago used to say, "The best things can't be told," because they transcend thought. "The second best are misunderstood," because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can't be thought about, and one gets stuck in the thoughts. "The third best are what we talk about." And myth is that field of reference, metaphors referring to what is absolutely transcendent."
"(Moyers) What can't be known or can't be named except in our own feeble attempt to clothe it in language."
"And the ultimate word in our language for that which is transcendent is God."
In language also, we are completely preoccupied with meaning. But there is an underlying dimension of language which simply is there. It is presupposed, you might say. It is the foundation out from which we speak. And when we speak in accord with these gods, then the result is poetry; it is rapturous... not concerned with outer significance - not how to get from A to B - but concerned with inner significance.
When he speaks of God as an idea, a name or thought, he is recognizing the fact of the word. It has a referent. As such, it lives among other words, and we use it as a word to express ideas. But even the word has a transcendent dimension - it is rooted in its sound, which in English is /g//a//d/... And this dimension of language, this foundation, like the archetype itself, points beyond the categories of thought. Before the word is classified, it is sound. This points to the transcendent.
So at this site, I write in alphabetical order. I list words. In this, I see poetry, because in this way, I feel I can at least get closer to the second kind of thoughts. The third kind of thoughts are those I speak now by writing sentences. The second kind of thoughts, I express as phonesthemes - sound-meaning classifications of words. And to know the first kind of thought as they manifest in language, you must go back to the sound itself, through mantra, for example, and become aware of how the sounds vibrate within your mind and body.
As the structure of myth and the physical universe, so the structure of language and so the structure of all things. All things work this same way.
I also find it interesting that Campbell felt the need to interject that last sentence... He wasn't informing his audience of anything they didn't already know. What was it in him that prompted this comment? I find that there is a linguistic ecology. If we use words incorrectly for a long time, they become polluted, and this affects the whole language... everything in the language has to adjust itself in deference to this polluted word. 'God' is an example of an English word which has been badly polluted for millennia. It has continuously been used in contexts which are inappropriate to it - contexts of jealousy, prudery, limitation, vengeance, duality, obedience to outside authority... As a result of this, people in our age who wish to express the transcendent without bringing in these connotations look for other words now to replace it - cosmos, nature, Buddha, etc.. I feel certain that this is not the best approach, because the word 'God' cannot be excised from the language just by picking another in its place. A word as basic as 'God' becomes the focal point of a whole system of sounds - a whole class of words - which has been built up organically over the years. The wisdom of our ancestors is incorporated into this system in ways that we are just beginning to be aware of. Replacing the word God is comparable to burying the nuclear waste rather than cleaning it up. Or more accurately, it's like rejecting a child because it has been hurt rather than seeking to restore it to health. The best way to act relative to the polluted word 'God' is to start using it properly - to resurrect it as it was meant to be, to treat it as it deserves to be treated, just as the best way to deal with a hurt child is to bring it into the fold and to love it.
Our language is a tool. We can't simply go out and buy another tool... tell the Poles to start speaking Chinese or the Americans to start speaking Swahili. We are stuck with whatever language is dominant in the society. So let us be aware of the extent to which we depend upon it being in good working order. Let us become aware of the methods by which we can heal it. Let us become aware of the extent to which it is a living force and deserves to be treated as a living being. Let us become aware of the price we pay for using it sloppily - deceptively.
Let me say a bit more about what I mean by this. Inherent in any language are millions and millions of presuppositions of varying types. Most people are not even aware of one presupposition in language, so let me give some examples of major classes of presupposition:
Metaphors (such as those discussed by Lakoff): English presupposes the metaphor that time=money. You can see it if you bother to look in expressions such as "It cost me 3 hours." "I can't spend that much time on this." "I wasted all that time watching TV." In a similar manner, 'up' is metaphocially associated with 'north' and 'good' and 'light' and 'happy'.
Semantic Selectional Restrictions: English presupposes that the subject of the verb 'roar' is a lion. Consequently, anything that appears as the subject of 'roar' is associated with a lion. The object of 'brew' is automatically associated with a beverage. The cleaning agent implied in the verb 'wash' is water. For the verb 'sweep', the cleaning agent is presupposed to be a broom. In the verb 'clean', the cleaning agent is unspecified.
Facticity (as discussed by Kiparsky and Kiparsky): The complement clause of certain verbs is presupposed to be true. The most famous example is "When did you stop beating your wife?" The complement of the verb 'stop' is presupposed to be true, as opposed to the complement of 'think' or 'ask' which is not. Some verbs are counter-factive - the complement is presumed to be false.
Semantic Net: These lie closer to the surface, sometimes a little in the domain of presupposition, but we're also partly conscious of this. 'Long' is presupposed to have an opposite 'short'. 'Length' does not have an opposite in terms of size, but is opposed to words like 'height' and 'breadth' along the semantic axis of dimension.
Morphology: Words of latinate origin are presupposed to be more refined. But more specifically, we subconsciously associate 'inspect', 'respect', 'circumspect' even though most people don't know what 'spect' means in Latin. In words like these, there's a whole dynamic of meaning below the surface, which influences us, but which we are not consciously aware of. 'Aware' becomes associated with 'awake' in our minds, but 'conscious' becomes associated with 'science'. What influence do these associataions have on us as we listen to running speech. Who knows?
Sound Meaning: These are the deepest, most presupposed elements of language that I am aware of and also the most influential. /s/ is associated with (among other things) the serpent archetype in English. Every word that contains an /s/ drags in this archetype. And we are talking in terms of these whether we approve or not.
When you shift out 'God' for 'cosmos' or 'very' for 'wicked', it affects this net of associations. The more fundamental the word you replace, the more deeply it affects this net. And the net badly needs affecting. I'm not suggesting one should never make replacements. I'm only suggesting that we should become aware of what motivates us to make the replacements. If the switch is poetic (as in the case of 'very' to 'wicked'), then it will have a positive effect on the net. If the switch is to avoid associations we don't like (as in Buddha for God), then it pollutes no further, but it also fails to clean up the mess already made. And if the replacement has the effect of biassing a situation to gain some advantage (as in advertizements and political propaganda), then it pollutes language directly... it damages the tool that we all depend on.
The linguistic service that a Shakespeare does us is much greater than we suspect, just as the linguistic damage that an effective but deceitful advertisement does us is much greater than we suspect. We think of these influences as limited to their immediate listeners, but word usage spreads out like waves on a pond.
This linguistic pollution has in past ages been called black magic. The mechanism by which it works is this. As I point out, there are many presuppositions in language. Black magic works by explicitly stating something which is presupposed to be false or denying something which is presupposed to be true. All black magic is a form of 'When did you stop beating your wife?' It traps us in an invisible net. Something is presupposed that is false, but we are not aware that it has been presupposed, so we are caught in the net. The way to break the spell is to become aware of the false presupposition and to name it. If you act in any way prior to naming the false presupposition, you act on flase premises and your action will carry the lie further into the world. To break the spell, you have to refuse to address the statement on its own terms, to back off and up one level and to correct the false presupposition. For example, you say, "The sentence 'when did you stop beating your wife' presupposes that I beat my wife, and I did not beat my wife."
This black magic is an easy one to identify and deal with others are harder. For example, I once attended a promotional evening for a seminar group. This group used the word 'integrity' where the word 'punctuality' was appropriate. If you appeared late, it was said you lacked integrity. However, the correct English word in this context is not 'integrity' but 'punctuality'. This word replacement resulted in replacing the whole network of associations that go with the word 'integrity' into the context of 'punctuality'. People in this group seemed to me never to question whether punctuality was really the same thing as integrity, but went right on ahead to act as if it were. Hence those who were late were not merely late, but morally flawed. And they acted as if the solution to this presumed moral flaw was to appear on time. Because they unquestioningly accepted 'integrity' for 'punctuality', they also unquestioningly adopted a certain world view, a certain set of problems and a certain array of solutions to these problems.
If you feel as I do that punctuality is not the same as integrity, then this is a case of black magic. It is absolutely rampant in our world, in all cultures, It absolutely governs how we act and think about ourselves. And it seems to me therefore imperative that we become aware of our linguistic presuppositions... it's more imperative, it seems to me, than learning biology or chemistry. Otherwise you become the pawn of anyone who is just a little more aware of these presuppositions than you are - a little more adept at black magic.
Finally, how do you recognize black magic prior to knowing it consciously? You feel it. When someone is using verbal black magic, you feel slightly uncomfortably impelled to move a certain direction which is not organic to you. It feels like an uncomfortable force. You have to train yourself to stop up when you feel this force and to ask, "What is the black magic I'm feeling? Where is it coming from?"
Let me move on again with Joseph Campbell. (There's no particular logic to this presentation... I'm just talking along as I feel inclined... my apologies.)
"(Moyers) Weren't the people who made these stories and acted upon them asking far more simple questions: Who made the world? How was the world made? Why was the world made?"
"(Campbell) No... it's through that answer that they see that the Creator is present in the whole world."
Why do I find this quote applicable to linguistics? I'm thinking here of discussions I often find myself in with academic linguists. The oldest and best developed field in linguistics is probably etymology... the history of words. Where words came from. How they are made... We are very preoccupied with the history. Quite frequently people will say, "We don't need a theory of iconism (the notion that there is an active force which causes the meanings of words to be affected by their sounds) to account for the sound-meaning correlations that you've listed on your Web pages. Many of these can be accounted for by historical change."
Well, first of all, this isn't true. Often the words that appear together in a sound-meaning class are not at all historically related. But apart from that, my head is in a different place than the place from which this question is posed. My head is where Campbell's head is, and the question is analogous to Moyer's question. I find the whole notion that we need to 'explain' correlations by this or by that flawed... I understand where the question is coming from. But what's important is that there are sound-meaning correlations. And there are regular sound-changes as well. We get further not by trying to explain one phenomenon in terms of another, but we get further if we describe what is the case - what the interrelationship of things is. Then the Explanations open themselves to us. If we go after the explanations first, we make them up rather than see them as they are.
There are two levels on which to see sound-meaning correlations. One is historical... "Who made the world? How was the world made?" But if you simply look at the correlations as they are - as a fact rather than an explanation for something else, then the structure of the whole thing opens itself to you. The point is not really how language evolved, but what keeps it ticking here and now... The point is what is alive, not what is dead and past. The history can be derived from the here and now, but not the other way around. If you don't see first of all what dynamics are active in language in the present, how can you possibly predict how it will behave over time? Far more important than "Who made the world" is "Who is making the world?"
Campbell goes on:
"To see life as a poem and yourself as part of a poem is what the myth does for you."
"What do you mean a poem?"
"I mean a vocabulary not in the form of words, but of acts and adventures which connotes something which is transcendent of the action here and which yet informs the whole thing, so that you always feel in accord with the Universal Being."
Once again, the root of poetry is sound. It is sound that allows you to sling words out of their accustomed surroundings without their losing their integrity. It is sound that lets them dance without losing their balance. If to your mind, the primary function of language is poetry, then life will also be a poem for you, for you act in one dimension as you act in all dimensions. And if the primary function of language is to communicate how to get from A to B, then that is how you will live your life.
I don't believe in doing anything to try to change a person's posture relative to a thing. Nature determines the course and leads us most surely along it. But I am certain that if you see the poetry and the mysterious ground from which life and language spring, you see how it all hangs togeher much more clearly.
Finally a note on duality. Its a curious phenomenon that within any given consonant, it is very common to find a thing and its exact opposite strongly represented. For example, in 't', you find many words of 'travelling' (trip, train, trail, track) but also many words 'tying' (tack, tether, trap), words of 'tenderness', but also 'terrifying' words. In 'd', you find day/darkness, do (drive, drill)/dam up (dampen, die, douse). In 'b', black/blank, blame/bless, build/break. There are thousands of examples of this nature.
This might seem at first to be evidence that consonants do not have a single coherent meaning. But as it turns out, opposites are very close in meaning. The opposite of 'dark' is not 'cheesecake'. The opposite of 'hard' is not 'turquoise'. The opposite of 'man' is not 'carpet'. Indeed a word and its opposite are in general the same in every way but one. In fact, the words which are closest semantically are antonyms.
The shift from the low level archetypes to the realm of words acts like a prism that splits the light. What was one thing on the level of the phoneme is apparently split into many things by its placement in context, and what was one thing (extent) on the phoneme level appears on the surface as a thing and its opposite (long and short). What was merely 'color' at the level of the sound 'b', becomes 'white (blank, bleach, blanch)' in one set of contexts and 'black' in another. To find 'b', one must look at what 'bump' and 'bowl' and 'bulge', what 'blowing' and 'rub' and 'beat' and 'bomb' have in common.
Now let me introduce another quote from this same interview with Bill Moyers:
Whenever one comes out of the transcendent, one moves into a field of opposites. These pairs of opposites come forth as male and female from the two sides. One has now eaten of the tree of knowledge, not only of good and evil, but of male and female, right and wrong, this and that, light and dark. Everything in the field of time is dual, past and future, dead and alive, being and non-being... Put your mind in the middle. Most of us put our minds on the side of the good as opposed to what we think of as evil.
The correlate of putting your mind on the side of the good as opposed to the evil is that of speaking to bring about positive change. The correlate of putting your mind in the middle is poetry...
Margo's Magical Letter Page