“The human being is not a creator but, rather, a creature, permeated by words which inscribe the body into both social and symbolic order”.
In an attempt to better understand the ways in which soil and language function I am reading a short essay in which Jenny Willner compares Kafka’s ‘The Burrow’ to Peter Weiss’ ‘The Aesthetic of Resistance’. She compares not the overt themes but rather the underlying metaphor of being underground, whether literally in ‘The Burrow’ or in terms of being hidden by or using a secret language. Both texts use language to create an underground shelter “words are the material out of which these shelters are built’. Words form a safe space but one that is also a trap, in the way any hiding place can be. Willner points to the impossibility of safe and uninterrupted refuge in language. The more Weiss’ characters cling to their linguistic strategies the more they resemble the creature in Kafka’s ‘The Burrow’, hiding within, yet threatened by, their shelter;
“linguistic creation as a shelter is constantly confronted with the opposing notion that the human being is not a creator but… permeated by words”.
The article also touches upon the idea that language does not have to be welcoming, open and inclusive, rather it can shut out, exclude and obscure. “(Weiss’) long intricate sentences form an impregnable surface…unified blocks without paragraphs… (recalling) a desire for closed walls… (where) every reader is a potential intruder.
Willner discusses the idea of security on the very edge of breakdown – language appears to provide security through shared meaning, understanding, through the protection of codes, yet points paradoxically to a lack of immanent meaning and the flexibility of signifiers.. Language simultaneously bridges and emphasises the gap between the self and other, the internal self and the external other that are both constituted and broken apart by language:
“The burrow (language) is the place where one is supposed to be safe, neatly tucked inside, but (The Burrow) shows that in the most intimate place of shelter one is thoroughly exposed; the inside is inherently fused to the outside” (Mladen Dolar 2006, 166-167)
What does any of this mean? That the way in which materials are manipulated, talked about and read is more important than the reading of their materiality? That my reading of Beuys’ ideas of (specifically German) soil and language can be opened up from the circularity and apparently direct metamorphosis of language-into-form? (“The Gestaltung [an idea into form]… dies only incessantly to be reborn, spontaneously generating itself within the circularity of the soil and revealing itself alternately as the soil of the German language and as the language of the German soil” [Eric Michaud])… That soil and language are not only directly linked through their link to home, Heimat, a place of origin/origination but through more satisfying and subtle metaphors of shelter, protection, of hiding within the deep earthy safety of a linguistic burrow, of hiding from the sound of OTHER voices which penetrate and shake the walls of our self.
Simply put, can the rammed earth pieces and the multiple-text pieces both comment on excess of material and meaning, and both build – through repetition – something which the self should be able to inhabit but out of which the self is sometimes painfully pushed? That just as multiple voices question the notion of one fixed meaning, a mass of material blocks our outer self and a mass of meanings blocks our inner self?