Hand and mouth

Cueva de las Manos, Argentina

I just had an enquiry about doing an interview on the C-Realm Podcast site. A current wave of research – my enthusiasm for the ideas finding each other before me and transforming as I simmer them – overcame my initial trepidation about doing a spoken interview.

And then I stopped. I realized that this is exactly the wrong time to let that enthusiasm loose; it needs to be held close, protected, gestated, cooked. I’m hoping to get some writing out of it. So, no interview. Hopefully someone will be interested in interviewing me when I’ve got all these churning thoughts pinned down with words, and before I get bored with the whole thing!

This all got me thinking about the discrepancy I find between my writing and my speech. Most people have it, I suppose. Some people don’t have it much, and some carefully craft their writing to follow their speech patterns; some (usually academics and scientists) allow their speech to get taken over by the formalities of the written word, and others accept or even encourage the split.

Is it a split? Allen Ginsberg used to say that the voice is the link between the body and the spirit; the neck is the bridge between torso and head, channeling the breath, the living spirit, to work with material vibrations in a sonic union. (I’m not even paraphrasing here, just my words spinning off from his idea…) It’s certainly a view I’ve a lot of time for, and one that’s fruitful to keep close by when studying the use of voice in spiritual traditions.

But what about the hands? When writing and speech are placed in opposition, it seems intuitive that speech is more of the body, more spontaneous and connected to our physical animality. Whereas writing is more intellectual, more minded, reflective and “civilized”. And yet the mouth sits right up there in our head; while the hands, the vehicles of writing, are way away from the brain, that organ which conventionally carries “mind” in our culture.

Writing has its isolation, allowing a retraction from the world into psychic reflection. But perhaps there’s something in this bodily symbolism which helps turn our conventional conceptions upside-down, to break down this oppositional “split” idea. We can begin to see in speech less groundedness, more flighty airiness, perhaps a little vulnerable to being seized by passing breezes of thought. And in writing we can see the tool-wielding craft of handiwork, sentences wrought on the keyboard or pressed in thick dark ink onto the pulped remains of trees.

Each mode has its own blend of elemental forces, and discerning these starts to break down those tired oppositional perceptions.