Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, Letter 1

Dear Dave,

After reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story,[1] I thought I would go back and blog my way through each chapter. But it was the quote from ‘Good Old Neon’ before the start of chapter 1 that caught my attention, begging me to respond. It reads:

“What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.”

I’ve studied and taught language and literature for quite awhile now, and the more I do so, the more I am convinced that – as this quote alludes to – language simply fails to take us into the deepest depths of the human experience. The inner turmoil, the hurt feelings, the confusion. But also the joy, the elation, the rapture. So much of what we experience – whether physically or mentally or emotionally – goes beyond our ability to articulate those experiences. Our vocabulary can only take us so far; can only scratch the surface at best.

In the introduction to his Holocaust memoir, Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel recounts how language failed him in writing the horrors and atrocities of his story. He explains:

“I also knew that, while I had many things to say, I did not have the words to say them. Painfully aware of my limitations, I watched helplessly as language became an obstacle… All the dictionary had to offer seemed meager, pale, lifeless” (Night, ix).

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that language can be a powerful tool for expression. Like paint on a canvas or notes from an instrument, words can evoke strong feelings and passions.[2] No matter the form – narrative, poetry, whatever – there are incredible examples of what language is capable of. There are poets and novelists who can weave a wonderful tapestry to words that when we hear or read them, we proclaim, “I know exactly what that feels like.” There are those who can give words to thoughts and feelings when words escape us regular folk. They help us better understand “what it means to be a f***ing human being.”

But their words can only take us so far, “barely sketch[ing] the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given moment.” They bring us closer to understanding ourselves, but so much still remains an unknown mystery.

[1] It was a very fast and frantic read. DT Max agreed to do an interview here on Letters to DFW, and I needed to finish the book before we spoke. I’m working on writing up the interview and hope to post it soon.

By the way, we had a wonderful conversation. Max was extremely gracious and a pleasure to talk to. I only wish I had more time to ask him more questions.

[2] It wasn’t until after I started reading Wallace that I truly understood the meaning of the term “language arts.” In the introduction to a reading that he did at the Hammer Museum, he was called, “America’s most radical language artist,” and it just clicked.