Klaus Mann observed that he could no longer read new German books: “Can it be that Hitler has polluted the language of Nietzsche and Hoelderlin?” It can. “What happened to those who are the guardians of a language, the keepers of its conscience? What happened to the German writers? A number were killed in the concentration camps; others, such as Walter Benjamin, killed themselves before the Gestapo could get at them to obliterate what little there is in a man of God’s image. But the major writers went into exile. George Steiner’s wrote in After Babel: “Jude, Pole, Russe came to mean two-legged lice, putrid vermin which good Aryans must squash, as a party manual said, ‘like roaches on a dirty wall.” Final solution came to signify the death of six million human beings in gas ovens. It is extremely dehumanising to read certain linguistic expressions in our social media. What is happening to our language is not discussed in the world of language and literature nor in ethical and religious circles. Ethics of the word is absent in the darkness of language. Are we, the people, responsible for what we say? Language demands an answering call that should arise out of a debt of love. ln our humanities, the quality of thought and style remain convinced, directly proportionate to the aloneness of the writer.
As a form of art, literature is an encounter, not simply distracted words on a page. It is a life-altering engagement and love-affair with its ‘real presence’ in art and Literature. The critic should both recall us to the remembrance of our great lineage and seek to know what the effects, if any, will be on the quality and survival of society. Citing the connection between Nazi bestiality and the corruption of the German language, Steiner warns of what can happen to language when it has been “severed from the roots of moral and emotional Me, when it has become ossified with clichés, unexamined definitions, and leftover words.” We become complacent that language today continues to undergo a similar degradation: “the language of the mass media and of advertisement what passes for literacy in the style of present political debate, are manifest proofs of a retreat from vitality and precision.” The danger is that these new private languages fail to build a bondage between idiosyncrasy and common sense and consequently remain barren and obscure.
The language of politics has become infected with obscurity and madness. No lie is too gross for strenuous expression, no cruelty too abject to find apologia in the verbiage of historicism. Unless we can restore to the words in our newspapers, Iaws, and political acts some measure of clarity and stringency of meaning, our lives will draw yet nearer to chaos. There will then come to pass a new Dark Ages. The prospect is not remote. Under such conditions, reason itself has become repressive. The worship of ‘with’and of autonomous ‘facts’ is a cruel fetishism. The disease of enlightened man is his acceptance of the superiority of facts over ideas. Instead of serving human ends and spontaneities, the positive truths of science and of scientific laws have become a prison-house, to imprison the future. It is these ‘facts,’ not man, which regulate the course of history.
Steiner argues that outside and within man is the other, the “otherness” of the world. Call it what you will: a hidden or malevolent God, blind fate, the solicitations of hell, or the brute fury of our animal blood. It waits in ambush at the crossroads. It mocks us and destroys us. In certain rare instances, it leads us after destruction to some incomprehensible repose. Literature is the voice of our humanity and, as such, will suffer at best misunderstanding and at worst degradation if put under the theorist’s microscope. Whether speech, whether the shapes of moral judgment and imagination, for which the Judaic-Hellenic tradition relies on the authority of the Word, are viable in the face of the inhuman. Is the poet’s verse not an insult to the naked cry? If so, he wonders, what is the point of arguing for literacy and concludes that the holocaust marks a “second Fall.” The pervasiveness of oppression and cruelty is not simply one cultural crisis among many, but an “abandonment of the rational order of man.”