It is common cynical knowledge that in this world of spin, our perceptions of reality cannot possibly be divorced from the language it is presented in. But the question remains as to whether language creates or distorts reality. At the crux of the issue is really our definition of "reality." Is it merely a societal construct, a product of what the majority agrees upon or is forced to accept? If so, it may well be dependent upon the language of those with power, wit or persuasion. But if reality is more of a monolithic force, an absolute truth that transcends time and culture, then it is perhaps more likely to survive the abuses of language.
It can be, however, almost unequivocally asserted that during a feudalistic era of serfs, lords and kings, "reality" was very much determined by the language of powerful entities. In Hamlet, Claudius dribbles tired platitudes as truths but gets away with it. Arguing rather clinically that the loss of a father is a universal phenomenon and an inevitable stage in life, ("your father lost a father,/that father lost his") Claudius chastises Hamlet's sullen disposition and mourning for the late king as "impious stubbornness" and "unmanly grief."(1.2 ln95) In subsuming the particularity of what a father's death might feel like to an individual under general rhetoric, Claudius is attempting to abdicate responsibility for his crime. For to deny the specificity of an act is to also downplay its significance.
[...] In front of a court audience, Laertes is forced to “receive [Hamlet's] offered love like love/and not wrong ( 5.2 ln 249) If there is already something distasteful about the way those with social power can carelessly wield language and impose their reality on others, then Don Fernando from Don Quixote would shock with his capacity to present the very opposite of the fact, as truth. Wanting (rather whimsically) to posit the packsaddle as a glorious horse harness, and by extension, the barber's basin inversely as Membrino's helmet, he conducts a poll amongst the inn audience who invariably vote to affirm his beliefs. [...]
[...] The relationship between language and reality ultimately depends on how malleable we believe reality to be. If we arm ourselves with the post- modernist cynicism of whether an objective reality even exists, then language can be seen as one of the many factors that creates the varying, subjective reality. But it is quite heartening that even a text like Don Quixote that is so bent on exposing the subjectivity of reality, concedes that there is, or at least a need to believe that there is, still some objective truth that cannot be kidnapped by the wiles of language. [...]
[...] The son of a steward, he is nonetheless endowed with a tremendously useful “agreeable manner” and that can render commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic interesting.” (Vol.1.XVI.57) In the episode where he darkens Elizabeth's opinion of Darcy, his language is extremely calculated and effective. First establishing himself as an intimate relation of Darcy's, he then tests the waters with Elizabeth, before proceeding to make measured criticisms of his nemesis. His account is understated and replete with details (as Lizzie gushes, “names, facts everything mentioned without ceremony!” Vol 1.XVII.65) and is mistakenly granted greater “veracity” than Caroline Binghley's true but vague and condescending assertion: Wickham has treated Darcy in a most infamous manner. [...]
[...] But language should not simply be dismissed as a lackey of the rich and the powerful, a means by which they bulldoze through potential opposition. Language does have its own power to make or break the speaker or writer as well. Notwithstanding his motives for doing so, Saint Augustine does raise a relevant point in his Confessions, that the humble style of the old Latin bible was a huge-turn off for the intellectuals: seemed to me unworthy in comparison with the dignity of Cicero. [...]
[...] This idea of language as both a pro and anti-establishment tool is taken up by Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. He argues that that monumental change can come about from a great man's “gift or talent of speaking a new word in their environment.” (Part 3.V.259) He views language particularly as a “destructive” force, one that can tear apart tradition and bring progress. But when Raskolnikov starts granting these “extraordinary” men the right to “transgress the in fulfillment of an idea that is supposedly “salutary for the whole of mankind,” we start to wonder if our own rationale is being taken in by the force of eloquence. [...]
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