Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy on Speech, part 1 Here are notes from our latest discussion on Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

and speech. This represents the first part of our discussion. Rather than document and footnote ERH’s specific words, I am writing free style, seeking to capture the essence of the discussion and his ideas rather than a more academic synopsis. Speech and Death We are born under the shadow of death. Death threatens to extinguish the future for us and for all of our kind. All our achievements, ideas, hopes and dreams dissipate at death. With a conscious realization of impending death, we need something or someone to stand between us and the immediacy of death. Jesus reverses the equation by becoming the sacrifice for others. His sacrifice, his action, his surrender to death results in life. By the Spirit, the natural belief that life ends in death is reversed. Death precedes life. The future is the power of the Spirit calling us through death into life. This call, this breath, this inspiration is the foundation of vital speech. Vital speech is the power of the Spirit leading into the future. Thus vital speech is the declaration that risks to speech in the face of death. Instead of speaking the articulate word in the face of death, our culture is endangered by ignoring or trying to hide from death and thus yielding to death. We assume peace is natural. We assume the future is assured. We assume our prosperity is never-ending. But one look at history reveals that civilization can suddenly descend into chaos and death at any moment. Just think of some recent world history like Rwanda to see the chaos of death looming over the world. If we think only uneducated, savage men can descend to such chaos so quickly, we need only think back to WWI and WWII to see civilized, Christian men leave the Christian era and enter into the chaos of death and destruction. Thus vital speech is the “in-spired” word declared in the face of death that leads us from death to life. The Four-Fold Speech of the Spirit The cross of reality intersects time and space forming inner and outer (space) as well as backward and forward (time). We can understand vital speech in this four-fold way. Future (Inspiration) The Spirit or the Thou (in Buber’s language) calls me by naming me. The name is the power of the future calling me into being. Thus Abram is called Abraham; Jacob is called Israel; Hosea is called Joshua.

This proper address, this call, this name inspires me. Just as I breathe in each moment to sustain every organ in my body so I can move forward into the future, I breathe in, I inspire, I am spirited: breathed upon from the future. Inner (Resonation) Addressed by the Thou, I awaken. The “I” comes into awareness by means of address. I am named; I am called. The breath, pneuma, spirit fills me. The vital speech resonates within me. The vital speech moves me to tears, to laughter, to anger, to feel. This is not the passionless speech of Greek philosophy: this is the fire of the Hebrew prophet. It is a fire shut up in my bones. Like the song of a bard, the resonating word awakens me in a way beyond understanding, beyond simple reason, beyond abstractions and ideas. The vital speech pierces my heart with love. Backward (Remembrance) Even as the vital speech resonates through me, I realize I am a part of something bigger than myself. My existence does not begin with me. I am named not simply as a person but as a person who is part of a people. I come from a people. The call from the future, leads me to the past as I remember, I listen, I enter into the stories of the community. To reduce my existence to the saying, “I think therefore I am” is to make me a-historical. But I am not a-historical. I am born within a context. I live within a story that reaches backward long before me and reaches forward long after me. Remembering is listening backward. As I listen, I gain orientation. I realize where I stand. The ground upon which I walk I did not create. The stories from the past have shaped me. Outward (Translation) Gaining orientation from the stories of the past and the call of the future, I speak; I act; I enter into the history. I connect my father’s generation and my son’s generation in my action. I translate the vital word into this hour. Speaking and acting, I embody the word in a particular way. Thus vital speech connects the universal and the particular within me in the midst of my translated/articulated word. I enter history. The word of faith becomes the declaration of love in the face of death. The future is realized through my sacrifice, my risk, my life given for others. There are four directions of vital speech with four manifestations and four pronouns.

From the future I hear the address (name) of inspiration declared by the Thou. The vital speech resonates inside me, awakening the I. Remembering the past, I join the community as we. I translate (speak-act) the vital word outside as He. Hearing not seeing Vital speaking is not seeing what I see, but hearing what is to be heard. The world may be in chaos, vengeance may be the norm, and death may darken every corner. But the vital speaker bears the power of the Spirit. Breathing in the name, the call of the future, the speaker does not weaken under the darkness that is seen but hears a word of love that conquers death. Oriented by the past and the future, the vital speaker translates the declaration of love into this moment. This declaration is not like the safe discourse of reason and debate in the classroom, but rather it is the daring song of the lover who risks it all for the sake of the beloved, or the cry of the warrior who faces death to safe his people. So the vital speaker is listening and speaking in four ways: Inspiration This is the power of listening to the future. Abraham is called out. The rabbis call his “lech lecha” because he is called to “go ye forth.” He is called to out from among his people and create the future. So the first act of listening is listening for our name. Resonation The inspired word enters us and must resound through us. When I listen to Mozart, I do not try and understand the music. I let it resound within me and feel it from within. Thus resonate is the act is listening through speaker’s voice. As I listen to Mozart, I feel the world through him. The resonated ear yields to the sound and breaks down the wall between speaker and listener. How does an instrument carry sound? It does not oppose the musician. The violinist draws the bows across the strings, and sound resonates through the wood. Like the wood, I yield to the inspired word allowing it to sound forth within me. I must have ears to hear before I speak. Remembrance Listening backward is listening to the sounds of the past. I train my ears to hear the voices of my fathers. In stories and ceremonies, I listen for the epochs and movements across time. Remembering is much more than recalling. It is listening with the whole body, so it is a listening that is re-enacting. The children of Israel listen to the story of Egypt through festivals and meals. As they eat and drink and talk, they are remembering—listening to ancient rhythms.

The rhythms of the past enter into the listener in the present. So the disciples eat the bread and drink the wine to remember Jesus’ body broken and the blood shed. As they remember, the Jesus’ body and blood are made present within them. Translation To translate is to reverse the curse of Babel. Translation yields to the uniting word in the particular moment. If I am speaking to a German, I do not speak Chinese. I listen to the hearer, so that I may speak the language of the hearer. As I speak-act-think, I translate through word in a particular way on two levels. One, the word is made particular through me. I speak with certain cadences and rhythms. Two, I speak to a particular hearer. I listen so that I may speak the living, fluid word in the present moment (present person and context) with power to create the future.