Words put us in touch with things. Come, I’ll take you out to meet the great whites! the old ﬁsherman tells us. As he speaks to us, our attention is drawn not to images in his mind, nor images in ours, but drawn to the sharks themselves. When we go out to the ocean with him, he shouts: There they are! and his words make us see them, shadows deep in the turbulent waters. He recognizes individual sharks whose bodies, whose ways he knows; he identiﬁes a shark he has not seen before. We descend into the ocean with him, and meet these very sharks that his words on the boat have introduced us to and presented to us. And when, now, we speak of them, it is not concepts nor images in our minds but those very sharks that our words make present again to us.
Words do not simply label things we see and touch; they invoke and reveal things. They bring out traits in the complexity of a thing, map out relations in the dense tissue of nature. They focus our attention, they lead us to see contexts, sequences, interactions. They slow down and intensify the contact our bodies are making with things and events or accelerate them, turn them in new directions, focus the eyes and the hearing or let them drift. Chanting, intoning, blessing things, words enhance things, bring forth their glory. Insulting people, cursing events, words unleash forceful blows against them, mortifying them, wounding them. Words work an artistry on things, that of metaphor and metonymy. They reﬂect qualities, halos, colors from other things onto this thing. They endow things and events with names, titles, nicknames.
It is this word that makes you thoughtful. The rows of trees and the daily movement of clouds overhead, the birds that chatter in your back yard, the landmarks and the paths you take every day, the tasks that are laid out for you every day, the patterns of conversation with acquaintances, the concepts that exist to classify these things and the connections between them—these lull the mind which glows feebly in their continuities and recurrences; they do not make it thoughtful. Instead, thought results from language, thought arises out of the word you put to yourself—a word of honor. This word interrupts the continuities of nature and silences the babble of others in yourself. It is the power you feel in yourself when you ﬁx yourself with a word, stand and advance in that word, the feeling that you are making your own nature determinable, steadfast, trustworthy, that makes you look for regularities, necessities, calculable forms in the ﬂux of external nature. Once you have said “I will be a dancer,” you begin to really determine what the things about you are, you begin to understand anatomy, the eﬀects of exercise, of diet, the eﬀects of great teachers and grand models, the workings of a whole cross-section of urban society. It is the man or woman of his or her word who is thoughtful.
Your word of honor does not get its meaning from a dialectic and its use is not primarily in a language game with others. In fact the one who goes around saying to everyone “I’m going to be a dancer” is seeking their permission and support, and there is cause to suspect that he has not really or not yet ﬁxed these words on his heart. There are those who have never told anyone, and who are driven by their secret intoxication with this word. Secrecy sets this word apart from the profane common talk; it sacralizes it. Secrecy also maintains for yourself a space for giving free play to doubts, second thoughts about what you have said to yourself, as well as giving free play to fantasy about it.