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papa osmubal
oscar balajadia 'S view of language—a source of power and authority—reminds us of Frankenstein's monster who spends days and nights eavesdropping on his neighbors in the mountains. The monster's main purpose in doing so is to imitate and learn the sound— speech or language—uttered by his neighbors. He wants to learn and acquire language because it is the most basic and important of all human attributes defining an individual's humanity. He needs to acquire a language to attract people and to establish a connection to them, and ultimately an authority over them. He is perfectly conscious of the importance and use of rhetoric and persuasion. There is a point in the gothic novel wherein Viktor Frankenstein is sort of persuaded or cajoled by the monster to create a she-monster for his wife.

That's the potential of language. It has the capacity to make one be human and be with rest of the humanity. This is made clear by Victoria Fromkin:

"To understand our humanity, one must understand the nature of language that makes us human. According to the philosophy expressed in the myths and religions of many peoples, language is the source of human life and power." [1]

Language is the tool of those who want to expand their influence and to impose their will upon others. Hitler's abuse of power and brutal massacre of non-Aryan people or everything that we know of him overshadows this leader's genius in persuasion and eloquence. Were it not for his wars, we would have known a great man of letters and a powerful thinker in Hitler. It was his rhetoric and exploits of the language that put him in power. In fact language was Hitler's power. Language made Hitler. Divest Hitler of language, and history would not be as we know it now. Francisco Franco of Spain was in the same exact footing as Hitler's—he was a fine speaker that one would want to emulate. The same is true of Mussolini of Italy, Illyich Ulyanov Lenin of Russia, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, et cetera. History is populated with people whose power and influence were founded on their ability to use language at its fullness and at its most creative. No doubt, all philosophies or schools of thought are founded on and by language.

Emperors and kings are great orators. The King (or Queen) of England is the symbolic caretaker of the English language. This brings to mind that good English is English patterned and modeled after the English of the King (or Queen) of England, which is indicative of the importance of language in politics, rhetoric, and aesthetics. The King's (or Queen's) English is what the British call as the Received Pronunciation (RP) which they deem to be the real English pronunciation, therefore it ought to be the model to English variants all over the world. With the boom of modern media, the King's (or Queen's) English or RP was later on adapted and propagated through mass communication by the British Broadcasting Channel, so RP is now sometimes called as BBC English.

Royal courts, parliaments, and senates are all places of eloquence, filled with poetry, oratory, and jests—all manifestations of the effectiveness, power, and beauty of language.

Generals and military figures are great manipulators of language. Their authority and influence start and end with language. In times of war, they do not just send their troops with armament, but also with arsenal of words that strengthen and calm their hearts and souls. In war, language becomes the soldier—it becomes personal and secret, because once it is known the soldier is defeated.

The Samurais of Japan are a classic example of people who mastered both the use of language and the power of sword. A Samurai stood with two powerful legs: one was poetry and the other was sword. They used language as if they were using sword, and they used sword as if they were writing poetry. Samurais were complete orators and warriors. They were what all men in ancient Japan wanted to be.

In his play, ,  Nobel laureate Harold Pinter emphasizes the power of language.

Pinter's characters are great manipulators of language. It is a symbiotic phenomenon wherein the characters make language alive and the characters in turn owe their existence to language.

Pinter's characters are neither nobles nor intellectuals and yet their language is keen, transcending them as being influential. They talk the language of the ghettoes, of the marketplaces—places where eloquence is not expected to be in. They do not embody and represent the consciousness of people who boast of having afforded to taste the world's most expensive caviars and champagnes, but rather the consciousness of the majority that knows the pains and bitterness of life. They all "operate on the fringes of working-class society, some distance from respectability." [2]

Pinter's expression is "more colloquial and slangy, in keeping with the setting and the characters: tramps, gangsters, newspaper vendors, unemployed youths. Their language is more naturalistic and shows gaps, repetitions, silences, and incoherences, modeled on normal conversation." [3]

And they are what the Socialist poet, Carl Sandburg, calls "people, the mob," as he expresses clearly, "I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass. / I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and clothes." [4]

Democracy is redefined and given a new life in The Homecoming,  wherein the characters, specifically Lenny and Ruth, are given absolute control over language.

Lenny, a professional pimp, and Ruth, a hooker married to a university philosophy professor, represent the dregs of society, despised by the so-called educated for their "lack of education." Their manner of speaking and their way of looking at things, which are typical of the ghetto people, defy "institutionalized" knowledge, making it clear that the power of language can be used by hoi polloi in their dealing with the status quo. By ridiculing the status quo, they regain their place in society. Lenny mercilessly shuns intellectualism and his language brutally negates all established reasons that are aimed entirely at hiding the reality of human conditions. His language rises to the level at which it becomes capable of creating a situation wherein man is totally transparent, literally baring him naked, and his entire being is visible and tangible. His language unmasks man, showing his real face. This is the brutality of language, especially when it rids life of its diseases and to free it from pretension.

In The Homecoming,  democracy takes shape—a concrete and tangible shape—before the reader or spectator. It shows the common man's life. Pinter's characters make us believe because they are us talking—we are them. This is certainly what Fubion Bowers meant in this statement:

"One historical axiom of drama seems to be that early theater portrayed the gods; then, in a later period, the theater portrayed kings and persons of high rank. Finally and lastly, it touched on the life of common man." [5]

In The Homecoming,  language reflects the flaws and absurdities of life and it empowers the common man, attempting to create a shift of influence from the so-called "intellectuals" to the common man. It makes the unheard heard. It makes space for the displaced. And it gives face to the faceless.

The characters of The Homecoming  show the preoccupation and fear of every common man. And their speech exposes those preoccupation and fear, and poses bitter defiance by showing that they are unaffected by the condition they are in. They are immune to pains and those inflicting them with such pains are just wasting their time. The flow of the conversation may seem pretentious and fraught with make-believe, but it unravels and reveals reality and truth. Their language seems to hide something, but it in fact makes everything transparent and it makes one conscious of one's existence. Therefore it is true that in a dialogue:

"(W)e begin to find ourselves reflected in what the other person says, whether we like it or not. We become conscious of ourselves as part of the conversation... In fact, we actually learn what we are like from how others see us.

"A dialogue, then, is not just an exchange of ideas. It is also an intimate exercise of self-revelation and self-understanding. A dialogue shortens distances between the self and the other." [6]

Lenny, a pimp, redefines rhetoric and makes it quotidian, commonplace, and simple without losing its potency, loftiness, and beauty. He shows that rhetoric is not academic, rather it is natural and inherent in every human. He recovers and regains the power of speech from politicians, intellectuals, and academics and puts it back to where it should be, where it had been once—in the streets, in the care of the underprivileged. Lenny gives back to the common man what rightfully belongs to hoi polloi.

Lenny reminds us of the philosophers and songsters of old: the toga-clad and bearded ordinary men standing in the marketplaces, in the hustles and bustles of everyday life, proclaiming what they believed in and refuting whatever they did not believe in, with the beauty and dignity of human language, proving that language is a commodity of every common individual. Lenny brings back the time in human history when meaning was not merely the interpretation or the result of the interpretation of the academics and institutionalized intellectualism.

He lives up to what he does in life as a procurer. His use of language makes his trade a legitimate profession. His language perfumes his trade. Imagine yourself standing in a corner of a dark alley, and Lenny comes approaching you. The gentleness of his face means no harm at all, though in it is a purpose and intention that you can never name and fathom. Then he speaks, his voice dissolves all your prejudices and doubts. You begin to understand him. His language is a command, an imperative, and it tells you to listen. And you listen, because here is a man talking to a man. Equality sets in. Here is a man talking in the exact language which you want to hear. And then again here is the man talking in the exact language in which you want to speak. Here is the man who knows your heart. He massages your mind with his offering, and suddenly you grab it, not because you can not resist the ticklish feeling slithering in your bones and flesh, rather because you are invited to enter into this ethereal place where you always dream to be, a place which you always dream to own. Lenny builds that place for you. And your entry into that place starts and ends with the magic and power of Lenny's eloquence. That is how he earns his living.

Eloquence and manipulation of language were what make Lenny's trade viable like any other profession. His brother Teddy, a Ph.D., can talk only of philosophy and of things he thinks are lofty in the classroom with his students and his clique. And outside the refuge and confines of the academy, he gropes in vain for identity and defense; because his language cannot create a world, his language being voiceless in the streets. Worst among all, Teddy's language cannot even be effective before his wife Ruth. Which is why Ruth leaves him, to be a prostitute again, signifying that to be a whore is much better than to be a wife to a Ph.D. who waxes philosophic but can not even talk with sense to a taxi driver or a restaurant waiter. His language cannot create a place or world for her to stay.

Lenny and Ruth stage a perfect rebellion and dissent against any establishment, and their language legitimizes and effectuates such rebellion and dissent. It is quite logical to say that both characters represent the painfully neglected members of humanity: Ruth representing the women who are always the victims of the male-dominated society, and Lenny representing the common man.

Lenny and Ruth's exchanges concerning the possibility of them meeting in Italy is a gesture that language can be expanded to the point it can be able to destroy what we call reality and create a new dimension and potency of life. Lenny and Ruth's dream is not confined to their mind alone, subdued and rendered futile by life's drudgeries, worries, and absurdities; rather it is made real and alive by their language, that it appears more real, more vivid, and more alive than reality itself, and it eventually smothers reality. Reality vanishes and language takes over by creating a viable alternative.

That having said, one may aver that Lenny and Ruth's language creates or produces myth, so powerful that it has to be legitimized by connecting it to real life. Language here becomes lord over man. Language is not created by man; rather it is language that creates man and his world and it is language that defines man's condition and future. Martin Heidegger clearly mentioned that "it is the language that speaks… Language is the highest and everywhere the foremost of [the] assents which we human beings can never articulate solely out of our own means." [7] Language is an established truth, which is why the Greeks call it Logos, being and becoming, the principle of all possibilities. It is because, to the Greeks, language is imperative. Heidegger says it is "IS." The Judeo-Christian Holy Writ defines it so: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." [8]

Lenny and Ruth establish between them a nexus, albeit imaginary—i.e., the possibility of meeting each other in Italy—so that they can be able to justify their future life together. They create an "imaginary" but an aborted and delayed past to show that they are familiar with and acquainted to each other. They insinuate that they could have met before somewhere and sometime in the past, but due to unknown reasons such did not happen. Their speech strongly proclaims that such "meeting" is inevitable and has its possibility in time and space. Their speech makes time and fate transparent. Their future is dictated and determined by their language. It is as if everything that they want springs from whatever they say. They are like gods who will things and make them possible by their mere pronouncement, and no man can have the power to abort and deny things from happening. Ruth and Lenny show that with language a world can be destroyed and another can be built.

Again one may say that Lenny and Ruth's language is now omnipotent like the god in the Judeo-Christian book of Genesis, where every utterance is primeval and is bound to become "flesh" and "tangible," creating everything out of his own word/s. This is language at its strongest and purest form. This is language when it gives birth to every possibility.

The union of man (Lenny) and woman (Ruth) is vital to the establishment of a new life. It must happen. Their meeting and foreseen union is a metaphor of creation, as if a new day has just begun: like Adam and Eve in Eden, everything will be in their hands, from naming the things around them to determining their well-being and fate. Lenny, being so powerful, being the man, and his language being so threatening at times, is bound to dominate in the union. But, then again, Ruth has the most formidable form of defense that only a woman can have: sex, the power of enticement, before which all men are helpless. She knows that sex is another attribute that can prevail over language. Given the opportunity to use them both would ensure her of the power she craves for. Sex does not only equilibrate the power struggle between Lenny and Ruth; it in fact gives Ruth an assurance that she can get what she yearns because she "has the advantage over Lenny in having sex at her disposal—a much-demanded commodity in the household in The Homecoming.  Sex for her is an aggressive weapon of seduction, which she uses in conjunction with her linguistic skill, to tantalize her opponent." [9]

Ruth somehow reminds us of Cleopatra who kept two empires united or friendly with each other because of the guile of her speech and her unfailing allure. The rhetoric and machismo of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony were rendered futile before Cleopatra's charm. Ruth is a Cleopatra in The Homecoming.  She has that Cleopatra charm to impose authority, to position herself at the very top of the family's pecking order. She complements Lenny's masculine authority. Ruth in fact can match any of the men in the house in a verbal joust, but she uses her allure to cripple their physical strength. She knows that once she has done this, she can be the queen of the hive. And, as expected, she eventually succeeds, as men are naturally prone to melt in the heat of feminine charm.

Perhaps man's masculinity is completed or consummated only at the very moment of sexual intercourse. Therefore Ruth's presence in the house favors Lenny, rather than contradicts him. And Lenny is aware of this fact. He knows he needs a woman—who cannot be any other woman, because it has to be Ruth or somebody like her—a woman who can grasp the realities of life, who has once been a victim of life and survived it's brutality and inanity—to show that his manhood is consummated. In fact, it is Lenny who persuades Ruth to stay along. For him it must just be piece of cake to find any woman to hang out with or to connect his life with, but he just cannot find one who will suit his character; and Ruth's arrival filled that vacuum in his life. He is now a complete man who can shoulder complete dominance and authority. This is quite true, because Lenny is definitely aware of the fact that a king without a queen is a lacking king; a king whose masculinity is in question and his lineage is doomed. He acquires what he just wants through the power of persuasion. That's how he lives. His language makes his intentions feasible, viable, and buyable. That's how he carries on his trade. In such same fashion he secretly slithers his way to take over the family.

Ruth proves that sex is a form of expression and a very effective tool for persuasion. She shows us that sex is also language in its subtlest form, with its most unutterable and effectual way or force. This is given light by George Steiner when he stated that "(sex) is a profoundly semantic act... To speak and to make love is both to enact a distinctive twofold universality: both forms of communication are universals of human physiology as well as of social evolution." [10] Ruth demonstrates that sex can negate all logics and reasons. Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony were the strongest and most powerful muscles and voices in Roman politics, but their masculinity and power of speech were but a candle melting in Cleopatra's bed.

Ruth is aware that she is being used by the family. She lets them use her, because that's how she can manipulate them. To consider that Ruth as a victim in The Homecoming  is a shortsighted and miscalculated idea. She just uses herself as the bait to lure all men in the family into her den.

[1] Fromkin, Victoria, et al. An Introduction to Language.  7 edn (Thomson-Heinle: Boston , 2003) p. 3
[2] Wyllie, Andrew. 2004. The Literary Encyclopedia,  Birkbeck College. http://www.litencyc.com/LitEncycFrame.htm Access date: November 23, 2004
[3] Carter, Ronald and McRae, John. The Routledge History of Literature  in English 2nd edn. (Routledge: London and New York , 2001) p. 414
[4] Sandburg, Carl. I Am the People, the Mob.  2004. The Academy of American Poets. http://www.poets.org/poets/csand. Access date: November 20, 2004
[5] Bowers, Fubion and Sills, David ed. "Drama." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences vol. 4 (The MacMillan Company and The Free Press, 1968) p. 257
[6] Gould, Eric, DiYanni, Robert, and Smith, William. The Act of Writing  (McGraw-Hill: Singapore, 1989) p. 6
[7] Heidegger, Martin. "...Dichterisch Wohnet der Mensch..." as quoted in George Steiner's After Babel  (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1998) p. xxi
[8] International Bible Society. "Letter of John" The Holy Bible. I:1
[9] Guido, Almansi, and Henderson, Simon. Harold Pinter  (Methuen: London, 1983) p. 65
[10] Steiner, George. After Babel  (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1998) p. 40

[About the author. Papa Osmubal is Oscar Balajadia of Magalang, now Macau resident and married to a Chinese local. He has been a Catholic seminarian, Catholic missionary, bookstore staff, teaching assistant, and teacher. Currently at daytime he is the Assistant Librarian at The International School of Canada in Macau, while at nighttime he moonlights as part-time teacher and tutor. His poems have appeared in various anthologies and publications, online and hardcopy. He has work archived in the University of Columbia Granger's World of Poetry  and other places. A work of his will also appear in the forthcoming W.W. Norton Poetry Anthology of Contemporary Voices from the East.  He is a contributing writer to Chick Flicks, Our Own Voice (OOV): Writing from the Filipino Diaspora, and other publications.]

* is a two-act play written by 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1964 and first published in 1965. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

-Posted: 1:18 AM 1/21/08 | More of this author on eK!