While driving through Åndalsnes yesterday, I said to myself: what a strange place. This place is full of strange voices. While I'm not the kind of person who hears strange voices, I like to take risks with listening to the unsaid, the unarticulated, and absent voice. Of course, the name of the place suggested it already, and perhaps it was my unconscious desire to explore the brink of breaking—sound into articulation—that made me think of strange relations. Åndalsnes, The Valley of the Spirit. One of Hunter S. Thomsen's often quoted phrases came to my mind: "when the going gets weird, the weird goes pro.” I thought of what Socrates and Plato would have made of that, what with their distrust of everything spiritual and artful. Art is no good, they both declared, because it allows for too much unconscious desire to emerge. Voice needs an origin, they further believed, and were even more distrustful of Greek drama and the oracles. Blanchot pointed to an essential aspect in his comparison of works of literature to the articulation of the sacred voices of oracles, insofar as they both have the potential to 'deceive', as it were, truth. And Socrates, for one, wanted only true discourse. No nonsense, such as listening to a tree, waters, or images. Says Blanchot in his The Infinite Conversation:
"Like sacred language, what is written comes from no recognizable source, is without author or origin, and thereby always refers back to something more original than itself. Behind the words of the written work, nobody is present; but language gives voice to this absence, just as in the oracle, when divinity speaks, the god himself is never present in his words, and it is the absence of god which then speaks."
In the Valley of the Spirit what I was hearing was an indictment that I myself pay closer attention precisely to that which evades truth, to the discourse of absence, of silence, and of mute image. These things operate not with truth, but with topos. They are there. Which is also the reason why exploring their territory involves taking risks. The risk of miscommunication, the risk of betrayal, and deceit. But this risk is also a necessary price we pay if we want to follow the oracle: know thyself. You get to know thyself by placing yourself in a state above signification. Thus you are free from having to talk or from having to make gestures. This is something that the pre-Socratics have understood. Heraclitus, for instance, believed that the oracle "neither speaks out nor conceals, but points." The oracle thus never predicts.
I like to think that what I was also listening to while in the valley of the spirit was the idea that as a consequence of knowing thyself, you can begin to trust more the people in your life; their acts, their beliefs, and their love. As you can also hope that they trust you. Within this trust, the question: 'who speaks beyond the text,' or 'whose voice is there behind the words?', becomes more nuanced as we stretch the elastic of our finitude and of what we can know about ourselves and others into realms that are vaster than the vastest.