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When Words Fail

In Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable, the anonymous narrator laments, “I’m all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their setting, no sky for their dispersing.”

For Beckett’s narrator, words have become unmoored from their meaning. They no longer refer to anything in the physical world. Ultimately, they fail to fully convey or contain the inner message that prompted them. It’s a deeply unsettling feeling I suspect we’ve all experienced. Words become disconnected from our emotions, insufficient for what we want to convey. They betray us at moments when we need them most.

This sharp sense of despair is an opening to exploring why we have words in the first place. Many psychological factors drive one to speak, and one of them is the need to tell our story. However, for some, the motivation to tell our story can outstrip our capacity to do so, no matter how adept we are at words.

WAITING FOR THE WORD: Samuel Beckett (above) is the rare author who takes us inside the raw workings of the human brain, into the clefts between motivation and language.Wikimedia

How serious is the gap between experience and the words we have? Serious. The need to render experience for others is tied to a need for others to understand us, and when unfulfilled, leaves an emptiness that hollows out our sources of motivation. This thin ornamental layer of words and the vast underbelly of thought and feeling beneath, etched into

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