Sunday, August 5, 2007

Recycled Words

The subject for this post maybe slightly misleading. I want to say a few words about titles of books that are actually quotations, in this instance from two poems by Wallace Stevens.

From "Sunday Morning" we get On Extended Wings: Wallace Stevens' Longer Poems (1969). This book by Helen Hennessy Vendler deals with Stevens' poetry, as its subtitle clearly indicates. Death is the Mother of Beauty: Mind, Metaphor, Criticism (1987). This book by Mark Turner is, according to its "Foreword" by George Lakoff, "a truly interdisciplinary" study of the way the human mind works by means of metaphors. The book shows, says Professor Lakoff, "that the study of the literary mind is an integral part of the study of the mind in general."

From "The Idea of Order at Key West" we get Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (1975). As the subtitle indicates, this book by David Tracy addresses itself to the study of theology, more particularly to the new ways in which religious language can be seen to correspond with our general human experiences in life.

These recycled words have always fascinated me. They certainly make the books in the titles of which they are used enticing. And the books themselves - certainly the ones I just mentioned above - are worthy of the great poems from which they have been taken. I have a hunch that only Shakespeare's words have generated more titles than Wallace Stevens' poems. In addition to titles, Shakespeare's words have also given us common expressions the origins of which many people may not even know. Two such expressions come to mind for me at this moment, "a foregone conclusion" and "misery acquaints one with strange bedfellows."

There is a sense, of course, in which all words are recycled, since they are used over and over again every time we speak or write, but there is a special place in our language for words that become titles or common expressions by being taken from works of literature. I can't imagine life without literature. Poems or plays, stories or novels, even movies make an impressive contribution to the way or ways in which we enrich our understanding of what we as human beings are all about, or about the way or ways in which we create our communal or individual realities.

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