Just as speech can be acquired, so can it be lost. Speakers can forget words, phrases, even entire languages they once knew; over the course of time peoples, too, let go of the tongues that were once theirs, as languages disappear and give way to the others that follow them. In Echolalias, Daniel Heller-Roazen reflects on the many forms of linguistic forgetfulness, offering a far-reaching philosophical investigation into the persistence and disappearance of speech. In twenty-one brief chapters, he moves among classical, medieval, and modern culture, exploring the interrelations of speech, writing, memory, and oblivion.
Drawing his examples from literature, philosophy, linguistics, theology, and psychoanalysis, Heller-Roazen examines the points at which the transience of speech has become a question in the arts, disciplines, and sciences in which language plays a prominent role. Whether the subject is Ovid, Dante, or modern fiction, classical Arabic literature or the birth of the French language, structuralist linguistics or Freud's writings on aphasia, Heller-Roazen considers with clarity, precision, and insight the forms, the effects, and the ultimate consequences of the forgetting of language. In speech, he argues, destruction and construction often prove inseparable. Among peoples, the disappearance of one language can mark the emergence of another; among individuals, the experience of the passing of speech can lie at the origin of literary, philosophical, and artistic creation.
From the infant's prattle to the legacy of Babel, from the holy tongues of Judaism and Islam to the concept of the dead language and the political significance of exiled and endangered languages today, Echolalias traces an elegant, erudite, and original philosophical itinerary, inviting us to reflect in a new way on the nature of the speaking animal who forgets.
About the Author
Daniel Heller-Roazen is Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Comparative Literature and the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. He is the author of Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language, The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation, and The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations, all published by Zone Books.
"This thought-provoking book contains a memorable aphorism by Kafka that could stand as its epigraph: 'I can swim just like the others. Only I have a better memory than the others. I have not forgotten the former inability to swim. But since I have not forgotten it, being able to swim is of no help to me; and so, after all, I cannot swim.'"—London Review of Books
Echolalias is a rare find—a book about language where the language itself steers a course between the scholarly and the poetic. Difficult, erudite, and full of luminous parables, it is worth multiple readings."—nth position
"This thought-provoking book contains a memorable aphorism by Kafka that could stand as its epigraph: 'I can swim just like the others. Only I have a better memory than the others. I have not forgotten the former inability to swim. But since I have not forgotten it, being able to swim is of no help to me; and so, after all, I cannot swim.'" London Review of Books
"If there ever was a book like this one, I cannot remember it. Heller-Roazen's gorgeous prose strings together beads of dazzling example into a necklace of allusion. When have such important philosophical and philological arguments about the nature of language and such trenchant critiques been made with such graceful learning? With each turn of the page we pass from amnesia to anamnesis and back again. When we come to the end we awaken, like Circe's pigs, filled with regret that that adventure is over, but filled with a new wonder about human language, from its most humble letters to the heights of poetry. If you read this book, you will not easily forget it."
—David Nirenberg, author of Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages
"Reading Daniel Heller-Roazen's book is an extraordinary intellectual adventure. Vertiginous landscapes of learning open up at every moment, but the writing never loses its aphoristic edge. Much is said and even more is suggested. This book rebuilds whole worlds from the ravages of loss and forgetting, and also discreetly teaches us that there are no worlds that loss and forgetting do not beset."
—Michael Wood, author of The Road to Delphi
"Daniel Heller-Roazen has written a magical and learned story of language. Here the life and death and never-ending mutability of languages, the babbling lost in the interstices of speech, the history of typographical marks, the mysteries of animal sounds and speech disorders, forgotten tongues and mother tongues, linguistic paradoxes and tragedies all acquire a brilliant and Ovidian intensity."
—Susan Stewart, author of Columbarium and Poetry and the Fate of the Senses
Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2005.