Language makes us. But we too remake language. And ourselves. If we listen, imagine, invent.
Listen to me. Listen to my language. Once upon a time it was the language of the birds. Did you listen then? Are you listening now?
I’m a person out of place. Perhaps a person without a place. But that cannot be. Surely, everyone has a place? But is the place in this time?
Let me begin again. Once upon a time … it was a very long time ago. More generations than you can count on your hands and your toes. It was in the time when the first stirrings of language were in our throats. A time of gurgling and burbling, of whistling and of singing.
It was the singing that began language. We imitated the birds. And slowly, so very slowly, words began to take shape. Words formed from the electrical charges in our brains. Concepts arising with each new song. And so, in a way, we sang ourselves, our communities into being.
This is an extract from my new novel, Dark Matters. It’s an uncomfortable story about violence against lesbians, especially those subjected to torture. I wanted to tell this story but I knew that I also wanted to tell something of the history of lesbians. And so my character Kate (who sometimes goes by her birth name Ekaterina) keeps her sanity by telling herself stories, writing poems in her head and trying to create her own mythic world. Language is essential to that, as are images, dance, music and performance.
Kate is interested in the origins of language, how women created it. They shared knowledge, sang and talked to children, created whole worlds in order to memorise necessary knowledge, sacred knowledge. In doing that they learned from trees, birds, animals, the seasons and all the living and non-living things of the world.
Most of the action of the novel takes place in a 78-day period. Around that are generations of women spread throughout different countries and times. The stories feed from these places to the present and Kate’s niece Desi who is trying to understand her aunt’s life through boxes of papers left behind. It is a mystery in many senses of the word.
[Front cover image by Suzanne Bellamy, Road Map, 2004. Etched embossed monoprint on Fabriano paper. The image interprets a photograph of Mitochondria, the Motherline DNA, from an old Scientific American photograph.]