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Naming The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name: The Politics And Perils Of Language And Sexuality

The Letter, Issue 28, Summer 2003, Pages 80 - 95



Ray O Neill

Nommo means Word

Nommo is the force that makes things live as what they are: man or tree or animal. Notnmo means word. The rabbit has the life it has - not a rat life or mongoose life - because it is named rabbit, mvundla. A child is not alive, claims Nelson, until it is named. I told him this explained a mystery for me. My sister and I are identical twins, so how is that from one single seed we have two such different lives? Now I know. Because I am named Adah and she is named Leah.[1]

Thus Adah, a fifteen year old girl learns from the Congolese boy Nelson in Barabara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible not just about life and culture in the Congo, but more importantly about the nature and power of language itself, that it gives not just meaning, signification, but life, identity. The Lacanian discourse recognises this very power of language, the significance of the Symbolic Order, and how it dominates our understanding of the world. Because it is indeed our understanding of the world, there being no understanding outside of language, since it is through language that our understanding is expressed, thought, experienced and written.

He pointed to his mouth. Notnmo comes from the mouth, like water vapour, he said: a song, a poem, a scream, a prayer, a name, all these are nomtno. Water itself is nommo, of the most important kind, it turns out. Water is the word of the ancestors given to us or withheld, depending on how well we treat them. The word of the ancestors is pulled into trees and men, Nelson explained, and this allows them to stand and live as muntu.[2]

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