It begins in childhood that first time you fall into the spaces between the words on the page and find yourself racing down a deserted beach astride a Great Dane or conversing with a Fawn on a fateful snowy evening. The words themselves quickly become precious objects, the keys to fictional doors that, once opened, give you a breathtaking view of a vertiginous literary landscape, and so you begin to examine and hoard them. Question and admire them. This will shortly become a lifelong, and yes, terminal obsession.One of the most common symptoms of incurable logophilia is not only wishing to spend most of one’s time in the company of praise-worthy prose, but the logophile cannot refrain from talking about their newest discovery. They cannot be kept quiet about the most recent paragraph that managed, entirely on its own, to induce a paradigm shift, or stop themselves from mentioning that single word, so well selected and perfectly placed that it revealed the hidden meaning of a poem or story. The logophile enjoys an endless journey of literary discovery as there is always an inexplicably overlooked classic lying around somewhere, or a new short story by a favorite author just waiting to be devoured. And let’s not ever forget the wondrous joy of re-reading! The dizzying beauty of loving words is that there is a truly endless supply.
The logophile’s motto could be summed up by two lines from the short story, Guy de Maupassant by Isaac Babel, a writer whose name left him no choice but to love words. The line reads, “A phrase is born into the world both good and bad at the same time. The secret lies in a slight, an almost invisible twist.” The logophile, whether reader or writer, or both, yearns for that twist, for that moment when seemingly benign words are strung together to thought or emotion-provoking effect.
I feel it would be fitting to let some of the words I am so devoted to finish this short entry and so I give you a line from In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki Junichiro. Tanizaki was not specifically talking about language or literature in his essay and I hope it is not a stretch to apply his words to that realm. He wrote, “We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.” For the logophile, words are the very things that cast shadow and invite darkness as well as educe possibility and spread illumination. In short, words are what allow us to discover beauty.