By Susan Schaller
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Additional resources for A Man Without Words
He looked interested in everything I did, and I believed he was trying to communicate. So I kept trying too. Cat sign, cat, cat picture, and imaginary cat danced together in various partnerships. I stayed with the same lesson, variation after variation. Still he insisted on copying everything I did. He didn't know how to receive. He could act and react, but he couldn't get the idea of conversing without doing. " I decided to ignore him. It was his searching eyes that had first attracted my attention; I must trust them to watch and study me.
His cell had open windows: he could experience everything in the world—touch it, feel it, taste it, watch it—but only in total isolation. No one had ever agreed or disagreed with him, mirrored, confirmed, or argued with his impressions. He had only his own mind to connect experiences, find patterns, imagine meanings, and fit together semantic puzzles. Even with shared meaning, feedback, and help in interpreting the world, many people have trouble with reality. How does one stay sane when all interpretation is generated by one's self alone?
I started once more, but without confidence: "Name you Ildefonso; name me Susan; name she Elena. " I asked with my palms up. No response. Yesterday's tears and Ildefonso's heaving shoulders came back to me. His reaction to names and to our world of names contained more grief than joy. And the joy had come with not the discovery of language, but merely of names. Actually, not even names, only the idea of the existence of names. How foolish I was that morning. Of course we couldn't converse. My fantasy had sprung from the knowledge of what is possible with language, which we still didn't share.