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Hidden Languages

[First published in PhotoStatic #38, October, 1989.]

When I was a child living in Detroit, I remember first learning about the sign language of the deaf. I also remember the initial fright it gave me. I kept having the unnerving impression that I was unknowingly positioning my fingers to form words in an unknown language. This self-awareness made me awkward and worried for several days before I got over it fully. My fingers and hands had to be just so, moved and held and spread out very carefully, because who knew what I might be communicating?

And yet this incident doesn't seem to be quite so odd or paranoid or childish as I once thought. There are, after all, many languages going on around us of which we are unaware. The birds in the trees are constantly talking to one another. Crows, it has been proven, have a very well-developed language. A flock of crows normally sends a scout ahead to report back the locations of crops, scarecrows, and other items of interest to the flock. (And who knows what may really be of interest to crows?) As I write this, (and as you read this, now, that eternal now of the text), there are radio, television, microwave, telephone, and other transmission waves moving invisibly through the air around me. And through my body, too. And I am not aware of them, I don't feel them, I don't understand the messages they carry. What genetic damage they may be causing me is also unknown. (Early science fiction of the 1920s was filled with speculations on the ill effects of radio waves. And who is to say they were entirely wrong? Has society's health improved so drastically since the 1920s?) Up until recently, archeologists had assumed that the ancient Incans had no written language. Then someone noticed that the fancy designwork on Incan temples was more than mere decoration. The designs seemed to hold a meaning. And so the language of the Incas is even now being decoded, after having been on display for centuries but never noticed. Other such codes exist everywhere. Gothic cathedrals contain all sorts of hidden-yet-open messages embedded into the architecture of their very designs by medieval masons. The Great Pyramid of Giza has been dissected by hundreds of occultists and archeologists who find the hidden history of the world encoded within its stones. And I have long suspected that cheerleaders at football games may not be just waving those pom-poms randomly; they may be signaling in semaphore code at me.

But this is just a game. Obviously there is a limit to how many such hidden messages can be found. And to look for such things continuously is to risk madness. Yet there is something to be learned from the game. It does help us to realize that anything can be used for communication. Anything. The winding path our feet create upon the sidewalk. The way we comb our hair. The pattern our shirt makes after it is hung up to dry. Anything can be used for communication, to send messages, to create art. Anything can be transformed through the will of the communicator into a statement of that will. But you need a receiver to have a true communication. You need someone who knows the code. Just ask the Incans who carved those temple decorations. Or ask a flock of crows.

--Thomas Wiloch