top of page

The Drama of the Lost Word

Evans Lansing Smith argues that


... the hero journey can be approached as a metaphor not only for the transformation of the society and the self, but also as a metaphor for the processes by which stories are created (poesis) and interpreted (hermeneusis). … Odysseus, Gilgamesh, the Ancient Mariner … are terrific storytellers, and all of them must read the text of the world, revealed by their journey, in order to tell and understand their stories. By the same token, their audiences (the Phaiakians, the people of Uruk, the Wedding Guest ...) must all undertake their journey too, which becomes a symbolic allegory of the intricacies of reading and interpretation.

In Descent, there is a character called Ishmael, who is a poet. He has witnessed the devastating effects of war, and he is so traumatised that he can no longer write. His situation recalls the words of Theodor Adorno: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” (Prisms) The play is in part the story of his quest to recover his faith in the power of language to represent experience – and to find a story. This can be seen as a personal, psychological journey of healing; but also as a form of ta’wil – in the sense defined by Tom Cheetham: 


... the literal meaning [of words] is only the shell of reality, and in the long run it is not enough. For with only that public meaning available, the world loses its depth and mystery. We lose contact with our individuality and are prey to totalitarianisms and fundamentalisms of all kinds - intellectual, spiritual, and political. And once totalitarian domination - the reign of Terror, and the dominion of Death - has obliterated the inner meaning of the word, once access to the heart of language is well and truly lost, its recovery, its recreation, lies at the very limits of human capacity. We are fated to be actors in the grand drama of the Lost Word, the lost speech.

The ta’wil, Cheetham observes, is “storytelling of the highest and most serious kind”. He refers to the French philosopher, Henry Corbin: "Corbin calls this most personal story a recital. It takes the form of speaking or singing or writing or dancing or painting - of being the artist of your own life. This is the transformation of the quest for the lost speech into the creation - which is simultaneously the discovery - of your own single individual Voice."

You can follow these links to more pages in this section:


An Interview with the Director


Dante and Ibn Arabi

Journeys of Descent

The Drama of the Lost Word

The Tree of Life

Gwenyth Hood on "Descent" (1)

Gwenyth Hood on "Descent" (2)

Site-Specific Theatre

Seminar Series

Quotes from: All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings by Tom Cheetham..

bottom of page