Samuel Herzog* We hesitate when we bite into beef tongue, because at the same moment we sense that our own speech is also made of meat and is therefore mortal.
We taste something that has tasted itself, that could have tasted us too. (Photo: Nadine Strub)
The tongue is a metaphor bomber that circles above our language and keeps shooting similes into our sentences. There is no other organ, not even the heart, that gives us the same amount of images – anyone who even wants to list the ones that burn on their tongue will soon have it hanging out of their throat.
That we bite our own tongue – beyond all metaphors – happens now and then. It’s actually astonishing that it doesn’t happen more often – after all, the organ is constantly pushing itself between our teeth, as if it wanted to get a bit ahead of us. It’s also fitting that the tongue sometimes darts forward to say things we don’t want to say – as if it had a mind and will of its own. So we clamp it between our teeth, which feels like chewing on our language. The fact that tongue and language must be one is not only taught by the Latin “lingua”; we also experience it when kissing, which is nothing other than a conversation without words.
Kissing could also be an opportunity to bite the tongue of another being – which, strangely enough, almost never happens. When we bite into others’ tongues, they are usually those of dead cattle or lamb. When this tongue is in fine slices or jelly, it moves our minds little more than a ham. It feels quite different when we try our hand at a whole beef tongue with a kitchen knife or shove a piece of the finely humped tip into our mouths, for example. We almost expect to feel the cut in our own tongue and are amazed that we can chew the tenderly cooked muscle so painlessly. We taste something that has tasted itself, that could have tasted us. No other meat brings us so close to the feeling that we are eating a piece of ourselves.
This also has to do with the fact that there is always something unheard of about cutting and eating tongue – as if something has been silenced, as if a word has gone unheard. We hesitate when we bite into a beef tongue because at the same moment we sense that our own speech is also made of meat and is therefore mortal. The mortality of our body is one thing - but the bite into the tenderly moist flesh of a beef tongue attests to the mortality of our language.
*This text by Samuel Herzog appeared in the NZZ Feuilleton on 16.03.2014