There is a legendary force of the word, which comes from its role of a trustful messenger of ipseity, because every word sent in the world pretends and expects an answer1 and as a result becomes a symbolic ambassador of the human being.
A word is not only a pack of meanings, but also a key to the interior labyrinth. It doesn’t bring a simple message, but it models, as Levinas accurately observed, to talk means to make the world become common#sdendnote2sy, through sharing and calling.
We shall talk about an old Romanian story, found by Hasdeu, dataded from 1885: Three Brothers Serving the Red Man#sdendnote5sym.
A poor old man, father of three sons, was concerned about their fate. That is why, one day, according to the story, he ordered them to go to a master, and not any master, but precisely to the Red Man. The boys fulfilled their dad’s order and the task seemed easy: they had nothing to do but to say some words, different ones for each of them, from sunrise to sunset. Obviously, besides that, they were not permitted to use other words during all this time. The master did not submit them to impossible tests and did not want to deceive them, but he made them repeat some words for three years and at the end he paid them fairly with the right amount of money. The three brothers were very content and they started their journey back home. But their journey proved to be extremely difficult, because they forgot all the other words they had known during the three years while they had been repeating only one expression. Being found in front of a body, they were accused of murder and as soon as they pronounced the Red Man’s words, they were sent to hanging because those words were accusing them.
This story brings into discussion the three aspects of the linguistic communication: the name, the repetition and the programmed amnesia. Each of them refers to an important aspect of the symbolic communication and clears up the secret capacities of the word.
The name emphasizes the guiding marks and so it maintains a feeling of topics familiarity. Giving names stands for a way of possession. The name clarifies, regulates, makes accessible places, things and especially people. The Red Man is a character which completes a mythical panoply, made up of Black Man, Lackbeard Man, old men and women, or children who individualize themselves by extraordinary features. All these names aim at symbolic positions and conditions of the human being, integrating adjacent meaning of the epithet. In our case the name constitutes a metaphorical and ambivalent transposition, because the Red Man is traditionally a devilish mitem, whose main role is to obstacle the maturation. Being the sign of life and death and regarding the blood, the red colour indicates not only the butcher but also the warrior, unifying the significances of blood and fire, and so it supplies two different passions: relief and oppression6. Taking part of the earthly symbols, the Red Man usually appears in the fairy-tales as a deceiving master, a kind of a guardian of the border between life and death, who tests the poor man’s capacity to endure. The old man in the story found by Hasdeu commands to his sons to accept the Red Man’s job. He is poor, approaching the end of his life and consequently desperate regarding the possibilities of his children’s survival, knowing that they will get stuck between life and death. That is why, the confronting with the Red Man becomes for him the short alternative of their sons’ life. If they had succeeded in passing this obstacle, nothing would have stayed in their way. But they end badly, they are defeated and live a condensed version of the life they should have lived. According to the oriental tradition, the condition of the slave represents the supreme try beyond which the real life begins. But, in the story Three Brothers Serving the Red Man, the heroes don’t realize that they have failed. They leave their master with the feeling that they have fulfilled their duty, he pays them for their work, but, actually, they lost an essential capacity of life and they are incapable of saving themselves.
The name of the Red Man is a warning to all these meanings. He is the hidden evil, impossible to find without traveling across the whole story he builds. Generally, proper names don’t expose their significances but throughout their action, during the play. Umberto Eco demonstrates this hypothesis7, analyzing the denotation of syntactical entities, reaching the conclusion that the name is exclusively related to a story. Even in this case in which the name is explicit, defining an exceptional aspect of a human being, it doesn’t get a meaning until it is positioned. That is why the story contains a kind of conclusion in which one can say that Red Man is the devil and the only one guilty for the drama of the three boys. His name is deceiving but contains a warning related to the significances of its denotation. The real force of the name comes from fable, from the story told and amplified, in which there come clear explanations related to the identity of the character. The name has here an equivocal role, that is to seduce, disappoint and destroy the three boys. So, there is a name which hides the true identity of the devil, it attenuates it, the same way with the mythology created around the character which agglutinates a series of overtones of delusion. In the medieval Romanian chronicles, the illusion represents the main appanage of the devil and the contextual meanings are organized around the idea of destructive seduction. In this story the name has exactly this role- to suggest the ambiguity of the character- while the old man, who sends his children to such a master, is aware of this semantic component: he knows that the Red Man is the deceiving devil but he does not have a choice because he wants to find quickly what the real value of his children is.
The repetition. The second aspect of the word is the repetition, generally known as the foundation of the magic and religious ceremony. In the story we refer to, it is simply a test of mind and it is not subordinate to a certain idea, it is not created by a sacred numerology or accompanied by a gesture. The three brothers accept the command of the Red Man as an easy task without assuming its effects in time. The limited repetition amputates the connections and isolates the individual. The word repeated for a long period of time becomes just a form whose content is vaguely associated with the initial conditions in which the message was sent. The man who repeats is a vicious source against which the receiver creates himself a protection screen. According to the communist propaganda, the repetition of words whose meaning had been removed, had as a goal exactly the creation of this separating curtain with which the channels of communication between people were closed. The automatisms, verbal tics, slogans and generally the stereotype language acts like a lock which obstructs the bonds between people.
The three brothers of the story repeat the same linguistic sequence for three years, - meaning a mythical time and their action acquires exactly the anticipated effect: the exclusion of the other words. They endlessly utter some harmless words but their meaning reveals itself only in the context established before. When they are being asked who had killed the man in the middle of the road, the ex-slaves of the Red Man answer by uttering the only words they could still remember; the first one says: “All three of us”. Disarmed by the answer, the people ask about the cause they have murdered him. Here the second one answers saying: “For a cheese”. Finally, the people get the idea: “You will be punished!”. And then it comes the third brother’s answer: “It’s normal this way”. The brothers, as victims of the Red Man, don’t realize what happens to them and don’t even know what the horrible message of the uttered words is. They only did their duty, saying conscientiously what they had been saying for three years.
The answers haven’t been chosen at random. The Red Man had the control over the future and had adjusted the three brothers according to the events. They forgot to speak, the bonds with the world are destroyed for them because they accepted the Red Man’s measures. The tale hero, tested by means of difficult tasks, is usually a cheater and does not pass the obstacles by himself. He asks for the help of kind animals and he is accompanied by mystagogues or he possesses different magic objects. In the story of the three brothers, the heroes obey the Red Man’s order without commenting or trying to rebel or to infringe on the interdiction to not utter other words besides the appointed ones. One can say that they are honest and that they respect their master. But the loyalty collides with their own human essence: the three heroes do not ask themselves questions, do not have any curiosity related to their master’s reasons and they never suspect him of malevolence . In the traditional tale, the hero does not ever fully trust the strangers and the relationship with a master has the function of an a priori confrontation. The fact that the three brothers obey without objection anticipates their predisposition to be the bearers of a pattern and their entering a way of routine living cancels even their self-preservation instinct.
The erosion of words by repetition constitutes a way of annihilating the reality and this action has magic roots. The incantations, for instance, are created by means of exhausting repetition which casts away the ritual repeated effects. But here the destiny of the emitter is important, emitter who gets out of his existential role and becomes a container of Red Man’s words by routine repetition. The brothers serve their master especially after they finish their probation as slaves. They become the missionaries of a message, patients in a story which totally belongs to the Red Man.
In our story, the conflict disseminates into the scheme of another story in which the three brothers take part without knowing. They are transformed into unconscious actors who take part in a myth born right in the heart of reality. A man had been killed and the three brothers declared themselves the authors of that murder without knowing what was going on, what role they had and what implications their words had. The repetition without knowledge, born out of the blind obedience, transforms them into simple meaning vehicles. The conflict, on which the story should have been built, was solved even from the plot when the characters accepted the Red Man’s order. The three brothers are defeated by their own docility and their participation to another narrative construction, whose exclusive author is the Red Man, does not constitute but an acceptance of the mission of patients in a transforming myth.
The programmed amnesia. Even if brain washed, the three brothers still have another chance to reach the threshold of maturation. The magic amnesia is currently followed by anamnesis because the oblivion individualizes itself mythologically as a gnostic metaphor of spiritual death. By amnesia, the human being breaks free from his past existence and lives an experience at the end of which he regains his memory, his identity and his meaning in life, and above all, redemption and immortality. Eliade analyses this motive starting with the Hymn of the Pearl (The Deeds of Toma), which deals with a prince who goes away in searching for the unique pearl but when he finds himself very close to it, he loses his memory; he lives like this until his parents find him and bring him to the real life with the help of memories. Anamnesis confirms the discovery of a transcendental principle within the self and this revelation constitutes the central element of the gnostic religion.
The three brothers of the story found by Hasdeu are seized with partial amnesia and so they enter their life lacking the force of communication without a clue of a future redemption. They live the initiation partially, they enter a mythical cycle without the hope of spiritual regeneration. For them, the oblivion does not occur because of a magic accident and does not represent a punishment or a test. The brothers lose their living place and the right to assert their identity because they are deceived by the devil. In a short-story book by Caragiale, At the Mansion, the hero, also young, is deceived by the devil who appears to him as redhead, pug-nosed, boss-eyed rider with freckles; under the power of his shiny eye, the young man enters a state of dizziness and forgets his meaning in life but finally, he saves himself without knowing, carelessly wiping himself with the charmed kerchief of the devil. On this pattern one can usually develop the folk stories who deal with the devilish deceit. Every time there is something and somebody who intervene to destroy the magic. But to end an artificial situation there is a need for symbolic actions. For instance, Eliade explains that the anamnesis can be started by gestures, songs or words of a messenger. The process amnesia-anamnesis symbolizes the return to the self, to the individual origins, and through this, to the recognition of the celestial roots of the human being. The three brothers do not reach this initiation threshold but they live only the punishing oblivion (and even that is a partial one). They obeyed the Red Man instead of confronting him, losing the battle from the very beginning. But it remains to them the role of participants in the story.
They do not forget their meaning and ideal. After three years, they take their money and go home. So, they know who they are and what they have to do. They do not lose their ideals: when they find the body in the middle of the road, they stop to give a hand to a man in need. The three brothers forget only to speak, losing just the connections of their communication with the other people. Losing the power of word, they actually lose their freedom. They take part in the life, but the reality which they live is Red Man’s. Deprived of words, they reproduced the story created by the Red Man using three answers by which he had anticipated the progress of events. The programmed, partial and linguistic amnesia is like the lapsus linguae, a consequence of an internal conflict where the subject is the only responsible. As Freud explains10, the temporary oblivion constitutes a warning and the action links to a complex story bearer of a secret message intended to a wise hermeneutics interpreter. As a consequence, the amnesia of the three brothers is not produced only by the hallucinatory repetition and by the communication interdiction but also by the deep discontent of the three boys. Basically, they search for the Red Man because their father have ordered them to. They also gave up talking because their master had forbidden them to. This obstacle blocks them to communicate and transforms them into executors because they already have the fixation of joining a project that is not theirs.
One should broach the story of word which changes their lives from this point of view.
The force of word. The story The Three Brothers Serving the Red Man broaches the theme of the rooted word which modifies the reality. The word, uttered without emotional implication, without passion and knowledge, transforms the emitter into a character being at the author’s beck and call, in a demarche lacking in initiative in which the three heroes have nothing to do but to obey a parental order and the request of the master. As a part of the story, every hero helps to the transformation of the reality even though this reality belongs to them and uses them.
The three answers build the message of the Red Man with subtelty and this means that he gives a true answer because of the brothers’ request to employ them. They have met many people ready to employ them on their way but they did not want to disobey their parental order. That is why, they pray the Red Man to employ them. The ideal appointed to them by their father goes beyond their possibilities and aspirations. Under these circumstances, the Red Man makes them participants to a story about the consequences of a blind obedience. By this, he justifies his name and the deep significance of liberator and oppressor of the human being. He gives to the three brothers exactly what they have asked for; he does not advise them but one cannot say that he punishes them. He simply fulfills their desire to be obedient slaves and this thing can be equally liberating and punishing.
As receptors of the myth, they would have had the possibility to adapt their message, they would have been able to memorize or ignore it. But as participants to the story, they enter the core of the mystery and they live the punishment in the supreme condition as ignorant neophytes, being unable to understand the meaning of the words they utter. The meaningless words bring them on the stage of their own conflict developed between freedom and parental order, not only for them but also for a receiver who deserve being warned. The ordinary answers, uttered for three years, become mythology finally and get ontological force by making them active. But they are not valuable for the emitter, unconscious bearer of the message, but for the reader of the story. The relation between the author and the receiver respects even the right structure of the myth, build exclusively on a real confrontation scheme, bore many times by an ignorant repetition and contextualized favorably on its revelation as an essential mystery. The three brothers are the interpreters of a word which does not have any value but through the story they build without knowing and which it is exactly their life as messengers.
Doina Ruști - The Red Man - Semiotica, Mouton de Gruyter, vol 172 - 1/4, p. 261, 2008