Between the Word and its Object

From de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

As I had failed in my efforts to think without recourse to language, I assumed that this was an exact equivalent of reality; I was encouraged in this misconception by the grown-ups, whom I took to be the sole depositaries of absolute truth: when they defined a thing, they expressed its substance, in the sense in which one expresses the juice from a fruit. So that I could conceive of no gaps into which error might fall between the word and its object; that is why I submitted myself uncritically to the Word, without examining its meaning, even when my circumstances inclined me to doubt its truth. Two of my Sirmione cousins were sucking sticks of candy-sugar: ‘It’s a purgative’, they told me in a bantering tone: their sniggers warned me that they were making fun of me; nevertheless the word they had used incorporated itself into my mind with the sticks of candy-sugar; I no longer liked them because they now seemed to me a dubious compromise between sweet and medicine.

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