“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that `w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. [She had earlier destroyed the doll in a fit of temper.] I felt my way to the dearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
What had happened? Helen had exercised her subjectivity as cause by “throwing” (Ballein) the “likeness” (sym): w-a-t-e-r at the wet flowing object. She had experienced herself as cause, and therefore came to a consciousness of herself as “self.”
Walker Percy: “before, Helen had behaved like a good responding organism. Afterward, she acted like a rejoicing symbol-mongering human. Before, she was little more than an animal. Afterward, she became wholly human. Within the few minutes of the breakthrough and the several hours of exploiting it Helen had concentrated the months of the naming phase that most children go through somewhere around their second birthday.”…