Thursday, November 10, 2011

This will be sort of like Plato's Allegory of the Cave... that we have a sort of exploratory dialogue going on between the philosopher and his friend.  Except in this case, the friend can't get a word in edgewise.

E: Sometimes it's too bad that language is a linear mode of communication.

J: How do you mean?

E: (He asked for it...)  Because, as I'm sure you know, ideas have a tendency to sprout (or explode) off in all directions from whatever starting point, and it can be cumbersome to follow one thread through to its fullness and then have to go all the way back to the beginning and take off in the next direction.

We talk of going off on tangents as though they're extraneous and distracting, but they may in reality be essential parts of the fully developed idea, and we need them to understand the entirety of what's being explored.

I find that I can't ignore the little offshoots of idea (at least when I'm working honestly, from the sincerest part of my creativity), which is probably why I use so many parentheticals, footnotes, fragments, and inside jokes and in my verbal communication.  Which usually means that streamlinedness goes out the window.  But by referencing the points of connection, I can hope that my readers/listeners will get a clearer picture of what's really going on with the idea.

That's a very tenuous hope, though, due to the fact that, by its very nature, language is one-dimensional.  Spoken or written, we can only process it one word at a time, in the chronological order of its reception.  Forcing a whole idea into this time-linear format creates the illusion of precedence (or antecedence?), which can lead to the illusion of causation, when often the components of a truth just are, together and simultaneously.  That's nigh impossible to portray with words.

So, then.  Why write, you ask?

J: No, I actually didn't--

E: Because words, for whatever reason, seem to be the common denominator.  Reading and writing/speaking and listening are skills that almost everyone can learn.  And words are specific; you can be almost sure that your message will come across to anyone who receives it if you've written it well (as opposed to a piece of visual art, or music, or dance; the general feelings may come across all right, but the specific reactions they elicit and images they evoke will often vary enormously from what the creator intended.  Notice that these kinds of things often have a written "artist's statement" to clarify the artist's intentions and/or to shape the viewer's interpretation.  And, yes, much writing is as obscure as any Pollock and can be interpreted and debated all sorts of ways; but words can attain a higher level of precision of expression than any other medium.  Long parenthetical.).  And we in our society expect that of each other.

J: . . .

E: But to write well, in the sense of clarity, one has to conform to the nature of language, i.e. streamline.  Focus.  Cut down on...well, on the sprouts (the bean sprouts; she wants a bean feast).  Otherwise, your writing comes out like that last sentence of mine, and you lose people.  You have to own the single dimensionality.

J: Right.

E: Except that it's wrong!  Because the idea, the truth, (the elephant!) is so much more than that!  Truth is at least two-dimensional, probably more--hence painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama--but when we try to capture it in anything like its entirety, the potential for explicit, certain understanding (slim as it ever was) goes away.  And isn't the point to be understood?

(?): Maybe it's okay for now, while we have to exist in a time-bound realm, to have to deal in its limitations.  We won't always be stuck with an imperfection (lack of wholeness).  Some day, some existence, we will have the capacity to see things as they are (see Moroni 7:48), and those who are with us will have a perfect understanding.


  1. Ooh, a long deluge of existential angst? Fun!

    For the record, this actually did start out as a real conversation between real people, but then I changed venues, rendering it impossible for the friend to make his own comments. My justification for fabricating his responses: I'm pretty sure Plato's friend was always imaginary.

    But, still. Sorry to put words (word) in your mouth, JC. ;)

  2. ;) Lol no prob! That was actually really cool! I've never thought of language, or of ideas and thinking, quite that way before. Plato would be proud ;)

  3. That was cool, Emily.


    Also, "overhorm." It was super-cool.

  4. I inferred your comment before I read it from the blog itself. So that's fun. Also, it's a pretty good description of my feelings on the same issue (if I understand you correctly ;)). (Oh, double parentheses for the emoticon... it doesn't look balanced, no matter how you do it.) (And now the word identification is asking me to type gessesse... that's cool.)

    Hey, I can ramble!

  5. Josh: Plato would probably be totally offended. "What do you mean my friend was imaginary?? I have loads of real friends, I tell you!"

    Madeleine: Thanks!

    Baba: Sorry...

    Nick: You're all right, kid!

  6. As a wannabe choral composer, I have an interesting challenge. When I want to set a poem, I try to be as true to the poem as possible...except, of course, I have to interpret it through my 'lens' of experience. And what if the poem has been set before, and in a completely different fashion? Obviously, there is no one right way to do it, but it provides a tangible example of the reactions varying from what the original creator intended, sometimes by a wide margin. To what degree can art about art ever clarify anything? And sometimes, the creator of the original work doesn't even know what he/she was thinking...

  7. Exactly, Peter. Your last statement reminds me of something I said in my very first post on this blog. Yay for authorial intent not necessarily mattering!

    (Thanks for bringing in your perspective, and for reading at all! High five!)