Discover more from Planet: Critical
The Written Word or the Written World?
Truth exists in the belly of changeability
Last week I interviewed Ray Ison on The Problem With Language—that reality is shaped by the words we use to signify concepts, systems, relationships and even knowledge. This surreal layer over the world then becomes more true to us than reality itself, shaping desire, hatred, ideology and conviction.
Oh my, what trouble we seem to have gotten ourselves into—Dolly’s cry echoes through a forest of stumps bled dry and turned to ash. Never mind the pull of gravity; we, for one, as many, are destined for greater things than mulch and loam. Beam me up, god; eternity awaits its protagonist.
The responsibility for what we have done and are doing to the world cannot be offset, yet the descent into hell is a dance with a trickster who moves through us, making and unmaking the world like a devilish seamstress. That trickster is language, a great, oxymoronic wizardry which simultaneously captures and obfuscates, declares and reduces, signifies and misses. Language creates a membrane between the world and reality, trapping humankind within a subjective womb; herein lies the separation between human and nature; therein the separation between human and human. Language is a technology with a mind of its own. We have been living with A.I for aeons, and yet who is to say that with which we dance can be anything other than natural? And who else can say that language is not humankind’s greatest attempt to make love with the world; to be in relation with all of it at all times, with one another, to be understood, to be heard, to be. Who cannot say that they have never been moved by language? Called by language? Truth exists in the belly of changeability; the descent begins when the ore of meaning turns cold, turns sharp, stays.
The problem may be the written word.
What happens to language when it is written down? Sounds which are, by their very nature, impermanent, become words: fixed axes of meaning upon which we hang the world, turning the aliveness of all things into aesthetic. Sounds, too, carry the personal; the voice of the person making the sound communicates as much as the sound itself. The dynamic between expresser and listener creates the environment for which language exists—as a tool of relating. The written word, however, can wait forever. A relationship between reader and word may emerge upon the encounter, but the distance between unknowable writers and unknowable readers is a world of uncertainty and perhaps even loss. We look, then, to the words to make real that distance. The words, then, become more real than the relationship which cannot exist. We enter into relationship with the page, with the words as signifiers, as a system. The world becomes a form of reality which can be captured, the permanence of that capture leading to runaway feedback loops and the reification of concepts: the concept of economy becomes real to the world, becomes precious, protected even against the needs of citizens, protected even as it devours the world upon which it depends; the concept of war becomes an inescapable fact of reality as leaders negotiate to protect against whilst even doing so promotes the threat of; the concept of inequality becomes a hazard of human organising divorced from the reality of resources.
We’ve gotten stuck, like the pages of a book, between the concept of markets and the concept of heaven. Congealed words become glue: impermeable and hollow; the sound bouncing back, distorting; words lose their meaning as it becomes fixed.
If life is evolution then death is that which refuses to change. Here we are, gorging ourselves to death on the concepts of substitution, transition, net, externalities, still screaming from within those pages glued together with congealed words. The arteries of the human system are choked with certainty. Vitality demands movement and movement is the great expression of hope and resilience in the face of the unknown. It is the dare and the dream to be with and be in the world.
So how can we get movement back into language? Am I a fool for even writing this down? Do we, in fact, need to write it down in order to counteract that which is already written? Can the written word be retooled to unmake itself when the time comes? Can uncertainty fold itself into ink and pixels? Can the written word close the gap between reader and writer? I want to know who all of you are.
There are many languages in the world to learn from. Ideograms and hieroglyphs reveal the big picture instantly and are symbolic of complex systems, rejecting linear construction for revealed totality. A language of verbs consistently alludes to impermanence and movement. Others conceptualise the impermanence of concepts themselves. What could Roman and Germanic languages learn from these?
I’m imagining an English of the continuous tense, that will be rumbling and percolating, offering a sense of moving, feeling like we’re moving with the rhythm of evolution itself. Perhaps an English that is rumbling and constantly diverging, sentences beginning within one another, an English that is personalising its relationship between people, an English which is stumbling across god where he was killed, an English offering visions of the many ways in which we are all travelling together, an English delighting in the spaces between words we’re falling into and discovering.
I’m imagining a world of poetry books instead of dictionaries and a world in which we treat definitions like verse, not gospel.
© Rachel Donald
Planet: Critical is 100% independent and reader-funded. If you value it, and have the means, become a paid subscriber today!