Tag Archives: English language

one word

30 Oct

I think about how language is boiled down, insufficient description. Maybe the Germans with their words that explain whole phrases or feelings have it better than the English speakers do. Our words are plain, to convey neat little packages of meaning or feeling in little wrapped boxes. But there’s nothing inside but a ghost that gets away from you.

I feel happy today. I feel sad today. Why? How? What is not being said? Is anything actually being said?

How did language become so far removed from the emotion, the gravity, the unexplainable, the pain of human life? Even “pain” is just not enough. It doesn’t say anything.

Think of he, she, they…and the class of singular-phrase actions, feelings…

[raped]

[broke up]

[died]

[fell in love]

[born]

[left]

Everything that is implied and yet not said in those singular words or phrases. All the agony, all the ecstasy. The inner life, the outer community. The mess. The uncontained. The itchy. The aching. What goes beyond the borders of those little letters that we use to describe more than we know how.

My brilliant teacher Bhanu Kapil has much to say on this, but I have been exhausted all day and will have to rediscover her words at another time. She taught me about experimental prose. But to revisit my traditional fiction roots, when did good writers ever try to describe feelings or events in such limited terms as English gives us? If a writer wrote, “he was sad,” it would either belong in a children’s book – where children understand these terms more simplistically and can easily substitute in their own associations or feelings – or we would say the writer was awful, or incompetent. Yet those words don’t mean anything either.

The task of the writer is to take these simplistic building blocks, the little color swatches, the individual keys on the piano, and turn them into something more than the sum of the parts. The writer has to create something identifiable, something vivid, something relatable, out of single-serving-size words intended to encompass more meaning than they could ever possibly hope to.

Maybe language itself is cliché. Maybe it’s been beat to death, pulverized. But where is new language born? And how?