I hastily grabbed a notebook of primarily blank pages as I whooshed the children off for a swim. I needed to study and make notes while they splashed about and played and require pen & paper for the process. It turned out that the pages containing my writing dated some 15 years ago – journaling from a 4-day solo hike I had made in the Colorado mountains. Included was this me-of-20-something’s poem:
The whole notebook was nostalgic for me – my youthful vibrant concerns for solitude and justice, freedom and nature and virtue. What struck me about this little number was how consistent (or persistent) the concerns and interests worded here have been (obviously) throughout most of my life. Seeking purpose, expression, control – recognizing somehow that once language is entered, is invoked, everything changes. Our purposes, searches, availabilities, capacities, expressions, knowledge, – all gets reworked and revised as we engage in the broader activity of language.
If, as John Canfield theorizes, “in language we never leave the sphere of the social” and that “language is a vague concept with unclear boundaries,” in part because it “grows as more language-games are added to the mix, and as existing ones are enriched in various ways,” that, fundamentally “language is a set of customs in which words play a role, a set of patterned, culturally determined modes of interaction..” so that with “increasing cultural complexity come increasing complexity of our patterns of interaction” then my lifelong hunches that I’ll never get a handle on it, or master its use, or turn it explicitly to my purposes are a matter of course.
Which is also what fascinates, compels and rewards its use. Again, with such a limited arsenal of units – (take a look at your keyboard and consider for a moment to what gargantuan and variable use we put those 100 keys or so) – every engagement with the tool is interactive, reciprocally shaping and shaped by us, and unfailingly externalizing for our organism – the medium thrusts and immerses us into our society and culture and history and possible futures, as well as all the “thinks you can think” and more!
On the right day, then, my bewilderment in the face of language as my vocational practice gets to be an adventure of constant discovery, novelty, and learning – immersing me in some infinite-like context, warping and woofing my organism into a universe of threads…
2 thoughts on “Going Back, Going Forward”
It is fantastically fun to consider the largeness of our limitless language, against the smallness of our potential specificity.