The Lovers Encyclopedia: or, Notes Toward Unlimited Signs

Gilbert Quote

Notes on an Encyclopedia of Signs: or, Limited Vocabularies, Limitless Meanings

“Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.”

“All entities move and nothing remains still”

“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

-Heraclitus of Ephesus-

“No man ever steps in the same river twice.”  No man ever steps the same into a river.  I believe that everyone, from time to time, aches to express what they mean.  We have experiences and we want to communicate them, and we experience a kind of veritable torment when nothing sounds, feels, expresses what we “mean” “quite right” (or adequately, authentically, completely, correctly).

How often this happens with joy, pleasure, desire, love.  There are 26 letters in the English alphabet.  We shuffle and arrange them, add and delete, realign and recompose, punctuate and intone, mark-up, highlight, capitalize, emphasize, crescendo/decrescendo, lilt, shout, whisper the sounds and shapes we have mediated them through in this wild, often urgent attempt to forge understanding BETWEEN, comprehension, connection… MEANINGS (whole-person exchanges) betwixt ourselves and others, and world.

Our bodies have limited surfaces.  Certain numbers of organs, neurons, veins, muscles – motions, sensations, pulses, breaths, hums and groans.  We TOUCH to forge BETWEEN.  Caresses, grasps, pushes, pulls and entanglings.  WE ACHE TO GET ACROSS – adequately, authentically, comprehensively, fully.

“I love this pizza.”  “I have never seen anything like this!”  “OMG – watch that sky as it changes, explodes, implodes, whirls, colors!”  “I have never experienced love like this.”  “You are the most beautiful person I’ve ever known.”  “This is my favorite song.”  “You are incomparable.”  “You are incomparable.”  Our experiences – each – are in some very real sense… INCOMPARABLE.

And space.  And time.  Matter and energy, or material / apparently immaterial.  Emotion and sensation.  Cognition and affect.  We are ALWAYS (all of us) stepping in the river, and the river is always (all of it) flowing.  EVERY instant is our constant moving IN and WITH the constant moving of the world.

It hurts.  I look at, listen to, interact with, FEEL toward, receive from, snuggle, caress, kiss, desire, weep, converse with my current romantic partner – aching every time to express how additive, emergent, unique, INCOMPARABLE these NOW-experiences WITH her vary from, extend, surprise, fulfill, astound, affect, estrange from any other – and bewilder my ability to communicate them… because I have said “I love this pizza” a million times.  I have lost my breath at the views from a hundred mountain-tops.  I have gasped at four crashing oceans.  I have whimpered from the all-over expenditure of orgasm many times.  My fingers have disbelieved themselves and been overwhelmed by a life of plants, animals, surfaces and human fleshes.  “My favorite pie” has happened again and again and again – never the same me, never the same pie.  Down to my cells, my molecules, my quarks.

My love and I have imagined a new symbology.  Each time we ache to speak our love we will scramble new squiggles, letters, symbols, scratchings in order to designate:  THIS IS NOT LIKE BEFORE – I know I said it moments ago – BUT THIS IS SOMETHING MORE/OTHER/ PARTICULATED and specific from that.  This is NOW-LOVE, new and familiar, distinct and embodying all the particles prior.  There are not enough symbols.  Not enough sense.

Mikhail Bakhtin and any number of other thinkers, artists, poets, anthropologists (von Uexkull, Heidegger, William James, Charles Peirce, Paul Bains, Erin Manning, John Poinsot, John Deely, Paul Kockelman, Humberto Maturana, etc. etc. etc.) have attempted to unpack this strange tangle.  Poets and writers throughout history (as witnessed via Heraclitus at the start of this little assay), musicians, painters, explorers, historians – HUMANS have suffered, hurt, ached at this paradox of limitation and adequacy for expressing WHAT I MEAN / WHAT’S HAPPENING FOR ME NOW / throughout the life of our species.

The gist of it:  our bodies and vocabularies are VERY limited in relation to the never-ending changing and flood and flow of our relation to the world and others.  26 letters and 20 digits, a circumscribable surface of skin, a rate of cognition, a dictionary of emotions… never the same human stepping in never the same river.  This is where Bakhtin, et. al. assist us.  What language we’ve agreed on, what musical forms and sounds, what movements we are capable of, what gestures, groans, inflections, pressures of touch, coos and growls, whispers and howls – YES they are woefully limited to represent the vast variations of each NOW experience – with THIS person, THIS landscape, THIS particular food, THIS hearing of a song, THIS sunset, THIS ocean, THIS child, THIS reading – we repeat and repeat and repeat (in a kind of repulsive ad nauseum).  We proclaim our love as powerfully as we know how… and find we wrote the same thing to another person in a letter 15 years ago.  We massage and wriggle and lick and devour in lovemaking in a way we mean to be so particular to THIS passion, THIS relation, THIS other – and it mimics our gripping and caressing and kissing and intercourse of many other times, other passions, other relations, other others.  It hurts.

Bakhtin et. al. indicate that the MEANING is limitless.  That in order to communicate, each BETWEEN must be understood in the Heraclitean sense – WE ARE NOT IDENTICAL to ourselves – ever – and THIS EXPERIENCE being had is NOT IDENTICAL to any other – ever – our means of expression, our vocabularies for communication, our bodily capacities and emotive apparatus ARE LIMITED… but the meanings we create interacting with the world are not.  The MEANINGS ONLY OCCUR BETWEEN and AS we (ever-unique and different) participate, interact, engage one another and world (ever-unique and changing) … To comprehend the sometimes repulsive, apparently restrictive and woefully repetitive MEANS OF EXPRESSION we have and its FELT INADEQUACY to the new, unique, differentiated EXPERIENCE WE ACHE TO EXPRESS – would rely on the mutual understanding that EACH EXPRESSION WITH  COMPOSES NEW MEANING.

Our efforts, compulsions, desires, tastes, affections, pleasures, joys, hurts – EXPERIENCE – IS AUTHENTIC and GENUINELY NEW and DIFFERENT every moment – the means we have of COMMUNICATING, EXPRESSING, CONNECTING these experiences IS LIMITED and REPETITIVE – but we need not doubt the LIMITLESS CAPACITY FOR MEANING SOMETHING FRESH, AUTHENTIC, GENUINE, TRUE that each of those repeated words, phrases, emotions, gestures, interactions have… because…

“Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.”

“All entities move and nothing remains still”

“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

-Heraclitus of Ephesus-

We are a species of limited vocabularies, a constrained encyclopedia…

in a world of limitless meanings

let us trust one another.

-for Hallie

 

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2 thoughts on “The Lovers Encyclopedia: or, Notes Toward Unlimited Signs

  1. JLA

    How many times have I tried to communicate: “beautifully expressed”? Here again…inadequately…this attempt. Who/as. Now.

"A word is a bridge thrown between myself and an other - a territory shared by both" - M. Bakhtin

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