The Hubris of Language

 We can’t restructure our society without restructuring the English language […]

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Marginalian has got to be the most seductive rabbit hole on the internet. Continuing the quote I found there – out of context: “One reflects the other. A lot of people are getting tired of the huge pool of metaphors that have to do with war and conflict [and] the proliferation of battle metaphors, such as being a warrior, righting, defeating, and so on. In response, I could say that once you become conscious of these battle metaphors, you can start “fighting” against them. That’s one option. Another is to realize that conflict is not the only human response to a situation and to begin to find other metaphors, such as resisting, outwitting, skipping, or subverting. This kind of consciousness can open the door to all sorts of new behavior.”

From the fragments of information that I like to believe I understand, there is soft science evidence to back up Le Guin’s argument. There is the story about the social scientists who integrated themselves in another – very small – culture. They struggled with some aspects of the language. Particularly, they said, one word that described an emotion that they couldn’t comprehend. It wasn’t until they’d lived in the culture for years and experienced a personal trauma, that the new feeling arrived – following the word. They explain that it wasn’t a new association, as in “oh this is the feeling y’all’ve been describing, of course”. They say this was a new feeling that the word itself spoken in context brought into experience.

But the catch? Le Guin also said that we forget that history isn’t a science, it is an art. There is no objective truth. I have been witness to a crime and know that if there is an objective perspective, a truth in any eye-witness testimony, I know it is unidentifiable. Random perhaps. His truth. My truth. What then do with do with this story of the researchers, the trauma and an emotional language? Their story?

Isn’t it a kind of origin story? How the bear lost his tail. In another culture, wouldn’t there have been another word, only completely appreciated by the members of that culture?

It seems to me that nothing stands alone. Every word and every sound is tangled with shared experiences of local grasses on bare feet, of the specific steam that rises in this or that day’s weather.

The Greeks’ sea was the “color” of wine.

It seems that we go about it all backwards, looking for some fundamental building blocks that are put together to make the things that we perceive. That we are outside and inside, but disconnected in a way that demands of us to understand what is and to follow the rules. Listen for instructions. That there is a right way.

What if the tree of knowledge is really the source of all neuroticism. That was the point of the myth. The tree of knowledge itself is a deception?

I want to point out, now that the timer has chimed, that I am not laying out philosophic arguments. I am deliberately discursive in the process of exploring – which is the process of writing, I think.

So yeah. When Lear says, Nothing will come from nothing – and the audience hears a curse as literal as You barren c*nt. Is it a story of history that we share with past experience? Or a story of our own time. Is it possible to try too hard when working with the language? Is it possible to be disrespectful with the language? Is it possible to be just sit down naked with it and let it sing?

Yeah. I actually wrote that bit. Ugh.

There went the timer.

5 Replies to “The Hubris of Language”

  1. Such a lot to think on here. (And thanks for the reminder of Homer’s “wine-dark sea”. )
    One culture’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. And, right in the here and now, and “battled” over in Wikipedia is their “anti-transgender activist “versus other’s “women’s rights activist.”

    And yes, this: “It seems to me that nothing stands alone. Every word and every sound is tangled with shared experiences of local grasses on bare feet, of the specific steam that rises in this or that day’s weather.”