Friday, October 21, 2005

The Why of the Written Word

After reading this post on Jesse's blog, and the comments following, I was prompted to curiosity about the purpose of writing in general, and my own purpose for writing in particular. Of the latter, I have yet come to no conclusion...of the former, I have...well...only begun to think, and my thoughts in this direction are as yet small(ish).

Of literature....

"Viewed through this medium, our narrative--into which are woven some airy and unsubstantial threads, intermixed with others, twisted out of the commonest stuff of human existence--may seem not widely different from the texture of all our lives."

--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

I like that. I think literature ought to provoke thought...and yet also say something. Let us not create without any purpose but to think and to let others' thought progress in any direction from little things we may have said. There ought to be--oughtn't there?--a point, or points, to what we think...should we be aware of them? For once, I am thinking as I speak, rather than waiting to speak until I have thought. This is different, and not altogether pleasing. I have not yet concluded whether it is best to have a distinct purpose to a thought, or merely to let one's perspective infuse the thought so that it may have no specific purpose, but rather a subtle influence. Ought we to reflect life, or to project into it what we see as ultimate ends or certainties or principles? Are we presenting aspects of Truth, of what is essential? Or are we merely drifting in and reporting of and musing upon and analyzing what we presently feel and experience (or have in past felt and experienced)?

Hawthorne seems to say he is merely reflecting life. Yet his portrait-novels (those which I have read) always have a subtle (or not so much subtle) principle behind them. Painted with eloquent artistry, they brilliantly depict humanity and the consequences of sin, the downfall of souls...and redemption. Is this his point, or his viewpoint? Purpose, or perspective? I cannot say.

Neither do I yet know what is mine.

Well, then...

high-pressure thought breaks a vein
and escapes through the late-
night draining
mental effort/exhaustion
Enough. spoken.

Curse this midnight oil. Why does she burn it? What does she want? What could she possibly gain that would profit her more than the sleep she has lost?

All good questions to ponder... and now goodnight.


antigraviton said...

All writing happens within a context, and therefore has a writer's perspective or role, an audience, a subject, and, indeed, a purpose - whether or not the author intends one. As slightlee implied in Jesse's blog, the reader will discover a purpose in the piece, regardless. The author's job is to decide (even if it is through the act of omitting to decide) how much free rein the audience has in determining the purpose.

Your curiosity here about language echoes mine; that curiosity is what drove me through graduate school in English, and I would be surprised if it didn't take you in the same direction. Your talent together with your curiosity make a pretty powerful case, don't you think?

On the nature of writing as constructing meaning, novelist E. M. Forster wrote: "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" What comes first, the thought, or the word ... or, are they inextricably bound - two ways of looking at the same thing?

Once you let all that move some electrons and chemicals around in your brain, maybe you'll start to ask another intriguing question:

What are my purposes in writing this response?


(Ain't language fun? ;-)


HSD said...

Gee, ain't it?

What are you doing procrastinating on my blog at the hour that midnight becomes eleven o' clock?


Of thought and word...which comes first?

I have thought without words...I have thought in emotions and in pictures/memories. I do not fully realize the meaning of these thoughts nor how powerfully they strike me until I have described and analyzed them with thoughtful words.

Thoughts come before words, I believe--as infants we had no words. There was a time, though none can directly, psychologically remember it, when our thoughts were only without words.

But this my thought brings me to a curiosity...can the word come without the thought? Can even for a moment a word be spoken without the immediate association--rather, integration--of a thought? As children we grew and learned words to express our thoughts, which also grew with us. Could such thoughts grow and thrive without words, without the interaction of larger and more complex ideas that cannot be expressed without language? A word is without a thought, or so I think, only if we are unfamiliar with its meaning. Then alone is it firstly and only a word--out of any context, meaning nothing. Even so, if it is heard or seen in specific context, thoughts are quick to assimilate the surrounding information and assign the word at the least a near-meaning....but my thoughts are flying in too many directions tonight. It's been too long since I've written an essay. I have forgotten how to be clear, concise, and organized.

So I am today haphazard in many things...i have only a half-formed thesis, with which I am still struggling to agree.

Hm. I wonder if you meant that you have some purpose besides getting me to "move some electrons and chemicals around in my brain"--or if you were wondering yourself what your purpose was in writing it. I say your purpose was to say this: Here I am, a person in three dimensions who thinks very much like you. There you are, a person in three dimensions who doesn't have to stop there. Keep thinking, and you'll grow. There is future in this.

So there is. Future and hope. I agree. Think about anything long enough and in the right way, and eventually you'll come to the heart of the matter. Trouble is, I often shy away from coming to the heart of it, afraid that core will prove too much for my frail human senses. Human! So much significant insignificance in the word. But you said there's a purpose for everything, and I'm not giving up. One day I will be parallel with, convergent with, congruent with, this great purpose.

Beginning every day.

There's a thought.

slightlee said...

It seems like there are multiple questions raised here, and since Jesse is too busy to post I am glad to discuss them if you are glad to have me.

Philosophically there is the question of whether or not one can think outside of language, I am not well read in semiotics but I follow the basic concepts. Words are signs to represent objects and abstracts in the context of a complete system, language, which is necessary to communicate or articulate any thought one has, and even if you can think in pictures or feelings (both being abstracts) you cannot ascribe them any meaning without words. So your whole view of reality is a construct based on the language you speak; what love means, what time means, the importance of logic, all these are shaped by your language. So if everything you know is translated into signs, how can you know what is behind those signs, how do you find the essence of things in themselves?

Then you have to decide if words are fluid and separate from their language or whether they are concrete pieces of a complete system like mathematics. If they are the former then they are subjective symbols and essentially meaningless with no objective value making communication of truth impossible. If they are the latter then words only have meaning within the system and have no distinct meaning in themselves, they're all relative; fat is relative to what isn't thin, tall is what isn't short, words are defined by their opposites and synonyms within the system of language. So I’ve thought about these things as well and share in your curiosity. Then you have the question of what is literature and what is simply writing.

What I was talking to Jesse about was his purposes as a writer and what his specific aims are or if he even has any. He talked about wanting to portray reality as is and no to write “escapist” fiction, which I understand to a certain degree, but that position leads you to pretentious artists painting crooked stick figures with mud because they portray reality more than the perfect figures or Greek sculpture or romantic paintings. Realism is good, but anyone’s portrayal of reality is going to be subjective, and done too critically it more often becomes heavy with distortion and depravity. Realism too often accuses any ordered or optimistic outlook as fantasy or romanticism, which I would not always agree with. Personally I’m tired of formless reproductions passed off as art in the name of realism.

Though I’m not sure I believe it, I am finding increasing strength in the argument that words are meaningless symbols, but I suppose any argument I made in defense of the position would be equally meaningless.

HSD said...

Well, I'm back, after a long pause... Sorry I haven't made the time and given much effort to answering the various thoughts projected here.

But I swear it will be done...eventually.

For now, I just want to say:

Yes, I *am* glad to have you here. I'm glad to have anyone here who bothers to give these random thoughts of mine credibility, legitimacy, purpose, by reading and responding. Glad to have you, because I feel that somehow I've an influence; I'm not alienated or alienating. I'm beginning to act and interact.

And I welcome this interaction, reciprocation. I want to know people. I want to be useful to them...somehow. So help me God.

(Maybe I'll post this comment as a post, in case nobody's looking here anymore. I'll consider it)