Note: Words

by dschapman

What do we know about words? We know they aren’t very reliable. We know that they express little, if anything at all, and that, because they presume to communicate, they tend to lend themselves to miscommunication. Although we use words as though we were communicating, exchanging concepts and ideas, words are a force not of expression and perfectly symbolic meaning, but of binding, of trapping, and myth. The most sensational feelings and the profundest of concepts are experiential, not symbolic, and any attempt to symbolize them in words is a misnomer. Nonetheless we try, and in a capacity we succeed. We succeed in communicating, even if it is not what we meant to communicate, and ideas do get spread. But most of the phenomenal world is one of experience, and words are no substitute for experience.

Unless the words themselves are an experience, you might say. Poetry, say, the sake of the sounds and the disconnect of meaning – yes, the deliberate disconnect – new connections. Standard practical syntax and semantics is useful in a very standard capacity but, when the time comes for higher order thoughts and concepts, for higher order conversations, for descriptions of meaning and experience, songs of love and devotion, of the world, standard practical syntax and semantics are useless. People spend years writing world-changing tracts that end with confessions of silence, a confession of failure. The very best writers in history have all come forth and apologized, at some point or another, usually in their very heaviest performances, their very greatest books, for their inability to speak of what they need to speak of. No one, it seems, can put any pure thought into words for themselves – and never for anyone else. Conventional wordplay is not sufficient – “This is a brick” says something, when one has a brick; “This is the meaning of life” says nothing, even when one knows the meaning of life – and so words must be turned on their heads, used unconventionally, or so to speak, impractically. Words removed from their symbols and shaped into passages of value themselves, abstractions and glimmers of meaning, slivers of something felt or believed in, slivers of a truth or of virtue or of real re-assurance, slimmers of hope and of happiness. Above all else, these words, these unconventional sentences, this poetry, must be indefinable, like the feelings and concepts they seek to convey. They must not exist, so to speak, in terms of meaning, of explanation, of anything communicable. They must be incommunicable. And then, without any pretensions, are higher truths communicated. As someone once wrote: “Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth.” Whatever that means – that is the gist of it. Words as experience – not words as expression.

If such is the nature of poetry, then even conventional language has poetry. Because even between words of a certain use and meaning there are contained self-shorting circuits of an entirely different, exotic use and meaning, a grand and interconnected circuitry, simple, indefinable; movements and flashes of crackling abstraction, externalities, unpretensions, primordialities. Flashes of truth, as truth for us flashes, then passes, but this does not pass.