SYMBOLIC: ADVENTURES IN TEXT
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August 26, 2003
058: Time Stretching
I'm making slow progress on THE BOOK OF LIES, a few hundred words at a time. Glacial pacing, I suppose, but it is forward progress. I'm trying to build a section in my head before I commit it to paper in order to prevent obstacles from injuring me during the headlong rush. It's a different method of working than I'm used to, but it is a more realistic method afforded by the time I have available.
Time. It's all about time, isn't it?
I've been reading The Believer off and on since it started earlier this year, and I've been chewing through Ben Marcus' essay about John Haskell and the lyric essay recently. Marcus covers a bit of ground, but the not entirely tangential aspect of his article which still hovers in my mind is the intersection between fiction and time. "Literature is supposedly a time-based art," he says wherein the fiction writer creates time in the course of his work.
Which is one of those ideas which, once articulated, puts everything in a different light. The "once upon a time" phrase becomes, essentially, a magical incantation. The writer invites the reader to partake in a shared imaginary experience. "Come," the writer says, "let us make time together." Does the writer really create time on his own or is it something that has no existence, per se, until someone reads it?
When you get right down to it, participating in fiction validates the whole idea that time is completely subjective and, while it may be defined as a certain number of vibrations of a cesium atom, it is still a human quantification of the universe. More importantly, not only can you imagine it, you can uncreate it as well. Does a story still exist after you've read it or does that time -- that idea space in which you've been dallying -- suddenly cease to exist?
The idea abutting this one is a factoid mused over by my pal, Greg, one late evening. He tells me that young children cannot understand stories until such time as they can understand the concept of lying. For infants, objects are solid and have an existence in space relative to themselves, and it isn't until they can handle the idea of an object existing outside their immediate visual space that they can truly understand what is real and what is not. Once they can comprehend a graduation of truth -- a variation of absolutes -- they can appreciate stories.
"Once upon a time" is an invocation of "not-truth," of unreality that we make real because we can imagine it. Time is imaginary then and doesn't exist for children; it has no bearing for those who are unable to think beyond the raw, sensory input which they are receiving. We make time then, don't we? We kill it, we take it, we waste it.
It is kind of pointless to get worked up about it, isn't it? Since we invent time in our heads, there is no end to the supply. We can make, kill, take, or waste more whenever we want.
I still don't know what I'm going to do in Chapter 4. Time enough, I suppose.
Posted by Teppo at 10:16 PM
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August 13, 2003
057: The Root Language
I was very cursorily reading a thread on one of the mailing lists I half pay attention to the other day while there was a discussion about the ability to find coded messages left behind in written texts. Michael Drosnin's The Bible Code had its fifteen minutes of occult fame a few years ago when he posited the existence of coded messages would could be discerned if you used a skip method of reading the letters. Naturally, depending on the language you are dancing with, the message will be different if not outright illegible. The conversation running through the thread was that you could still find patterns in any language -- you weren't limited to Latin or Hebrew.
Which leads to the hypothesis of a root language -- the whole pre-Babel tongue supposition -- if everything has the same basic root, then everything will adhere to patterns that much easier. Someone offered English as the language which existed prior to the destruction of the Tower, which is a woefully short-sighted American viewpoint. While English may be the de facto post-Babel linguistic convergence point, it saddens me to think that we are in any rush to reach this homogeneous state.
I'm reminded of the quintessential point of failure of Utopian societies: the human animal doesn't like perfection. We constantly war with the dichotomy of individuality versus uniformity -- we want to belong, but we also want to be individuals.
Once we all speak the same tongue, we'll start rewriting history. Like this fellow arguing for English as the root language.
From a genetic and mathematic standpoint, if you have a system that has many diverse end points, it stands to argue that the branches of the system's evolution occurred because of anomalies and aberrations. A perfect system would, by defintion, remain perfect, and since we're not at a perfect system now (a homogenous structure), it can follow that we've drifted from the origin point. Whether it happened through the adoption of regional variations or a single lightning bolt which blew off the crown of our half-finished tower, the system has moved far enough from its "perfect" state that all that is left is a memory of the beginning.
As a system distorts and mutates, it loses its potency. If we run along the path of this arguement, then a return to the primal tongue would mean an increase in the simple power of language. "Simple" and "powerful" are not two words which I would necessarily use to describe English with its endless rules and exceptions to those same rules.
[GrammarHammer Amtower just got the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style in the mail. I'm sure it is not a slim volume.]
So what is language? Is it a means of communication or a means of control? If you had the root, what would you use it for?
Posted by Teppo at 07:11 PM
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