Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gentle Men With Beards: A Prepatory Statement

Happy Thanksgiving, motherfuckers.

I love you all.

So tonight I went to a stranger's house for Thanksgiving. I was the nephew of a friend of a friend.

And it felt good.

I was not a stranger and it was not a strange land.

I talked to men with beards who were very friendly. They are feeding this reflection. Which I will get to shortly.

But first a few digressions.

I was recently trying to describe to a co-worker how I feel like an island. How I feel like a stand alone figure that doesn't need anyone else to be who I am. How my mind feels so independent and weird.

But I'm not an island. That isn't what I'm here to say. I miss my family. And I crave affection.

What I'm here to say is meant to prepare me to write my next shortish essay that will aid me in the construction of my larger essay. The next section of my big essay 'Art, Zen, and Insurrection' that I have to write is called 'Art and Language'.

So, in preparation for that section I feel that I need to write a shorter piece on language.

I have a friend who is very hurt by the limitations of language. The inability for language to match the richness of sensual and emotional experience.

These thoughts on language are valuable and real, no doubt. But language is not to be eschewed. It is not to be thought of as inadequate. It is the only thing we really have. And we should not take it lightly. We should try to use it with as much confidence, meaning, and force as possible.

Don't you ever tell me that language isn't good enough and that you are going to give up because it just isn't adequate. Poppycock.

Work harder. Think harder. Clarify harder. Express harder. Expand your definition of what constitutes language. Work work work. Do not give up on language.

This issue has been bubbling under my surface since 2007. Language, its limitations, and those implications.

So the time has come for me to write a focused piece on this issue. And, conveniently, it lines up with my next section of my big piece 'Art and Language'.

The smaller piece I want to write will thus be called: 'On The Inadequacy Of Generalization And The Richness Of Language'. Because the issue is not language itself. Language itself is a broad category that encompasses very diverse phenomenon. Generalization, on the other hand, is the real problem. It is the part of our language, the part of our lives, that tends to be more dangerous, more reductive, more harmful.

Thus I want to clarify this distinction. We don't need to worry about language. We need to worry about generalization. When Zizek talks about the violence of language he is more so talking about the violence of generalization.

And this is why I need to talk about gentle men with beards.

Because as a child I think I had a very reductive view of older men. I think I thought of beards or facial hair as a sign of maturity, as a sign of coolness and age. It used to make me think that these older men would be tough and cold. That they would be cool, aloof, and disinterested.

But no.

Tonight I talked to grown men with beards who were not only friendly, but gentle and goofy. They smiled goofily and made silly jokes. They lacked seriousness and didn't care. They were fun and gentle.

What I'm pointing our here is the inadequacy of generalizing about people based on physical appearance. We can't assume that just because people have tattoos, or beards, or long hair, or short hair, or certain clothes, or whatever, that they are certain ways.

To generalize is to admit that we don't understand the nuance of people.

But then again sometimes generalizing might be helpful or necessary.

So that is why I need to look into this issue with greater care.

I need to clarify this distinction between generalization in particular and language in general.

And I need to determine the usefulness of generalization.

Because I'm tired of having 'the inadequacy of language' be a viable excuse for poor communication. I hope to negate that view. I hope to provide myself with a set of ideas that will effectively refute that idea.


  1. "Work harder. Think harder. Clarify harder. Express harder. Expand your definition of what constitutes language. Work work work. Do not give up on language."

    A line in the book I am currently reading popped out at me yesterday: "When words fail, touch compensates."

    So I'd like to just remind - it seems an important thing which you failed to mention explicitly - that perhaps the point is yes, it is necessary to be precise with language, but there are other tools of communication, that, in addition to language, can be used to convey meaning. I would agree that you can't throw out one for the other, because different forms of communication have their sundry problems, but with all their powers combined (shout out to Captain Planet) perhaps messages can be successfully communicated. So yes, don't give up on language, but I do think it is true that it can fail you if it is the only tool you use.

  2. Yeah it is true. But one thing that I also didn't say explicitly, which I was hinting at when I said 'Expand your definition of what constitutes language', is that something like touch can be considered a form of language. I guess one thing I am starting to think about is that we can't think of language simply in terms of words. All sorts of gestures (hand waves, touching, eye contact, etc.) should all be considered a part of language. I don't know exactly what that means, or where this leaves us. But I think it is not so good if language is identified simply with words. And I guess that is one thing that is implicit in the sort of view that I have been thinking about.

    Yeah tough to say. But I think that this idea of including more things than words into the idea of language is what I am really curious about, and what I think would do some good in making us feel better about our use of language. Or at least for me, it makes me feel better to know that all sorts of things can be considered language, and not just words.

    Are you still reading Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, or is this a new book that the quote comes from?

  3. Yeah, I was thinking that too - somehow it didn't come out in my previous comment - what defines "language"? Because you know, there's "the language of loooove" hah, and also an article I read that was pondering whether song came first, or language (and in that begs the question, can song be language? I say yes).

    I am still reading your book (slowly, slowly). I have a bad habit of reading multiple books at the same time, and that quote is from a novel - the Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason.