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» Am I indiscreet?


Am I indiscreet?

2006-02-8 @ 10:25 » Français

Some years ago, one of my professors asks what my PhD was about. When I told him I working in historical linguistics, he declared, “Historical linguistics is not a science.” (I should’ve countered with “No, it’s an art.”). Because he couldn’t see any way towards strict formalism, it didn’t fit in with his definition of science. For me, science always can benefit from art, from poetry. These visions are echoed in David Suzuky’s discussion of the way we perceive reality:

Definition identifies, specifies and limits and thing, describes what it is and what it is not: it is the tool of our great classifying brain. Poetry, in contrast, is the tool of synthesis, of narrative. It struggles with boundaries in an effort to mean more, include more, to find the universal in the particular. It is the dance of words, creating more-than-meaning, reattaching the name, the thing, to everything around it.

Our propensity for categorization, this reflex by which we see the world as a sum of discreet units is, it would seem, a cultural artefact and not an innate human characteristic. This cultural legacy is so old, so entrenched, that it is hard for us to consider it a particular view of things rather than a hard fact. This legacy has allowed us to construct the scientific method and build the Western world. It is so present that it is part of our personal identity, our self-view as distinct from our surroundings.

Neil Evernden (The Natural Alien) gives the example of a tree:

A tree, we might say, is not so much a thing as a rhythm of exchange, or perhaps a centre of organizational forces. … The object to which we attach significance is the configuration of forces necessary to being a tree … rigid attention to boundaries can obscure the act of being itself.

Vincent-Olivier Arsenault, a couple of years ago, argued that “Discretization is the fundamental mechanism behind any form of cognition” (see also Martin’s reply). In the Western view of things, he might be right. We all use our discretization abilities for a host of different things, different day-to-day activities. But if we step back from this environment, we quickly see that this view of the world is no more fundamental than others which would represent it as a continuum.

And we don’t have to go far, even language does not conform to that generalization (one could even say that generalization and its counterpart, particularization, are its basic mechanisms, but that’s another story):

Problem is, language (which, it can be argued, is a form of cognition) is not discreet. The boundaries between word-meanings is anything but clear. It is as fuzzy as it gets. Sure, there is a part of discretization is the fact that reality is modelized, somewhat chopped up into bits we call words (or morphemes), but therein lies the beauty of language: these little bits are not really discreet. They are like a drop in a bucket (of the same liquid): can you say where the drop ends? (Emma B. in a comment on Arsenault’s post)

Even physics offers a sometimes indiscreet vision; for instant, light is both wave and particle, unit and flow. Personally, I always needed poetry in my understanding of reality, an awareness of some sort of continuum. Even more so now.

Which brings me to the title of this post: Am I indiscreet? Reading Suzuki, I was led to wonder about self-definition. Am I limited to my body and/or my mind? I’m thinking about a friend of mine who happens to be a muse. She inspires poetry, quite naturally, just by being who she is. Without being aware of it, she spreads beyond her body and mind and exists in the poems of others. Someone who doesn’t not know her will not see her there, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t part of those poems.

So the question could be “do I exist in the actions of others?”

2 comments to “Am I indiscreet?”

  1. “I’m thinking about a friend of mine who happens to be a muse. She inspires poetry, quite naturally, just by being who she is. Without being aware of it, she spreads beyond her body and mind and exists in the poems of others.”

    May I bring my two-cent here. Weren’t you a reader? I mean, weren’t reading “her” as a message? More precisely : didn’t you use her as a sign you didecided to decode as message to help you creat your poem.

    Let me try to explain where I’m coming from: I was a hermeneutic reader of “people” (I mean image of people) trying to understand the undercovered meanings they tried to tell me. There beauty or uglyness talked to me. In fact I only decided to choose a meaning, based on a hypothetic coded translation, in order to “understand’ the very truth they tried to tell me. Put boldly, I used them as interpretive matter for my weltanschauung whithout her to even know.

    I can certify you they never intend to send me the message I received. They even never tried to communicate anything to me.

    I was playing with a representation of them. So they were’t part of my thought. There representions were. Is that the meaning of ‘existing in the actions of others’? That can be translated as, are representions of myself, myself?

  2. For clarity’s sake, I will reply paragraph by paragraph:

    I can’t say that there is a conscious decision on my part to use her “message” to create poems.

    We all “interpret” people. It is, after all, the basis behind the infamous “You’re not the person I met X years ago.” – meaning, “You do not conform with the interpretation I had of you at the time.” Problem is, in this case, that I’m far from being the only one who has thus been influenced by her. That seems to be somewhat of a constant in her life.

    I never pretended there was any such intent on her part, although she does try (by her own admission) to communicate things to me.

    I think the main difference between the two cases is that it was a habit of yours to play with representations of people, but I cannot say that this holds true for everyone she has inspired.

    In a (strange) way, this is a bit like asking whether the zeitgeist exists per se or not. A muse is part of the zeitgeist, a kind of micro-instance of it. If one agrees as to the existence of the zeitgeist in and of itself, one must consider muses to exist, and not as self-projection of their artists. If not, one would have to say that they are but (unconscious) triggers, catalysts, and thus have no existence beyond their physical self.

What do you think?