Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mediation Meditation

I've been thinking a lot over the past few days about whether or not language is inadequate to describe experience--this is prompted by a blogpost by Daisy Fried at the Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet. I am commenting as J.E. Stone, my new, 100% gender-free name alternative. Does it make me seem more authoritative??

Anyway, I am thinking that I agree with Daisy, basically, that, of course language is not inadequate to describe experience. The problem with all this lit crit stuff as it seems to have been absorbed into poetry is that the literary critics are responding to texts as readers, not writers. And once a text is "written" and seems to occupy a final form--well, then, of course it can be analyzed, deconstructed, shown to have contradictory impulses, shown to obviate its own meaning, shown to be inadequate to describe experience. You can show that the meaning of the text is unstable, that it has an historical or cultural context, that the text is active or passive. That's a reader's perspective.

But a writer's perspective must be, somehow, different. There is the necessary question of agency. Now, I suppose one could think of oneself in different ways as an agent creating the text: as a socio-historical construct, as a cultural construct mediated by gender or race or some such category, as a conduit through which random impulses flow, or, perhaps as a human being. Barthes' theory that the author is "dead" is a useful analytical construct for a critic when dealing with an actualized text, but completely useless for a writer. It seems one cannot erase the self, whatever that may be, and produce anything. The critic, par example, is not erasing him or herself. The critic is writing. The critic puts his or her name on the book or article.

So, to my mind, language, for the writer, is a mediator between an unknowable exterior context and a knowable interior context. Or perhaps we could take the "knowing" part out of this verbal equation. Language could be any communicative system: words, musical notes, images, ASCII code, digits, hand gestures, etc. In this way, the inner world makes itself known to the outer world--communication--or the poet mediates the contradictions, imbalances, what have you, disconnects, between the inner "self" (let's safely put that in quotation marks) and an outer world, reality, living room with Keith Olberman blaring from the television. Therefore, if language is inadequate, it is simply the fault of the agent.

In other news, Robert was making small circles with his right arm and hand the other day. This kind of rotational movement is something he really hasn't had. He is also blazing away in his walker at school. This is relatively sudden, based on the enthusiastic recent notes of the last week in his communication notebook.

So you see, the teacher there uses language to mediate an unknowable exterior phenomenon (Robert blazing away in his walker at school--I'm not there) and her experience of that. Robert shows new gestures (outer observation), and I interpret them as above (my interior experience of those).

No comments: