Signs of the Times


Ever have a feeling like a word is on the tip of your tongue, but you just cannot think of what it is? What if that word did not exist, or even if it did, you had never heard it. If you were to create that word, its lexical utility would only exist relationally to other words, and even then other experiences. For anyone who has not been following The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, you may not have added new words to describe your malaise at the crushing feelings of banality and tyranny through modernity. Aldous Huxley once said that our consciousness is really a universe of islands, whereby everyone is sending a message in a bottle to each other explaining what their island looks like. Intersubjectivity breaks down, the signs and symbols of a structuralist narrative start to fall by the way-side. When you realize that when instead of describing in detail your experience, you rely on the word love, you are appealing to a culturally understood symbol of love, even though you might be evaluating love in your own sense from your experiences of love, love gained, love lost, that friend you cared about. All of those things are subsumed under a single language symbol. Some languages have more terms for that feeling we call “love”, but even then, they can only explain what it is “like” not what it is. Similarly, science can tell you that your brain is releasing “x” but that does not really help you elaborate on the experience, it is still tied to this crude tool.

I wonder though what happens when this mutually understood relationship between individuals is broached. The fact that language is a crude tool for explaining our feelings is made no less obvious then by the fact that we have a word like “ineffable”. Ineffable literally means something indescribable, like your religious experience in with a god, or that mystical experience that is evoked by seeing an Old Growth tree. Yet when I watched the Vemodalen (see below), I’m reminded of the fact that while humans are immensely different in their particular subjectivities, we seem to share very similar methods for showing the world, finding beauty in a snowflake or a flower. Think of memes. We can share these pieces of information with each other called memes which allow us to express a commonly socially understood way of explaining things. We can rely on these linguistic phrases to elicit understanding based on these commonly held signs. Why do we think we are able to offer up these things that are different when we are so commonly influenced by a society? Further question, what happens when this system breaks down at the seams? When you understand that at best your memes are only being pseudo-recognized, it makes the project of trying to get to know what someone means that much more difficult.

Imagine being unable to feel like you understand anyone. If you used a word like Vemodalen, as this project suggests, and no one understood you, then your communicative processes has failed, the word has lost its utility in order to communicate a feeling. It would be like trying to talk to someone who does not speak your language but worse. Worse in the sense that even pointing trying to demonstrate to someone what you mean would lose any efficacy. Ironically, trying to explain this with language is in-itself self-defeating. Although in a sense you would still understand the overarching principles, my direct meaning is lost.

Maybe I can accept that.


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