May 13, 2004
He babbled at me, and I babbled at him, and it was like a babblefest.
- Buffy, season 4 (Josh Whedon)
The first three words out of my mouth today were "sorry", "sorry", and "sorry". The first was to a person on the street asking me for spare change. The second was to the person I had accidentally almost walked into in opening a highly reflective glass door. The third was to the person I had to shift slightly to one side (yes, for all intents and purposes physically) in order to pick up today's newspaper. Word as regret-denial, word as apology, word as social lubricant. Word as whatever use we put it to, whatever we need it to mean: but just try explaining it without a preconception of its meaning. What is "sorry" ultimately, but a word? What is in that word, but "sorry"? What is that "sorry", but air?
Words (and maps, and even money) are teaching tools, communicative structures which borrow consensual symbols to approximate meaning. Speaking the word might perhaps evoke idea, in self and in other, but the speaking alone and even its understanding by another -- I don't think that, in itself, creates idea. The word is a useful temporary framework, but only that: never substitute for the actuality.
In this blog, as for some years now in my life, I attempt self-honesty, always. I don't know how well I succeed. The chats of the last two weeks leave me wondering whether I even succeed at all: whether my actions in fact show a very different motivation than I intend or than my words suggest. In that fragment of society which stems forth from me, broad offer does not entail either obligation or commitment. (This is distinct from that commitment to group essential to expression of those passions which demand shared schedules: eg. orchestral members.) Thus my own reaction when another, by then half-expected, happened not to show up, I had interpreted as concern ... but an external unofficial observer might as readily have identified my immediate attempt to locate as an attempt to pre-empt perceived loss of connection, even loss of self-centred attention -- and who am I to say such an observer would be wrong?
Such meaning as exists in a word lies not in any Platonic ideal, but in context and mutual approximation of understanding and in the silences between. In this blog I babble on and on in drive and even hunger for communication, transmission and transposition and transmutation of idea … but for all my aptitude for juggling letters, the important moments of sharing remain those of silence.
Words distance. The silences of mutual empathy bring together. And yet: how to approach those understanding silences except through what we have of communicative symbol?
Smile of the day:
Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine they lay down in their tent for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend awake: "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
Watson replied, "I see millions and millions of stars."
"What does that tell you?" asked Holmes.
Watson pondered for a minute. "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe Saturn is in Leo. Logically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow."
"Is that all?" asked Holmes.
"Yes," Watson replied after a moment. "Why, am I missing something?"
Holmes was quiet for a moment, then spoke: "Watson, you dickhead. Someone has stolen our tent."