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By using the tag Popular songs I am able to trace the development of my short and unsuccessful songwriting efforts. I started in September &...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Language

There is a naive view of language that claims that language must be ever more fine-tuned in order to represent reality adequately.  I don't know if you have noticed, but language is pretty abstract.  Even really seemingly concrete language is abstract.  So if I say the word dog, that seems concrete, but is it a big dog or a small one, what color is it?  How old is it?  Actually, the word names a category, not a concrete object. So language usually does not represent reality in any great detail. Or if it does it has to incredibly verbose description. This description exists, in realist novels, but usually not very much in other contexts. Really detailed architectural plans are not expressed in words, but in pictures, and for very good reasons We think we get a picture of the cat in WCW: when the cat stepped over the ... but we don't really.

There are systems of notation that are efficient, like musical scores. To dictate those verbally would be tedious: put a quarter note on the E of the treble staff...  Now a quarter note rest...

Systems of notation are conventional. They don't convey, by themselves, anything but information that can be decoded in a conventional way.

The use of language in identity politics is a residue of romantic ideas about particularity.  I think those ideas are fundamentally flawed.  Of course, I would say that as a white guy, but still...


2 comments:

Thomas said...

I think it's the same of view of language that says that some things, whether horrors or pleasures, are "beyond words" as if that should amaze. In the sense in which it's true, it's trivial. It's just he "abstractness" you mention. But it's also false to say that some calamity is "beyond words". I picked on Ron Silliman for this when he claimed that the 2005 tsunami beyond the power of language to represent. I was especially outraged by his suggestion that it was not beyond the power of CNN to capture on video. He also said that he couldn't describe his room in words; that it would be better to show a picture or diagram. It's disappointing when a such a great poet seems to forget what language is. Whether we demand that language represent reality fully or are disappointed when it doesn't, we have misunderstood what it really is. It's a misunderstanding of both language and the reality it represents.

Leslie said...

Right.