ww: politicking words

14/07/2010 § Leave a comment

So far, so good. I have been able to stay on top of my “homework” and find it exhilarating to, once again, be given articles to read. I like to read. I will read anything. If I don’t like it, I will critique it. If I like it, I will hold the book close to my chest and let my heart talk.

This past week we were given an article to read called “Politics and the English Language”, by none other than George Orwell — I suppose one could describe him as politically inclined. In it, he critiques the way people, not common people but intellectuals, write. Actually, he finds it absurd that the educated elite have not only abused the written word, but contextually misused words in an attempt to appear smart. It’s self-verification in its finest.

Kate Carraway, my teacher, told us to read the article in order to introduce the impact that simplicity offers writing.  Whatever you are reading — whether it is an article, a blog post, a novela or an epic text –the words are just a tool to relay an overarching meaning. As a reader, when sentences are concise and straightforward the message resonates.

Orwell used examples of text that had stepped beyond the boundaries being verbose and into the obscure.

For example:

I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Not only phrases, but entire books have been published based on an author’s credentials as opposed to his ideas (I used his because the works Orwell used were from the 1940s. Women were proof-readers, not scholars.) Then, at times, writers would have fantastic ideas, excellent trains of thought, only to lose the reader in intellectual jargon. Yes, Hegel, I am talking to you.

The absolutely free will, at the stage when its concept is abstract, has the determinate character of immediacy. Accordingly this stage is its negative actuality, an actuality contrasted with the real world, only an abstractly self-related actuality — the inherently single will of a subject. Pursuant to the moment of the particularity of the will, it has in addition a content consisting of determinate aims and, as exclusive individuality, it has this content at the same time as an external world directly confronting it.

Philosophy of Right

Sometimes, I find myself lost in this same tunnel — writing like a subterranean homesick alien (I guess even — no, especially — Thom Yorke can lose his audience.)

Have you ever felt lost in translation — needing, yearning for clear communication?

I remember walking into my room in first-year. The left side of the room had already been claimed with a simple message of who my new roommate was: the tiny, hand-written posters that read “I ❤ Noam Chomsky”, a wooden, geometric figurine manipulated into a flailing dance-kick, patterned prints tacked beside the bed. I already knew that my new roommate’s name was Sarah, studying Fine Art, but her decor provided insight to something deeper. I instantly knew she was smart.

Sarah & I:

– Wonderful to meet your acquaintance, undoubtedly I have pre-selected my preference not so indiscreetly. I hope that this will not be an imposition, nor presumptive of future endeavours.

– Yeah, either side is fine with me.

I had no idea what she just said, but I understood that my new home, my space, was going to be the bed on the right. I felt intimidated. For the first time in my life, I became shy.

As the months progressed, Sarah and I got to know each other a little better. We shared ideas and stories and bantered, just a little, over life, love, politics and family. Despite first encounters, we began to really understand one another. Most of our deeper, existential conversations were spilled over sips of beer.

– You know I speak pretentiously due to the fact that I feel an intellectual inadequacy. To be honest, upon our first introductions, I had concluded that you were, to be blunt, just another dumb blond.

– Thanks, man. No hard feelings. To tell you the truth, I was intimidated by your vocabulary. But, you taught me some words and now we know how to talk to each other. We got a good communication going.

– Precisely.

When reading Orwell’s article, I couldn’t help but think of those first-year moments, connecting with a person and building a new bond.It took months for me to decipher her code, to read her gestures and translate them into my own language. It did not take months for her to hear what I was saying, but she developed an appreciation for my generalized sentence structure. We had broken the barriers of snobbery because we started to understand each other. But, that took time.

Some people read in spurts, others never read the same book twice, while, still others, will read the same book over and over. Literature, in all its publications, is for everyone. For this reason, it is important, as Orwell points out, that the language of text be kept simple. There is always going to be that book that should be read carefully, to pick up the idiosyncrasies of its essence, but words still need a point. Fundamentals of Communication 101.

Not only can humans become lost in communication or frustrated from first-impressions, but there are times when a charismatic writer can use words as a weapon, a sword of sorts. Sometimes, an author will intentionally lose someone in his (neuter intended) language in order to disguise its meaning. As Orwell concludes:

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to five an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Despite the run-on sentence, a rule I enjoy breaking and playing with, I understand what he’s saying.

“Yes, we can.”

Do what? Nothing? Who knows.


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