“Words cannot describe…”
“I’m struggling to find the right words…”
“Words fail me…”
“It’s hard to explain…”
The experience of being unable to verbalize a thought, sensation, or experience is terrifying to me, and I’ll tell you why: it reminds me that all of existence is only perceivable through a series of clumsy symbols.
Think about all those times you’ve been unable to adequately express yourself. Think about how your inner desires and convictions were at the mercy of your eloquence. Think about how dissatisfied you felt when, while holding the brief and elusively precious attention of an audience, you stood there and stumbled through an idea that was only kind of close to what you wanted to say. And then you went home and thought about all the other things you could’ve said otherwise that were better.
And thus exist two realities: the reality in which you exist without language, and the reality in which others perceive you with language. The battle to be understood is a constant confrontation between these two realities. Does the distance between our internal self and our perceived self indicate our level of alienation or social anxiety?
I don’t speak only of spoken word, but all of self-expression. Our movements and our gestures, as well as our words, are mere symbols, and can a symbol ever truly accurately depict the very reality it’s attempting to symbolize? Could it be that all of our physical interaction with the perceivable world is somehow cheaply symbolic to some abstract metaphysical intention?
Or what if we can only perceive our own feelings through the filter of language even if we choose not to use language to express them. Maybe the complexity of our individual internal experiences are an illusion, and the symbols of language are how we process and understand them. Does language itself allow us to feel? Is our internal desire forced to submit to our dictionary of expressive tools, or does our dictionary of expressive tools define our personal experiences of desire?
I don’t know.
But I do know this: “sadness“ and “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” are two very different feelings.
Perhaps the difference between average writing and good writing is this – average writing sacrifices the richness of the experience for the directness of expressing it, whereas good writing uses symbols that evoke otherwise inexpressible feelings through associations. Perhaps great writing is somehow harnessing these associations in a direct manner, which is something very hard to do. Brevity is an oft undervalued quality in literature.
Maybe the key to an internally enriching and psychologically cohesive life is to stay in touch with the non-symbolized internal reality in which we live, and trying to express that reality only when necessary through unique specific associations rather than cheap quantifiers and qualifiers. Perhaps the only way to be true to yourself is to refrain from expressing yourself (I say as I clumsily express my thoughts on a blog). That is to say, maybe the key to living well (whatever that means) is to live poetry. (I try to refrain from saying “the key to happiness” because I don’t believe that life is about happiness – sorrow and desire are just as important for keeping me passionate as joy is)
This is what I find incredible about literature – the written word was invented to symbolize the spoken word, but literature is the written word divorced from the spoken word. The written word no longer stands for what it was invented to stand for. Think about lolcats. It is impossible to speak a lolcat and have the same effect or even a remote understanding. Lolcats exist in a world of the written word where the hierarchies of symbolic meaning are completely destroyed. The lolcat has no reality beyond itself, and yet, it is an ever-cycling parody of its own invented reality. That is why I see lolcats as the highest form of existentialist humor.
Well, maybe not, but words are failing me right now, and that’s the best example I could come up with.