nicole rademacher

Friday, October 24, 2008

This importance of communication

I received an email about an exhibition in Shanghai. The exhibition looked super interesting. There was a link to the artist's blog. I clicked on it.

I assumed, because the email came to me in English (this wasn't SPAM, I am on two mailing lists for organizations in China) that the blog would be too - well that was what I realized after I went to the blog. All Chinese (and why should it be any different?). No English translation.

Native English speakers are spoiled. Our native tongue has currently evolved to be the lengua franca in the Western world. Every gallery or festival or organization website that I go to, in North America or Europe, is either in English or has an English translation available. The English translations aren't necessarily there for the anglophones - oh no! Don't kid yourself. In northern and eastern Europe, in particular, there are a plethora of English, as a foreign language, speakers - and many speak it quite well. English is fairly easy to learn - to communicate on a base level. So, English has become the default language.

Being back in the States, I have started to take the ability to understand everything around me for granted. To be quite honest, at first I found it annoying. While waiting in line at the grocery store, I don't truly want to listen to the fight between a mother and daughter about being able to purchase something. I am not sure if, while abroad, I actually tuned it out, but when it is in English - it is significantly harder. Also what lends a hand to the ability to "tune out", when living abroad there are always moments (sometimes whole days) when your ability to understand or communicate effectively breaks down, has a lapse. I suspect that those moments keep you on your toes. You know they are coming. No matter how fluent you are, there is always a time when you are lost. (Hell, sometimes that even happens to me in English.) Knowing that may happen keeps you alert and learning, soaking up all the information around you.

Here I am lazy. It is all my fault that I am lazy. I have gotten comfortable with being lazy and have therefore gotten even more lazy. I'm sure not everyone shares this experience. Some are probably able to stay on their toes without the push. I am not. The lack of challenge makes me complacent.

So, seeing this communication, which communicated nothing to me (I'm talking about the blog in Chinese, again), woke me up. I regained that sense of wonder that I love to have. I thought, "I want to understand that" - not just the writing, but about the text: it's structure and roots. How did these marks evolve to mean what they mean? How did that system become the elaborate syntactical arrangement that it is? How did that become universal throughout lands? And how did people figure out how to translate these codes so that the marks then become meaningful to every person? What relationship, if any, do these marks, which we classify as letter forms or characters, have to the non-verbal communication that humans and animals make with one another? What networks are created? What structures are erected? How do marks interpret sound? Why do we feel the urge to "record" sounds, events, thoughts, things ... ? How can sounds that are actually drastically different be perceived as the same? Is body language clearer?

I seem to be in a phase of questions, but not of trying to solve any of them.

I suppose I should sleep on it.

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