nicole rademacher

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Written language is an artifice.

I have recently been listening to a class. There are 36 lectures in the whole thing (I downloaded it as an audiobook); I started this past Saturday, and I am already on Lecture 19. I told a friend that it is a class I have always wanted to take, but I was too busy being an "artiste" when I was in school (both/all times). Needless to say, I am a bit obsessed.

It is titled The Story of Human Language and it is taught by John McWhorter. He is one of my new heroes. It is probably much healthier to have him as a hero than some of my other current heroes because (a) he is alive, (b) I don't agree with everything that he says, and (c) he has demystified some things - which in turn has taken some ignorant theories of mine and shown that they have already been disproved. I downloaded the lecture series from The Teaching Company. I am in love with them too.

Back to the class. At the end of lecture eighteen he says that "written language is an artifice." Immediately I remembered it as "written language is a fallacy." In fact, I did not realize that he said "artifice" until I started writing this post. Artifice, fallacy. Fallacy, artifice. Contrived, deceptive. Skillful, false. Subtle deception, a false notion. The more I think about the words, the more I find them to be similar, which, of course, agrees with the fact that I perceived him to say one and not the other. Yet, when I initially thought about those two words I found them to be quite distinct in meaning. Not that they have become the same word, but their meanings seem to be growing closer (and closer).

Through this class ideas/theories I had about language, dialects, time, culture, immigration ... have been debunked. All of these theories were fallacies. I now realize just how stunted my education is. Here I am with an MFA, yet what do I truly know and what can I do with that? No, I am not feeling sorry for myself - quite the opposite, actually. I am trying to rationally and objectively look at my education (both formal and informal) and analyze the gaps. As Dr. McWhorter talks about high languages and low languages, dialects and standards, I have begun to simply look at my language learning experiences (and language teaching experiences). All three languages that I speak I learned in three very different manners and use them and very different ways. My "highness" and "lowness" (and my comfort with speaking/writing/reading in the way that I do) of these languages oscillates greatly. Is that good or bad is neither here nor there. The difference is what is significantly important. Yet, I am not sure why (but that doesn't matter). To look at it is important. To think about how you communicate and how you perceive your communication is important. To understand the means of your communication is important.

Written language is a fallacy. It is an artifice. It is completely contrived. Everything that you write is contrived and self-conscious. Most of my "artistic" life I have been urged, by my professors and therefore by myself, to not be self-conscious, yet I don't recall ever wondering (a) why am I self-conscious or (b) why is being self-conscious bad -i.e what is taking away from or how is it corrupting?

Why am I self-conscious? Well, obviously, we are self-conscious whenever we put something on the page because that is not an instinctual or intuitive act [this being one of the reasons why I think that working intuitively is ever so important, but of course you must step back after the fact to look objectively]. You actually think before you form the words with a pen or type them on a keyboard. Blogging and email make writing a bit more intuitive because we, as a society, are much more forgiving (and lazy) with spelling and grammatical errors that we read (write) in emails, im chats, and blogs. But, all in all, the word is not your thought. As an aside, I know that there are many arguments about how we think. One theory states that we think in what is called "mentalese", therefore any (recognizable) language that we use is secondary and requires yet another layer. Thus, writing is even another layer farther removed from the actual, pure thought. So, too is making: sculpting, drawing, painting, constructing ... This said - how could one NOT be self-conscious? Is it possible to truly work intuitively? Can you actually work un-self-consciously? Is working self-consciously an artifice? Who or what is it tricking? Is the trickery OK? Sometimes trickery is OK, right?

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