Monday, December 18, 2017

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.

At their very best, words are a very lame means of conveying experience, physical reality and mental states. This is certainly true when the words are wielded by people like you and me. But it is true even when words are wielded by the likes of Dante, Goethe, Emily Dickinson or Baudelaire.
How trite even the best chosen words sound before reality – the thing itself. Or how bombastic. Or how inappropriate.
But more than anything, how inadequate.
The toothache is throbbing, destroying your soul, nagging, making your jaw feverish, making you incapable of thinking of anything else, absorbing your whole being. “Oh God, it hurts”, you say, inadequately, before moving to a more authentic response – the howl of an animal. “Ow! Ow! Ow!”
The sun is an hour up, the day is fine and there is a beautiful cloudless sky to the horizon, clear and pale and blue as a silk robe. You try to find words that will convey that sense of the sublime, but all that come out are the fustian truisms of old Romantic poetry or phrases rendered trite by overuse in publicity campaigns. Sublime? Awesome? Divine? Curse it – there is no word to convey this experience that elevates your heart, for all have been claimed for frequent trivialising usage.
And now try to find the right words for love or sexual experience or both. You will be stumped into cliché. Perhaps because before something intense and meaningful, the best response is silence.
I trudge through yet another volume of modern poetry, filled with self-referencing irony, ostentatious references to trashy pop culture, and a clever-dick sort of game-playing whereby the poet tries to persuade us that he is above anything as trite as having real feelings. Why this common malaise in modern poetry? Is it an extreme sense of the inadequacy of language, and the fear of lapsing into cliché when dealing with the essential and serious things of life, and real feelings?
Words are inadequate.
Words are inadequate.
Words are inadequate.
I see something intense and beautiful, three weeks before you have a chance to read this. My daughter embracing her newborn son, two hours after he left the womb. I have no words adequate to the image itself. It is beyond words. 

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