On the sublimation of speech

…it immediately struck me that most disagreements are fought over words and not meanings. I think it is tempting to mistake the feeling of familiarity with a word—that hearing it or reading it may bring—with actually having grasped its meaning. The words then function like mercenaries in proxy-disputes, or conflicts that are vicarious. I think words like “God” or “socialism” or “consciousness” are very telling examples. The essence of what is at stake is rarely approached because we remember having heard or used the word before and so assume we already know what it means to us, in itself, and to our interlocutors. The words themselves begin to carry as an implication their own judgement. For example, “God” for a religious person does not imply that he is a figment of ignorant people’s imagination or a cognitive structure that increased genetic fitness of our forebears in the way that the same term would do for an atheist. And yet they both use the same word. “God” then, is secretly a homophone. “‘God is said in many ways,” to paraphrase Aristotle. 

But the fact that a word in one language can (at least approximately) be translated into another shows that a word is more than its instance. It makes me wonder if music presents something like the sublimation of speech. In casting of any definite form, speech would free itself from the fixtures of habit and foregone association that usually constrain our discourse. I picture the way dry ice sublimates to become vapour. The first thing has a predeterminate form while the second is formless and therefore retains the potential to assume any form while still retaining its essence or substantia. This provides for pluralism that is not facile pluralism because it does not merely capitulate to “anything goes” or “that’s just your opinion, man” (to quote The Big Lebowski). Have I managed to attune to your meaning, or am I thinking in the wrong key?

Thank you to Nikoleta for the stunning photograph

One Comment Add yours

  1. Right on target.

    It is for this reason (and you may call it a personal failing, if you like, I just won’t pay much attention to that) that I cannot stand that so many people are constantly picking on — and dickering over — singular words while completely ignoring paragraphs and even entire essays and books or, in other words, the phrasing someone (may or may not obviously) have in mind because one lone word ticked someone off or triggered an as yet non-mutual understanding because it may be associated with something detrimental in one person’s mind, but not the other’s because they haven’t read the works of the same people, for example, or…what have you. Gah! It honestly makes the erstwhile English Major in me just want to stand on a rooftop somewhere and scream bloody murder for everyone to just be absolutely silent or, at least, venture into sotto voce every once in a while.

    Actually, I’ve done that. {blush}

    Etymology is one thing, but insisting on a particular etymology for a particular word is quite another. Language evolves as surely as everything else and even the words that comprise “national” languages may differ in meaning from culture to culture within those nations. Digging into our roots or origins does not have to entail what amounts to Singular Word Wars and, yet — for some ungodly reason — it does.

    Liked by 1 person

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