Mismatch the Unsaid

The Scream, by Edward Munch. 1893

There is no real relationship between a word and what it represents — outside our minds, outside our desire to forge that relationship. Outside the web of communication between one mind and the next, beyond the catalog of accepted naming conventions, there is no natural connection, correspondence or exact match. It is, in a word, arbitrary, empty, functional. The word “dog,” for instance, tells us (rather, demonstrates) nothing, really, about the actually existing animal, and the actually existing animal exists with or without our language, with or without our rather lame attempt to name it and describe it.

Many great writers felt the crush of this, this realization that they were condemned to forever fall short in what they did, what they loved to do. What they lived for. Samuel Beckett, par exemple, ran away from his native tongue, English, and wrote instead in French, and then moved further and further toward silence. He took the sword to the foundation of his word illusions, creating literature from surreal brevity until there was barely a whisper on the page. E.M. Cioran, another great curmudgeon, also felt the sting of the excess of words and sought to make his little aphorisms hold at least as much truth as thick tomes and labored treatises . . . .

But still they wrote. And while they shaved extraneous words from their work long before “minimalism” was in vogue, they still could not get closer to resolving the gap between subject and object. Because words help create and sustain that gap.

(Given that degrees do exist, at least according to our own limited perception of things, is one more successful if he or she fully embraces those words and their quality of illusion or fights their endless onslaught with silence?)

To make a long story short, it would appear that we must forever be mired in language, like little bear cubs caught with a beehive on their heads, desperately trying to shake loose from the stings and the buzz and the trap. Stuck in it, at least for vast majority of our days, if we ever desire to go beyond our own solipsism and match word illusions with others.

But, then, there is always the La Nuit.

*     *     *     *     *

Perhaps the issue isn’t the mud and muck of language after all, or the futility of ever matching signifiers with the signified. Though this eternal gap is a sadness and shrinking that gap a noble goal, perhaps the job of the artist is to present, just present. If he or she conjures up another world for readers and viewers and listeners, a world they would not otherwise find, that is gift enough. From there, it is up to that audience to try to bridge the gaps, to translate or go beyond translation — as they see fit. From there, it is up to the audience to deal with their own illusions in time. In time. Magic happens, regardless.


Mismatch the Unsaid
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