Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.

The title of this post is a quote from the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and it’s one I often murmur to myself like a crazy person whenever there’s a failure to communicate or I’m in some sort of semantic argument with someone (yes, I’m the kind of person who gets into semantic arguments with people).

I think, as a whole, I forget quite often just how important words are. They’re the magical tools that allow us to transfer the knowledge in thoughts in our brain to someone else’s, and that’s kind of crazy. I recently gave a talk about semiotics, and have, in true nerd fashion, been diving back into my notes from some of my rhetoric courses in college. I found this line:

“Rhetoric and language are not windows through which we see the reality of our world, they are the tools with which we build that reality.”

Imparting meaning from my mind into someone else’s is an incredibly difficult task. It’s the core challenge behind writing, and the more nuanced the meaning you’re trying to convey, the more difficult the task.

I’m also currently reading a book called 1Q84— without giving any spoilers, one of the main characters doubts the world she exists in and doubts her own perceptions. But as we think about the world we live in, we ultimately are limited to our own perception— we can’t escape outside of that. The closest we can get is to use our tools to attempt to convey our perceptions to others.

Add in one other piece of reading from this week: this article in the New York Times about the importance of humanities. Wrapped up in the importance of words is, of course, the importance of literature and art— a topic the english major in me is delighted to wax poetic about, but I’ll try and keep it short. The author touts the value of humanities in our ever increasingly data-driven world and describes one key aspect as follows:

“Art and literature are tried on. Reading a book, seeing a painting or a play or a film: Such encounters are fueled by affect as well as intelligence.”
For the purpose of this little post, I’m focusing primarily on the word-based portion of art. When we immerse ourselves in the words of others we are able to come the closest I think might be possible to experiencing their unique realities. We’re able to dive into their perceptions, to spend a moment swimming there. For me, literature is such a key tool for this, and the reason why I often return to muttering to myself— words, words. They’re all we have to go on.
Bonus self-tangent: Shout out to the many wonderful teachers I’ve had in life so far— particularly the ones who introduced me to the titular quote and to semiotics, for a start. 

One thought on “Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.

  1. You talkin’ to me? 🙂 Love to hear your voice, Victoria, especially as you ponder life’s mysteries. You nailed it: “The closest we can get is to use our tools to attempt to convey our perceptions to others.” My life’s mission, as an English teacher! Keep those important words coming!

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