A Writer's Manifesto
Using words to navigate an incoherent existence
Posted June 9, 2017
Few things in life are as valuable as books. They are portals that carry one into other worlds, other time periods, and other human minds. They impart new ideas, new thoughts, new perspectives. They change a person. After my mom taught me to read, she remembers me being so grateful that I came to her one night with a dollar bill and tears in my eyes to thank her for the gift she had given me.
Words define us. The whole of civilization is built upon the fact that ideas manifested through language are core to human existence and identity. Sacred texts have emerged nearly out of every literate culture across history. The Bible is called “The Word of God,” based on the earlier Stoic concept of the Logos, the eternal Word, the One Storyline, the divine animating principle underlying all of existence. One interesting word in the English language is ideology, from the Greek word eidos meaning “essence.” Ideology shares the same etymological root as the word idol. The latter attempts to capture the essence of the transcendent through a physical image while the former attempts to do so through words. Hence the reason holy wars have existed among various world religions throughout history—because the words that make up the doctrines and creeds of various worldviews are passionately believed to be one and the same with reality itself.
This ancient religious heritage is reflected in the modern world. Within the academy, we classify, label, organize, sort, index, systematize, and categorize ad infinitum. The world is neatly cut up into pieces by the analytic knives of rational thought. Knowledge of reality is forever divisible every time we create a new word to describe something. And then we create fields for each new area of study and christen it with the “-ology” suffix (from the Greek word logia sharing common roots with logos)…biology the “study of life”; epistemology the “study of knowledge”; anthropology the “study of man”; theology the “study of God,” and so on.
In the story of the Garden of Eden, the very first command God gave after creating man was to name the animals. This act of naming is reminiscent of the way in which an infant learns to point at objects and associate them with words. As far as we can tell, language is foundational for subjective reality. Humans may not necessarily need spoken word or literacy to achieve cognition, but certainly they must develop the capacity to symbolize and create coherency out of chaos to grapple with the bewildering external world that bears down upon their senses from the moment at which they come into being. This primordial instinct to name things marks the development of language and symbols by which one filters the external world, building a structural framework to create an entire internal psychic reality. Gestalt psychology teaches that we are unavoidable pattern makers.
Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize that we experience reality only as we perceive it, not as it actually is. Even more tragic is the fact that we lose the sense of awe and wonderment of the actual external world once we label it. Children see the world in this way because they lack the words to apprehend what it is they are experiencing. Language allows a person to reach out and hold tightly to a very minuscule piece of experience, but at the cost of losing all the rest. Once you call something a “table,” it becomes nearly impossible to see it as anything else. The more we define the world, the smaller it becomes.
So if words are so tragically inadequate, why write at all? Why waste time frivolously stringing sentences together? Why bother asking questions that inevitably are too small for the answers being sought?
Because as inadequate as it is, language is all we have to keep us grounded to reality and to each other. There are mysteries which are yet understood best through silence, yet they are the things on which we are most compelled to communicate. And though other useful forms of language connect us to the world—music, mathematics, dance, visual arts, body language, et cetera—spoken language, when used effectively, has an especially powerful ability to influence both heart and mind.
In hypnosis, there is a concept called transderivational search. This is the process by which a person strives to find just the right word to express a deeply felt emotion. And once the word is uttered, a simultaneous flash of insight is felt when it is found. The opposite process, called ideoaffective response, is when a word induces an emotion in a person. For example, the word “water” creates different emotive responses in a person who is dehydrated in a desert compared with a drowning accident survivor. This precise mastery of language, finding the right words to communicate deeply felt experiences, is equivalent to the act of creating poetry (which I once heard defined as “the economy of words”).
So at the end of the day, I think that is what I am attempting with my writing…not so much to construct rational arguments so much as create poems of a sort.
After all, words are powerful.
They may not have any meaning or magic in and of themselves, but they have meaning and magic for those who are influenced by them. And since it has been said that writing is a process of discovery, then I see no reason why one should keep their thoughts bottled up inside. Ideas are meant to be shared with the rest of humanity. And that’s what I intend to do…because at the end of the day, my hope is that good ideas will prevail.