Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I read two friends' posts today. One inspired me to think about how we go about this business of understanding ourselves; self-interpretation, as it were. The other got me thinking about the little closed-circuit language systems of specialists in various disciplines. Academic jargon, discourse, elitism, and all that. And then I started thinking about how these two activities are similar. . .

The first friend wrote "I wish I could get to the point of understanding myself without requiring constant interpretation. Then again, sometimes I think we all know ourselves, we just choose to confuse ourselves because we don't like the conclusions we arrive at." How true is this! Is the truth of the self really so dark and unfathomable, as we so often think? And why does this notion seem to correspond more with youth? The second friend wrote about how the language of specialists (ie: philosophy, medicine, music, anything) can exclude people from contributing to and understanding valuable things. He wrote about not wanting to get lost in language so that it would inhibit his ability to create. He wrote about how creating is part of being human, a notion reminiscent of Tolkien and the Inklings' idea of "co-creation," that our human creativity is part of creating alongside God. Maybe his feeling of the way that discourse tends to obscure is the same feeling that we have when we start trying to label ourselves with all kinds of "I am this's and I am that's." It's the fine line between language used for communicating and understanding, and language in the service of silencing and abusing.

So here we are trying to understand ourselves. Trying with . . . language. Maybe the key is in the creating. Maybe we spend our lives learning our own language, hearing ourselves spoken back to us. Maybe the "constant interpretation" is what we need to weed out the lies we've been told or come to believe; maybe the act of interpretation itself IS the ongoing creation of the self. Maybe we like to confuse ourselves because we tend to prefer darkness to light. And I'm not the first to say that.

I am honoured to know such brilliant people. People who make me think about real things. Now everyone should go read some Woolf.

"It was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge . . ." -Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.

"It is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed any longer." -Virginia Woolf. The Mark on the Wall.

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