Friday, December 13, 2013


Once again, the esteemed and persistent linguist, Noam Chomsky, has come forth with a series of lectures that describe, link, and demonstrate matters of language as it relates to thoughts, meanings, and action.  To your delight, the lectures were described in a New York Times article, written by a scholar who often takes issue with Chomsky but who, in this instance, is so taken with Chomsky's presentations that he speaks with great admiration to the process of Chomsky's thoughts and effective use of language rather than the theses Chomsky has advanced.

In effect, you were present at a conversation between two scholars with differing visions, taking pleasure in the exchanges of thought and ideas.  Small wonder for your delight.  This is conversation as conversation can be, insightful, probing, questioning, in  this case accepting Chomsky's view that as a species, we've taken thought and language to the limit of their potential, leaving us with the sense that there is a limit to the ability to learn, but not to worry, we can, as a species, map out things that can be understood, and in the process learn to deal with things beyond the human ability to grasp.

Never mind some of the historical visions in which all potentials are unlimited, which in a sense is one of the platforms of capitalism, but also of various Ages of Enlightenment.

You bring into this equation elements which may or not be related to one another, the first of these the notion that curiosity is a major force in your life, the second that when curiosity produces enthusiasm, you have given up ordinary, cultural control of yourself.  The third element is that the more cultural control you are able to surrender, the more you are able to see the coded languages in which culture speaks, a polyglot code that is part intuitive and part discovered secret.

You have been interested in codes since you were six or seven, thanks accorded to your sister, who showed you some of the basic codes, and then thanks to the son of one of your mother's friends, perhaps five or six years your senior but in some important ways the older brother you did not have.

Jim Lyons taught you the Morse code, the naval semaphore code, and the meanings of the signal flags on ships.  He attempted to teach you a number of dumb things to do with rifles, such as right-shoulder arms, and port arms, but because of your tendency to drop the rifle or lose interest in it, he gave up on you as a gun person and taught you about raising pigeons, delivering newspapers, planting radishes and carrots, and how to crack pine nuts with your front teeth.

There was a time in your early years when you knew to the point of obsession about codes and the use of decoding to decipher languages.  For a pre-puberty boy, you knew things about such ancient languages as Linear A and Linear B as well as how to concoct your own code messages.  You also had a number of code devices from your favorite radio serial favorites.  But you had no tangible reason for writing code messages, which is to say few things to hide that you could not hide by using ordinary language.

With puberty came the growing awareness of puns and subtext, words that had double meanings, and ironic or convoluted turns that could pass unnoticed by many while having a clear meaning to a special audience.  And you were off and running, looking for hidden meanings in things that seemed ordinary, often attributing hidden meanings to things that seemed so ordinary, they were published in magazines such as The Reader's Digest or Coronet.

When you code, you are imposing your meaning on a thing or event, a gesture or a place.  When you decode, you are using clues, experiences, and other landmarks to interpret what another person or another culture meant in a given situation.  When you make eye contact with another person, you believe you are establishing honest, direct communication.  Other persons, in particular from other cultures, might decode direct eye contact as something altogether different than your intention, perhaps arrogance or challenge.  You might see an individual refusing eye contact to be demonstrating low ego supplement, ulterior motives, a less than truthful intent.  The person lowering his or her gaze may be doing so as a sign of respect.

You are beginning to see certain works of literature that were thought to be dystopic warnings, works such as 1984, not as commonly assumed, rather as satirical, of comic or exaggerated pulling of rugs from underneath the cultural standards.

You look for satire in everything because of your own belief that satire is coded morality tracts, often disguised as cautionary story, one example being Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, yet another being Arthur Krober's trenchant The Call Girls.

You look for codes and, in consequence, opportunities for decoding in everything, not the least in your own work.  What are you trying to hide from yourself?  What great matters of seriousness are you trying to tell yourself would do better with a bit of tweaking?  Where are you buying into the cultural seriousness that you have already on some level decoded as pomposity bordering on fraudulent?

Are you truly an optimist when you say the bottle is half filled?  Or is this merely a device to prevent you from questioning what the bottle is half filled with?

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