While I was working on judging this last week I would often find myself taking breaks from the works and engaging in political conversations on Facebook. I’ve remarked here before that I am relatively politically active and generally don’t shy from sharing my views and observations with others, but this was a rather new experience for me. The frustrations I experienced in these conversations was minimal while the philosophy behind my ideologies was, at the very least, respected. I daresay the true commonality in several of the threads, however, was the utilization of words in such a way that actually misrepresented the words’ original meanings. [To avoid a rehash of some intense conversation I am not going to tell you the words, but if you want to guess it could be fun!]
Word meanings to me are rather concrete and so seeing it qualified with another word that actual countermands the original definition has caused me no end of frustration. I don’t know where else this occurs, but I do know words that are used politically seem to have a greater tendency to be misrepresented and qualified to pander to certain ideologies instead of enabling them to exist as is. One particular word I found in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary with a definition from 1877 only to be informed by someone else that it was effectively wrong due to it not taking into consideration it was actually a “specific kind” of “that word”. I truly kid you not. To string the words together for the purpose of writing literature is artful construction and, as such, there needs to be a certain amount of fluidity inherent in the work. But, if no definition is concrete or limited then whose to say this excerpt is not art?
…Toothbrush in the jaw toothbrush brush brush come home home in the jaw Rome dome tooth toothbrush toothpick pickpocket socket rocket… – The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand (p.237)
Disclaimer: If you have not read The Fountainhead let me assure you the above quote was actually from a book one of the characters was reading and is not representative of Rand’s prose.
I, personally, think the above quote is crap. No matter how much fluidity we can give to language I can not make my way to thinking that above sentence was amazing except in how it serves the purpose of the story. It does bring up a very good and solid question as a craftsman of the written word: If words can be twisted and combined so as to nullify their original/previous concrete definitions to what point is there in paying strict attention to word definitions at all? Why continuously and arduously work toward a specific level of prose, a rhythm in sentence, if it is not to communicate something with words?
Where is the limitation of subjectivity in our communication and language? I don’t know that there is any, but as I write this I’m suddenly struck by how truly wonderful The Road was as a result. McCarthy, and Rand as well, hold language and definition in reverence to such a level that I can not help but read their words and walk away thinking I KNOW what they were trying to communicate. The truth is: One can never really know they “get” precisely what the author was trying to communicate unless they discussed their thoughts with the author themselves, but certain works ring with more clarity than others. There is no play upon the subjective interpretations, but instead an inescapable demonstration of the meanings intended by careful word selection. For me, that confrontation with the reader, with the various preconceived notions that might very well be running amok, is the ultimate in courageous art.
Perhaps it is the climate of being surrounded by punditry ad nauseum where past friends insure loopholes in conversation by hiding behind a contextual loophole, the politicians having plausible deniability by not really saying anything, that has me so enamored with the notion of a concrete reality. In these moments I can easily understand the drive to confront subjectivity, to deny its necessity via Objectivism, but stand firm behind the notion that it is our subjectivity that enables and encourages the wonderment of individuality. The question still remains, however: How far can and will definitions be allowed to morph before they are incorrect or the above quote is, in fact, deemed artful?