24 October 2013

In praise of wordlessness


www.matthewwilliamsellis.photoshelter.com
This world is made of words.  We have names for everything and for that which is discovered and found to be nameless we coin new names.  We have enough syllables to play with.  We name, we describe.  We see something in encounter with something else and we describe the relationship.  With words. We see things happening in sequences that are familiar and we formulate theories.  With words. 
We need to name things because we don’t live alone, we live among people, at home and away, in work places and wherever and whenever we commerce with one another.  There are things we can communicate with words, for example disapproval, gratitude and love can make do with glance, slight movement of head in a particular manner, the raised finger, the wave of hand or expressions that are as unambiguous as ‘stop’, ‘no’, ‘it’s ok’, ‘thank you’ or ‘I am not impressed’.  In the main, though, we are a word-species. 
We are not word-free even if we wanted to be.  Words jump out at us from newsprint and television screen. They waft from car radio and iPod.  They beep into our lives as text messages. They travel from ear to ear, mouth to mouth over telephone and Skype. They are inboxed and tweeted.  They come as routine greeting, as office memo and minute, and weighing down or elevating conversation. 
Words are useful, that much is certain.  We can’t do without them, that’s true.  But how much of it is necessary?  How little is enough?  When do we decide that the next thing to roll out of tongue and mouth is the word-straw that breaks the camel-back of usefulness, for recipient and self?   
Words are to a journalist or writer what toolkit is to mechanic, so we cannot avoid them.  On the other hand, even those for whom words and communication are akin to brick and mortar have time and opportunity for wordlessness.  One assumes that when words are but peripheral tools in certain vocations, those engaged have more wordless moments available to them.   Either way, there must be moments, random perhaps, when one can ponder on words and their limited utility. 
Silence. Now that’s something we don’t think about often.  If there was no silence, there would be no words, for letter will merge with letter, word entangle with word, and our worlds will quickly spin into a jumble we cannot extricate word from, draw meaning from or separate sanity from insanity. 
Let us consider an example.  We see during election campaigns candidates taking out newspaper advertisements.  There are full page ads which mention each and every ‘service’ that the particular candidate has delivered, all acts of charity and goodwill, all his or her qualification, papered and otherwise, that make him or her THE person to vote for.  In a word, clutter.  We hear least when there is too much to hear.  Then there are smaller ads.  Quarter page spaces on which with minimal fuss a candidate writes a short capture-all.  You will see it.  Hear him or her.   
What we see around us, wouldn’t you agree, is a massive canvass crisscrossed with words, phrases, sentences and questions, with paragraphs beginning before the previous one ends, chapters bleeding into one another, a massive archive where pages of books have been torn and inserted in other books and misplaced manuscripts scatter the many isles making even tiptoeing difficult? 
What if 50% of the words ‘decreed’ for tomorrow are sucked out of the system?  Would we be poorer, would we collapse in incapacitation, would we go hungry to bed for lack of word-nutrient?  There are so many words, so many books and too many reviews too.  We have so little time and we spend too much time figuring out reading priorities. 
Perhaps it would become easy if we inserted some whiteness into it all.  If we interjected space between words, if we used punctuation, we might read better.  If we sprayed upon the word-wall the graffiti of silence, message might become clearer. 
It is like light.  Too much of it turns it into a polluting substance because it is excessive, misdirected and obtrusive.  It trespasses.  Turn the lights off or walk along a lightless pathway and your ears and nostrils turn into eyes.  Give word a rest and silence tells you fascinating stories.  And they come accompanied with music and mystery, they delight and are no less illuminating.

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