Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Say What?

"Language was made to express concrete facts and ideas: it is helpless to describe even the difference between the smells of an orange and of a lemon..." -Colin Wilson

One of the difficulties in communicating about subject matter that could be considered "way out" is that it is often very challenging to capture the ineffable in terms that can be easily comprehended by anyone. Sometimes I get the impression that certain writers overload their compositions with heavy duty metaphysical-speak to cloak the fact that they don't know what the hell they are talking about. Usually if you break everything down there is a meaning, but deciphering it is such a tortured process that only the brave or foolhardy stick it out long enough to see whether the idea is cogent or not.

It is somewhat unfair to blame these writers for being obscure, because often times language is just too limited to do something of unusual depth justice. Here is an excerpt of Franklin Merrill-Wolf trying to describe his experience of Nirvana:

"I abstracted the subjective moment- the 'I AM' or 'Atman' element-from the totality of the objective consciousness manifold...Naturally, I found what , from the relative point of view, is Darkness and Emptiness. But I realized It as Absolute Light and Fullness and that I was That. Of course, I cannot tell what It was in It's own nature. The relative forms of consciousness inevitably distort non-relative Consciousness."

Okay, not completely incomprehensible, but it took me a couple of times to get the complete gist of what he was trying to express. It ain't easy. That is why the visual arts, and such forms of communication as poetry and mythology are so often utilised; they speak to us on a deep level that is not lost when delivered. Sometimes meaning is sacrificed when a profound idea is dissected into cold hard words. And then you come across someone who speaks to you, like a C.S. Lewis, say, who manages most times to keep the gossamer intact. You realize IT CAN BE DONE! Of course, the ultimate example would be Christ, who in beautiful and poetic parables taught the world some its deepest lessons.

Still for all that I know many people don't have patience with poetry and art; and yet they hunger for Truth, too. There is many a pitfall in writing about this subject matter: no matter how you put it , much is cliche; or if you get too carried away you run the risk of sounding like Merrill-Wolf , and lose everyone in a metaphysical fog. Worst of all you can come across as some sanctimonious Maharishi , who has got all the answers, and expresses them in mysterious riddles and questions.

I certainly don't claim to have answers;I am a pilgrim inviting other pilgrims to join me on my journey. I will try to speak from the heart, always, and as clearly as I can with my limited tools. I write this as both a Mission Statement of sorts, and as a request for mercy from my readers for the inevitable times in the future when I may fall into any of the pits I have mentioned! Bear with me, correct me when I am off base, and let us journey on...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well cautioned. Lewis once counseled training vicars to try translating all their ideas into the simplest words possible in an excercise of comprehensibility. He himself was writing for the broadest field in his radio broadcast talks. Owen Barfield noted that even words of the most abstract kind have their origin in something physical; that in effect all language is metaphorical.

In a related matter, many are protesting the removal from the Oxford Junior Dictionary of words related to Christianity, nature, and history and replacing them with terms like "download" and MP3 player". The fewer words we have to express things the fewer tools are at our disposal, and the more restricted our ideas become. Are there some things the Powers That Be don't want us to think about?