What does it really mean when they say, “Challenge your assumptions”? Do I:
a. Take exception to a particular statement of belief?
b. Issue a challenge to certain hypotheses I’ve cultivated for myself?
c. Demand of myself to clearly identify what these assumptions are?
d. Raise an objection to a previously accepted norm?
I haven’t gone back to my philosophy class in a long while. Too many people arguing, too many wanting to assert that their code of life is ‘right’ over the other. I was a bit overwhelmed, and embarrassed, I’m sorry to say, that I couldn’t find the words to express my personal stand on some matters. You know how it is, when language flees—it’s terrible isn’t it. I feel a bit naked actually, and didn’t know what to do with myself, without the words. Thoughts are one thing: they can just easily flow inside my head with no need to articulate them, because I understand and know instantly what is going on. But—to participate with others, to facilitate communication, one must learn how to give these thoughts flesh. Between the two of us, I could just pick up the thread, and I know that you’ll know. In that class, however, I found myself severely undermined.
This morning I found out something about me that left me thoroughly surprised. In some ways it provided some explanation of my behaviour and personality as of late, but in other ways I am also confused. How can I not know this?, is the first thing I asked myself. I feel quite foolish, and out of place. Like I’ve changed into someone else while I wasn’t looking, only it is still me, but different. How do I say this—it’s like meeting a long-lost twin face-to-face. You’ve always had that psychic bond, and when you look in the mirror you see her face, so it feels like you know her. But now here she is finally and you realise you might not know everything about her.
I’m sure I’m not explaining all of these properly. I’m writing them all down as they come to me.
Last year, I was so exhilarated by Gertrude Stein when I read Tender Buttons. She has such a linguistic understanding of the way we see things in the world. I found myself questioning the words I use, really questioning them. Growing up bilingual, I never really thought of language that way before. I appreciate having the advantage, and feel really good about it. Having the ability to express myself in two languages—that’s twice the possibility for someone in love with words. Even when I started translating English poems to Filipino and vice versa, I was only ever curious about what we lose when we move from one language to another (and think about this loss with passing nostalgia or frustration, in some cases), but not necessarily interested about using language itself to question and subvert our assumptions about that language.
I’ve always thought that the inadequacies I face when trying to find the right words have something to do with me and my skills as a writer (i.e. it is not enough to say that “I feel a lot of things”, especially when I mean that “I am verklempt”). It didn’t occur to me to reconsider how language actually constructs the world we know. I mean, yes, maybe I’ve thought about it but have never really known it until last year.
For example, I’ve always loved this sentence from one of my favourite books—The History of Love by Nicole Krauss:
“When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?”
I love the sentiment. I love it because I understood it, because I’ve been there quite a few times in my life when I absolutely cannot come upon a word, the right word. But it wasn’t until I read Stein that I got it. That it’s not just about letting things remain unsaid because you’ve grappled for the words but can’t find them. It’s also about the utter failure of language to be what you need. That faced with this loss of language’s ability to function normally, I must act, explore and de-familiarise, in order to get meaning.
(Am I still making sense, or have I drank too much coffee?)
I go back to my notes in class: STEP BACK, and ask yourself questions about the presuppositions of your life you’ve just noticed.
• Does this reflect what you feel is the right way of understanding yourself?
• Is this the right way of thinking about what you want out of life?
• Even if the answer is YES, you’re better off for having reflected on the question and justified your stance to yourself.
“The world is made of many, many, many.”
So much to think about. I can’t write fast enough. I am leaving you with this poem, which I found in this book:
I tried to live small.
I took a narrow bed.
I held my elbows to my sides.
I tried to step carefully
And to think softly
And to breathe shallowly
In my portion of air
And to disturb no one.
Yet see how I spread out and I cannot help it.
I take to myself more and more, and I take nothing
That I do not need, but my needs grow like weeds,
All over and invading; I clutter this place
With all the apparatus of living.
You stumble over it daily.
And then my lungs take their fill.
And then you gasp for air.
Excuse me for living,
But, since I am living,
Given inches, I take yards,
Taking yards, dream of miles,
And a landscape, unbounded
And vast in abandon.
You too dreaming the same.
Good morning, M.