Have Another Pinion

‘In the animal kingdom, the rule is eat or be eaten. In the human kingdom, it is define or be defined. The struggle for definition is the struggle for life itself.’ – Thomas Szasz

Man. Woman. Liberal. Conservative. Economy. Environment. Right. Left. Nature. Culture. Old. New. Optimist! Pessimist!

Definitions, labels, meanings, identities. Oppositions, debates, opinions, positions.

In the hiatus of moving countries I’ve been dithering around, looking for a way of writing about my growing loss of ease with these noun-driven things. My unease, and my sense of tongue weakening; losing more of whatever fluency I might once have had in the confident business of nailing the world down here and there with the grand words of being. Sometimes the loss occupies me to the point of obsession; in day-to-day conversations, in statements and exchanges that I encounter in my reading and listening, as routine wrangles in my thoughts.

I skirt around the topic, blaming laziness and inadequacy and having just moved country; or play clever and go round and round in the dead conundrum of not being able not to define the problem. If I get any closer, a stampede of clichés thunders to mind and blocks the view. ‘The death of language’; ‘the crisis of meaning’; ‘all naming is already murder’ (the last most variously attributed to Dennis Hopper or Jacques Lacan).

Still, I keep catching the note of mounting desperation these days in whatever voice wants absolutely to insist that things must be things, and must, yes must, remain firmly under the jurisdiction of the identities which have already been prescribed for them. It’s a tone that sounds hollow whenever I knock against it, it grates and makes my spirits sag. For the so-named things are wriggling around impatiently, eager to cavort and sing outside the box, become more than a limited edition of being forged in a fading era. We’re deep into an epochal flux in which things are manifesting all around us as no longer what they seemed to be. The old words that served to bind them are dead;  the new words that will, in time, be fit to call them, are still for many just faint heartbeats from a distant incubator.

The favourite devils habit and fear, the cultural condition of impatience, the desire to keep a story straight and above all the urge to stay in control, all conspire in the brittle insistence that of course this is this, and of course that must under every circumstance remain that. All these, and another force, unexpected.

When I had a garden, I slowly learned to stop pruning the old growth right back to earth in the autumn, to leave dead stems and leaves as something for the frost, wind and snow to catch on, and so protect the new shoots of the coming year from harm.

It’s hard to let go. If identity, purpose, belonging, or just keeping food on the table depend upon a worn-out label staying stuck on, power must be diverted for artificial life support. The suppleness needed to tolerate honest differences is no longer available, questions and hesitations must be countered by the endless, ritual repetition of the preferred word-charms.

Victim. Monster. Doomer. Pollyanna. Silence. Music. Noise.

The thud of incantation sounds like poison, yet echoes as protection; and not necessarily of what is dead and no longer defensible.

Until the difference arises in plain hearing, it helps to remember that dead objects float, and not to feed them your own – or anybody else’s – life blood. To keep a back door in your mind open to the air. To improvise instead of reciting, and listen closely to which of these comes back out of the people who surround you. To act without words; to misread and mishear wherever possible.

To learn, or dream in, or invent more of, those fabled languages like Navajo and the Ursprache of Tlön, which hand the power of nouns over to rich, ever-unfolding variations upon verbness.

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7 thoughts on “Have Another Pinion

  1. hi cat! thanks for writing this – as always great to be reading your thinking through. reminds me of two things that i have just come across this week. one is sarah amsler’s essay ‘learning at the edge’ (http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/5813/) – you may know this. if not, i imagine it is definitely of interest to an edge-teeterer 🙂 the other is bohm, krishnamurti and shainberg’s dialogue ‘the end of time’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5ID588B59k). there is something in there on edges as well – and beyond! hope you are well in berlin, look forward to next time!

    1. Hi Jeppe,

      Great to hear from you, and thanks so much for the links to further edges 🙂 In fact, I found myself ‘asking’ today for more leads, conversations, hints from out there about edges; I’m writing / photographing / thinking / playing around with them a lot at the moment; but do sometimes find myself heading out repeatedly to the ones I already know. Hope all is well with you, really heartened by your news from Redrawing the Maps and The Common Room, and look forward yes to next time!

  2. Once again, reading you, I find a corroboration of my own hunches that helps me feel I’m not “over the edge!”

    I’ve been struggling with these limits of writing too lately. An impatience with fiction only equaled by a belief that fiction is the best way forward! Another double-bind, but then? That seems par for the course these days!

    Good to see you writing again! Looking forward to more!

    1. Hi Tony,

      Good to hear from you! It’s interesting to find we coincide (again) at these limits; another point of breakdown, and then something goes on. Look forward to finding more of your fiction from it!

  3. Hi Cat

    I love your pun on pinions, it led me to look up the word and refresh my understanding of its meaning. As a noun, pinion refers to the feathers on a bird’s wings; as a verb, it negates the idea of flight – as it means to bind one’s wings or arms, preventing movement.

    You describe so eloquently what happens when we use language, attempt to pin an idea down (pinion it with our labels and symbols called words.) And yes, the friction of all the opposing angles rubbing up against one another. It does us well to step back, to allow things to rest. Action uses energy and resources, reflection blossoms into new ideas to inform our movements.
    I can see pinioning the verb from both directions here: binding one’s flow and freedom of thought with the clumsy apparatus of language; but also binding one’s flow and freedom of action with the fear of taking a wrong step, or saying the wrong thing.

    In the DM circles there has from the start been a clash between those who favour action – or more specifically: activism – and those who favour reflection. It’s as though those two lived experiences can be separated from one another. I don’t believe they can. We don’t stop acting until we die. And our thoughts guide our actions every breathing minute that we’re here.
    I recently read something in which the writer was discussing grammar, and its use/misuse. He suggested (and I’m sure this is a standard discussion thread in the field of linguistics) that usage is the final arbiter of what is correct language. If enough people make the same mistake and it becomes a common and recognised usage, it is ‘correct’ and functioning. Language is one of our tools, and it evolves with use. Those labels pinning down meaning are more flexible than we usually give them credit for.

    One of the strands of feminist (and other forms of) activism is to address how language is used as a tool of discrimination. It is taking action by offering other meanings, and shifting the framework of ideas. For instance, I attended a conference yesterday in which someone pointed out the tremendous value judgment imposed by two little words: “workless household.” Our current economic framework does not acknowledge the labour or skills that are used every single day in homes everywhere in the world, and its language reflects that. The jargon is so common that we don’t even notice it, until we do notice it. Until someone takes the action of pointing it out to our notice.

    Several months ago I contributed a guest post on this blog, ending it with the suggestion that we create our reality through our choices – we choose, and our choices are exercised in thought, word and deed. We tell the story as we go, even when we step back to reflect, even in the place between stories.

    Anyway, those are my initial thoughts to this post. xx

    ps looking forward to your new book, have got it on order 🙂

    1. Hey,

      Thanks for these reflections. Yes, the meanings of words are flexible; they are also despite their frustrations all that we have to hand in a meantime of significant change. The ability to be supple and reflective with language depends a great deal upon a sympathetic context, in which a desperate need to be right, by controlling the meanings of words and what they indicate can be, if only for the time of the enquiry, let go.

      Thanks for supporting yr humble author’s other endeavours 😉

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