Perplexicon

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“Anecdoche: n. a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.”

“Exulansis: when there’s not an actual word for what you’re trying to explain. We feel more than we have the language to articulate and express, which is itself profoundly frustrating.”

Solastalgia: “a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change.”

Stuplimity: “the aesthetic experience in which astonishment is united with boredom, such that we overload on anxiety to the point of outrage-outage.”

The first two are from 40 Words For Emotions You’ve Felt But Couldn’t Explain; the second two from Robert Macfarlane’s long Guardian article Generation Anthropocene.

Reading both, I reacted similarly: deep waves of relief and recognition at somebody else naming feelings I knew I had (and was often puzzled or ashamed at having), but couldn’t elaborate and validate for myself. Then, stubbing on the awkwardness, randomness and alien-ness of the new words assigned to these emotions: words cobbled together in the hope that what we expect Greek or Germanic or Romantic language roots to do will still do. Words of mock lineage and raw seaming, which have not worn smooth and easy from long usage and do not roll easily off the tongue in the way that grace, dwelling and pumpernickel do.

The stubbing is as it needs to be. As Macfarlane too writes, the new words are “ugly coinages for an ugly epoch.” Beneath the ugliness a gap yawns, between the pressures of new emotions and inklings, responses somehow to shattering and unprecedented global reconfigurings that are beyond the familiar reaches of everyday experience, and to our suppressed complexities as human animals, and the rush to make sense, to define and assign meaning.

But, Bayo Akomolafe helpfully interrupts, “the correct answer is no longer enough to solve our problems.” The trouble with sense and meaning and critical tussling over the neologisms (pit Anthropocene, pat Anthropocene), is that they don’t speak nearly enough of or to the predicament in which we’re enmeshed. They become ways of not admitting helplessness, inadequacy, vulnerability, uncertainty, complicity. Seemingly sensible words turn us away from what we don’t know how to face or deal with. Labels, statements, facts, opinions, campaigns, arguments, assertions and pseudo-policies proliferate and oversimplify, barely grazing the vast complexities and paradoxes of present planetary realities.

As long as the new words speak and sound ungainly, snag in our awareness, perplex and fail us, they open ill-fitting doors into the gap. Down there, or out there, or in the space of no-space, things, worlds, other possibilities persist imperfectly well outwith the grasp of reasonable human understanding. Not a dictionary; something like a dance.

Occhiolism: n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.”

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