Thursday, July 5, 2007

Wasting Words

Slotting some one as this or that is an uncanny practice in literary academics. Just by the way they articulate themselves or the way others pronounce them to be, people are nicely nudged towards some category or other. Pardon those who have confessed their allegiance to some thoughtful school or other.

Yet, the most seductive labels are that you’re either liberal or conservative. These stickers are so fashionable and sweep the known – and unknown – qualities about someone quite easily. But Berkley linguist, Geoffrey Nunberg warns: "The real caution I always give people is, we cannot let our sources influence us to define their opponents by using their words." Using shorthand words to fit some one into your order of things may be a preventable luxury – not an academic necessity.

Nunberg’s book title directly suggests what is at stake by using condescending words: Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show. Using brands to define your opponent is not a trickster’s act; but a brilliant cognitive move to use evocative terms to floor readers – although a deceptive move at that. Observe the colloquial use of words – so fantastically employed.

Pick up The Hindu on any weekend. And you’ll find the way a disgusted journalist or a depressing writer equivocally stamp opponents as dissidents. If one questions the validity of a woman president, chuck the argument and tuck it as gender blunder. Argument is plundered because it is a seeming misfit among teeming ideologies.

The kind of language coup one can pull off largely depends on how one stays with the message and spreads it; whereas others may well be all over the place and scatter the message so widely that it dilutes its genuine version.

So what can be done? Process the argument, rather than dissolving it into your ideology. And until that happens, the raunchiest refuge is to use buzzwords and catchphrases - to capture the eluding essence of defining and describing the affairs in the world.

Language shouldn’t be expected to mirror the world as it is. But only its use to proximately explain the world – understanding of which lies with the reader. Symbolic reading of stuff expressed through language is preferable. Rather than relying on relief through language – or even giving in to the unusual style of cooking up language – contemplating on the symbols signed through language is better. Far nicer is to resign into silence, where matters evade verbal articulation.

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