Monday, February 06, 2012

don't trip on the baggage

"the world is, after all, an endless battle of contrasting memories." - murakami, 1Q84

i'm grateful for the thoughts you shared on my language post last week. both in the comments and via email. the post was some initial thinking about some situations i've found myself in of late and all of your ideas have helped me sort out a bit further what i'm feeling about this issue. it is to an extent, as jessica suggested, a question of whether you feel you belong or not. and the ever-present (if you're me), resistance to belonging fully.

in one of the settings, i've made an active decision not to belong anymore and tonight will be the last time i put myself through what has become a nearly painful evening. the decision to withdraw from that group has more to do with pony abuse, tho' it's also connected to language abuse, than with not feeling like myself. mostly, i think tho', it's a clash of values - or perhaps culture. in my model of the world, it matters more to do all you can than to righteously follow arbitrary rules. i also value good arguments and "that's how we've always done it" is simply not a good argument. once i've lost respect for a person or a group, it's over for me. quite probably my own shortcoming, but nonetheless true. i just hope that i can hold my tongue tonight.

with the other group, i hold back because i'm new and i'm getting the lay of the land. i can also see that my purpose for being involved is different than what the group is currently preoccupied with. but i think it will be ok, as there's room for both my purpose and their preoccupations. but i definitely do hold myself back because it's all in danish in a way that i wouldn't if i could speak english in that context. however, that's not all bad.  it's a good lesson for me to learn. and a bit like taking your husband's last name when you get married, it's a way of starting with a fresh, clean slate. and life doesn't present us with that many chances to do that.

but back to language and the way it constructs us. how we articulate, the words we choose, the history and weight behind those words (both our own and linguistically) - it all matters. we use language to include and to exclude - think of the way doctors speak so that patients can't understand or how when you join a new company and don't yet know all of the acronyms - language is both a way of marking who belongs and perhaps more importantly, who doesn't.

but things do get interesting when the intersections of language involve other languages and other histories and other memories and other baggage. or maybe i'm just preoccupied with all of this because reading murakami makes me even more introspective than usual.


Spilling Ink said...

As a technical communicator it's my job to convey information using words. I work with so many engineers that get mad when we "dumb" the English in the manuals down to suit our audience - sometimes of non-English speaking background - and they insist on "quality" writing.

Language is so very important to us not only for groups but also for our own emotional well being. If you're forced to use a second language confusion sometimes arises with your own emotions it seems. Words are so much part of our inner silent life even though we perhaps think that's made of pictures like when we dream.

I think it's a good think to talk about because I think that a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to immigrants come from language. We assume we understand each other but we don't. The images we have attached to words can vary enormously depending on when, at what time in our lives, and how we learned them.

will said...

About belonging
... seems to me, if belonging comes from a natural process then it’s OK. The moment a person worries about belonging then the process is something else - elitist, too complicated and perhaps not natural.

About language.
If anything is nuanced, it is language. Language is a door to a society or culture, but it doesn’t guarantee understanding or acceptance. Unfortunately, despite globalization, nationalism remains a dynamic force and by using language as a gatekeeper, societies can restrict or accept those not born into the “belonging” group.

About understanding.
For several decades I made an effort to understand traditional Japanese woodworking practices ... the hand tools, the joinery and the general methods of work used by Japanese craftsmen. The sub-plot was also, if I understood their tools and tool use, perhaps I could better understand their culture.

The quick answer is, I came to greatly appreciate their tools and methods but the learning process was that of peeling layers off an infinite onion. There are subtleties within subtleties and wispy connections to other cultural, historical references.

And, no, I don’t think I can fully grasp the panorama or the iconography of their culture. But I do enjoy the process of learning about their exquisite woodworking.