Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not glass, but some other metaphor (unfinished meditation)

Some people liken words to glass, and literature as a transparent crystal goblet that holds up and contains (and, possibly, amplify?) experience so that others, too, might relive said experience when they read what another has written.

This doesn't seem to square with my own experience of words, as words themselves are material, have their own power, bring with them a state of feeling, for example. For example: 

1. As a 12-year-old, I was obsessed by the words, 'being' and 'existence', thinking (or rather, feeling) this last held so much more meaning than the trite, 'life'. And this ultimately led me to signing up for a major in Philosophy half a decade later.

2. I remember reading Marc Gaba's How Sound Becomes a Name and understanding nothing, but being overwhelmed by the power of the words that had been used and deployed.

3. Recently, I re-read Dean Alfar's Kite of Stars and thought about how he seemed to understand that words in themselves--Filipino words defamiliarized by turning it into some kind of Italian--exerted their own power on a reader, even if that reader was a stranger to those words.  The story made me think of how all those other pieces of literature in my childhood gave rise to a world, a reality, really, other than the one I'm on.

4. And last Saturday, at the LitCritter meeting, Mia Tijam's The Ascension of Our Ladyboy was mentioned as an example of a piece of work in baklese that non-baklese-speaking people (even non-Filipinos; the story was published online and was cited by non-Filipino editors) could understand. (The easy answer was that syntax made it possible for people to make out the meaning of the story, but others who had examined the story closely said that even the syntactical rules employed might be a little bit too far off from the rules of English.)

This story was mentioned because we had discussed another story whose theme was how language, usually thought of as a conduit to communication, often gets in the way of. 

5. Here Mabi David employs a/n Ouilipian game on something she's written and the humor generated by the exercise points to a certain power inherent in words in themselves.


Sure we can talk about words as being receptacles of meaning, just as we can talk about our thoughts as containers for sensory experience (see, Kant) and said experience as a kind of liquid or gas that takes the shape of said container.

It's all metaphorical, I know, because in the end, what is everything at its core but a miracle? What is it that holds electrons and protons together but an energy whose origin is unknown? Strip away context, history, prior usage if you can and a word is empty, is not a word. 


  1. Hi, T. Hehe. Thrilled to be taking poetics with you next sem. Basagin ang mga teyorya. Got word re: who our classmates will be. V. interesting.