On the unbearable denseness of language:

People who read my short stories and, more likely since more of it is in print, my poetry, or even editorials I have written, are generally surprised by the strange idiosyncratic density to way I use language in polemic and philosophical writing. Often technical in a odd way, favoring very specific uses of the word, and privileging the technical to the everyday, but in a non-analytic way, which can be infuriating. I, like a strange macrobrew made from bitters, pumpkin, and ashes of Hegelian philosophers, can be an acquired taste in this form. I know it limits my readership, and often, pisses people off. You know, fine grain distinctions that I assume are sort of obvious really aren’t obvious. It’s my fault that I can’t seem to communicate without really subtle caveats, but I can’t. It is frustrating, however, to get accused of holding opinions you don’t hold: I get read as a post-modernist, anti-science, scientistic, conservative, liberal, moralistic, immoralistic.

I think everyday language, however, is often more obscure than the difficult to parse language I use here. My poetry is dense, but in a different way: one that involves expressionistic juxtaposition and odd imagery. I suppose using convoluted syntax, and somewhat arcane, technical language is a bad habit I picked up from continental philosophy, but in also, in a perverse way, ensures that when people understand me, they actually understand me. What is frustrating though is that the assumption of understanding can’t be made most of the time.

I suppose understanding is always a relative affair.

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilizaciĆ³n de la pobreza.

Posted on May 2, 2012, in Personal Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Benjamin David Steele

    All I tend to care about is actually communicating. If a technical term is the only way to communicate something, then I’ll use it. But I’ve found most technical terms can be translated into more commonly used words. It just takes more words to do so. Technical terms tend to be densely packed with meaning.

    The problem with technical terms is very few people know their technical meaning and even those who know the terms might have technical disagreements about them. Whole debates can be had just over defining technical terms and there still might not be agreement. So, even with technical terms, it isn’t unusual for it to be necessary to state specifically which school of thought or which thinker you are using as the basis of your usage.

    When there is confusion and disagreement even among experts (or even just a complex history behind the term), that is probably not a good term to use for a general audience. It really is dependent on your purpose. If you want to communicate to a general audience, then you should use more common words and only use technical terms when you define them very carefully. If you want to communicate to a specific group of experts (or at least those with the same intellectual background), then technical terms are the way to go. Communication should always be tailored to the situation, especially the audience.

    I don’t care what words a person uses or how they use them. I only care that they are very clear in how they use them. Tell me your definition for a word and then I’ll always know what you mean. I’ve found even with more common words people often have their own idiosyncratic meanings. The main problem I have is when someone is using a word, technical term or not, in a way that isn’t directly clear and they don’t explain their meaning in that context.

  2. Actually technical language often can’t be translated into less precise common words without giving up an element of the meaning, but the general drift I’d important. I honestly don’t write this blog for a general Audience, but I do normally define terms that are hyper precise. But writing in a way that makes people work to understand it is actually a small rebellion on my part. There is a faux simplicity to a lot of the things I read, especially politically, we’re it is filled with words that Re abstract in a way people can project meanings onto them with dealing with differences, and it’s a trick used by all ideologies to generate a rather superficial agreement. You can see it in the republican use of the word freedom, or almost anyone’s use of the word patriotism.

  3. Benjamin David Steele

    If technical language couldn’t be translated into less precise common words, there would be know way to ever learn technical language. Everyone is forced to begin with less precise common words. To the extent there isn’t a bridge between the two is to some degree the failing of technical language… for if that were the case, technical language would be lost in mystification. Technical language can’t be grasped through spiritual revelation. It must be slowly learned piece by piece, beginning with approximations and parallels and examples, the pieces eventually forming a whole greater than the parts.

    Words necessitate other words. The only way to get to technical language is by building up from the meanings of other words. The trick is that technical language is often several times removed from more commonly used language, technical terms built on and out of other technical terms over generations or even centuries of thinkers (the technical terminology used by the Catholic Church is the best example, although this is technical in an entirely different way than the technical terminology you use). Still, if you follow the traces back, you eventually get back to common language, no matter how long and winding that might be, except in some cases the common language it might trace back to would be the common language of the past or even the common language of an entirely different language… which can create an obvious barrier of understanding even for the above average in intelligence and education.

    I agree with you about faux simplicity. That can be annoying. To me, the real annoying thing is just the ‘faux’ part. It doesn’t matter if it is faux simplicity or faux complexity. I just want someone to communicate clearly and speak genuinely. Mean what you say and know what you mean to say. Communicating well is a challenge.

    I more or less assumed that you weren’t trying to write for a general audience. Your interests tend to be fairly specific and not usually what a general audience would find appealing. However, writing on the internet by nature inevitably means your audience is to some degree very general, from many different backgrounds — in terms of intellectual knowledge, educational level, nationality, ethnicity, class, etc. Search engines have a way of bringing a diverse audience to what one writes, and such an audience typically includes many not well-versed in technical terms. Intended or not, your audience is a general audience. But it is perfectly fine that some of your audience goes away simply confused or annoyed, such is life.

    You sometimes use words I’m not familiar with. It doesn’t bother me. I’m a person who usually enjoys looking up new words, even when it takes a bit of effort to learn a new technical context. Most of the time it doesn’t matter too much. Even if I don’t fully understand a technical term, I usually can get the gist of what you mean. I understand your general worldview and so reading your posts doesn’t tend to leave me overly perplexed. I’m not exactly a member of a technical-minded audience but neither am I a member of a more general audience. I’m just a part of the loose affiliation of the intellectually curious.

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