Friday, June 19, 2009

Language & soul

In college, I only took one philosophy course. It wasn't an intro...somehow I landed in a 300-level "Philosophy of Language" class of students who were pretty confident with their bulky metaphors and convoluted sentences. As our college ran on the Block Plan, the course was 4 weeks long, so our nightly reading averaged 300 pages. It was a remarkably challenging way to dive into continental philosophy, and I loved it!

What especially stood out to me, though, was this: much of what we discussed simply gave spoken form to realities of which I was already intuitively aware. I grew up bilingual, and was working towards a degree in literature. I was steeped in the practice of language and found the ideas I was reading matched my lived experience. Language does shape my reality. It influences my understanding, and underpins culture in powerful, persistent ways.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep so much as a page of notes from that class. But I continue to find myself wrestling with language. The books I love best, I love for their powerful, evocative language. I find I am a selective (read: snobbish) reader. Translation intrigues me, as does the practical application of linguistics.

In particular, though, I'm learning to read the Bible with a sharp eye to its language. Of all the books out there, the language of this one has been uniquely encrusted with layers and layers of human meaning. These layers have a tendency to obscure the power of the text, and lead the reader to conclusions that are not, in fact, inevitable (or incontrovertible). I find, now, that if I can wrestle with the language--say, pull one word out and turn it over, look at it from different angles--entirely new meanings arise from the text. I find it to be, as it claims, living!

One of the reasons I started to blog was to track my exploration of language, and in particular, biblical language. In upcoming posts I'll periodically engage some of the words & phrases that are finding new meaning (and by meaning, I mean life-altering influence)for me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Paul Theroux wrote, in The Old Patagonian Express, "In a way, Guevara's fate was worse than Bolivar's. Guevara's collapse was complete; his intentions were forgotten, but his style was taken up by boutique owners. There is no faster way of destroying a man, or mocking his ideas, than making him fashionable. That Guevara succeeded in influencing dress-designers was part of his tragedy."
I think he's got a point: Che would undoubtedly react poorly to seeing his face on a handbag. Not to mention his response to the current political state of the western hemisphere.
This image, then--if Theroux is correct--kills two birds with one stone. Both Jesus and Che are reduced to images--brands--for our visual consumption. In one quick artistic edit, two revolutionaries are flattened and pacified.
But I'm not sure I'm willing to give the curmudgeon his way. Much as I'm enjoying Theroux's book, and inclined as I am to agree with him, I find this particular image powerful and evocative. Perhaps it's the combination of two characters so often juxtaposed--a sort of visual paradox. Maybe it's because I'm so subconsciously branded that I see Che and think, "Cool!" Or perhaps, it's a sort of visceral reminder that Jesus was about changing the way we see things and the way we live--in ways even more "out there" than Che.

(Image from the "Meek. Mild. As If. Campaign")