Morning Mist, Upper 2 Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park (IX.14.2010)
On the road in the Northwest of America.
CELESTIAL LEXICON & THE EPHEMERAL
SHIMMER OF MEANING
In any language, it is possible—at least in principle—to make a more
or less complete map of all the words in its lexicon. Of course, new
words can always be added, and old ones deleted. And the map itself
might even be included as part of the description. Perhaps one could
say that, if it is true that the meaning of words is like a web or constellation
of mirrors, then we could say that in some very subtle sense each word
contains every other word. In other words, each word points to or reflects
the significance of others like stars in the night sky—very brightly for
those close by in meaning and usage, and more dimly for those
which are far away.
These implications might be thought of as mutual reflecting
resonances, or mirrors made not of glass and light, but of sound.
Most importantly, in contrast to the discrete lexicon of a language, which,
because it is at any given moment explicit, and therefore in principle
knowable, the universe of newly unfolding meanings given articulate
form by this lexicon is not knowable in any precise way. This is because
the repertoire of mutually reflecting resonances of meaning is always
highly implicit and changing. In the future, this difference between
words and their explicit definitions, on the one hand, and words and
their implied meanings, on the other, will be seen as a primary limiting
factor of machine or mechanical intellect. My conjecture is that in the
realm of the explicit, machines will match or surpass human intelligence,
as they already are beginning to do in chess and checkers. But in
the far more subtle implicit realm of meaning, machines will continue to
At root, this is because of the difference between intellect—
bounded, finite, based on the past,
unbounded, infinite, and open
to an essentially timeless now.
THE IDEAL OF CRYSTALLINE PROSE
(1) The more in tune with the worlds of nature and the mind
a culture becomes, the fewer and fewer words
will be needed to say ever-more important things.
(2) Who is to say which is more important:
the blackbird’s song,
or the silence just after.
For me, poetry at its best seems to appear out of the snowy quiet of the
blank page. The meanings of this subtle movement of emergence are
many. Each sound, each word, each image, is given thereby a certain
weight, a certain importance. The rhythms, the rhymes, the repetitions,
all come together collectively to form the mysterious composite
movement of sound and sense which is each poem’s signature, and
is as unique as the one-of-a-kind species geometry of a flower, or the
unmistakable characteristic flight patterns of birds.
By contrast, how out-of-shape and verbose does our contemporary
prose seem to me. By comparison, it seems to suffer not just from a
surfeit of cheap printer’s ink, or web-page electrons, but also from a
scarcity—a decline to near extinction, really—of seasoned, well-practiced
musicians under both writers and readers. So, we write mainly
with and for the eye, and not with and for the ear. This evidently
encourages the run-on, endless mechanical line that no longer pauses,
like a practiced singer, to take a quiet, sustaining breath.
How different the more musical ideal of more with less. I would say,
very much more with less. By this I mean crafting each sound, each
word, each phrase, like one might carefully polish a multi-facetted
crystal. Reading such prose, one finds oneself pondering
ideas, thoughts, turning phrases over in one’s mind in an open
space full of emptiness and silence.
It is true: this is but an ideal, and a hard one to achieve at that. All the
same, I think it’s well worth considering.
The pass is clearly
But the way:—
how impossibly confused.
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