“Language—to get rid of language”
-From Kathy Acker’s Blood & Guts in High School
I deal in letters. Although I’ve dabbled in other types of artistic expression—sketching, sewing, singing, carving, cooking, acting, jewelry-making—my prime mode of expression is writing. Words. Language. Syllables.
I’ve always appreciated other art forms, but until this point in my life, I’ve never understood why visual artists don’t just say what their trying to say rather than painting it. Why not words? But until this point in my life, I’ve always had words: I’ve collected them like one collects stamps or buttons, and I’ve always possessed a storehouse of language readily available to help express myself.
Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself at a loss for words. For those who know me well, this may sound unbelievable, but it’s true—I, The Lady Medusa, the mistress of words—have been pawing through my bag of words like a bum scrounging through the trash: one at a time, I pick up each word, turn it over, and then set it down: no, this one won’t do; no—this isn’t quite the right one. I’ve been coming up empty-handed, and I’m hungry for new modes of expression, for a new language.
In past encounters with my expressive dilemmas, I could resolve my issue with one swift crack of my dictionary’s spine. I’d learn a new word, and suddenly, the world was open again: I’d investigate the word’s origin, memorize its meaning and research its etymology. I’ve learned some of my favorite words this way, like sensum and episodic. But my dictionary has lost its magic! I’m learning more and more about the inadequacy of language.
Take “love” for example. What does that mean? Describe it to me. The word “love” is thrown around so often: here’s two I found yesterday:
“I love that dress, where did you get it”
“I love this dressing, what’s in it?”
—Do we “love” so much that it makes us incapable of truly loving anything at all?
“Words are beginning to lose their meanings”
-Duncan to Marian in Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman
We should treat the word “love” like a swearword. It should be sharp and sacred, uttered only in sweet and single-syllabled moments; perhaps then, when we tell our mothers or best friends that we love them, we can really mean it.
My frustration with language also comes at a time in my life when I’m experiencing a lot of new and frightening things: moving to the city, living on my own, loving, etc. I have a list over my bed entitled “Things That Scare the Living Shit out of Me”; I’ve treated it like a “to-do” list. New experiences beg for new creative expression, but I’ve learned that language follows experience and can not be confused for experience itself:
“Sometimes, literature isn’t so important as life”
– From John Glassco’s Memoirs of Montparnasse
In retrospect, we can name our feelings as red or yellow, but in the moment, we only experience the color, and we don’t yet know its name.
And this is the grand failure of language: when we confuse letters with feelings, when we mistake the word for the experience. (For more on the relationship between words and meanings, read Ferdinand de Saussure’s work on semiotics, or Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulacrum. If you’re really gung-ho about words, Jaques Derrida could change your life)
We experience life in a flux of emotions, colors and sounds; we experience life synthestetically (Synesthesia: from the Ancient Greek σύν (syn), “together,” and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), “sensation“; a neurological condition by which the infected subject can not separate their sensory perceptions of their experiences: synesthetes see letters as colors, and have a strong association between noises and feelings, etc.
Some of my favorite poets argue for a synthesetic aesthetic in poetry: Gertrude Stein. Anne Carson. Through their language choice, these women “make words bounce,” to quote Stein, demonstrating how we experience life through a multiplicity of senses: In life, noises, colors, words, and smells all crash together, and art should reflect this.
“Synaesthetic perception is the rule, and we are unaware of it only because scientific knowledge shifts the centre of gravity of experience, so that we have unlearned how to see, hear, and generally speaking, feel”
– From Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s theories on phenomenology
So when I say to a friend that “Bellmonts taste blue,” he’s concerned for my meaning: how can a cigarette taste blue? It just does, that’s how.
As an artistic experiment, I’m banning myself from writing for three days: no journal entries, no facebook posts, no tweeting, and especially no blogging.
I’m interested in seeing what I do with my creative energy when there are no letters to fall back on. What will it look like? Or, how will it sound? taste? I want to crawl into the headspace of someone that doesn’t have language—or rather, someone who has their own language, a language different than my letter language.
I’m not talking about learning Korean—although I will do this one day—I’m talking about learning more about the other languages available to me: I am interested in the dialect of color, the discourse of texture and the vocabulary of taste. I’m speaking of the language of the body when we dance or shake hands with a homeless person, or when we press a pulsing and sweaty eardrum to our pulsing and sweaty chest.
For three days, I will sketch, I will paint, I will sing—I’ll do whatever I feel like doing, but I will absolutely not write. For three days, I forbid myself letters, and I commit myself to a strict diet of shape, sound, and space.
If anything interesting emerges, I’l’ be sure to share it in my next post—which I can write no sooner than Monday night at midnight. Until then, I fast.
This “no-writing” exercise will also help me to better understand my daughter. For those of you who don’t know, I’m pregnant with my first novel. The story focuses on three generations of Italian-Jewish women in Canada. In the novel, the youngest of the three women (name undecided) overcomes a severe problem with food by finding her artistic subjectivity as a painter.
In order to tell her story, I need to reacquaint myself with paint. From the dusty corners of my basement, I’ve surfaced my grandfather’s acrylic paints: a wooden rectangle box he gave to me when I was eight. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received; it was like being given blood.
As an activity, painting fell out of my life the moment I entered university: weighed down with homework assignments and mid-terms, I almost forgot about my grandfather’s acrylics. Who has time to paint when there’s finals to worry about?
Now that I’ve quit my life, I infuse my time with all the creative activities I used to love but had to sacrifice in order to achieve my academic goals. (As a footnote for those who don’t know my story, I literally quit my life: after completing my master’s degree, I was supposed to move forward with my doctorate degree, but instead, I packed myself up in a suitcase—several suitcases, actually; admittedly, there was a lot of baggage—and I moved to the city. As cheesy as it sounds, I’m soul-searching, slowly unpacking the girl that I was while fashioning the woman I want to be.
Right now, a good friend of mine is on his own spiritual quest in the Chilean desert. Let’s call him M. Conversing with M two days before he left, he told me he was taking the journey to evolve into the man he needs to be in order to become a leader of men. He told me that he often asks himself “Who would I follow?”
I’ve asked myself the same question over the course of these past few months. I’m not sure I fully have the answer, but I know Lady Medusa—everything she is, and everything she will be—answers this question. Each day she grows, becoming more beautiful and monstrous than the day before.
Lady Medusa has been integral to this process, as she’s the hidden monster inside Amanda Cosco. Many artists have influenced Lady Medusa, such as Lady Gaga—whose performance politics argue that we’re all monstrous, but it’s our monstrosities that make us unique.
But since Medusa is a very hungry monster, I need to take three days to feed her. She’s no longer satisfied with her daily bread— Words. Language. Syllables—instead, she craves the unknown palate of the imagination.
Until Monday, Namaste.