In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Essays

Words That Matter (the words remain the thing)
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You speak my language, my native tongue, English. To lay those English sentences down, it takes a subject, verb and object. That is the structure. That is how we make sense of things, and it is important that we do. Otherwise, we would be wallowing in the morass of uncoded conceptions and emotions. We would act almost always in anger. Words that form sentences matter, create ideas, images and bodies, so it is of upper most importance that the words are formed correctly–with precision and conciseness, following a decipherable and familiar pattern. You get that. And it starts with a subject, or often does, the focus of the missive.

We have tossed around many subjects, some drifting on to paper or keyboard, some merely dissipating into air, but so many subjects of sentences, so many sentences. We talk. We write. Subjects such as literacy and love, war and music, health and art, and all range of matters in between pass between us in breath and beamed icons and pictures. Ideas stimulate our minds and bodies, bodies that matter, words that form bodies that matter, not mere objects.

But getting back to subjects we form, the sentences that begin with the subject “I”, meaning “he” or “she”, “you” or “me”, seize attention. My head turns in the direction of the mouth from which the sentence is about to form. Your eyes widen. What does she want? What does he need? The pronoun produces endless possibility, endless speculation about the mere physical presence and perpetuation of life, another life before each of us, breathing, eating, shitting, sexing, as well as the psycho-emotional, loving, hurting, sensing, dying. What will the sentence bring?

The worst one begins, “I have something to tell you,” especially if it begins with the pronoun and then pauses, freeze framed in fear for the speaker and the listener alike. Like running into a loose dog in the park that you hadn’t seen but all of the sudden spy just at the periphery of your previously straight sight on your path, on the way to your destination, you stop, suspended in time for seconds to turn up those senses you rarely perceive, the acute ones ratcheted up to superhuman strength in order to listen to danger in your finger tips or smell fear with your eyes. Will he strike or let me pass? The seconds of ice sculpted figures in time, you on the path and the narrowed eyes of the supposed beast behind the tree, enlarge space and moment, dive into the essence of living, of human. It means life in so far as it is a suspension of time elapsing at the end of which something will be known, the stretch between the idea of something and the knowing of it. But the knowing does not ease the dread. No one wants to die, be wounded, senseless as that is. Not all sentences that begin with foreboding turn out to be perilous.

The sentences that begin with subjects that are merely nouns are the most entertaining. There is no attachment, or at least there doesn’t have to be. To start a sentence with “The war…” is one that divides, gets listeners prepared to be het up. No matter what, there is going to be engagement, disengagement, injury, surrender, and the like, but no one really needs to get hurt, no one with presence of mind to understand that the killing and dying and injustice are out there in space, even if it is occurring in the neighborhood. I am not saying there is no fear. There is. But the words formed, the mere act of forming those words, means the speaker or writer is with an audience and the war is an idea. Both or all are alive. The rest is in forming the right sentences that contain the most effective verbs to produce the right action. You see? Keep pronouns out of the sentence, and the subject is not real, merely notion, possibility or speculation; sometimes it is a call to action.

Unlike Chinese, English is a verb-oriented language, emphasizing states of action as opposed to a noun-oriented language, which water colors states of being across the silken screen of sentience in vertical word pictures. The verbs in English are thought to be the meat of the English sentence, but I disagree. Verbs are action, doing, even when there is very little movement going on, like being, feeling, postulating and sensing. But I believe the sentence’s weight, what matters, is the body of the sentence, the subject, the pronoun or noun, whether proper, common or gerund. Some would say the body is the predicate, which contains the verb, and the head, the direction or focus, is the subject. I disagree. The sentence could begin and end with “I”, “you”, he”, “she” or “it”. To me, those matter. They do. They are. You are not what you do. You matter there as mass of tendons, sinews and neurons; it matters as brick, mortar and steel. It does.

And sentences with objects, those are tricky. What we do with objects–do to object–and who we objectify is problematic. An object can turn a sentence inside out, turn back on itself, whether passively or actively. “I don’t like you” is a sentence with an object, an object that is distanced from the subject by legions and the division is clear, one of thick emotional boundary. Objects are others, polarizing, because objects that are one with us are only thought of as self; however, ordinary objects, the way we think of them every day, every moment of the day, and the way we think of ourselves is as the self–one thing–separate and apart from others, other people and things, other objects. We objectify ourselves and others, as if they were the earth and the sky, the lake and the dock, the murderer and the victim, the heart and the mind–opposites, contingent, contiguous, adjacent–but sometimes a part, never object and subject as one.

The sentence “I don’t like you” does not make sense without the emoter, without the I. Though we sometimes speak like that, cowering before our own emotion…don’t like you. Eliminating the pronoun forces us to silently hear the pronoun that is not uttered, and the speaker or writer elides it perhaps because the emotion is distasteful to the “I” or the “I” is uncomfortable with the anticipated reaction or feelings of the objectified target of the missile. He feels guilt or projects rejection. The missing pronoun lets him off the hook. There is no “I” who dislikes, just the disliking.

But creating objects shows a failure of understanding. There are no objects. Objects should not be standard for sentences. I like that sentences can be formed without objects: I am. He lives. You sleep. Too many sentences need objects; too many people need canvases on which to spray, drip, brush or project their emotions, ideas, and secretions. Imagine a world without objects, only subjects. Where would our minds go?

I think you know the answer. Or if you don’t, you understand the question. We speak the same language, even though we use the same words only to come up with different interpretations, conclusions and impressions. We misunderstand each other often, you creating me with words, forming my body, my needs, my goals, while I do the same for you. I paint you as the man who needs all three of me, and you draw the figure of curvaceous kitten who drinks the milk of many. We are both wrong, abuse language, and are poor artists, poor proofreaders, though fine editors. I am not embarrassed to revise and neither are you, brave enough not to forego failure. So, I misread, misspeak, misstep. We forgive. Sentences there are a plenty to spew, erase, craft and polish. They are our trade and livelihood.

The question of subject and object preoccupies me, though. The manic attempt to merge, to merge and merge and merge, is futile effort like banging your head on concretions when you should be hammocking in abstractions. You say it is the moment, the glimpse of nirvana, but you have reversed it all, turned it inside out and now the verb is all I can think of. To merge is–and you know this–an acknowledgment that we are not one. Can you be matter, stand there before me, naked or clothed, smiling or frowning, eyes rolled back in ecstasy or fury, and not be my Frankenstein? We meet in a pun, the wink of words. Our tongues touch, licking tips of twists of irony or singeing sarcasm. I create your desire, your will to live. I write you. You speak me. Like genies from the bottle we appear limitless, magical and wish-come-true filled, what we have been waiting for. But fantasy is another story. Only we are the stories that we tell, the matter, you writing yours, me mine in poems, conversations and fiction flashes.

It starts with the sentence–subject and verb. Contractions and commas, flow of phrases and long, listing strands of wispy parts of speech dotting the shoreline, shells in the sand, stars in the sky, they precede, intercede and succeed. The space between each shell, each star, each word, is the mystery, the place without object, the place of matter and no matter, no idea of what it could be, what matters. A place no word can contain, no thought can hold is the reason for the unreality of objects. The empty linguistic space is not nirvana nor is it non-space. There are no words. You know that. We speak the same language. Let’s go there.

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