I’ve just gotten into watching Dr. Who (beginning with the reboot–I don’t have the patience, or the disk space to begin with the older episodes) recently and the incredible imagination with which that series was crafted has had me buzzing. Every world, every plot line, everything is amazing not because it is outlandish but because at its core, it is true or real. It is just a permutation of the human condition, an image in a distorted mirror.
Here are some things that have been on my mind, lately.
- Thinking in Your Own “Language
I remember my friend Ron talking about this a few years ago–about how once you read a word off the page (say, “cat”), an exchange happens and the “cat” in question no longer becomes the author’s version of a “cat” (gray and white tabby) but the reader’s version of a “cat” (black-eared Siamese).
To a certain extent, the power of devastation on the page are more palpable because of the absence of an absolute, fixed image. The house being left is your own, the person who is being lost is your own, the heart being smashed into pieces is your own.
I think that this is the biggest difference between spoken and written word: spoken word is like a pop song, you relate to it but it will never be yours. That ache and that pain is someone else’s: it is being recited in their voice, their body. To a certain extent, because it causes greater separation, maybe spoken word requires a bigger feat of empathy than written word.
But written word blurs the line between selves much more effectively and therefore achieves empathy better, closer. Enter a book for long enough and you will find yourself thinking in the language of the book. Furthermore, the book also enters you: there are images that you will never forget, lines that will shape your life and really become a part of yourself because that nightmare has become your own, that hope has become your own.
My favorite majors class in college was the Psychology of Learning and in it, we learned that memory is coded in language: this is why children can’t remember anything before they begin to speak (or at least think in words). I think that this is another very pragmatic function of literature or the written word: it helps you remember things–it also helps with how well you’re able to form connections, associations: how well you’re able to relate two things to one another.
I remember this really irritating article talking about how the Marcos regime was “the best”–that person has most definitely not read a lot, or at least, not nearly enough because he is suffering from either ignorance or amnesia (or both). If that person had bothered to read stories about disappearance, about the lack of freedom, about how intelligence does not absolve anyone of their moral obligation to be a decent human being then maybe his reaction would have more depth and dimension than a Thought Catalog article.
- Creating in the Absence of Image
Like a phone pal or a long-distance lover, it is important to create in the absence of image because it allows you to survive on your own: to be prepared for the direst of circumstances, to learn how to invent a body when one doesn’t exist. I think this is one of the most beautiful things about the human condition: that our minds can compensate for absence.
- The Greatest Vulnerability
Recently, I read this very interesting article on the Time Magazine website about forming connections. The article talked about how the biggest variable was not information but vulnerability. The more emotive the links in topics first discussed (the loss of a loved one, the loss of virginity, a life-changing incident), the more likely that two people will form an “instant” connection. The article also tackled meaningfulness over meaning and said that these instant connections can end up meaning more to people than lifetime relationships because of the depth of things discussed. Our ability to form connections is directly linked to our grasp of language.
Again, this brought me back to Dr. Who and it hit me: isn’t that the greatest vulnerability—to share fantasies? Isn’t Rose Tyler (and perhaps all of the Doctor’s companions) the embodiment of what the Doctor wants: that is, mortality, to be able to “spend the rest of your life” with someone? To not see everyone come and go (“this is the curse of the time lords”)? And isn’t the Doctor Rose Tyler’s fantasy incarnate? Adventure, to see more, to do more?
The many, many fictions that our lives revolve around? Until we achieve our dreams, they are fiction. Until a spaceship was built, space travel was science fiction. And I thought about the many “random” friendships that I’ve started up over the years. The ones which have lasted (including, I realize, my relationship with my boyfriend) have been those where the primary subjects were how we would like to be—or how we desperately wished things were. These expressions of desire are the greatest vulnerability because we all know how much it hurts when they are not fulfilled.