Unknowingness, and the need for poetry

Flowergirl doesn’t like eggplant, but she likes pizza. One day I made eggplant parmesan. Flowergirl wouldn’t try it until I pulled off a slice of breaded eggplant covered in cheese and tomato and said it was like a little pizza. She gobbled it down and asked for more. When Orchid unknowingly called it eggplant, Flowergirl refused to eat until I said that it was a little eggplant pizza. How the words we use define our reality.

In many ways we are like toddlers with finicky perceptions of what foods might be palatable. Like Flowergirl, reality is defined by our discourse. Discourse affects perceptions which inform actions in a circular script which loses meaning beyond the actors’ interpretation of it.

Consider something that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go. We could label it a disappointment, a tragedy, an opportunity or a blessing in disguise. We could say experience broke the proverbial camel’s back or harkened us to look at the sky for a silver lining. If a group of people think something is good, then it’s good as far as that group is concerned. Think about cultures and family traditions different from your own.

Then there’s memories. I remember things my way and you remember things your way. We all bring our perceptions and hopes and biases and value-laden language to the table when we retell the story of what happened. It’s amazing that we can agree on the nature of reality or truth. I doubt that Native Americans are keen on celebrating Columbus Day, but then, it was the Europeans that wrote the history books.

It’s easy to become wrapped in one’s subjective views and forget that there is no objective arbiter of truth. Even photographs lie, since a photo relies on the photographer deciding when to click the shutter and deciding what to leave out of frame. News is notoriously biased to the point of ridiculousness. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything depends and perspectives are fluid. The Sun shining can be good or bad depending on whether you are a flower in the field or parched in a desert. Water is good if you’re thirsty and bad if you’re drowning. Hugs are good from a loved one and bad from a stranger. How much of eggplant do we see as pizza, and how much of pizza do we see as eggplant?

Where am I going with this?

In the end, none of us exists purely in the present. The present is muddied by past and future. Memories, issues, triggers, aspirations, biases, things our culture tells us, things we read, what we heard the neighbor say.

If we could break through the noise to find the signal…if we could fully experience a moment on its own merit, just for itself, what would that look like? Maybe that’s the nature of art, and that’s part of why art so difficult to create. Purity of perception.

What if we could distill an ocean to one glorious bit that can be universally grokked? Sure, we can reach that blessed moment of true communication, truth and reality with mediums of the senses: touch, sight, feeling, rhythm.

But what if we could get there with words that almost always fall short? What if we could communicate purity of perception with language by rising above it, or diving below it? What if we could create a discourse for the purpose of expression?

That’s poetry.

4 thoughts on “Unknowingness, and the need for poetry

  1. Such true true words. I had somehow missed this post before – but I’m so glad I’m going back and reading because WOW. I *needed* to read this tonight. I had become so frustrated earlier today (at something completely unrelated to you/this/etc.) and you just put it so much in perspective that I wish more than ever I could reach through the computer and give you big giant hugs of thanks and love for things I can’t even explain.

    I also had another experience today that relates so well to this. That was both jarring and exhilarating. How do you always put into words exactly what is in my head?! SERIOUSLY!

    PS – Listened to researchers talk about memories and how a lot of them are actually a fabrication instead of reality – sort of off topic – but like photographs – they’re all different.

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