33. The Language of Depth in a World of Noise – Part I
by Culture and Anti Culture
(For context see Post 1)
You’re at a gathering of friends, family, and some strangers for a holiday dinner. You have convivial feelings toward the others when you arrive. As time passes, however, this is superseded by feelings of vacancy and restlessness, corresponding to the shallowness of what is said. It is as if the others feel nothing of this distress – and this is painfully lonely for you. The talk is of business, sports, idle gossip, consumer technology, films, and television. Has it always been this way? Could it ever have been otherwise?
We humans must have talk, sometimes in abundance, sometimes sparsely – but we must have it. It must be articulated with words and phrases. Its content has always varied in quality and depth due to culture, character and other circumstances. When you wish to say something, especially when the element of depth is called for, you must have words to suggest and portray meaning, or have resort to creating new words to serve your purposes. In our time, however, language has fallen under the evil spell of propaganda, advertising and, above all, technology – a spell which has drained from it the capacity to convey the element of depth and richness of meaning. In propaganda, words like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘justice’, ‘war’, ‘ally’, and ‘enemy’ lose their concrete references and serve to evoke vague mental images associated with approval or disapproval. With advertising, words are digested into a thin gruel of references – ‘love’, ‘savings’, ‘bargain’, ‘fantastic’, ‘incredible’ – all perverted from their original meaning. Technology has contracted the meaning of words via compression and reassignment – ‘text’, ‘memory’, ‘platform’, ‘apps’, ‘bug’, ‘chat room’, ‘emoticons’.
On the other hand, the language of depth, of inwardness, is that of the spiritual, ideal, non-sensual (sense perceptual) pole of existence. The realm of depth is invisible and cannot be directly depicted by the sounds and sights of the physical world. The mission of the arts– including the art of language–is to clothe the sense world with intimations of this otherwise invisible depth and meaning.
The mission of propaganda is to accrue political power; that of advertising, money power. The role of technology is more obscure, seemingly growing endlessly and exponentially, with a drive and purpose of its own – with inhuman energy. Why does any of this matter?
Human culture, human artifacts are not possible without true and substantial ideas – which call for the corresponding language. Limiting language to slogans, to trite formulae severely funnels the mind as to what can be thought and felt, bearing with it the sterilization of words. A word like ‘intuition’, for example, in the hands of advertisers, becomes an empty shell, its meaning cauterized. The ‘intuition’ referred to becomes only an implanted message to buy breakfast cereal, perfume, an SUV. Degrading language through advertising, propaganda and technology has hollowed out humanity, and is leaving behind a semblance, a residue of formerly distinctly human life, which those who have preceded us would neither understand nor endure. Modern humanity is imprisoned by the ever-expanding anti-culture spawned by advertising, propaganda and technology, and is spiritually starved for truth and depth. Many of us are inwardly suffocating for want of any access to the intangible, nutritive forces of some kind of higher life. Think of the fading dimensions of soul that words like ‘intangible, allusive’, ‘lofty’, ‘sublime’ once gestured to. Above all, our time has lost the bitter faculty for irony – that sense for the gulf between appearance and reality.
Propaganda Comrade: A really close brotherly friend and soul companion – or –
A fellow slave in a totalitarian state.
Patriot: One who has a self-sacrificing abiding love of their country – or –
An ignorant, chest-thumping yahoo
Homeland: Land of one’s birth – or –
A meaningless placeholder, as in Department of Homeland Security
Spirit: The ineffable, vital ingredient – or –
” Catch the Pepsi spirit”
Soul, alive, natural, value and all the other great, mysterious words – all corrupted and debased, to lubricate the gargantuan industrial cloacae of postmodern anti-culture.
If our words can only come from the soul-crushing triad of propaganda, advertising and the machine world, then thinking, feeling and expression of the element of depth and truth become dauntingly, monumentally difficult.
‘The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark–now glittering–now reflecting gloom
Now lending splendor, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters-with a sound but half its own…’
-Mont Blanc, Shelley
This is the language of sublimity and depth, touching on the mystery at the heart of things. Can our time hear these lines with any real feeling and understanding? The secret springs of human thought have been dammed and diverted for industrial use.