Bundles: An Essay Letter

Humans are bundles of contradictions. This “informal blog” is in my bundle. It has taught me things I should have known already (We academics often find that when we claim something is true, we only discover it is actually true much later and then sometimes regret it).

I am—or was or maybe may still be—for better or worse—an academic. Trying to write “poetry” has made it clear to me that the life of an academic—at least in modern universities—is not the stuff of poetry. On the other hand, it is clear to me now that life (everyone’s) is the stuff of “poetry” and, for a few gifted or truly tortured souls, poetry.

In my academic work I have argued that all human language is a form of poetry. At least when we humans care and are really trying to make sense, we speak in lines and stanzas and rhythms with saturated meanings, though usually we are not aware of it (some of my 1980’s work was about the “poetry” of everyday sense making). Every speaker and every soul has the stuff of poetry inside. What we call poetry is heightened and formalized, but basically just language, our language as each and every one of us owns it. So, too, by the way with stories: All humans are story tellers and story makers—we are especially good ones when we care or suffer and story to recover. Literature heightens and formalizes what belongs by right to all of us and each of us.

In my academic work, I have argued that all humans—and we are built this way by evolution and biology—learn from experiences in the world, not from generalizations, abstractions, and calculations (1990’s/early 2000’s work). Generalizations and abstractions are the result of finding patterns in lots and lots of experiences over long periods of time. We do start with them; we end with them (sometimes, if at all).

When we limit someone’s experiences in the world—through ideology, religion, poverty, prejudice, fear or whatever—we limit their minds, their souls, and their growth as humans. We deny them their right to be, become, grow, and flourish.

Humans learn best from experiences in which they have an action to take whose outcome really matters to them (so says the immortal Art Glenberg). For humans, mattering (caring) precedes all learning, semiotics, and “accountability”. Otherwise, experience is really not all that good for learning.

There is a problem with learning from experience. Humans are powerful pattern recognizers—it is our super power as the good knight Kurt Squire so often says—ready and willing to find patterns anywhere and everywhere at the drop of a hat (or hate). So when we start on new learning through new experiences we need something to help us know what to pay attention to in the plethora of new details. We need, as well, something to help us know what patterns are fruitful to look for as a beginner hoping to go down fruitful and not frustrating paths.

Therefore, experience and learning are inherently social. Our mentors, communities, families, social groups and so forth tell us and show us what to look for and what matters. They help us find the “right” patterns so we can be social, communicate, and belong to the group; so that we can “be one of them” for “thems” we want to belong to and not be excluded from. And sometimes we newcomers reward “them” by finding patterns or variations they have not seen before, if they teach us well and truly (as the sacred Gunther Kress has proclaimed). We newcomers move them forward, if they do not suppress our creativity but sometimes allow us to show them the way.

So, then, the human mind is “social” (as I said in my only out-of-print book), filled with the patterns, associations, and connections our social natures, our social practices, and our social “apprenticeships” have given rise to. Of course, since we humans can belong to a great many different social groups and these groups can believe and value different things in different ways, we are, all, as I said, a bundle of contradictions. The only way you can remain consistent and “true” (“I did it my way”) is to limit your experience, your groups, and your humanity and ultimately your mind, that is to say, to make yourself—or let others make you—stupid.

As and when I became an old man, for a reason I am not privy to—maybe just because I did not ask myself and still do not want to—I decided I wanted to write “poetry” out of my experiences, just the way we humans always do when things matter, but to explore those experiences “privately”. As a man who once knew his Wittgenstein well, I knew there was no such thing as a “private language”. As a linguist I knew that language and communication are irredeemably social (“conventional” is the philosophical technical term here).

I had a contradictory wish: I wanted to write (communicate) without caring (I first mistakenly wrote “carrying”, which is, in fact, better) what others thought or what their judgments were. I oddly wanted to speak/write to myself and for myself in a medium that owes all its design and expressiveness (human language as communication) to sociality and response. I wanted to mean without meaning or at least without meaning what conventions and sociality had or would “force” me to mean. I wanted to use a convention—even have it work for me—but not be part of, not be loyal to, the convention. A contradiction or, at least, a complexity, as I said.

In writing my “poetry” I came to realize that while good poetry (not mine) can universalize specific human experiences, mine would only mean anything close to what I cared about to “old people” (probably not strictly an age-determined thing). That is one among other reasons why what I write is not “really” poetry, not “good” poetry, but only “poetry”, human stuff (by the way I am told editors don’t like scare quotes and think them crude—I cannot imagine honest writing without them (I am told editors don’t much like parentheses either)).

We should not punish ourselves for being a bundle of contradictions. But that does not mean we should not try at least for resolutions even if they give rise, as they will, to different bundles or bundlings. The poems on this “blog” (we all know it isn’t a blog, but I do not know what it is and probably don’t even know what a blog is—hence the scare quotes—an admission of ignorance) are so far in two series. The first series is a “cycle” that is meant to have a beginning (Vampires) and an end (Christmas 2012). These are now in the hands of the Warrior Priestess Denny Taylor. The second series, only a few poems so far (and so far is fated in this case to be as far as it goes) was written as I began to worry—as normal, sane, healthy humans do and should so—what others thought, about the meanings being attributed to me, and about the corrupting effect I could be having on the young. Alas, I am not a normal, sane, healthy human and less so every day, since I am old and in my case—at least in my “middle period” when I could at least pretend to be social—the windmills fought back and “won”, leaving me a battered old man.

Series 3 starts soon. It will be detached from social media—I should never have connected this stuff to social media—that I did, shows how little I understood social media and understood myself. I will say this though—not in any defense, but as a mere observation—academics as a career “well and truly” (as my former Australian friends used to say) renders the word “friend” vexed, confusing, menacing, vague, ambiguous, dishonest, touching, ephemeral, and contradictory—a minefield for the naïve, the autistic, and the rubes like me. Social media has of course done vexed things to the word “friend”—though less deep and rich than the complexities of academics—but I cannot say much here about that because I rarely look at social media sites and when I do I never understand them (there is no glory in this as I well know when I watch the young making “poetry” here as well).

So I am detaching this “blog” from social media and getting rid of the comment function. That way the “readers” (if any and there are in fact few anyway now) will not be fictional (as the giant Ron Scollon warned us they would (requiem in pacem dear Ron, the best of us by far)) any longer, but real people I do not know, see, feel, or have to worry about. If you want to read this stuff—and if you don’t, don’t, and if you do, do, but write too, not just read—we will just write “private” “poetry” in our own private languages together—a new form of sociality. They will say we are only capable—you and I—of parallel play. I will say true, true, save if we—me and you—can engage in telepathy.

I apologize for “involving” “people” in my “private” life—something I abhor. It was bad taste, poor judgment, swimming in the shallows, swimming in the deep water, modern, co-opting what rightfully belongs to the young and the restless. It was vain, clueless, and (“fun”).