language’s bathetic decay
language the tragic hero
An emotional plea.
My father recently had surgery for a tumour they found in his brain.
Or on. I don’t know if brain tumours exist in or on.
I haven’t seen him in about a year and a half.
In a moment of anxiety and fear and dumb helplessness I decided to embroider a baseball cap.
He used to always wear baseball caps. I hated baseball caps for a long time.
I embroidered the phrase 'sorry you’re sick'.
I wanted to take photos wearing it and send them to him.
I wanted to do this because I wanted to say I’m thinking about you all the time.
When I wore it, my sadness stopped being in my heart and was placed outside myself.
It became something for others to put their minds to, and left my own.
I hadn’t seen myself wearing the hat.
I saw it and it was light. And in its lightness, it was lying.
'I’m sorry' isn’t a light statement. Sorriness is heavy. It’s one of the heaviest things I can think of. Words could be shapes. Pleasant positive words would be squares with safe and soft corners. 'Sorry' is a triangle that shrivels in on itself, dehydrated until it disappears. If it were a feeling, it would be the opposite of butterflies. It would be a black hole or an anchor. It would be your gut punched down to your feet. It is anything but light.
Reality is meant to be floating away, and language is meant to be the manmade rock that traps it down, killing it. But sorry is the opposite. The word is so light it is floating away, and the reality stays to watch you squirm.
Words are scary, but the reality they take the place of is scarier. Why would I reach for either.
I don’t say these things to be annoying, but I don’t say them to be useful either.
I don’t want to say them at all but I do.
Language is a Janus head. You turn it around and feel you know all sides, think your understanding is now fully formed and as complex as it can be. But there are millions of sides. You cannot know. You can only guess.
Maybe he sees it clearer, the absurdity of it all. Maybe this is the mind finding different logic, no less true than the one most of us exist in.
A collection of linguistic assumptions.
If it’s all the same to you.
…just on the threshold of the Unknown…
Photogenic. Brimming — one tear —
that swells the water of the Atlantic.2
There’s an unspeakable gap between words and reality. What if I jumped into that gap? Even for the most mundane sentence, there must be galaxies in that gap. Universes and solar systems bursting with meaning.
Or the gap is more like a trifle. If I dive one depth I would find a look, a smile, a memory, and the entire misunderstanding would seem explained. But this layer is just as false as if I pretended the gap weren’t there to begin with. There’s something wrong. The memory is distorted, the smile doesn’t match the eyes. So I dive deeper, and discover what seems to be another truth. But this 'truth' is even less 'true' than the last. So I dive deeper and deeper. Until I can no longer see the beginning, swimming in a pool of gluttonous knowledge.
What's more, language triggers assumptions. If words are shared between people, this trifleous pool could be my own, and not the speaker’s. I would be in a parallel universe, with glass between my own reality and the intended one.
There could be two realities - the pre-word and post-word reality, with words acting as the rickety bridge between them. The gap must be the abyss an inch below the bridge, the abyss I must ignore to find the strength to move forward. But what if instead I jumped into it? Would I die? Or would I discover the truth of the journey?
In death there is life.
Perhaps the realities are not horizontal, but vertical - One the heavenly idyllic really real, the other the earthly reality we must accept, and words the Tower of Babel between them. Can words be used to reach the wordless? Perhaps it is such a paradox as this that made God destroy it.
The gap would be the space between where the Tower managed to reach, and its intended destination. We were close.3 What if in this case I jumped? Would I see it? Would I know it?
They actually grow into themselves.
I want to choose each of my words carefully. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I don’t want a single implication outside of my jurisdiction.
But each word has history. And I don’t know if you know which part of its history I want. You can’t even see my face. You don’t know what I mean. Not a little bit. You see your face where my face should be.
But I still want to try. I want to embrace the mistakes too.
But maybe that’s a lie. Just then I actually typed 'mistakes' as 'mistages', considered it and fixed it because it felt too obvious to keep it there, right in the sentence where I say I want to embrace the mistakes.
I don’t want to lie. I do want to be honest. But what’s honest? Saying I had a really satisfying shit this morning would be honest but it would be distracting you from what matters in the discussion. Statements such as 'I want to choose each of my words carefully' could still be honest, but they're generic. They don’t hit hard so they don’t feel honest honest. No deep truth is revealed. But perhaps honest honest is more of a distraction than a truth.
Words are complicated. Let’s stick to simple statements.
The English name I was given at birth by my parents was Casey Larkin Mazer Carsel.
The common full name of one of my grandfathers was Larkin Mazer.
The common full name of my aunt was Karen Carsel. Her initials were K and C.
The common full name of my father is Gary Carsel. He doesn’t like to tell people his middle name.
My father has/had a brain tumour. He currently resides in the United States of America. He would call it a brain tumor. Or maybe he would not. Lately he does not use words in the structures he once strictly adhered to. But I do not know if this extends to spelling style.
That wasn’t hard but it was full of holes and intentions. I don’t want too much meaning but I don’t want none.
No one has ever told me that when faced with a choice I should always go for the pleasant definable extremes. But they did.
Feeling does it better.
He, too, did not know what to say, but he was not dissatisfied. He had always been proud of his words and he did not wish them to vanish in the air. Seeing them carefully traced on paper and turned into pictures, he had a sense of success - indeed, a success so great and unexpected that he did not know how to respond and it made him uneasy. He understood that he was a child uttering significant words, and he felt that such a child was expected to say something significant at the present moment, but nothing occurred to him and that’s why he mutely hung his head. But when out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed his own words spread across the room, solid and permanent, bigger than himself, he was enraptured; it seemed to him that he was surrounded by his own self, that there was so much of him - he filled a room, he filled a whole house.4
There’s a scene in the Mel Brooks film High Anxiety, where Brooks and his female companion need to get on a plane without their identities being discovered. So they dress up as an old Jewish couple and when it gets to security checks, they make a ruckus, drawing as much attention to themselves as possible, so the guards don’t see anything but what Brooks is making them see. I think maybe honest language is like that. It disarms in a way that makes the truer truth invisible.
Brooks is trying to hide, but I think even when you’re trying your best to reveal yourself, to be a person in language, that person is never going to fully appear.
But I still want to create a tangibility of myself, outside of my physical self.
Even if I’m lying.
The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!
The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!5
Ceramic mounds growing up from the ground, spreading like a virus. Whole in themselves but of the many in their repetition. They are not special. They are not successful. They collapse in on themselves, sinking. Frozen in time in the act of failure. One says as little as the next. Do they not realise they are backwards? They seem determined to do nothing. They whisper, but it is a cough. They spell out a word that is lost in translation, torn down to nothing. Broken babble.
If I were to speak to them with words they would not listen. But if I cried upon them perhaps my sympathy would reach them, and they would bloom. Or the tears would roll off the cold hard surface like words, evaporating on the floor. One can but hope.
Written and drawn by Casey Carsel for Window Online, August 2016.