We are more than our words

Andy Landolfi

As we set our gaze upon the world, we categorize what we see with language; we understand the physical representation of a “bush” because somewhere along the line an individual decided the aforementioned combination of letters, and oral pronunciation of those letters, accurately depicted the unnamed physical object present in the physical world. The word “bush,” however is nothing more than—and certainly nothing less—an abstract attempt to describe what is; the word “bush” links itself to the world in a secondhand manner—and no word is any different.

So let’s make this abstract idea of mine—written in what I believe is abstract language—a bit more palatable with a metaphor. The metaphor goes like this: the physical world, without language, resembles a table without a tablecloth. The table—a metaphorical representation of a true objective reality—exists whether it has a tablecloth on it or not, but in order to make use of the table, or to at least keep the table neat and tidy, we must cover the table with a tablecloth; language, in this metaphor at least, acts as the cover we spread across the tabletop.

Now the tablecloth, if left upon the table for too long, becomes what some may perceive as being the actual table; when one only sees and interacts with the covered table, one begins to imagine nothing lays beneath the cloth placed upon the table—the secondhand rendering of the table takes on an unfounded (and incorrect) denomination. What was once a removed interaction with the table surface transforms into what some perceive as a direct interaction with the table’s surface; the abstract becomes the concrete, while the concrete is forgotten.

So where am I going with all this? What does it all mean? Why does it matter? Why should anyone care about an abstract column written in what I claim is an abstract language?

Here’s my point: We use language to describe ourselves, the world around us, and the systems we establish to effectively categorize race, class, religion, ethnicity, etc. If the language we use to categorize and understand the world is abstract, then the language we use to describe others and ourselves is also abstract; abstract language gives birth to abstract definitions, which equates to further abstracted connotations, interpretations and perceptions of the world.

We are more than the words that define us, we are more than the terms that describe us, we are more than the utterances that attempt to place us—our truest selves exist in a realm incapable of being placed within the bounds of abstraction; we exist beyond language; we are more than the words others—and ourselves—imagine ourselves to be.