There’s a story, from one of my all time favorite books, that goes something like this: a musician plays a beautiful and complex piece of music for an attentive listener. When the musician concludes the piece, the listener asks, “what does it mean?” The musician, as a answer, plays the piece again, note for note.
For much of my life, I have had the same attitude about my creative work. If I was asked about the meaning of one of my texts, I’d refer the person to the text and say, “that’s what it means” or “try harder.” I’d answer any question about the text, so long as it wasn’t, “what does it mean definitively according to you?”
At some point, my attitude changed, in part, because I realized that the author’s interpretation of his own text is only one of many possible interpretations and, if someone wants to give my interpretation more weight in their assessment of the text, what difference should it make to me — especially when my own interpretation of the text evolves over time.
I think living overseas also helped to change my attitude. From that experience, I realized that we all speak our own micro-languages. Even the most banal turns of phrase can mean very different things to different people, depending on how their families and peers use the expression. I’m not sure many people understand this and, as a result, I think many people think they are communicating, when they are not.
I should be clear: I’m not claiming we can’t communicate. I’m claiming only that we can’t take communication for granted simply because we often utter the same kinds of sounds around each other. We need to probe, question, and learn each other’s languages.
This experience of talking but not communicating happens again and again in my novel, A Derivation of Love. Over and over, the characters think they are communicating, when in fact they are not. There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding because no one takes the time to probe, question, and learn — Desmond most of all.
It seems to me that this “presumption of understanding” is an important source of very many of the problems between boy and girls and boys and boys and girls and girls. It’s a problem for all the different kinds of relationships we might have with each other but it seems particularly relevant to our sexual / romantic relationships. For some reason, many people seem to think that sex, love, and romance requires a wordless understanding on the part of all those involved.
The Hintonburg Drinking Club and Debating Society came up with an idea at our last late night session that I am still thinking about: silence preserves the status quo and the preservation of the status quo always safeguards the power of whomever happens to have it.
With this idea in mind, my question is this:
Do we expect love to involve wordless understanding because each of us thinks we have the power in the relationship and we want to preserve it, or do we expect love to involve wordless understanding because we think the other — our beloved — has the power and that’s exactly where we want it to lie, or do we expect love to involve wordless understanding because it originates in a part of our brain that evolved long before we developed the capacity for language?
What do you think?