Note: Regretfully, I do not have a research topic as of now. I would like to discuss the topic of language in a epistemological manner, however, in order to do this adequately I need to come up with a research question that is more specific. I will come up with a question as soon as possible. Therefore, this paper is a way to show that I am brainstorming. I would like to come up with a topic related to how language affects how we view nature. I apologize for my punctuality.
I was sitting in the Student Union writing an essay about Edward Sapir and the relationship between language and culture. This essay has been very challenging to me because the concepts Sapir presents are very . . . “heady” and while writing, I have been continually “burned out” trying to write about such a complex topic.
An example of this is a quote from his novel, Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech: “The world of our experiences must be enormously simplified and generalized before it is possible to make a symbolic inventory of all our experiences of things and relations and this inventory is imperative before we can convey ideas.”
In other words, what we experience is so complex that through language, we generalize what we think and feel in order to communicate.
Anyway, I quickly grew tired of writing about this and decided to take a study break. I walked to the exit of the Student Union and saw a CD sale put on by KDUR. All the CDs were $1, so I decided to check it out and see if there would be anything worthwhile to buy for my car. I ended up buying two Fleet Foxes CDs.
Music has always been an extremely important element in my life, but I have recently have been thinking more intently about this topic because of my lack of savings. Before I moved to Durango, I worked at a record store and poster shop in Boulder called PosterScene. Recently, I have been very focused on saving money for my expenses and I realized that I spent a lot of the money I made in PosterScene buying records and going to shows. Although this upsets me because I did not adequately save the money I earned, I read this quote in the album Sun Giant, one of the albums by Fleet Foxes that I purchased:
“Sometimes when driving, or riding the bus, or walking around in some park, I will try to get an image in my head of what the land around me would have looked like 400 years ago. The same hills, the same landscape, but in my mind I’ll cover it in nothing, and wonder what it was like to be the first man to chance upon it. This is always useless to me. There is so much wonder in this world, but I always have trouble getting past our influence, our disasters and clumsy systems. And even in those places where there is some real beauty, like down at the Golden Gardens, or on the Olympic Peninsula, or my grandparents’ cabin in Wenatchee when it’s deep in snowdrifts, all I have to do is take one look at the skyline in the distance, or the cement path I’m walking on, or the white car parked in the gravel driveway to take me out of the tenuous illusion and put me back in reality.
We are constantly tethered to some safety line. There is always a lantern, or a map, or a screen, or a cell phone. These things guarantee that whatever experience we’re having is just an attempt at connecting to something foreign and old. That it’s not real, no matter how real it looks. We’ve sketched out a new world over the old, and they are two separate universes. The old is lost despite the remnants of it we see everyday. If properly prepared, one could live entire decades indoors, in a world of their own creation.
Sometimes, I’ll stay indoors for days at a time, talking to no one and doing nothing of value. Once I do go outside after a long stretch like that, it still feels fake, like some slide in front of my eyes. At a certain point, I’ll have to tell myself, “This is actually real and I’m actually here, that dog or building or mountain range in the distance is a real thing inhabiting the space that I am.” I think that must be a very modern sensation, that of having to convince oneself of reality. What a weird feeling.
A very smart and gifted friend of mine told me once that music is a kind of replacement for the natural world. That, before civilization or whatever, the world must have seemed a place of such immense wonder and confusion, so terrifying in a way, unthinkably massive and majestic. And that that feeling of mystery and amazement is somehow hardwired into us. Once the world became commonplace, mapped, and conquered, that feeling left our common mind and we needed something to replace it with and then along came music. I think she’s right, music is magic to me, transportive and full of wonder in a way that I have trouble getting from the natural world. All the human things that make the natural world so hard to connect with just aren’t there with music.
I don’t really know what I’m trying to say with this. It’s not good to romanticize a time of great hardship, hardship I’ve never known and am not conditioned to understand. I’m also not interested in a “back to nature” thing, as nature as it was is gone for the time being and it would take a very big leap of faith and common sense to ignore that. But, music to me is just as awe-bringing as the world maybe once was. And I just love it a lot.”
New York City, New York
I agree with what was said in the majority of this quote (not particularly the section that describes being detached with nature) and it made me think about some of the concepts I have been writing about in my essay and research project. When viewed through a linguistic scope, the topic of music can be very interesting.
Sapir argued that language is a symbolic form of communicating what we are thinking and feeling. After reflecting upon this, I suppose that music can be viewed in the same terms. Songs communicate a certain type of feeling or emotion by the way that they are constructed. Music is also a public and cultural phenomena but contains more interpretation and meaning than speech or writing.
Part of the reason I moved to Durango was because there was less people and more wilderness (mountains). I honestly feel more comfortable and authentic calling “reality” as instances when I feel connected to nature, instead of times when I am “cooped up” in civilization. I often need to spend time in the outdoors in order to stay inspired and often find that my “disconnect” is when I stay indoors and do not do valuable things with the time that I have. I suppose that the author of this quote feels more detached to nature because he resides in New York. However, even in Durango there are times when I feel detached from nature when I get behind on studying and have to stay indoors, or if I am too busy to get outside.
This feelings of detachment are the reasons why I am so attracted to this quote. It is incredible to me that the phenomena of language can evoke feeling and emotions when they are not physically present.