Are you a reader? Are you a writer? Then in whichever of these two categories you fall, this might interest you.
Whether you’re the one who peruses the work or the one who produces it, there is one common detail that you primarily seek: the message behind it, how it makes you feel and to what extent is it enjoyable. So far so good. But once the idea is out there, should it also be embellished with rather pretentious words and elaborate grammatical structures or simply left as it is? If the idea in itself is that inspiring, what difference does its coating make?
A crucial one.
And the contrast I’m alluding to does not lie in our perception of the author’s knowledge, but in our perception of the creation in itself.
Words, these seemingly random associations of letters (didn’t they come to existence by our ancestors’ unexpectedly pointing towards certain objects and uttering whatever their emotions in connection to those items stirred in them?), are directly linked with our emotions, they uncontrollably get personalized for each of us. Thus even if we generally employ the same expressions on a daily basis, we all perceive them under the veils of our experience. Now these veils could be as thick as a wool blanket, but in most situations they are diaphanous enough to prevent confusion.
And I suppose that nobody highlighted this phenomenon in a more poetic manner than Milan Kundera in his “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, when he skillfully designed a dictionary of misunderstandings for two lovers in his brilliant novel. Perhaps the most haunting example is their slowly acquired image of cemeteries. While for Franz “a cemetery” merely refers to ”an ugly dump of stones and bones”, Sabrina finds it a peaceful place where one could enjoy some silence even during wartime (she having just escaped the Russian invasion of Prague).
Hence, in the light of what each of us has lived (and linked the events with the concepts required to understand them), we instantly form certain images in our minds at the mere sight of a combination of words that we know. And it’s precisely through these symbols that the writer accesses the reader’s imagination to better explain his ideas. These signs easily tickle our unconscious without our even noticing, providing us with a mood in accordance to the associations our minds make between the respective terms and past events that correlate with them. Maybe one of us associates certain words with bad memories from our childhood (or why not the opposite), and consequently the book/article/poem/et cetera rouses the corresponding disposition.
Now of course the secret is not to overdo it, for misunderstandings of some level are genuinely unavoidable. And at the same time don’t strive to detail in excess where simplicity seems to convey the message better-words are too precious to go to waste. Great things can be said in a few lines, it’s all up to how you can manage it.
And there is, not surprisingly, the case of books in which natural and sometimes even vulgar language is actually part of the message, in which case this still applies. They don’t have to be what is widely considered ‘beautiful words’, they just have to tell the story. Think ‘The Catcher in the Rye’-if you were to write it in a pompous, elegant manner, everything would be lost.
Isn’t language an explanation of our perception of the world?
Just like in Magritte’s painting, we paint an idea into a reality visible to the readers (depending of course on the glasses each of them wears), through our writing.