WORDS & MATTER / & NO MATTER (a gleaning, from 1988(?), & a meme, from today

words matter meme.jpg


Words are things, as material things are things; words can be objects, of our thoughts or our actions, as can material things, but whatever matter is, words are not matter. You could say, like numbers, but numbers are also words, a certain kind or class of words. Like thoughts, then? Thoughts are immaterial, but in a different way: every thought is, unique, it passes through the mind and is gone, if it comes again, as a memory, it is part of a new thought, or if you think the same thought at a different time and recognize it, it’s still another thought though its content seems the same. And thoughts are composed of words. You might have a non-verbal thought, but you mightn’t call it a thought, and when you do you use words. Thoughts also involve action, and so material things like electricity and chemicals in the brain are part of the process of thinking.

Words are like works of art, though also not like them. People say words are signs, but they can be more than signs, and can also not be signs. Every word was once invented by someone, whether as a sign or something else, and that invention is always a creation like a work of art. And if you say you don’t use works of art as you do words, think again, because there’s a sense in which you do, and artworks do too when they quote other artworks.

But you don’t ordinarily just contemplate a word like you do an artwork, and that’s the major difference: the artwork was created for contemplation, the word was generally intended for communication. And when a word was created for contemplation, it was no longer just a word, it was an artwork, a poem, or a mantra, which are other immaterial things in the world apart from words, but are also dependent on words. Even the most non-verbal humanly produced artifact, even if created by a deaf-mute never exposed to words who produces it by imitation, was once thought of and planned and brought to execution and public sharing by the mediation of words. And to this day no artist who is not spoken and written about in words can expect to be known as an artist.

So what is not material in our reality is dependent on words for our recognition and our relating to it. Words themselves do not invent all that is immaterial: the musician composes or plays, the sculptor and painter make forms and like the poet but without words, images; the dancer dances. What matter words?

But then, all that is material in our reality we relate to through words. Or the words are the accompaniment to the music of our perceptions and sensations and emotions, we use the words to organize or to believe we organize these experiences. What do words matter?

The words we have, and the ways we have of putting words together create the parameters of the reality we can relate to and the ways we have of relating to it. In optics, it is apparently known that because of the lattice-work of blood-vessels that veils our sight, we actually see perhaps 5% of what there is to be seen, and we put together a whole picture with our imaginations, and we believe that picture is what is there to be seen. That may be what we do with what we think we know through words.

The word is neither the written sign or the spoken sound. We write it, we speak it, but what we write is not it. We can’t use it up. It? I write its sign, you read its sign, but where is it?

The word, all the words there are so far, all those I know and those I don’t know, some of which I might learn and some of which never, are always “there”, and also “here” in my mind as long as I’ll be around. The words are untouched by my use of them, I think, but that needn’t be so. Perhaps I work a subtle change in the scent of each.

As words, all words are equal. There seems to be no single word that is radically primal, so one could say that all words, and the very existence of words and such, derive from it. If there is or ever was a language that began out of someone simultaneously speaking and inventing a single word and someone else hearing it and understanding it as what it was, that word is unknown. There are radical words, that a number of words may derive from. Like in English you have words made from radicals with prefixes or suffixes. Have you ever thought of all the words that are made by putting prefixes before -cept or -ceive or -ception, or before -vert or -verse or -version?

No matter, words matter.

Gleanings from a Hebrew→English Translator’s Notes (1): On the Indefinite Article / with an intro, “ah, serendipitty! …”


ah, serendipitty! Looking through the files&folders directory on my hard disk that Jonathan rescued for me, bless him, i realized i have some other gleanings to do beside my collatings of memorings. So here’s the first of these… oh, & in the title pic I just made I added an additional [in fact the basic] meaning of the Hebrew word bayit – house; & this ambiguity too is interesting: in Hebrew the Temple is called the Bayit, the “House” (& the First Temple and Second Temple are called Bayit Rishon and Bayit Sheni, & present-day fomenters are planning a “Third Temple”, Bayit Shlishi). Not that my original translation was wrong, but it was inadequate: for most Hebrew readers the last words of Yehuda Amihai ’s wise & moving poem will be read first of all as “the House that was destroyed”, but for some the simpler meaning with its more comprehensive range will seep in as well. & i must add that I wasn’t expecting to write all this when I added ‘or simply: the house – & having written that, I realize I should add that bayit also means ‘home’ (you couldn’t translate into Hebrew the truth that “a house is not a home”), and that the country the Zionists have expropriated is also called the bayit [home] of the “Jewish people”, so that too is a meaning of this word in Amihai’s “the bayit that was destroyed”…

So here’s the first gleaning:

a blessing and a curse
a shame and a disgrace
a majority and a minority (or several minorities)
a history and a geography
a vision and a way
a hegemony and a plurality

it is most difficult to explain the uses of the indefinite article, especially when used with “abstract nouns”, to people who do not use indefinite articles as part of their everyday speaking and thinking.

blessing and curse are words for alternative options, but any particular event can be interpreted as both a blessing and a curse, or as a blessing or a curse, and in English you could not say this without using the indefinite article; in Hebrew you can only say
ברכה וכללה to refer to either a particular case or a philosophical opposition…

shame and disgrace are almost synonyms, and can be discussed generally as emotions or consequences of certain acts, but in any particular case one will say not that
”this is shame and disgrace”, but “this is a shame and a disgrace”.
again, in Hebrew you will say בושה וחרפה for both options.

history and geography are general ideas; you can study history and/or geography, but any particular place/time will have a history or even many histories) and a geography

there is vision (a faculty, sight, or the capacity to envisage a future) and there are visions, but when someone has a particular vision, we will speak of a vision; the word way cannot be used in a way that makes sense without either an article (indefinite or definite) or some other word before it as in “make way” (which in any case is short for “make a way”. Ben-Gurion. wrote a book called חזון ודרך, a title that I found on the Internet has been translated in 2 different ways, one Vision and Way, by someone who obviously doesn’t have the understanding I’m talking about here, because the book is not about vision, but about a vision that Ben-Gurion is propounding, or about “way”, which by itself makes no sense at all; the correct translation, which I also found there, is: A Vision and a Way.

so, as seen in all the examples above, when referring to a particular case, or using “abstract nouns” to present descriptions, be they alternative or synonymous or simply accumulative, we need to use the indefinite article. After (and only after) using it to describe a situation we can then particularize it further, using the definite article “the blessing was that x happened; the curse was that y happened”; “the history of X is complex, and the geography is very varied”.