20 November 2007

Here Comes Everybody

This space has been silent for awhile as i was working on the fourth chapter of Turning Words. It wouldn't take so long if i weren't such a Penelope emulator as i am, weaving a text one day only to unweave it the next and rework it. But at last, that chapter is now online in this its second complete draft. I hope it's better than the first draft was, at least. And this time i've also uploaded the ‘reverse’ side of that chapter—the one that covers the same territory, in a less linear way, but cites far more sources, and presupposes some understanding of the whole book's theme and idiom.

The obverse chapter, Here Comes Everybody, fits into a linear sequence, so it's recommended to start at the beginning of that sequence to better get the drift.

While i'm here, an observation on the process behind all this:

Since i retired from teaching and moved to Manitoulin Island, most of my waking hours go to wandering in the woods or wandering in the words—that is, reading. Maybe i should say ‘exploring’ instead of ‘wandering’, but there's no firm boundary between the two. And there's a certain similarity between woods and words as well.

At first it's a matter of groping in the wilderness, making trails by trial and error. You make a path by walking on it repeatedly, and gradually it becomes familiar, and certain landmarks begin to stand out. The paths become connections between places, which begin to form a network, and places proliferate as the network becomes finer and more detailed. Knowing a place means knowing how to get there from where you are. Sometimes you see another way to get there, perhaps a simpler way, and feel that you know the place better.

Sometimes it helps to have a view from above—perhaps an aerial or satellite photograph, or a map, which is a more abstract representation of the territory. The actual use of a map in navigation requires you to read yourself into it. Once you have located yourself and your goal on the map, then your on-the-ground know-how takes over, and your actual moves are guided by a specific view from within the path-network—a view bearing no resemblance at all to the map. Once on your way, the view from above can be put aside (until you need it again).

Theoretical knowledge is a kind of map. It can show you several paths of inquiry at once, and how they cross, diverge or converge. But it contributes nothing to your actual know-how unless you have some experience of navigating such a path from inside the territory. A dictionary (especially an etymological one) can contribute to your knowledge of a word, or a concept, but only if you already know something of its actual use. A definition makes connections or reveals relationships among locutions as locations in a universe of discourse, filling in some of the spaces between them.

But it behooves us to remember that all the maps come originally from somebody's exploration …

No comments: