Codes, Communication, Art

I love lan­guage because it is a code; because it is so mal­leable. I love watch­ing young peo­ple pick it up and turn it into their own code. My Clas­si­cal Greek pro­fes­sor once said that babes and chil­dren cre­ate and change lan­guage more than adults. I sup­pose this is because chil­dren are still being indoc­tri­nat­ed, don’t know all the rules, make their own. His exam­ple was caca, a baby word for shit. Once chil­dren becomes expert enough work­ing with­in the lan­guage, I sup­pose they start work­ing with­in the code, chang­ing its periph­ery instead of its nexus.

Where I am now, as a rel­a­tive adult, I can love lan­guage because with­in this code oth­ers can be cre­at­ed, cod­i­fied, destroyed, rein­vent­ed. Sim­i­le and metaphor are per­haps the most basic of codes with­in The Code. Puns, rid­dles, dou­ble enten­dres — these are, per­haps, the sec­ond lev­el of spe­ci­a­tion? If I am in a con­ver­sa­tion with two peo­ple, I can speak one sen­tence that has vast­ly dif­fer­ent mean­ings to each per­son. Or, at least, I can do it if I am suf­fi­cient­ly skilled in cre­at­ing these codes.

This breaks down when a code is mis­in­ter­pret­ed [always a threat] or when a code is only under­stood by the per­son cre­at­ing it. Skill lev­el comes in when a code is cre­at­ed and dis­sem­i­nat­ed. The skill is teach­ing oth­ers how to read the code. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is an art, and Art is com­mu­ni­ca­tion. blah blah blah.

Poet­ry, paint­ing, sculp­ture, these are art forms that to a great extent have become estranged from gen­er­al soci­ety because their code is no longer acces­si­ble. Or, per­haps, it was not acces­si­ble for so long that most peo­ple lost inter­est in it. or maybe its just TV. yeah that sounds fine.

18 Replies

  • it isn’t just one code. each work cre­ates its own code.

    and i think per­haps sculp­ture [for exam­ple] isn’t quite as acces­si­ble as it used to be because the codes became too obfus­cat­ed. if Aver­age Joe looks at a sculp­ture called ‘Grif­fin’ that is noth­ing but a bunch of angu­lar pieces of black met­al and does not see the con­nec­tion, does not ‘get it’ then they will feel stu­pid, alien­at­ed and will dis­miss it. If an artist looks at the same sculp­ture and feels the same way… It is inac­ces­si­ble to them because the code was not effec­tive­ly trans­mit­ted or explained.

  • this code you speak of sounds rel­a­tive­ly like the hypothe­ses of the struc­tural­ists (i.e. fer­di­nand de saus­sure) who sug­gest­ed that lan­guage was, indeed, a struc­ture of cod­ed sig­ni­fiers and sig­ni­fieds, a struc­ture that, once some­one could crack the code, could be under­stood as a sys­tem of cor­re­la­tions.

    these hypothoses with­stood much of the 20th cen­tu­ry until gen­tle­folk like Jacques Der­ri­da and Roland Barthes came onto the scene and pro­vid­ed us with a very dif­fer­ent por­trait of what lan­guage seems to be.

    it is, in fact, a man­ner of seem­ing. lan­guage seems to be a code, it por­trays itself as a series of signs and sig­ni­fiers that seem­ing­ly point to oth­er things, or ideas, or con­cepts. yet, lan­guage itself is an organ­ic struc­ture that lives and breathes, evolves as if it is an actu­al liv­ing organ­ism. it begins, if you exam­ine it, to look less and less like a code than it does a liv­ing body.

    we are speak­ing, here, in the lan­guage of decon­struc­tion. i sug­gest, for a deep­er under­stand­ing of lan­guage and its dynam­ics, you exam­ine post-struc­tural­ist texts, most notably, “Struc­ture, Sign, and Play in the Dis­course of the Human Sci­ences,” by Jacques Der­ri­da. There you will find an analy­sis that exam­ines the prob­lems that one con­fronts when con­sid­er­ing lan­guage as a “cod­ed” struc­ture of “signs.”

    lan­guage can­not be so eas­i­ly reduced to a “sys­tem of codes.” it is some­thing else, instead. some­thing not unlike a code, but then again some­thing com­plete­ly oth­er than a code.

  • also, your final para­graph seems to sug­gest that art itself has become a use­less com­mod­i­ty, since its “code” has become such a dis­tant rel­ic. that point could be argued, sure, but i think you will find that kind of argu­ment a bit fruit­less. you are tread­ing on very dan­ger­ous ground there.

  • i’m gonna work up from the bot­tom here.

    using the word “obfus­cat­ed” isn’t exact­ly the most un-alien­at­ing way of talk­ing about things
    exact­ly why i used the word. its an exam­ple of a code that could be much explained in a much sim­pler way. ‘mud­dled’ would have served much bet­ter and made things more acces­si­ble.

    with poet­ry [grant­ed i don’t have your back­ground lau­ren] i sup­pose the gen­er­al code would be the dif­fer­ent schools of thought. Mod­ernist poets, Beat poets, what have you. i’m not say­ing poets are inac­ces­si­ble any longer, but what poets are house­hold names? Maya Angelou, Robert Frost… they are old. Where are the new house­hold poets?What has caused so many peo­ple to no longer care about poet­ry, paint­ing, sculp­ture? I think it because art has come to mean ‘high art’ some­thing pompous and assum­ing.

    i’m mak­ing no judg­ments, i am just try­ing to answer my own ques­tions.

    …we should gear our work to those peo­ple who don’t want to actu­al­ly put some time and effort into under­stand­ing a work?

    No, time and effort in under­stand­ing a work are fine as long as the work itself gives you all the tools a per­son needs to under­stand it.

    A per­son doesn’t need to know all the ref­er­ences of The Waste Land to appre­ci­ate it as a poem.

  • be care­ful how you use the term “schools,” as in poet­ry. Mod­ernism isn’t real­ly a school of poet­ry. the Mod­ernists would not con­sid­er them­selves a school. a school doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­sid­er itself one, out­siders con­sid­er a school a school.

  • epm- i haven’t read any of what you men­tioned.

    i’m com­ing from an anthro­po­log­i­cal stand­point- peo­ple using lan­guage as a cul­tur­al tool to com­mu­ni­cate. i agree that lan­guage is a mat­ter of seem­ing, but if it seems to be a code then it also only seems to be a liv­ing thing. i think the signs and sig­ni­fiers only change because peo­ple change them. peo­ple alter the tool, change the code. thats what i love lan­guage, i can make it mean what­ev­er i want it to mean.

    how­ev­er, if i make it mean what­ev­er i want it to, and then give no one else a way to inter­pret or under­stand it, every­thing i have done is use­less.

    so i sup­pose, if the estrange­ment i men­tioned in my last para­graph has to do with cre­at­ing codes with­in lan­guage that no one can under­stand, then yes i am say­ing it is use­less. not even a com­mod­i­ty. just junk.

    but for the love of god, i’m not say­ing that art is that way any longer. just that, some­where along the line a lot of peo­ple stopped car­ing about it.

  • that is exact­ly what der­ri­da “decon­structs” in “Struc­ture, Sign, and Play.” he “decon­structs” Levi-Strauss’ anthro­po­log­i­cal struc­ture for lan­guage. indeed, the old anthro­po­log­i­cal struc­tures for lan­guage no longer stand up in the face of con­tem­po­rary stud­ies, in par­tic­u­lar, the works of folks like der­ri­da, paul de man, etc. etc. seri­ous­ly, the old “lan­guage is a code” deom­stra­tion has seen bet­ter days, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly and anthro­po­log­i­cal­ly. you must read some der­ri­da to get a taste of some more con­tem­po­rary thought on such issues. also, one might read the essays of coet­zee on the same mat­ters.

    also, lest we for­get, it isn’t NOW that sud­den­ly peo­ple aren’t car­ing about art. it has been that way for some time. per­haps since for­ev­er. our grand images of the past are the pre­served images of the intel­li­gentsia, thus we are always going to have a pic­ture of the past that shows art as a more appre­ci­at­ed com­mid­i­ty. that is like say­ing, “peo­ple in the past read more poery because there are more famous poets in the past then there are now.” that is an utter­ly untrue state­ment. in fact, more poets are pub­lished today than ever before in the his­to­ry of man, because there are more pub­li­ca­tions ded­i­cat­ed to poet­ry than there were in the old Empire (British). the intel­li­gent peo­ple of today will write about art, make art, etc, and this will be pre­served for lat­er gen­er­a­tions, and peo­ple will say “boy, they were real­ly con­cerned with art at the dawn of the mil­le­ni­um.”

  • out­siders con­sid­er a school a school.

    yeah, that makes sense. french auteur the­o­ry in film came about that way.

    the whole ‘Art Brut’ [anoth­er need­less­ly heav­i­ly encod­ed, pompous term] move­ment is a per­fect exam­ple too.

  • it isn’t NOW …pre­served images of the intel­li­gentsia…

    ooo. good point.

    alrighty, i’ll try to scrounge up some der­ri­da if i ever get some read­ing time. good ole levi-strauss.

  • I’m curi­ous (as some­one who likes to write poetry)–what is the alleged “code” that sculp­ture and paint­ings and poet­ry work from that has sud­den­ly become inac­ces­si­ble and uncrack­able?

  • Plus, this sug­gests that (for exam­ple) all poems func­tion in the same way, with the same sort of “code.” Which doesn’t account for the blurred bor­ders between poet­ry and prose, for exam­ple. And which reduces them down to need­ing some sor­ta super-reduc­tive equa­tion to under­stand them all, one sin­gle key that would work to open any and every poem…

  • so–this is to harvey–you’re basi­cal­ly say­ing that we should gear our work to those peo­ple who don’t want to actu­al­ly put some time and effort into under­stand­ing a work? if that’s the case, then poet­ry and sculp­ture would just fall in sham­bles around our feet. if a per­son dis­miss­es a work of art just because they don’t under­stand it imme­di­ate­ly, this is that PERSON’S fault, not the fault of the artist. i could just as eas­i­ly take ANY exam­ple of a work of art that you would con­sid­er “eas­i­ly acces­si­ble” and “unalien­at­ing to the gen­er­al pub­lic” and find SOMEONE who would dis­miss it. does this make the WORK ITSELF infe­ri­or?
    and if each work shares its own code, then how can you say that the “code of poet­ry,” for exam­ple, has grown inac­ces­si­ble? this seems to assume that there IS, in fact, sort of code that all poems share, no?
    and i’d like to point out, using the word “obfus­cat­ed” isn’t exact­ly the most un-alien­at­ing way of talk­ing about things. should i there­fore dis­miss YOU? ; )

  • 1. Obfuscated–I’m sure there’s some peo­ple out there who wouldn’t under­stand what “mud­dled” meant either. So if you’re going to take THAT approach, where do you draw the line? We’d just have to keep reduc­ing our word choic­es down to the basics–cat, dog, he, she, walked, ran, ate, etc. And THEN where would poetry/prose be?
    2. The dif­fer­ent schools of thought as code–If you are going to argue that each of these schools of thought has its own “code,” then a) you’re con­tra­dict­ing your­self b/c this STILL doesn’t explain what the “gen­er­al” code of poet­ry is–just what the sub-codes are, and b) these schools of thought are “codes” placed on a work from out­side sources, not codes inher­ent with­in the work itself–and each time you lump any work of art into a cat­e­go­ry (i.e. “he’s a roman­tic, she’s a beat”), you’ve reduced them down to fit­ting some sor­ta of pre­de­fined mode just for the sake of under­stand­ing them. Not to say that per­haps the beat poets share some sort of com­mon­al­i­ty in their writ­ing, but to say that it is this “code” that defines them is to miss out on a lot in their work, no?
    3. “The new house­hold poets”–So if you’re to ask me where are the new house­hold poets, I will ask you in return: do you real­ly want to encour­age the idea that just b/c something’s a house­hold name, it’s of high­er qual­i­ty? Just b/c Dan Brown (author of THE DA VINCI CODE) has become more of a house­hold name doesn’t make his work ANY bet­ter, does it? In fact, his work is rather hor­ri­ble and over-hyped and yet he IS becom­ing a house­hold name. If this is what becom­ing a house­hold name MEANS, then thank god so many poets are hid­den in rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty. This is like say­ing that b/c all pop icons are well-known by every­one, their work is more valu­able.
    4. “The tools to under­stand a work”–perhaps per­haps I would agree with you slight­ly on this. But you are assum­ing that just b/c you don’t under­stand some­thing on a first read, it hasn’t giv­en you the tools. Some­one could EASILY over­look the tools that are giv­en to them. AND you are assum­ing that these tools aren’t in out­side sources as well (such as his­tor­i­cal info) that per­haps we are too lazy to exam­ine a bit.

  • yes, but couldn’t the fact that peo­ple stopped car­ing about it be the fault of the PEOPLE and their lack of car­ing rather than the fault of art itself? i guess that’s MY main point.

  • i think i’ve got the essay meljac’s talk­ing about at home–if i remem­ber i’ll pho­to­copy it and bring it in for ya.

Comments are closed.