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 thoughts on “Codes, Communication, Art

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.”

  8. 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.

  9. 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 olé levi-strauss.

  10. 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?

  11. 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…

  12. 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? ; )

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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