Thursday, April 14, 2011

Subtext


I sometimes engage in spirited discussions with a guy I know who is an expert in mayhem. By and large, I agree with much of what he has to say, most of the time, and I respect his knowledge, which is in most ways superior to mine. Doesn't cost me anything to say that, and if it's true, why would that bother me?


But ... we don't agree all the time. Sometimes, we kick stuff back and forth, trying to get to the meat of the discussion. We are both of us fairly forthright in our presentations–we call it like we see it and don't spend much time honey-coating the words to make them taste better.


We both understand that such back-and-forths are apt to bring more light to a subject than having six guys who agree with us tell us we are right. If you are a preacher, you don't spend time trying to convince the choir to come to Jesus. 


Sometimes I am fascinated by the subtext we both use, the choice of words, the constructions, the now and then subtle, now and then not-so-subtle stuff that goes along with the reasonable discourse.


In context and out of it matters, of course, but consider these terms: "bullshit fantasy;" "expecting anything is stupid;" "despise when people say ..." And my favorite one recently, "martial ballerinas," as opposed to "operators ..."


When such terms pop up, they reveal things that are unsaid–that's what subtext is–and you can't help but get a feeling that when it goes back and forth and there's a J'accuse! and one of us writes, "I didn't say that!" sometimes that is ... less than convincing.


Yeah, that's right, you didn't say that in so many words. But, Dude, that's what  you meant ...


It's all fun, and as a worker in words, I find it amusing. One of the first things you learn in a journalism class is that nobody is objective when it comes to reporting the news. However much you strive to be, the stories you choose to cover, the language you use to describe them, the subtextual tone, all of these produce a slant. If I did nothing but take a photograph of an event and show it, sans comment, the photograph itself will be a statement–the timing, the angle, the focus, and that I picked that to capture and not something else.


The written word is, at best, an approximation of communication. At its cleanest, it is incomplete and open to all manner of interpretation. Which is why people need to get together for coffee once in a while ...

7 comments:

Irene said...

Y'know, having read the post you're referring to, I don't think there's that much subtext in it. I think he pretty much says what he's thinking.

Steve Perry said...

As did I. But there is subtext there. I don't mind that it is, but I do see it. I admit to ladling it into my comments, sometimes deliberately, sometimes less consciously so, but I know I do it. And I'm not the only one who does.

Stan said...

"The written word is, at best, an approximation of communication. At its cleanest, it is incomplete and open to all manner of interpretation. Which is why people need to get together for coffee once in a while ..."

I am very concerned that our burgeoning "cyber community" is going to result in fewer people "getting together." As a result, I fear we are going to lose a good deal of our social skills, including empathy, tolerance and the ability to intelligently discuss ideas of importance.

I presume I'm not the only one who has watched two people, standing and talking, face-to-face, saying that they will "facebook" each other later.

Joshkie said...

Half of the way we communicate is visually and auditory(?) i.e. body language and tone of voice. I have read stuff that I thought was light and air and have had friends tell me they thought it more dark and moody. Was that because we read it in different emotion all states and read into it what we wanted? Unless the writer gives us clues or comes right out and tells us we are free to put any emotional context to what we read.

I think we see what we want to see, and hear what we want to here.

But what do I know, I can barely put two words together with out sticking my foot in my mouth.

(Contexts Did you read the last sentence as slightly deprecating with a hint of a wink and a nod or more seriously as I don't have any self confidence in my ability to use the written word?)

Just my thoughts,
Josh

Joshkie said...

"emotion all" .... Sigh.

:-)
Josh

Stan said...

One of the reasons "intelligent people" prefer to read novels, rather than "just see the movie," is that reading allows us to project our filters / screens / beliefs into the stories as we read. Great for escapist recreation...

Unfortunately, we often do precisely the same thing when reading "fact-based" writing for information and education. Not always such a great thing...

Of course, as writers we also screen, slant and color much of what we produce, both consciously and unconsciously...

The verbal and physical cues offered by face-to-face discussion offer much information about the speaker / writer and this is what we will lose when the "Keyboard Comms" become the norm for "social interaction."

Steve Perry said...

It's true that readers bring more to that experience than watchers -- the visuals, the EFX, SFX, a movie-maker fills those in for you in more detail, the novelist sketches them and you do more to give them your own weight. Even the experience of sitting in a theater with a group alters things.

We all bring our own axes to anything we experience. That's the nature of things.

I'm not sure that intelligence makes any difference per se. People who can see subtext in a book can see it in a movie or a TV show, and a good writer can point a reader or a watcher down a road with a small sign.

As for the eGeneration, that ship has already sailed. My grandsons spend way more time visiting their friends on computers and phones than they do live and direct. When somebody comes over to visit them, they plug in, too.

I used to talk to my girlfriend on the phone for hours, back in the day, but I would have preferred sitting next to her holding her hand.

eConnections can be great, and often better than none at all, but they leave much to be desired, at least for a man my age.

Most of what most of us know about the world comes in through our eyes, followed by our ears, and then the other senses, taste, touch, smell, body sensations. Words on paper give us a narrow, sometimes dirty window and blinders. We can conjure from that limited view, but even being able to see somebody, ala Skype, while you talk to them makes the conversation so much more than just seeing the words. Ever notice how sometimes you can hear a song a dozen times and not get the words, but that if you see somebody sing it, you can? We are most of us lip readers, albeit not that good at it.


They all can multitask -- play a computer game, work a chat room, talk on the phone, eat lunch. It's incredible. And different.

A brave new world ...