386: “The Actual Speech Is Lost” (Amalia Gnanadesikan)

                “[In writing,] Even in cases of dictation or courtroom stenography, much information about the actual speech is lost, such as intonation and emotional content. As a result, reading is not at all the same as listening to a recording (and can therefore, fortunately, proceed much faster).” -Amalia Gnanadesikan, The Writing Revolution

                Writing doesn’t encode most of what’s going on: in my head, right now; in my experience as I sit on the couch, typing. My experience—my thoughts—are tied to where I’m thinking, where I am, so often when I write I want to tell you part of that. I want to tell you that I’m visiting my family in California. I want to tell you about the dog sleeping beside me, and that this morning there was ice on the bucket outside, bright and alive beneath my fingers. Writing (Gnanadesikan points out) tries to preserve a tiny slice of what is actually happening when we talk and interact. I can bend the narrow path of these letters toward the ice, toward my family visit, but the path still misses most of what is. I still haven’t said most of why Gnanadesikan’s line has been reverberating in my head for months now.
                Sometimes this limitation of writing frustrates me. Just now I also find it delightful. The narrowness of the form opens a different kind of space. Think how long it would take to try and communicate your “everything” in any given moment. By communicating a tiny sliver, writing lets us read and write faster. It lets us pass tiny notes across distances and through time. You’ve been looking at this for two minutes, and you know I’m going on about writing, and visiting my family, and a dog. I can’t tell you the forests of thought and confusion and wonder I’m walking through. I can’t even give you an acorn. But I can write acorn. The acorn you have is your own, maybe maybe from my word and all the other people who’ve said “acorn” to you, and the acorns you’ve seen. They’re such flimsy, little things, these sentences I send you. Plenty of acorns decay away to nothing. Some grow wide oaks of ideas and relationships and ways of looking at the world. And either way they’re lovely things, these little mysteries with so much left out, these seeds.

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