Frederick Marx discusses the playfulness of language and why there is no point in stating the obvious.
I must be a closet cowboy. I’ve never liked talking all that much. I never want to say more than has meaning or value in any given circumstance. I always prefer doing more, letting my actions speak for me. For anyone who knows me, the question you should be asking right now is: How the hell did this happen to an intellectual?!
It probably was my early exposure to Westerns, though, truth be told, I never liked the genre much. I always preferred adventure stories, psychological dramas, comedies. But there was something about the Western hero that appealed more to me than just about any other kind of hero. Sure, the stoicism was part of it. Holding back emotion because, after all, what was there to say? It was all so self-evident. Being outdoors all the time, the wide open spaces, a man alone with his horse, the rugged, unprettified working clothes, all the complications and rigidities of women, families, mortgages, 9 to 5, left to other people’s lives, other people’s entrapments. The simplicity. The clarity. The purity.
Anyone recognize the wafting fragrance of Romanticism? All the key themes are here: the hero as a loner, the saving grace of nature, the questioned value of human accomplishment. The Romantic ideal is part of who I am and always will be. There ain’t much room for yackety-yack in that equation. But there’s another part too.
Back in the early 70s there was a popular introduction to marijuana called A CHILD’S GARDEN OF GRASS. I still remember with fondness a fictional stoned conversation that went something like this:
Person A: Are you hungry?
Person B: Hmmm?
Person A: Are you hungry?
Person B: Hungry for what?
Person A: Hungry.
Person B: Hungry for adventure? Hungry for love? Spiritual fulfillment? Material success? What?
Person A: Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of that.
Person B: What was the question?
(Let me pause for a moment with a footnote. I’m sure it’s been over 35 years since I looked at that book. I suppose you could argue that extensive adolescent marijuana use does not have deleterious effects on memory cells after all.)
The point here is that language, from my perspective, is perhaps best utilized to create nonsense. If you have to open your mouth, why air out tired old opinions that everyone’s already heard better expressed by someone else, ideally someone else with true talent for erudition and argument? If we have to speak and write why not use language simply to have fun? To turn words back on themselves, inside out, spin them in circles and create the games of puns, double entendres, illogic and absurdity that language is uniquely qualified for?
Language, when you think about it, is so self-serious. We say things as if there were in fact some absolute assurance that what we intend to mean will in fact be received the exact same way by all people at all times. It’s a literal impossibility. Talk about nonsense!
I bow down before the masters Samuel Beckett and Firesign Theater. I prostrate before Lenny Bruce, Edward Albee, and the Marx Brothers. (I claim Groucho only as my spiritual father; as far as I know we’re not related.) So if I have to open my trap, my “pie-hole” as my friend likes to call it, I try to remind myself that any rational purpose for communication must include the irrational, the absurd, the downright ridiculous. If the calendar says now you must write a blog why not make it plain silly? If you have to go out to the store why not make it a joyous outing?
Frederick Marx is interested in starting an advice column on all things male related. We invite you to place suggestions, or specific questions, below on issues you would like to see addressed.