Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reintroducing Art to the House of Rhetoric (An Essay on Code Switching)

For everyone, regardless of neurotype, in the hopes that all the people can come to see all the ways to be.

I.

Language is itself a performance demand that requires code switching,
and it comes loaded with unspoken expectations, because its acolytes
find it impossible to imagine that there could be people who go about thinking
with methods that lie outside the aural semiotics they've been trained to live within.

They have been trained, though, as the proliferation of separate phonetic
and linguistic systems globally will show. Similarly, they see sign language
in terms of symbols of their aural code, disregarding that the image
might not be the symbol so much as the movement is.

I learn symbols through tactile interaction. I don't sign because
all the teachers of sign language I've encountered tried to make speaking
into scaffolding, disregarding that my learning can only be successful
when we jettison my second language and work directly with my feelings.

That's why I tell stories. I seek to depict, within the strictures
of accessible language, the tactile advantages and differential assumptions
of someone who is capable of developing an entire metaphysics
from the relationships of sensations when triggered in a synesthetic brain.

My audience, with a communication disability, can only see me
tripping guttural fantastic utterances in broken grammar stylistically,
they never stop to consider that the actual meaning in my poem
is carried in the feeling of my phonetics in their throats.

Silent reading is not for me. I learned it to survive, but it is actually subvocal recitation,
not mental accumulation, that I perform in most cases. The reason is simple:
words have no soul but their impact on the physical. Semiotic systems of
referents are but thought experiments until I can remember my body aching to produce them.

My entire meaning is feeling, and those who claim I've mastered intuiting
are simply seeing that I've found phonetics that closely match the heady sensory
experience of spitting a particular collage of soft and hard sounds against a backdrop
of convenient symbols with meaning to others' minds.

As you process this, consider that there is an entire audience,
more intended than your reading is,
that will find themselves preoccupied with the popping consonant pea sound echoing
in internally coherent but unmetered cascades of arpeggiated assonance as they flow down the page.

You think I'm making an argument that's consistent, but you don't get it.
The point of the poem isn't to make you understand my perspective,
and it's only really being appreciated by the people
who can't stop repeating the last line of the last stanza.

II.

That I have always been writing does not make it any more natural to me.
And also, it is not true that I have always been writing. I have always been
storytelling, but when I attempted to take fantastic utterances and set them to paper,
they used to suicide march out of my head and across the desk, to plunge as stick figure sketches into the trash.

Novel after novel, treatise after treatise, I watched as my understanding of reality
failed to materialize in ways my family could understand, and as a result, I was slowly
judged to be either under-socialized or just plain mad.
This was not during my university years, it happened when I was ten.

As I struggled to find the code to unlock the stories in my head,
I found myself faced with choices and struggles, because the nature and purpose of existence
was apparent in the pain of fingers hitting strings, fingers plucking or holding picks,
and the rush of air through lungs coupled with frantic finger motions that flurried across keys or positioned themselves with elegance on a trombone's slide.

Still, in my determination to reach those poor creatures who seemed to be limited
to reasoning with these faulty and inconsistent phonetic systems, I allowed myself
the limitations of their existence, and I sold my instruments to pay the tuition
that trained me in the professional study of their written history.

If this sounds condescending, I apologize. It's not that I look down on the allistic,
it's just my detachment as an anthropologist set on studying them so that they might be understood
by any reasonably intelligent Autistic. It's just, it's so easy for us to see their illogical behavior
and mistakenly think that they are behaving compulsively and without motive.

My scholarly detachment aside, I try to explore their spaces and modes of being
in order to see how I might more effectively code-switch into a rhetorical mode
that shows them how my texture based information storage system
is at least as sophisticated as their single-dimensional written existence.

III.

Their literature is of interest to me, because in it I see a rhetoric of their lives.
This was important to my initial attempts at code switching. Without the long list
of case studies recommended to me by literary professors who thought they
commented on universal experience, I might not have detected the sophistication in their hubris.

Maybe it's something you have to be Autistic to see, but all of their storytelling is rhetoric.
Every writer is making a narrow and overly specified claim about
the nature of social pressure, taboo, deviance policing, human fulfillment, and
the methods by which a person located in a certain sociological position might satisfy them.

When I read, this is what I examine. A writer's inability to fully represent society
is simply a way of stating zir warrants to me, and the individual scenes carry
not only emotional value, but grounds for the conclusions drawn in the depiction
of the change in the main character's state. All of your fiction is an argument about a time and place.

So I set about using your tools to participant-observe a society that is fascinating to me
because of its inability to see the assumptions made about character motivation
when the last generation's social rhetoric is studied out of context, especially
when this happens at the hands of that generation's descendants.

What I have learned is interesting. Your fiction is communicating in modes accessible to me,
at least when it is performed properly. The symbolic stand-ins of persons for inconvenient emotions
and the construction of fully rendered societies is what satisfies my need for specificity
and for the satisfactory depiction of grounded and warranted rhetoric.

This is not to bash the rhetoric that is labeled so more explicitly.
That rhetoric is necessary, for there seem to be a large number of people
incapable of seeing through the story to the claims beneath,
and we need to be accessibly communicating, so "straightforward" argument, with all its generalities, is necessary.

We are more accurate and our claims more narrow when we're showing,
but telling has been elevated to the point where its sophistication
is even frustrating the best intentions of the theorists who set about policing its boundaries,
and it has boomeranged back around from explaining stories to being more frustrating a mode of communication than anything else could be.

I'm perseverating. I will break the chains of jargon and dump new rhetoric in modes untold
since at least the last generation before reality TV, putting Finnegan's Wake and Lady Chatterly
next to the Stoics, Euripedes, Aquinas, Descartes, and St. Augustine, all rhetoriticians
who realized that parable and allegory are ways to communicate textures and beliefs that code-switching into Aristotelian rhetoric would involve dismissing.

IV.

Working from within my creative writing degree,
I have slowly come to find ways of articulating
the fact that my work is both research and rhetoric,
not a separate art or a dispensable form.

This was not the norm when I was learning to write, and from what I see of advice
given to young graduate students, it is still leaving English Studies as a house divided,
when in fact, the natural home for the storyteller's art
is in the palace of persuasive tactics.

We mold philosophy into the showing mode,
craft speculations about physical theory into explorations
of the implications of those theories' predictions actually happening,
and force a public reckoning with their own character, emotional response, and knowledge.

Yet we find ourselves segregated. Our journals are indulgences,
and over the years our subscribers became more dilettantes
living within cocoons of their own economic bracket
than scholars attempting to capture the structure of graft, nepotism, law, and emotional balance.

No wonder our rhetoric is degenerate. Even outside our experiments in literary magazines,
we have tolerated a mode of publishing that finds it rewarding to cater exclusively
to the tastes of the simplest majority, shrinking from the publication and promotion
of anything that they might find too challenging.

This is why we salivate over middle-class memoirs about odd churches and minor prison sentences
while we segregate the stories that are actually rhetorical complaints from people of color,
trangender activists, and neurodivergent artists
into genre categories or arthouse pieces or even worse,
deny their existence, forcing diverse expressions into electronic communications that we then grant lower credibility arbitrarily, reducing the footprint of their existence.

I'm calling an end to it. I'm no longer an essayist.
My existence depends on shoving the tools that I can most naturally communicate in
down the gullets of the gatekeepers of scholarship, regardless of their intransigence.
This is the time to reintroduce art to the house of rhetoric.

My life has been an exercise in divining the ritual strictures
of a behavioral performance that allowed me to communicate effectively
with people who didn't see that their communication was actually a parroting of ideology
designed and implemented by generations of cognitive shaping, brought about by the limitations
of prose containers and physical artifacts that rewarded regular pagination
more than the intersection of the act of memorization
and the feeling of the flow of air around vocal chords;
a cognitive shaping that lacked an appreciation for the contributions of painters
whose work was meant to push the more traditionally verbal scholars,
but who found only outside observers too busy dissecting their preconceptions
to fully engage with the painters' statements.

We have been here, silently making art as your machinations push us into day jobs,
attempting to tell you why those expectations are killing us,
and being ignored. Hopefully this hybrid method of rhetoric,
wherein claims are shaped into still-sensational shapes that ape your expectations of statements
will help to bridge the gap between your tradition
and the wider communication you will learn when you master code switching.

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