Thursday, 12 May 2011

Language, Language Arts as the "Good"

As an Inuk in these times, I'm acutely aware of my "minority" status if not in actual numbers in Nunavut than in existential terms, in linguistic and philosophical terms in the modern Western civilization.

Now, I find terms such as "colonialism" dated and rather empty as I find the distinctions and dichotomies of "phenomenology" of Marxism rather dated and empty as any right-wing ideologies which lay at the end of the corporatist line. The dialectics and analyses do not really lead anywhere because their motives assume an "us and Them" then proceed to make those fine distinctions however contrived and artificial: there is no "us and Them" to begin from. The "new" man is an illusion because it has only invented and mechanically constructed traditions to found it (ie, not organically derived). It, in my mind, was a huge misunderstanding of what "Humanism" is.

Northrop Frye, on the other hand, makes a distinction between "societal" and "cultural" realities which, if I understand it correctly, is the natural tension between our espoused values as a society and how we actually behave as a society. The tension between the two "realities" is the dialectic, a personal struggle for synthesis, a personal and subjective experience, an education. And, as such, an active engagement that requires guidance and mentoring for the interior enlightenment and actualization to take place so it may be reflected in the evolution of a society and the freed individual:

"Thus the university, so far from assuming the transferability of mental skills, assumes the exact opposite. The discipline of the subject studied becomes an end in itself in proportion as the student matures. He advances from "taking" a subject to be taken up in it..."

and that, "The professional man is not qualified until he has gone through some ritual acknowledging the priority of the standards of his profession over his needs and desires. Poets, from Homer to Eliot and Joyce, have consistently spoken in the same terms about poetry. It is impossible to teach the humanities properly if we think of them as ornaments or graces of ordinary social life. They have their laws and disciplines like the sciences, and must be taught as impersonally as the sciences, despite their emotional and aesthetic connections."

Frye here is talking about the use of language as not only a means of communication, not only in utilitarian terms, but language and mastery of language (ie, learning and teaching) as the measure of our humanity and what we can actualize of it.

Much has been talked about and mulled over what makes an aboriginal child unable to succeed academically and socially. I'd say the problem is largely one of perspective: in pseudo-marxist, bureaucratese a child in the public education system is nothing more, nothing less than a "client"; in humanist tradition, a child is a "charge" to be guided and treated as a human in development. His/her education, then, is not a product but a means to a higher end, to master a language, the techniques of articulation so she/he be able to be "taken up" by his/her chosen profession, what he dreams of becoming.

We all know what it's like to be "taken up" in our moments of freedom, of being in that space and time of transcendence, to participate in something greater than any of us. To comprehend and participate in the great conversation, even if only to appreciate the aesthetics of a well-formed thought or idea, even if to only appreciate the music. This is a personal achievement no less of "learning" or perceiving the laws and disciplines of a way of being, of a way of thinking however permanent or fleeting.

I've said time and again that our schools and teachers should acquire a better appreciation of the popular culture (indigenous, for that matter) that is the child's; to engage in the discourse of lyrical subjects and topics to make the technical structures and forms alive and pulsing blood for them. When I was learning how to play the guitar I didn't just want to learn how to play songs, I wanted to learn how music is structured and how notes and chords can be combined and related and contrasted within a given piece or mode.

Though I've mastered some of the forms of poetry and prose (in technical structural terms as well as aesthetically) as I have of musical keys and scales, my biggest challenge has been to write lyrics in a way that I'd find satisfying. But that hasn't taken away my appreciation of the lyrical form; I have much respect for song writers and rap artists especially those who have something to say. Though the pros make it look easy, talent is no accident - even raw talent has to be developed consciously (even sub-consciously).

What makes us human: our language, our mastery of it.


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