Words have been such an issue for me this year. First I didn’t have them, then I couldn’t use them, then I couldn’t rely on them. I’ve taken in and learned the vocabulary of postcolonial theory and activism; I have struggled in putting these words together, learning that theory based in these words is something I have a difficult time constructing; and then the definitions of all these words I had come to understand as a reliable tool to place myself in the conversation of social justice and cultural equity were soon questioned, again, subject to postmodern analyses. In short, I couldn’t keep up with words, and so I’ve taken on a somewhat primitive way of being, best expressing myself through gesture and sound, coming to despise verbal language for the trap it sets.
When I think about the lexicon exercise at the beginning of the semester, writing our definitions of three words — documenting, curating, and political engagement — I realize that I was just entering phase three of my word issue, feeling that I could not rely on my definitions of words to hold a discussion. As specific as I tried to get in my own understanding of the terms, the insecurity over the language I was using was creeping to the surface. Is documenting simply recording something without bias, is curating really being a critical container for history, and is political engagement found on a moving scale, from everyday interventions to federal policy change? In an overwhelming remembrance of my hate for the game of semantics, yes. In my opinion — something I was taught as an English major never to write but now have come to learn that unless you say it you’ll face the onslaught of people “missing the point” — these definitions still hold true to me. I cannot say that they have changed in the essence of what I believe them to mean. However, when I think of the terms together and how they relate to one another — something I don’t think I considered at the beginning of the lexicon exercise — the terms become, and here’s one of those words I’ve come to live in, a rhizomatic structure for me. Like the rose bush flourishing in the corner of a yard sprouting it’s buds halfway across the garden, I find that the words are simply dressed in different clothing (the orthography) and live in different places (the etymology), but are connected by the same root system.
Curating, if going by my understanding of it, is documenting and engaging in something through displaying and capturing a moment in past/present/future history and arranging it in a way that sends questions to the structure from which it originates. Documenting may be recording, but it is a craft where the limitations of the tool used to do so create a container where one may pull out a reality and come to their own conclusions (I think of journalism). And political engagement seeps in, the meeting place of the private and public, documenting and curating are political engagement. For one may see that what is documented in the private sphere is curated for the public one, and engages with the politics of a community.
If anything, the lexicon exercise in the midst of my problematic time with words has helped me understand the ways in which people like to see separation. I cannot assume their intention for doing so, but it has created a need for me to both retreat into the package language deal I was offered when I was born, full of confidence in a dictionary, but also move towards creating a language that is rhizomatic as opposed to linear. Linear can be chopped up and divided out, rhizomatic, on the other hand, is pesky and finds understanding in the core of its meaning in other places by being in other places. Could it be that this new language is a tentacular language, a lexicon that may even require new words and symbols all together, based in the art of compassion and reaching beyond our boundaries. Maybe all of this questioning of definition is meant to show how inefficient words are, and how difficult we find it to just be. Allow me, then, to end this documentation of my thought process with a smile, because words just get in the way.