A Biodynamics of Words
June 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
By Jacqueline Austin
Like arteries and veins, they are the traces of historic experience, as well as the living tracks of current experience.
Physically, an assemblage of letters, color and texture and shape, spattered in rhythms on a white page, suggests a body–a body of meaning.
Like an embryo, too, a book or essay in process has an origin and a goal–the conceptual and feeling seed of one human being can only grow when fertilized by another human being, the reader. A piece of writing has physical meaning—and kinetic dynamism—even before it imparts any meaning, to a reader, of the content which is trying to get from one place to another.
A reader picks up a book and leafs through it, having a flash date before consenting to the invitation to dance or even to mate with someone in time, that is a book.
Biodynamics is the study of life in functional motion, growth. Reading, storytelling and writing are activities of biodynamic importance. In hearing, vibrations of sound are transformed into physical motions within the inner ear) and the slower physical motions that come through the skin, feet and fluid of the grosser body, the aspect of hearing which people don’t usually talk about) then transformed from mechanical motion, to fluid motion and finally into vibrating and thus ionizing a specific protein which opens pores through which electrical impulses differentially pass through into nerves, and then the brain. This same kind of protein has been found to be an end key in the vision mechanism in mice—and in other sensory mechanisms in other creatures. It would be sensible to postulate that the mechanism in reading someone’s writing—and thus absorbing the storyteller’s personality, concerns, history, ethos and life function into one’s own brain—might have similar roots.
A piece of writing is a record of a living experience. It is also a quasi-biological code by which the writer invites a similar experience in the reader. The reason fiction feels so real is, because it is. Physical changes in the body accompany the act of reading. The more active the reader’s surrender to the experience of the book, the more fluid yet patterned can the physical response to the book, become. If a reader is bored with a book, the body and mind get dull and tense. If a reader is moved, excited, touched, these are literal phenomena: the experience of reading can approach an intensity of sex.
The range of affect in reading is huge and variable. But just because it is variable, one should not suppose it isn’t also predictable and patterned.
Each word has its own long history, which when learned and used, forms a link in the chain of this history, physically, in the brain of the speaker and reader. Each word, carrying with it its cloud-sphere of associations, roots, history and sounds, acts dynamically as a small but complete electrical-biophysical package—a burst of patterned energy carrying with its particular taste-explosion, an afterburst of light, a resonant echo, of a particular portion, a constellation even, of our collective mythologies, histories and cultural-anthropological experiences.
Words are never static. They are relational. And they are each their own being, with a birth and death. They grow over time, and only those words survive which offer the most particular, functional, compact and meaning-imbued experiences of truth.
When the writer writes, putting together these bursts of truth, it is to track an experience of the truth, also, but at a grosser level. The physical size, shape and texture of the piece of writing function as a set of messages, regarding what one will find within. How these messages match up with the content of the whole, and of particular cells of the whole—each of the words—is crucial in catalyzing the reader exactly to judge how to take what’s within. The better the piece of writing, the more wholly it accounts for and incorporates (physically, emotionally and psychically) each and all of its components. Intuitively–biologically, functionally–each reader has the capacity to grasp how the levels match up. If the levels do not form a whole, and there is no ironic aim on the part of the writer, a message is received by the reader, to disengage. Taking a piece of writing seriously, immersing oneself in the creation of another, is a leap of faith. But it is also a response to perceived goodness, a deep relationship to the foundations of life. The reader’s heart opens to the writer’s creation in an act of generosity which allows the work to imprint itself, temporarily or permanently, on the function of the reader’s brain and body.
Aligning the parts to the whole, for a writer, is not done by concentrating first on each and every word. To do so would be like trying to build a human body by knocking together an ear protein molecule, with a stomach, a strand of shed hair and a dollop of spit. What we do instead of this, when we writers are writing well, is to start with one particular seed of truth. This can be anything—a place, a character, an idea, a story, even a feeling—as long is it is particular, as long as it is true, and as long as it is deeply an expression of what’s of paramount importance to the writer.
From this seed, the writer can intuitively, at a flash, project the piece of writing as a whole, from beginning to end. The writer then acts as if the whole is already here. Which indeed now it is,–even if this is just provisional–just as a DNA molecule in essence implies the whole, complete creature from birth to death.
It’s true that we can’t tell from a piece of DNA exactly what experiences the person will have gone through at age 92. But if we postulate the person, age 92, and also simultaneously understand the DNA at hand, we can with startling accuracy encompass the whole chronology as one, in future past: the whole life spread before us, anchored between its two ends. And that is just what we need to do, when inspiring ourselves to write a book.
If we do this, and the DNA is true, we can now dip into any portion of the future book, with utmost certainty. If the DNA is not true, we will later have to correct, and find better DNA: perhaps everything about the book will then have to change.
Because each word is also a piece of historical, mythological and experiential truth, when we write we will then intuitively be tapping into (creating) a cascade of truths within the implied context of that DNA, of incrementally increasing effect. That is what will in future create the pattern of truth in your reader—your generous and focused unfolding, via one piece of DNA, of your feeling for the whole, entire canon of humankind.
Copyright 2012 by Jacqueline Austin. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce in whole or in part unless you have written permission of the author.