On Language & Seeing

Inspired by Maurice Blanchot

This morning I came across an interesting article in Brain Pickings about the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot, the dual power of language and what it really means to see. Language, according to Blanchot, has the inherent dualistic power to reveal and at the same time conceal truth.

I hadn’t really thought of language in this way before.

A few days ago, while preparing for a writing project on Istanbul, I struggled a bit in deciding what stories to tell about this city and what stories to leave out and why. Also, how much of myself to include or should I remain objective and removed, should I write what I see or should I interpret a place as if it held some deeper meaning?

The questions came to me from my own current surroundings. I live in one of the most historic but also one of the poorer neighborhoods of Istanbul. There are certain things I see here that disturb me. My mind accepts them as part of the fabric of the place, so when I walk the streets and my mind starts weaving thoughts together into stories, things that disturb me are part of that whole. And when I consciously leave certain aspects out while writing , there seems to be a hole in the fabric.

But, at the same time, I am very aware that I am sharing my impressions with others and I want to be sensitive to the image my writing gives to a place I don’t really know well. I encounter the same problem in photography – what to shoot and what not to shoot and why.

To me writing is a tool with which we extract meaning from reality and share it with others.

As a writer and photographer, I approach each place as if it held some deeper meaning. This is my truth as a writer. I use the images and situations that reality presents to me as doorways to a deeper, transcendental meaning. This is directly related to the way that I see things. I write to share this personal reality with others and to realize myself. At the same time, I am very well aware that there are stories that I can’t write because it is not in my nature to write them.

If I consider language being inherently dualistic then as I interpret the world around me, I change it through my choice of words which have the dual power of helping me see clearly and at the same time creating the illusion of seeing when in fact I may very well be misperceiving. This is the implicit duality of language – a dangerous relationship between seeing and storytelling, of connection and separation. A duality that is explored in the book “The Infinite Conversation,” by French philosopher Maurice Blanchot.

But I am not wholly ignorant of this reality. I personally know how blind seeing can make me. As I write and re-write, I become so close to my writing that when I say that I am finished, it’s because I can’t see my writing anymore. I have suddenly become too close to it by editing and re-writing it. I post it convinced that I am done, only to return to it a month later and see things in it that I hadn’t seen before. I then either correct it – because I would have corrected it, to begin with or I correct it because my choice of words don’t reflect my current understanding of the truth. To see once again is to apprehend things immediately from a distance and through distance.

What we chose to see and not see, what we chose to express in language and not express is as writers is in the end, a part of our own meaning making process. I write in order to know my way. To me, my writing represents ultimately how I see myself in the context of life. As as a writer struggles to extract and create meaning it is also equally important that a reader be discerning.

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