Saturday, February 21, 2009

Language, Identity, and Eternal Snows

My son uses me as a dictionary while he writes mysterious things on his Facebook page.

"Mom. How do you spell 'regurgitate'? How about 'thorough'? How do you define Marxism?"

I tell him. I could be a stickler and make him look it up the old fashioned way; after all, no matter how great I may think my spelling is or how complete my definitions, there is a margin for error in using the mother method. But I am, for my sins, his main resource for the meanings and spellings of words.

In my current graduate class we are reading all sorts of rhetorical theory, one example of which is that we are entirely the products of our environments, and that the language we create is never original, but plucked from a framework that is already created. I resist this theory even while I see a certain sense in it. While expressionist theory tells us that writing is a quest to find identity, social-epistemic theory insists that there is no such thing as an individual identity, and that all writers are the products of their time in history and the political structure around them.

If I buy into the second theory, then my sons will be unable to escape the writer's life. It is in their environment--in the vocabulary they hear at home, the very dialogue around them, and the ideology that they have unconsciously adopted (for example, my son refuses to use text-message speak. He says, with the utmost snobbery, that it dumbs down the language. That is a snobbish attitude, but I am secretly proud that he clings to the formality of the language I (and therefore he) value.)

In any case, it is easy to think theoretically while I sit under a pile of assigned reading and the snows that have returned to Chicago fall relentlessly on the newly-shoveled pathways.

This Saturday, if I lived alone, would be most solitary, so thank goodness for my ten-year-old, who is making superhero fight sounds in his playroom, and my fourteen-year-old, who paces like a prisoner in our attic while he talks on his beloved cell phone.

Sooner or later, one has to emerge from the depths of theory--any theory--and face the realities of life which require different skills altogether. In my case, that means making a batch of cookies for a school event. :)

How's your Saturday?

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