Screw Descartes. I Emote Therefore I Am.

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Question:
Does emotion reside in the realm of private knowledge in the sense that it can’t be verified by others? Can people be mistaken about their own emotions? Can others lead them to recognize previously unknown emotions?

Response:

Aldous Huxley said “feelings... are private and except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable.” People often find trouble expressing their emotions, and feelings. As Huxley suggests, we use language to communicate these emotions because they are essentially incommunicable with out language. We are not able to convey our emotions to the preciseness in which we experience them, and even getting close to this is hard. When this does happen, when an author is able to make the reader feel something, anything even, we regard the work as powerful, and distinguish it from the rest of literature because it has made us feel with language.

To say I am sad, would mean something to you, the reader, but it would not let you feel as I do. To add the reason for my sadness would give you a better sense of my emotions but still you don’t feel the emotion yourself, which would be the true conveyance of the emotion. I could continue further along this path telling you similar events in my past and the emotions I felt then, I could tell you about other things that make me sad, and I could go as far as to tell you the chronicle of my life story, in which you would get a picture of the things that have influenced my life and personality, but you would still only be able to imagine what I am feeling rather than feel it yourself. But when Picasso said “Everything you can imagine is real.” did he mean for you to imagine my sadness gave it life, made it real and, to further the argument, validated it? How can this be true? As a listener, you can only hope that I am conveying my true emotion. For, if I am not, then my sadness might come across as impatience, impotence, or impartiality which are all real emotions, but not correct for me when I am sad instead of these other feelings. So you as the listener can never truly validate my emotions. Even if I were able to make you feel the exact same sadness, the communication between us about that sadness would muck up that illustrious validation, making it impossible to do so.

Going back to those “im” words I mentioned earlier raises the question of one self validating their own emotions. If I convey to you an emotion that is not the one I am feeling, does that mean I am mistaken about my own emotions? To entertain this thought is a scary one because one aught to know themselves, if no one else. But I believe we are safe, because me leading you to a different emotion than the one I am feeling, or even to call the emotion by another name, would not mean I am mistaken in my feeling, but perhaps my ability to convey this feeling. Yeats once said, “Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.” Your emotions are the reality, wizened in a sense, and communicating them with the comparatively lesser power of language does not invalidate the emotions, but merely translates them. This isn’t a bad thing. But then again, it is far from a good one. When translating languages, which are all of similar natures (sounds being produced by vocal chords for the purpose of communication,) there is a loss of meaning from one to another. Translating the phrase “Que le vaya bien” from Spanish to English gives “That it goes well.” Syntactically, this means nothing in English, but upon further, divergent investigation, one can add a subject, I, and a direct and indirect object, your day and you respectively, to arrive at a truer translation of “I hope your day goes well for you.” These language to language translations are messy as is, so when one adds tries to translate something that is felt, to something that communicates, there is an intense trouble. The feeler becomes a song, and their mouth a dancer that must communicate the song to their deaf audience. It simply can’t be done with any amount of preciseness, yet we attempt it every day.

The final question to consider is the reverse of this translation. Is one able to read another’s dance and tell them the song they are listening to? I would think this to be equally as preposterous. One might be able to lead a feeler to a new label for their emotions, but this is still messy because of the translation between thought and language. We use words like sad, depressed, melancholy, bitter and heavyhearted all to describe similar emotions and for different people they mean different things.

So should we despair from translation’s lack of integrity? Certainly not. As Stephen Fry one said, we should “bubble, and froth, and slobber and cream with joy at language” rather than despise it. And I concur. Though it presents problems, language is inherently necessary to communicate, and one can derive great joy from their language, and the language of others. So as we go forth, do not reside in the notion of impossibility, but rather, let your words make others froth and cream with joy at your wit and punctilious expression.





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