Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Here's To Livingry

A Brief Meditation On Words

Language is redolent with power relations. Yet people are also everyday wordsmiths who can construct frames and memes. Sometimes the power of a discursive frame is indicated not just by what words are used, but by what words are not used.

It is reflective of our state of affairs, for example, that there is currently no word for ‘non-violence’ in English, aside from the cover-all term ‘peace’, that is not defined as a negation i.e. with ‘non’.

As activists and scholars and participants in linguistic frames, we often have to come up with our own vocabulary rather than imbibe words and their attendant meanings derived from the prevalent militarist power structure.

Even simple idioms we use everyday can be illuminating and illustrate how we deploy rather violent images to ascribe metaphoric meaning to even innocuous activity. There are a plethora of common sayings:

  • taking a stab in the dark” — taking a chance
  • many ways to skin a cat” — doing things by different means
  • killing two birds with one stone” — doing two things with one act
  • Earth-shattering” — momentous or climactic

More examples:

  • bombshell” — a weighty piece of news or an attractive female — also “drop-dead gorgeous”
  • went ballistic” — angry reaction
  • you’re killing me” — mirth (!) or pressure
  • even grammar: an oblique stroke ( / ) is now more commonly called a ‘slash‘ (I was always taught stroke)

Whilst they may seem to be small matters in apparently singular examples, I think there is ample evidence that our language does implicitly privilege and elevate the vocabulary of war and violence.

How can we evolve past reflexively using violence to best convey action, gravity, desire or resolve?

While we all know the more overt instances of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ as a news “value” in the mainstream media, our movies too reveal and reflect these values. Though I can not remember who said it, it is a trenchant observation that a movie may be in line for receiving an “X” rating for a character erotically kissing a breast, yet only an “R” for chopping one off. Gratuitous violence all too easily gets a pass but erotic tenderness is apparently too subversive.

There are a few glimmerings of promise, however, and I came across an enchanting word recently from Buckminster Fuller, the ‘Dymaxion American’, he who coined the term ‘spaceship earth’.

The word that caught my attention is LIVINGRY.

For Fuller, livingry is juxtaposed to weaponry and killingry and means that which is in support of all human, plant, and Earth life.

“The architectural profession–civil, naval, aeronautical, and astronautical–has always been the place where the most competent thinking is conducted regarding livingry, as opposed to weaponry.” — Critical Path, page xxv

It is apt that Fuller mentions the architectural profession, for in a sense we are all architects, and it is within our grasp to build up a vocabulary of sustainability, pluralism, miribilia and enchantment.

As language both informs as well as reflects social behaviour, our wor(l)ds contribute to a currency of better relations surely yet imperceptibly. Far from being wishy-washy, words have power and thoughts have wings.

We recall from the Upanishads:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Like Fuller, we can each be wordsmiths in creative and innovative ways. A friend has long liked describing himself as gruntled, for example, but my favourite has to be one describing the horizontal tango. Offended by the contrived conjoining of sex and violence, it is of course far better to light a candle (in this case, coin a phrase) than to curse the darkness.

Next time your lover asks, tell them it was Earth-unifying.

7 comments on “Here's To Livingry

  1. 99
    18 March, 2009

    As a woman who avidly engages in colorful speech, I view this piece with deep suspicion, Ann.

    You don’t mean to suggest we all go wussy, do you?

    If we could find ways to express the depth and breadth and heights of peaceful and loving intent in the lexicon of violence, we actually might win over more of the sheep who just follow the big propaganda show of the warmongering oligarchs. People love power, not even to have it as much as to feel it being worked on them, self or other. It’s thrilling.

    I mean this as in Maximus raising his sword and an army or a colosseum-full rising with it in a roar.

    I was at the Oakland Stadium when nearly a hundred thousand people stood up to sing Tracks of My Tears with Smokey Robinson. It was a mellow summer night, and everyone had been digging his show, but not really on it because he was singing his new, just released, songs. The stage was set across the baseball outfield such that the front edge was just a few feet behind second base, and Smokey at about a perfect alignment with second base and the pitcher’s mound, and we could all see him really well because of all the huge screens to project the cameras. He was looking a little disappointed. When he started up with that song, the roar was out of this world. His face lit up like a comet. Everyone in that huge and packed stadium sang that song with him from the first word through the last. It is still, decades later, the single most transcendentally magical thing I ever witnessed, and it taught me so much. It was as if they could hear us on Pluto.

    He leapt off the stage and ran to the pitcher’s mound to sing it on his knees. The tears in his eyes were in everyone’s eyes, just as the song was in everyone’s throats. We were, every last one of us, all precisely Smokey Robinson. Before that song we were a hundred thousand; during it we were one; after it we were family, everyone, total strangers, laughing, chatting, hugging, completely content, completely happy, completely peaceful… together….

    So livingry does have power.

    I also got to go to one of Bucky’s lectures and the crowd liked that action too, but not even a scintilla the size as Smokey’s thing in Oakland… and quite possibly because he didn’t use the kind of amygdala-charging terms needed to turn the numbers into a unified whole, a single being… which I know you’re interested in.

    People, and I don’t think this is just us thugs in the States, need the power to grab them. I think that’s why kids are always the biggest part of any “bliss ninny” adventure… their hormonal drives to differentiate… but they too are moved by power, power itself, or power words, or the power of the crowd when it turns into a single being.

    So I don’t think it is the violence or nonviolence so much as it is the not limp, not lame, not wussy hugeness of something that works like a neurochemical dump into the amygdala, the lizard brain, the place where primal emotions arouse the human to action, engagement, unity, loss of self for the greater, the universal, the power.

    And, as for what to say to one’s lover, I always loved Stanley Kowalski’s little lights speech to Stella the best.

  2. 99
    18 March, 2009

    I mean, as a card-carrying Dirty Fucking Hippie I can speak with some authority here. :-P

  3. roy belmont
    19 March, 2009

    this post was mind-buildingly good

  4. Ann
    19 March, 2009

    Thanks for your thoughtful and generous response, 99, definitely you speak with some authority. A quick rejoinder — I think you’re spot on: it’s those “amygdala-charging terms” that neurologically get us below the threshold of language and consciousness.

    Lucky you to have attended a Fuller lecture; I’ve just noticed YouTube has a few hundred Bucky videos, it’ll be interesting to hear him.

    Do share the Kowalski speech if you can insert the words: I’m not too familiar with A Streetcar Named Desire and would love to learn more.

  5. Ann
    19 March, 2009

    Roy, a great phrase in mind-building, thank you.

  6. 99
    19 March, 2009

    Well, I’ll keep looking for the specific bit I was talking about, where Stanley’s trying to get back in Stella’s good graces, reminding her of the little lights when they make love, but, wow, I just hit a jackpot I couldn’t resist! So if you want to watch the whole movie, with the young Marlon Brando, hyar tiz, girl.

    I also made a playlist of Holiday with Hepburn and Grant, and I haven’t seen either movie in at least 40 years, so I may be off to lala land here for a while with my jackpot, but if I find the specific snippet of Stanley’s speech, in print, or in the movie, I’ll let you know.

    Oh, oh, the neurology beyond the threshold of language and consciousness, which is more than the amygdala in each of us, knows more than “we” do, but we ignore it, have to work HARD to get our language and consciousness to step aside long enough for us to glimpse our real intelligence. But, absotively, posilutely, there’s stuff that gets us that way, and it does not have to be to the detriment of the world.

  7. 99
    19 March, 2009

    Okay: Stanley’s trying to cheer Stella up about how nice it will be when her crazy sister Blanche is gone, and he says, “Remember how it was? Everything’s going to be so sweet when we can get them colored lights going with nobody’s sister behind the curtains to hear us.” He mentions the lights again a little while later, but she’s not wanting to listen then.

    It was the flip side of the violence, spoken very tenderly.

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This entry was posted on 18 March, 2009 by in Culture, Language, Militarism and tagged .

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"