It’s funny how clumsiness dismisses authority. When speaking to a person with an accent, we suddenly slow down, speak in spaced words, simplify our vocabulary. As if having been born in a language where vocal chords are used differently makes one stupid without remedy.
|Source: Huffington Post|
In a person who speaks with an accent we see a potential to err. Before any idea has had a chance to be uttered by that person, a barrier of words keeps it from coming forth.
This is mostly a problem of design. Of wrong design – or what we perceive to be wrong. In the acceptable scheme of things, when we perceive the world we expect to hear the other speaking with the intonation of our voice and the natural inflexion of our sounds. That, to us, is proper design: design that doesn’t surprise, doesn’t seem impudent, doesn’t scream with pain. It’s design in a blessed state of perfection.
Naturally, to this sense of perfection, every change in intonation is a crime against normality.
Want another example? Go online and visit a website. If its overall design looks unprofessional, awkwardly put together, without any consideration of proportions, composition, thematic unity, they’re doomed. If they use an ugly font or a magenta background, they’re as good as dead. We have no high regard for them. They may as well just go and shoot themselves in the head – very few will care about their suffering.
The problem of the first encounter
All this disparagement happens as the result of a mere glance. In reality, I’ve read interesting texts on numerous badly-designed sites or blogs, and loads of crap on their flash counterparts. I’ve heard people with accents uttering more ideas worth listening to than many natives, with their entire plethora of perfectly rounded vowels and perfectly lisped th’s. The point of difference between them – the turning point, in the most literal of senses – was this first glance, the hiccup of a clumsy design.
At the moment of the first encounter many things are wrongly interpreted. The other is more distant than ever, and because of that, he needs to be simplified in order to be better understood – or understood at all.
The first glance is really a self-defence technique. It helps the fragile self of ours overcome the shock of the encounter. If it’s not in the accent, then it’s in the gestures; if it’s not there, it must be in the social relations developed by the other; and if it’s not there either, it will certainly be in the way they eat, they sleep, they read, they write, they accept, they reject, they blink, they wear their headwear, they flush the toilet, they turn the light on, they walk, they run, they jog, they stroll.
If it’s not this, is that – this is the logic of the first encounter; a logic of animadversion, of nit-picking, of hair-splitting. At the moment of the first encounter everything is clumsy, because everything is out of tune.
So the problem with clumsiness is that it lives in this grey zone of the first impression. Since it does so, it doesn’t have much chance at rehabilitation, because first impression is an animal hard to tame.
Clumsy things are rarely allowed the privilege of depth. Being clumsy is like erecting a barrier of perception. I still refuse to read texts whose authors use the apostrophe where it shouldn’t be, and who write things like “your not going to be taken seriously.” There’s something in the genetic package of my mind, I guess, that recoils at the sight of these crimes. And I can’t do much to resist it.
A stage and nothing else
But clumsiness, you see, is in the making of things. It is an unavoidable stage. Like a creek that needs to have been a spring in order to become a river. When a house is being built, when it has only the structure in place and a couple of patches of insulation in a room or two, it looks very clumsy – inhospitable, uninhabitable, unappealing. And so are ideas. When the idea in my head is work-in-progress, when I’m still trying to figure out where it’s taking me, I am in the land of clumsy. I look at the screen of my computer, where words come one after another, and nothing is taking shape; everything is potential. This is how I work most of the time. I write and I write, focusing on one thing, then on another. All this time, the text is out of my control; it presents itself to me as a testing field, where I try my best to shoot as close as possible to as many targets as I can see. The whole thing is clumsy. It is only after the throwing away of all garbage, after the clarification of all doubts, that I can say, hand pressed against my heart, that I am pleased with what I’ve done. But before that happens, my idea is inhospitable, uninhabitable, unappealing. It is not even an idea at all: only a handful of crumbs scattered on the tablecloth of my undecided mind.
|Source: Urban Omnibus|
And so there’s virtue in clumsiness. Imperfection leaves room for things to come. I am inspired by my indecision. I live well in the bedlam of my thoughts. And what’s left clumsily scattered on the page forms a healthy mine-field, where ideas are always on the verge of exploding into new forms.