Is language all about desire? Is desire all about loss? Would we ever need anything if we never lost anything? Is everything we ever say just another way to express: I will lose this, I will lose all of this. I will lose you?
-Charles Yu. Sorry Please Thank You.
Hi there. It’s been a little while. I’ve been reading. And writing. And listening. And grad-schooling. And I’ve been tired. But I’ve found that hidden “refresh” button that we all have somewhere in our brains. Or maybe it’s our hearts. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.
For many, many reasons (some good, some terrible), I’ve done less pleasure reading this year than I have in the past five years of my life. So I went ahead and forced myself to crack open a book a few weeks ago, so that I could spend 30 minutes a night reading, no matter how tired I was.
I’ve never been on a diet, but I’ve often heard that when people are denied something for a long time, they go absolutely nuts when they finally get their hands on whatever it is. Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three weeks.
It turned out that I was starving for words.
Now, I’m feeling a bit more nourished. Happier. Smarter. Funnier.
So guess what you’re going to be seeing a lot of? That’s right: a whole series of literature-inspired posts.
Let’s start with Charles Yu, whose prose is brilliant, charming, achingly honest, and often times disturbingly philosophical. His latest short story collection, Sorry Please Thank You, is all over the map. This one particular quote, hanging out there at the top of the page, comes from a story that is printed like an instructional manual. It never tells you exactly what the device is, but it’s an object that takes your desires and turns them into realities. The way I read it is that it’s simply about life, as if the human brain and body is the device in question.
When this question series about language popped up, I knew I was in love with this little story.
Language is definitely about desire. It was created in order to satisfy the desire to voice the complex thoughts and images stewing in our brains. To be able to say, “I need this, I want that.”
In the beginning, there were probably far more needs being voiced than wants. That’s changed over time, for sure.
But then there’s that follow-up question. Is desire about loss? Is it there because we know that one day everything will vanish? Is it about recognizing that we have the chance to have something for only a little while, and then we have nothing for all of eternity? Is language a tool to let us say and write everything because we know that one day we won’t say or write anything ever again?
It’s worth thinking about.
—Written by Grant Goodman