The Inadequacy Of Words


Now and then, it strikes me how inadequate words are.

It is not only because there are some feelings so deep and vast they cannot be encapsulated by words, so vague and flimsy, like a wreath of mist, that sometimes even the nimble and light fingers of poetry cannot grasp it. That is certainly one reason. There are simply some things that cannot be said. They are the unspoken, the ghost-lives, and when it comes to them, words fall short.

But words are also inadequate because, in the end, they’re just dark scrawls on paper, and it is the reader who brings the words to life, using their imagination. However, even then, one’s imagination is limited and can only reach so far before the edges start to blur. Sometimes, while immersed in a fantastical and rich world within a book, I find myself feeling upset that I can’t imagine it to the every last detail, to completely feel like I am there and in that world, with all its sounds and smells and colours, and hold each and every component in my mind like so many delicate jewels.

A picture can say a thousand words, and as a writer, I feel disappointed at realising how true that is. Rather than spend pages and pages describing a scene, a detailed, beautifully illustrated capture of it can be enough. And how often do the pictures in books enthrall more than the words, if they are done nicely, and how much more detail and wonder they can convey. Many movies feel more real than the books, and the literary seems more of a shadow to the full flesh-and-blood of the pictorial.

Think of the gorgeous richness that will seep into our minds once virtual reality truly takes off! What need have we for pages and pages of dense text when we can live and breathe in the worlds, let the plot move us forward with ourselves as characters, a more complete and deep immersion than our imagination could ever give us. Of course, the beauty of words, of a particularly nice turn of a phrase, will always remain, but as escapism reaches greater and more luminous heights, I begin to wonder whether books are a poorer art form, at least in regards to immersion and richness of imagery.

As I pondered this last night, I tried to find something books do better than other mediums, and I came up with a few. I’m not sure if it reaches anything close to salvation or comfort, but it did provide a smidgen of hope.

For one thing, books, apart from telling stories, let us in to the psychological richness and thoughts of other people, real or imaginary. That is something that other mediums can hint at, but not expand and bring to the fore as books do (though the characters in movies are often well fleshed-out and more realistic, probably because they’re moving and talking in flesh-and-blood form). And books, as mentioned before, can showcase the magnificence and beauty of this art form. The rhythm and cadence and sound of words, the manner in which they are strung together, can be livid and stunning. The worlds within books also vary depending on the reader – two people will not picture the same thing in their minds when they read the same book, while with pictures and movies the images are set in stone and cannot be altered. This way, it could be argued that books allow greater freedom of the imagination. There’s also the fact that virtual realities and fully-engrossing movies require much more care and precision and time than describing the scene itself. I’m sure if drawing or animating a scene was as easy as writing a paragraph, Miyazaki would have made a good deal more films during his career.

In the end, I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed at this realisation of the limits of books and our own imaginations. Perhaps we must think of it this way: that all art forms of different, and bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. Books and movies and pictures and virtual realities are all cut from the same stone – that of magic, wonder, and stories. They are art, and they reflect back to us life, distorted, made surreal, toned-down, blackened, and perhaps it is the collage or meshing together of the different forms that can provide the richest experiences of art and joy for humans, a phantasmagoria of delight through speech and words and imagery that will last until the end of our civilisations.

PS: I deleted my “A Little More About Me” post because it simply felt too self-indulgent and silly to write 1,700 words all about myself, and to impose that rubbish upon anyone who stumbles across my blog. I did not do it out of fear or insecurity – I do not mind baring the unsightly facets of my being. I sincerely apologise if I didn’t get to reply to your comment, and for you to type that all out only for it to be deleted, but I read them and just wanted to say thank you for accepting my dark side and not running screaming away in the other direction. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t saying I was a pedophile or practicing necrophilia or anything shocking. Just that I am a human being with shadows and light in my heart just like everyone else, and can be ugly as a rotten maggot one minute and beautiful as a flourishing butterfly the next, and sometimes even both at the same time. You can never truly know what a person is like until you live with them long enough for them to peel off their sticky little masks.

PPS: In fact, I’m actually going to go through a ”cleaning” of my blog, where I delete posts that make me cringe. Just in case you wanted to know. I’ve been really unhappy with the quality of my writing lately, not just on my blog but in general.


2 thoughts on “The Inadequacy Of Words

  1. Good evening. Let me just say that this piece you wrote is beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed its truth about the written word. Two things that I can tell you is that 1, you certainly shouldn’t feel any disappointment about what you wrote here today, I loved reading it, and 2, no photograph could capture the truths and emotions that you have captured within this page. Be careful clicking that delete button… some of the writings you’re disappointed in, may just mean a great deal to one of your readers. Don’t let that extreme introvert within you keep you from expressing your heart. I too have considered the delete button on a number of my posts, but luckily, others have prevented me from doing so. That’s when some reader comments on the very one I wanted to get rid of and expresses themselves as to how much they enjoyed it or how they could relate to the emotions within it. That’s when that shy, introverted part of me breathes a sigh of relief that one of my posts stirred the emotions of another. Keep writing… and thank you for sharing with us. I apologize for taking up so much space on your comment section… I’ll be quiet now…

    • Thank you! Please, don’t apologise for something as silly as taking up comment space. I adore comments from lovely people who care enough to give a bit of their time to read my blog. Sometimes, they keep my soul alive. Thank you, and I just wanted to say that you encouraged me not to delete some posts I was planning to. I deleted one post, titled “A Little More About Me”, but I’m thinking about doing a more comprehensive and less incoherent rewrite. Thank you.

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