Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Quiet While I Drill Your Head
In the dentist's chair this morning. Hayakawa in my lap. Getting x-rayed, poked, scraped, polished, flossed. Sprayed, vacuum-sucked. Shined by the brightest light ever put to me. Hovered over by a masked agent of the dental conspirators. "Open wide. Turn your head to your right."
I brush twice each day, floss once. Tooth Invaders was one of the first video games I ever owned; J. and me up late on the C64 with black and white TV, scrubbing bacteria. Tooth brushing is ritual. But in the dentist's chair-cranked-back, my mouth takes to bleeding. Things a coherent, sober person wouldn't allow anyone to do: sharp metal prod to bare gums, touched. It was awful. It is always, time after time, awful. Still, I return.
Why Hayakawa (Language in Thought and Action)? Haven't read it before. Quite a mix in the selected bibliography. Couple of interesting sections (though brief) on maps, extensional world as territory, and also on the levels of abstraction with a drawing of the ladder. When the dental assistant finished grinding my teeth, I picked up the book again, started reading where I'd left off fifteen minutes earlier:
No matter how beautiful a map may be, it is useless to a traveler unless it accurately shows the relationship of places to each other, the structure of the territory. If we draw, for example, a big dent in the outline of a lake for artistic reasons, the map is worthless. If we are just drawing maps for fun, without paying any attention to the structure of the region, there is nothing in the world to prevent us from putting in all the extra curlicues and twists we want in the lakes, rivers, and roads. No harm will be done unless someone tries to plan a trip by such a map. [emphasis in original]
I was thinking back to the C's in Denver, to a talk I attended on the importance of conceptualizing standard in battlefield terms, thinking about normalcy as proximate to a commanding power-presence. I can't remember whose it was; seems like Peter Elbow was on the panel. The premise involved the idea that the location of the standard shared by the locus of power (never mind body doubles) and the relative protection, battle strength and safety diminished incrementally proximate to the standard waving high, symbolizing a center
The dentist is ready. *enters the dentist*
Dentist: What are you reading?
Patient: *tilts the book*
Dentist: Language in Thought and Action. Hmm. Open your cakehole, kid.
/I'm not a fast learner, turns out. I used to bring books to this same dentist. Once it was Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Another time: Mina P. Shaughnessy: Her Life and Work. And the last time I carried a book into this dentist's shop: Graham Swift, Waterland. Then I quit bringing books for a while. The fifteen minutes of reading wasn't worth the event (getting to the event part). No need to carry a book when I could grab a magazine from the waiting room. Something easy, something requiring less explanation. Entertainment Weekly, People. I stopped bringing books to the dentist because the question always came, "What are you reading?" and, "So what's it about?". Five seconds to answer before a gloved hand fiddles mercilessly with my teeth./
Dentist: So what's it about?
The good reasons for not carrying a book to the dentist's workspace rushed back today when, before I could answer, I had a mouthful of busy fingers, instrument-bearing digits. And they were doing the work that had already been done minutes earlier--a more qualified poking, a more detailed telling, "eighteen's okay, nineteen's a belted crown, twenty's a composite, twenty-one's okay." But before that, before my dentist did the part I bargained for, the tooth-by-tooth evaluation, the count and description, she told me that I didn't need to read Hayakawa because all language is perception (am I still alive?) and words mean differently to everyone, especially in such a diverse country. When will I get my voice back?
Maybe the dentist is right. Or maybe she meant that I didn't need to read in her office. I never was able to offer much of a five-second review on Winterson, Maher, or Swift, either. And maybe Hayakawa's not what I should be reading. It's just so nicely safeguarded by my naivete. I haven't read anything about this book; I knew nothing about it when I picked it up. Instruments were working before I could say, "I'm not far into it yet, but it's a kind of simplified and illustrated on semiotics. Might be able to find a few teachable bits in it. And it doesn't feel like a lot of work to read right now, which is why I've carried it into your office."
The highlight of the visit came when the dentist ground away a few contact points on one irritated cap (crown?) on the lower left. I haven't chewed painlessly on the left side in six months; this was the third attempt to correct the bite. "Bite down and grind." Fortunate for the dentist and for me that I understood her instructions, that I didn't carry them out while her fingers were dangling next to my chompers. Fortunate, too, that I admire the dexterity of the dentist to use power instruments in my mouth, to bring smoky, screeching industry into such delicate human quarters.Posted by Derek Mueller at April 14, 2004 11:12 PM to Unspecified