Stories from the field

Day 2016-11-02

Claire Horwood – Blog 7: The Complexity of Language

“Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience — to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” – Scott Peck

As I navigate through this twisted web that we call life, I have learned that complex problems require comprehensive solutions, to address the network of relationships that connect people to each other, and to their surrounding environments. Social ecology, which is a framework for understanding the dynamic interrelations among various personal and environmental factors, informs this understanding, that all aspects of the social system (society, community, interpersonal and individual), are tied up in each other, each one affecting all others to an extraordinary degree, like a tangled ball of string.

When I consider the impacts of language (or lack of language) on MSRI’s beneficiary population, I consider them to be caught up in this web, nearly impossible to unravel, especially when you combine the concept of social ecology with the fact that language is tied to abstract notions like belonging, space, access and identity; defined by a multiplicity of expressions (ie. accents, dialects, jargon, terminology, articulations and idioms), the infiniteness of meaning, and the complex interactions that take place among people and words in the forum of language. 

“Try to visualize all the streams of human interaction, of communication. All those linking streams flowing in and between people, through text, pictures, spoken words and TV commentaries, streams through shared memories, casual relations, witnessed events, touching pasts and futures, cause and effect. Try to see this immense latticework of lakes and flowing streams, see the size and awesome complexity of it. This huge rich environment. This waterway paradise of all information and identities and societies and selves.” ― Steven Hall

This labyrinth, this tangled ball of string that I have been trying to unravel growing larger every day is looming over me, an indomitable figure that I can’t even begin to undo. But I have come to appreciate this notion of never-endingness, that even though I might not be able to separate the strings, and make the system linear, simple and straight, I can discover the enormous complexity beneath its quiet surface. I can put a microscope to the rage of atoms in each individual strand, wonder at the method in which each fiber was twisted and wrought, whose gnarled fingers plucked the fiber, in plant form, from the ground. 

And through this internship, I have been afforded an opportunity to engage in this deep mystery of unraveling with many different ideas, learning through my experience that there is a complexity to life, to language, to freedom, to movement, that I will never be able to fully understand. But I am curious, forever curious.

In my final podcast, attached to this blog, I am interviewed by Kim Copeland, fellow CAPI intern, friend, co-worker and roommate extraordinaire, to delve into some of what I have learned about the entangledness of language, as it applies to refugees and asylum seekers in the Malaysian context, in my short time here at MSRI.

I am eternally grateful to the Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, in partnership with the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships program, for allowing me an opportunity to explore my curiosity surrounding language, among many other things, to learn and to grow and to hopefully do my part in making the world a more tolerable and tolerant place. 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” – Albert Einstein


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