Dit Dit Dah Dah Bang Bang
I recently thumbed to "phatic" in the dictionary and then it appeared on A Word A Day not too long ago. Obviously, it was meant to be the seed of a blog post. It was, I dare say, phated. The "phatic"—I always thought this was something only linguistic anthropologists liked to talk about, but then maybe that's just who I hear talking about it. And maybe I wish I were smart enough and cool enough to be a linguistic anthropologist. Anyhow, it made sense to me that the word was apparently brought into current usage by Bronislaw Malinowski, an early twentieth-century cultural anthropologist who was influential in shaping modern cultural anthropology etc etc.
Here's the definition from Word A Day: "Relating to a communication meant to generate an atmosphere of social relationship rather than to convey some information."
To be honest, definitions don't really help understand the phatic. Anu offers a nicely illustrative example:
When you bump into your neighbor on your way out and say, "How are ya?" you're engaging in phatic communion. The idea is not to inquire your neighbor's state of affairs but simply to create a feeling of shared goodwill. Later, at work, when you discuss weather with someone at the water cooler, it's the same idea.
So basically, it's what makes office communication and business politics seem inane to me. Through excessive use of the phatic, some situations attempt to bring into being (prophesize) and shore up (emphasize) fragile social structures through discourse by way of (usually) formulaic or (sometimes) non-lexical interpersonal exchanges. It's kind of like a political sonar that we all use to sound out out the unseen deep terrains of our social surroundings, most of all to get our bearings on other people around us and to make sure that the other people around us still remember that we're around them. Phatic expressions are like a call into the abyss—hey, anybody out there? Phatic speech acts are like little built-in social failsafes, kind of like redundant stays and ties on a sailboat—non-essential, but you can never be too cautious.
Blogs are often that way too. Even the small percentage that actually feature something original and aren't devoted to adult content or spam have a lot of chatter. All those links—thought to be the coin of the blosospheric realm—form a blabber and background static for the rest of us to shout into. Who's listening? I haven't the faintest, since even though I know people find this site, it's impossible to say who reads it (but you can always check technorati to find out).
Hallooooo, anybody out there?
NvB continues despite a growing fragmentation and loss of focus. Thus, the proportion of phatic posts to posts actually containing Brno-related information is increasing. And this could be a good thing: at the very least it should amount to a phat blog. You know what I'm talking about. Maybe it will be a voyage of self-discovery, although since I've already found my inner garden gnome and rohlik, could there be anything left? (Not if I was a Freudian.)
The truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a broken pot on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. —Madame Bovary, Part II, Chapter XII
So maybe this is where the blog stands at the moment. At worst, it will form some kind of a key or code with which to transcend its own humble rohliks. And at best, I'm happy if these rhythms are making a free and happy bear dance with abandon somewhere.
Tags: language, quotes, blogs, blogging, discursions