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If constrained to express thought without the use of spoken language, one would find it difficult to communicate. Certainly, written language and sign language are two solutions to the absence of audible communication. So, what would happen if we were restricted from speaking, writing or using the sign language as forms of communication? Most certainly the ability to express complex thought would be either extremely difficult or impossible. If these were the rules that governed our reality, one would need to find ways of communicating outside the restrictions imposed by that reality. Similarly, if one is restricted to the rules of the Standard English, then the expression of the certain thoughts and processes within that standard would be difficult and perhaps impossible. Standard English comes equipped with boundaries that limit the scope of expression to its syntactical rules of engagement. When abided by, these rules give the distinct possibility of limiting expression, and, consequently, some forms of complex human thought. If understanding relies on a process of expression that resides outside the boundaries of the Standard English, then one must find non-standard means of expression to communicate that understanding. That is, if we seek limitless ends of understanding, we must employ limitless means of expression as stated by Hairston, (1986).
Barbara Mellix, in her essay “From Outside, in,” touches on the mistrust of the Standard English’s ability to express her thoughts. She states this concern when she writes, “I couldn't think and feel genuinely in that language, couldn't make it express what I thought and felt”. The process of her essay is a transition from that of a marginalized outsider to that of an insider “free to manage that language, to take liberties with it” (Mellix, 2000). Her original mistrust of the Standard English is a result of her inexperience, and proves interesting when contrasted with the position of Carol de Saint Victor’s use of the Standard English. In de Saint Victor’s essay “Go Slowly and You Arrive,” she chooses a non-standard form of expression to communicate her thoughts. This choice, however, is not a result of inexperience, as in Mellix’s case, but rather a more pronounced mistrust of the structure imposed by Standard English. The apex of Mellix’s essay is her ability to freely express herself within the constraints of the language that once constrained her. De Saint Victor, on the other hand, could conceivably feel a mistrust of the language’s ability to express perplexing thought. Her movement follows more closely with the theory that we must employ limitless means to attain limitless ends. In the editor’s notes de Saint Victor is described as a professor of creative nonfiction, which could lead one to the conclusion that she is indeed seeking to abandon the structure of the Standard English in exchange for the ability to freely express the human experience.
De Saint Victor employs means of limitless expression by positioning the reader in a state of confusion and suspense. Although these concepts can be communicated through traditional means, she chooses to obscure the straightforward message of her journey by finding the non-traditional ways in which to express these concepts. For instance, her use of the present tense works as a delivery system for suspense, while her puzzling encounters confuse the reader in the same way that she originally experienced. She opens the essay with this theme of perplexity when she states, “I am in India, and I do not understand much of what I see: that is what this moment comes to mean to me, and it will recur to me like a refrain, like the private tune each musician plays” (De Saint Victor, 2000). By linking connections in the journey together and finally making certain assumptions and assertions from those connections, the reader draws conclusions through the same method the writer would. Rather than explain her experience in India through the standard template, she allows the reader to draw his or her own experiences and conclusions from the writing. That is, instead of telling us that the woman in the river at Varanasi possesses an understanding of complexity, and that she is capable of living free of the conflict that ignorance inflicts on one’s thoughts, she chooses to paint a scene for each reader to draw an individual conclusion. Her picture, free of conclusions, is:
My eyes rest on one woman, standing waist-deep in the river. Her face is turned to the sun, to which she offers water held in her hands briefly, before it returns to the river. I have one life, I think, and she has had thousands. I am burdened with the need of experiencing life as fully as I can in the short time I have. She is in no hurry (De Saint Victor, 2000).
Although brief, the scene contains enough for each reader to draw the separate conclusions. Certainly de Saint Victor’s technique effectively produces the appropriate result. Nevertheless, the means prove crude and difficult to understand, which begs the question, Can the freedom Mellix finds with Standard English produce the same result de Saint Victor does?
If Carol de Saint Victor chose to draw specific conclusions from her essay, those conclusions could perhaps be expressed within the constraints of the Standard English. The real question is whether or not the expressive means to reach those conclusions could also be translated into the Standard English. Certainly there is something unique about the path Carol de Saint Victor walks her reader down and the means through which she chooses to communicate. Rather than simply understand sensations, the reader is assaulted by their potency. For example, when de Saint Victor is writing about her guide, she quotes him as saying, “I have clean clothes. My friend keeps my clothes in his room. I go there, I put on clean clothes. I am not dirty. Do not give pen to that boy. It is nonsense. He does not go to school. See the temple on the hill? It is not just for the religion” (De Saint Victor, 2000). Not only does her style give the reader a sense of authenticity, but it also tends to suck the reader in when she breaks quickly to explain how there is a boy who wants a pen. She could have easily omitted this incident from her writing since it does nothing to solidify a final conclusion; however, by leaving this scene in she allows the reader to experience the event rather than just be told about it. De Saint Victor seems to feel that both this and similar processes, which reside outside the bounds of the Standard English, better facilitate a robust understanding of her experience. If Mellix were capable of saturating her reader in the complexities of human sensation that de Saint Victor does, it would be difficult within the constraints of the Standard English.
If indeed Standard English could genuinely express de Saint Victor’s experiences in India, the process would be difficult, and, as a result, there would be a trade-off between the author’s synthesis and the reader’s analysis. Where the reader must work harder to understand the creative non-fiction, the writer must work harder to truly express the human experience with the Standard English. It, however, is equally probable that the only way to express the human experience is to employ means of communication that indulge the same confusion, ambiguity, and raw emotion that reality does. That means the world with limitless boundaries must embrace an equivalent form of the expression to bring about the limitless understanding.