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DEFINING MOMENTS

WINTER No. 2 2016


By Warwick McFadyen
Words must have meaning. If they do not then a word is but
noise.
Words, however, bear no sovereignty. They cross borders and
as they do so, they can change shape. Their purpose and their
effect can either be one and the same, or not. Words are the
carriages in which truth and lies are both passengers. And to
know the truth one must know the story behind the delivery.
One can never know the full story. One can hope, one can
trust, but that is all.
There is a difference between being able to recognise a word
and being able to recognise what it means. Context is all. And
in the context of this election campaign, words mean little.
They are the wash, the ebb and flow, at the mouths of those
seeking to win our votes.
This pessimism drifted on to my shoulders this week as I
chopped wood for the fire. Perhaps it was the sharp thwack of
axe through log onto block that concentrated the mind. Its
only the halfway point I had been told the night before on
television news. Only. Thwack. The. Thwack. Halfway. Thwack.
Point. Thwack. And yet, how could I still know nothing about
anything? Had I not been paying attention? Had I not been
listening? Is it only my winter of discontent?
Theres the rub. I had been listening - to elucidation that
brought one to enlightenment, but to obfuscation and
gibberish of meaning that led one to darkness. It was not even
white noise for white noise at least has an agitation and
energy to it. This was, and one despairs will remain, a low hum
of words flowing each after the other in an immense chain of
meaninglessness that criss-crosses the nation. We are
prisoners to it.
If sentences could shrug whatever, it would serve as well.

Yet it is all we have: words hollowed out of meaning. There is a


timidity to this campaign that bespeaks fear. When leaders
fear, when those who are asking us to vote for them, back off
from uttering truth to power then it is a death sentence for a
healthy democracy. In the end, we become lost in a forest of
clichs, sanctimonious tripe and inoffensive drivel. Oh and
platitudes inserted at just the right moment for just the right
effect.
The peril is that this diminishing of the word becomes
unnoticed. Normal is as normal does. The meaning of which is
lost among us for the consequence seems no big thing.
One of the masters of 20th century poetry was Polish writer
Zbigniew Herbert. One of his poems, entitled Mr Cogitos
Monster, was not about such matters, but forgive me, Ive
taken it and put it in context here. An extract reads:
Mr Cogitos monster
Lacks all dimensions
Its hard to describe
It eludes definitions
Its like a vast depression
Hanging over the country
It cant be pierced
By a pen
An argument
A spear
If not for its stifling weight

And the death it sends


You might conclude
That it was a phantom
A disease of the imagination
But its there
Its there all right
It fills crannies of houses
Temples bazaars like gas
It poisons the wells
Destroys a minds constructs
Covers the bread with mold
Proof the monster exists
Is offered by its victims
Indirect proof
But sufficient
The sensible say
You can coexist
With the monster
Just try to avoid
Violent gestures

Violent speech
When threatened
Take on the form
Of a stone or leaf
A stone or a leaf they are the markers of the political
landscape. Both are deaf to the meaning of the words that are
heaped upon them. We must not be so defined.
Warwick McFadyen is an Australian freelance writer and
editor