Friday, September 11, 2015

Little LuLu was

a character in a series of comic books that I sometimes read when I was a child. When I was thinking about this post I realized that, in some ways, she was a feminist. While Little LuLu was a girl, she did many things that weren't "girlish" and that probably had more impact on me than I realized.


There were a number of "boy" characters in the comics but Little LuLu was the main character and generally occupied the "leadership" role.

That's interesting to think about. But...I'm writing about her not because of that but because I used to do something with her name that would often provide me with great fun and delight...and...it would upset my mother...invariably.

For some reason, I discovered that I could say her name, Little LuLu, over and over and over...out loud...and after some number of repetitions the meaning attached to that combination of sounds that is her name would disappear and I would be left with simply the movements of my tongue and lips and the breathing in and out involved in making those sounds.

And it was delightful. I loved it and would start laughing and laughing. It was almost delirious making in the strange sense of freedom and joy that it would bring me. My mother, who was a fairly conventional (not always, but mostly) white woman would become upset if she heard me doing this and scold me and tell me to stop. Being "silly" wasn't particularly well thought of by her. I learned to do this in places and at times that she couldn't observe me. Sometimes I would do it quietly as I was falling asleep and I would drift off with a big smile on my face. (note: this phenomenon may have been similar to some forms of meditation)

Weird, right? Maybe so...but...consider this. By repetition of that name, Little LuLu, maybe I was interrupting something that I didn't have a name for then...something that is profoundly important and meaningful. If this were a class here is where I would ask the students to speculate about what was happening when this little boy said Little LuLu over and over until joy overtook him and he started giggling.

Probably many would suggest the boy needed treatment of some sort.

But...what if...by those repetitions...I was unknowingly demolishing a social construction? What if that was happening...and...that demolishing produced a sense of freedom? What if that repetition freed those particular lip and tongue and breath movements and subsequent sounds from any human imposed meanings and that freeing brought with it a sense of joy? Social constructions can be useful and they can also be inaccurate and they can also be confining and they can also be confusing and and and.

Language is a social construction. By that I mean it is simply a bunch of sounds in various combinations that everyone who employs that language agrees upon attaching some particular meaning to some particular combinations of sounds.

One of the things that we are often closer to as children, that we often forget as adults, is that language like all other social constructions, is just crap that humans make up. And...by itself...without that agreement...it is just a bunch of sounds made by lips and tongues and breathing. It's the agreed upon meaning that counts...not the sounds. And...the meaning is arbitrary...it's an agreed upon fantasy that everyone attaches to particular sounds.

An aside...the word barbarian apparently came from early Greek sources and it meant babbling because people who used a different language made sounds that had no meaning for folks who spoke Greek. Notice how the agreed upon fantasy for the word barbarian has changed over time.

Additionally, as you have each learned through living your life, many have fantasies attached to a word that vary somewhat from the fantasy you might have. That's when we hear phrases like: "that's not what I mean by that word" or some such thing.

What other things are just made up? Or...if you prefer a more important sounding phrase...what other things are social constructions? What other things have no more "real" meaning than does Little LuLu?

It can be frightening and confusing to realize that...way more of the "world" (by the word "world" here I mean human society and our conceptualizations) that we humans pretend is a certain way...is just stuff we make up...it can also be quite liberating to realize this. But...quite often achieving liberation involves discomfort and apprehension. I'll write more about how Little LuLu relates to veganism in a later post...disconnecting Little LuLu from agreed upon meaning also relates to many other "isms" of oppression...but...that's for later.





4 comments:

joan.kyler said...

I'm old enough to remember Little Lulu, too. Repeating her name was like a mantra to you. I don't recall doing that, but I'm sure I drove my parents mad in many other ways. But I want to tell you how ecstatic and freeing I find being silly. There aren't a lot of people who can accept silliness in an otherwise 'normal' (if they only knew!) adult woman. Fortunately, there are a few people in my life with whom I can carry on an intensely silly conversation. A trip to the cafe across the street results in not only a lovely red pepper hummus sandwich but a serious conversation with the young man who owns the cafe about my side order of 'Will you please stop the rain as I leave?' There followed a discussion about whether the rain should stop before I reached the door, as I stepped out, and would just a lessening of the rain suit me. Those sorts of conversations, stepping outside the social conventions, elate me and erase my anxiety, at least for a short while.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Joan. Until I wrote this blog post I'd not considered "silliness" as a possible exemplification of wreaking havoc (I use this phrase in lieu of the more formal one of 'deconstructing social constructions' since silliness implies whimsy and play as opposed to systemic investigation) on social constructions...yet...that's precisely what it often is. Isn't it curious how elation and anxiety reduction accompanies opting out of and escaping from and playing with social constructions? I suspect there's much to think about in that.

I'm glad to hear that someone else experiences silliness as a source of elation. Hooray for the silly! :-)

Christine said...

Some food for thought there.

Your repetition is like a mantra which according to my understanding is a meditative technique for spiritual purposes but which seems to me to free the mind from the endless chatter of our thoughts, which are often negative, and consequently by so doing makes us feel better. Though as a child perhaps this is not the case but even children can get stuck in negative thinking or over thinking. I know I did. Or maybe just being silly, an ability that sadly we seem to loose as we get older, has an uplifting effect.

Language changes over time and words take on different meanings by consensus because as you say we attach certain meanings to these sounds and these meanings may change over time and our thinking along with it.

It is not easy to imagine what we would be like without language, language shapes our mood and our emotions to some degree. Words can makes us miserable, depressed, anxious or happy, joyful, contented, indeed words are powerful. Therefore to have some freedom from either the internal chatter of our minds or other people’s chatter may be liberating and a joyful experience. I don’t know this is all very profound. I look forward to hearing how this relates to veganism.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. It's important for me to remember, always, that words are just sounds...what makes them have import are the feelings or events or things that we associate with them. By themselves they are simply noise.

Thinking without words...can you do that? Yup...pictures or images (or maybe even sounds or feelings) are perfectly capable of being vehicles for thinking. We humans like to be impressed with ourselves but we shouldn't forget that lots of other sorts of Earthlings share this planet with us and...they think too. And...not many of them fiddle around with human languages. Which is probably a good thing...considering the rather horrid messes we've created with much of our "thinking". :-)