Confusion: An Interesting Sentence

I’m not at all sure when I started following James David Dickinson. Judging by my following list it’s pretty recent. He no doubt tweeted something interesting in response to something or someone else tweeted, or was retweeted by someone I already…well, whatever, one of the ways people on twitter find each other.

Sharp guy. Go follow.

Today I was bouncing back and forth between writing that previous post and twitter and I saw this:

“In life, nouns are lies and verbs tell the truth”


I spent a few minutes reading that over and over again trying to parse and apply it.

I responded before I read the essay he’d attached to it (which is good, but entirely orthogonal), saying “What a strange sentence” and cc’ing Thomas Bevan, someone I imagine to be a great appreciator of strange sentences.

It’s a strange sentence because it’s an idea I’ve never heard or considered, because it actually presents a new concept. Not in the way of being an esoteric dive into some narrow field, but by turning things on their head and absolutely forcing you to think about things differently even to merely parse the sentence correctly.

I wonder when the last time I came across An Interesting Sentence was. How many books do I have to go back through before I find one? A dozen? Two? I seem to recall there being one or two I read a few times over and over again in the second Warlock Holmes book. But those might have been more funny than interesting.

I’ve not-quite-joked (and I was sure I’d written about but can’t find) confusion being my happy place.

When you see something in twilight that you can’t quite make out the outline of your brain just races to try and fit it in to a box. And in that absolutely magickal moment before you’ve come up with a judgement about it the entirely universe is open and you’re cast adrift in this strange sea of infinite possibility. There’s a moment of something like terror as you feel suddenly that there’s something for which you have no box.

No noun.

And yeah, that’s a mystical description about being confused by something. But those weird moments remind me of some of the more elevatory aspects, actually, of the hallucinogenic experience. You just can’t make sense of what the hell is going on and it can drive you absolutely mad if you let it. But those moments show you the naked reality of how you deal with the world, with new experiences, even whether you allow them at all.

For extra credit consider how this relates to Carlos Castenada’s teacher, Don Juan, admonishing him to see. As I recall he continually attempts to get Carlos to see the world around him without letting his mind attach reductionist overly-cultured human symbology to what’s out there. I’d write more about that but it’s been 30 years and a lot of lives since I’ve read Castenada.

But to bring things back to the mundane, an “interesting sentence” exists in stark contrast to normal communication. We speak and write in quips and phrases that we’ve heard before, read before, and had held in our heads, waiting for deployment to fill up time and space. How much of what you say falls into those categories? If you stop to examine it, and that’s a pretty tough thing to do, it’s something north of 95% of what comes out of our mouths.

Sure, an argument can be made for these phrases simply serving the same roles as words in simple aggregate, encapsulating larger concepts that we then sling around.

But I don’t think that’s right. Well…yeah it’s technically true, sure. But when you take what it is you think you think and start breaking it apart you cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that most of those thoughts are themselves just things that have been bolted together out of other things you’ve heard or read. You don’t so much think as collate other peoples’ puzzle pieces into not-so-new ideas, playing the same little snippets of spliced tape to yourself, thinking that you’re thinking.

So the value of An Interesting Sentence is pretty stark in that it actually results from an act of creation instead of just…permutation.

And while I’m not sure “In life, nouns are lies and verbs tell the truth” is going to be something I’m going to add to the arsenal for cocktail conversation (that would be some pretty insipid shit), it’s definitely going to make me think.

Specifically to say that nouns are lies speaks to our near perfect inability to describe our world, to discover, much less to label things. I’m going to carry that through life while it lives in the front of my attention and I’m going to think about it when people talk and it’s going to force me to say to myself “sure, but that’s not what that IS. The notion that you think you can call it that is a fundamental untruth.”

Now before any of you assholes take this in this direction I’m NOT speaking about postmodern deconstructionism, the ‘subjectivity of reality’ or any of that damned tripe. I know a great short pier off of which you unforgivable nihilist fucks can take a long walk.

No, I’m talking about necessary incompleteness. Because like words, the way we deal with the world around us is in snippets of thought and understanding that encapsulate enough meaning for us to continue through life.

But in a real sense, we do what we do, regardless of what we really are. Yeah, I don’t have all that worked out that well, primarily because the first half has been rolling over and over in my head to too much enjoyment for me to have thought about it much yet.

Now…this diverges pretty remarkably from what James was saying in penning the sentence. Hell, it probably diverges pretty remarkably from what he even thought.

But then, that’s the value of An Interesting Sentence.

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