Thursday, November 10, 2011
Context is Delicious
Somewhere in my head is the arcane knowledge that the word context is attributed, in mycology, to the fleshy part of the mushroom cap. This particular knowledge is not as useless as some might suspect. It's even a little funny that I felt like I have to say that—like I have to soften the blow that I'm using a word in an unfamiliar way, that I'm interested in thinking about an unfamiliar word. Why is it that knowledge we don't yet have, knowledge that we can get simply by seeking it, so irritates some of us?
On the other hand, this isn't always true. If you don't know stuff about football, and you're in a room with people talking about football, you wouldn't consider those initiated in the game pretentious, or talking above you; if someone involved in a conversation about a basketball game uses a term you're not familiar with, say, a "triple double" —we don't think that person is trying to impress us, we just either say we don't understand, or we study the game and learn the term, and then we do understand.
It's specific to art and literature, this irritation we have with stuff we don't know. Since it's so wonderful to learn, I'm not sure where or when the distinction between football and poetry begins. How come we let football and baseball get away with such elitist activity as using specific language we might not know—that we need only a minute to look up and then know—but not art, literature, poetry?
Context is delicious. Look up the unfamiliar term, and/or read about the time period. Context—not "the fleshy fibrous body in the pileus of mushrooms" but the other kind—is wonderful. If it's history you have to learn, or a definition of a word—what could be better than that? I love looking things up. I guess I love context. And I like what I think I just learned, that context, as it relates to the study of mushrooms—that which holds the other stuff in the mushroom cap, suspended and supported in its fiber-y togetherness—is somehow related to context in art and literature and, I guess, in everything. It's all about coherence, weaving together: to connect.
Image of mushroom via Martin LaBar