Abstraction flirts with our ideas. Dangerous abstraction lies in its impractical unpredictability; alluring abstraction illuminates the mysterious attraction. Where pattern makes comfort, lack of pattern tends to unsettle. Patterns of behavior, patterns of mathematics, patterns of shape, color, form, patterns Asimov would fictively label histrionics – all these and many others combine and recombine to tell us when the crops will be ripe, when the rains will come, when the distant shore will come into view and largely, by dint of language, what your seatmate on the train is saying. Grammar forms that pattern.
Grammar fits oh-so-living language like a starched collar, but a collar offering clarity, predictability and the questionable insight into other speakers’ command of the lingua franca. In short, grammar forms a pattern around language we use and can perversely enjoy.
Yet, in certain contexts like Yoda or e.e.cummings, we delight in the language rearranged. The pulling on our linguistic strings creates an effect akin to strengthening our knowledge and confidence in the ‘right’ way. Yoda’s command of language amuses us as someone so influential cannot reliably structure a sentence in order of subject-verb-object, but pulls on our expectations with object-subject-verb, a Japanese-like charm, using phrases like, “Your father he is.” The phrasing punches harder for coming indirectly, a nearly passive construction with its tendency to make the English listener focus on the object as the priority in a way to see it we often don’t.
Similarly, “me up at does/out of the floor quietly stares” shakes our linguistic sensibilities enough to realize later in cumming’s poem that we are staring from the mouse’s perspective. And again, the mis-order of the words take us out of ourselves.
Visual abstraction also takes us out of our comfort zone, out of our “selves”, insomuchas reliable predictability is of our selves.
And it is. Reliable predictability is how our “taste” is formed, be that clothes, music, behavior, perfume, coconuts, black licorice or varieties of wine. Taste, as an extension of ourselves, is the ability to navigate many conflicting ideas with a sense of identity intact. These become our grounding, our ability to sense a pattern from which we find more patterns.
Patterns form the basis of knowledge as effectively. The order of the number line makes the times table work. Memorize the first and the second makes sense. Patterns hold math and science together – at least until the imaginary numbers require a seat at the table of applied physics. The language of mathematics requires abstractions too- ideas that pull on our understanding and provide the way forward until the paradox can be simplified.
And therein lies the valuable beauty, abstractions coach dissolving paradoxes— especially when paradox emanates from exclusively embracing the heft, significance and economy of the lovely pattern.