What things are like

An ability to say what things are like obviates the need to say what things are; often it brings us closer to the nature of said things. I find it peculiarly frustrating when my students fail to pick up on this – on the way in which the question ‘What is it like?’ forces the speaker to stop and describe something, however difficult to put into words the comparative qualities of said thing, place, person or experience may be. It’s like a game! I point out. ¿Como es? Wie ist es? In Finnish you say ‘Mita lainen’, apparently, which I’m enjoying using, particularly because I don’t speak the language. An inability or what sometimes appears to be a refusal to recognise the centrality of this question in all human language I often interpret as symptomatic of a paucity of poetic sense related to the tragically instrumentalist worldview propagated over 30 years of neoliberalism; I attribute it to the same mode of thought and experience which occasionally produces the execrable statement ‘I don’t like music’. But that is probably, like, unfair of me. Anyway students often come up with the most strikingly economical descriptions: the other day a young guy from Korea described his two years in the army as ‘like hell’. I was genuinely impressed by his effective management of cliche; but when we pressed for a further description it turned out his experience actually *was* hell.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXh19wfJT3Q&feature=youtube_gdata_player

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3P_R3XxJyw&feature=youtube_gd

http://m.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/03/society-politics?cat=books&type=article

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