The Iconation of Everything

The abuse of the word “iconic” has become absurd. Its overuse indicates either a depth of ignorance on the parts of speakers and writers or a callous corruption of language inflicted on the ignorance of listeners and readers.

An icon is a thing inhabited or imbued with the spirit or meaning of something it represents. As a religious object, it might be inhabited with the saint or god of which it is an image. Thus, to speak to it is to speak to that saint or god directly. In a more mundane life, it may be an image that not only represents an action, but is actually a connection to it. Thus to click on a computer icon actually initiates a process in the computer system, such as starting a program. So an icon is a sort of vehicle or portal showing its purpose in its appearance.

In more recent usage, an icon has come to be a representative of a broader set or greater domain of sense or meaning. Thus Mt. Everest, whether it is the tallest mountain in the world or not, is an icon representing all that is majestic about the Himalayas or about great mountains around the world. Leonardo de Vinci is an icon of the Renaissance man as the ultimate of that ideal. However, all the mountains of the Himalayas or all Renaissance men cannot be icons of what they are. They do not represent anything other than just what they are.

If a thing or person is renowned, it does not make it iconic. If the person or thing does not particularly represent some greater idea, whether a characteristic of a greater set, a spirit of some power, an action of some result, a tradition of some group, or some other greater meaning than the thing itself, it cannot be thought of as iconic.

It is enough that we use Latinate suffixing rules to create trendy lexical redundancies at the expense of enriching our discourse with a powerful vocabulary. It eviscerates a rich language to serve up ground scraps as Salsbury steak. We are turning our prime lexicon into the haute cuisine of a fast food drive thru.

Iconate that Madison Avenue!

Jay Being Joyce Being Joyce

I have been reading the biography of James Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper, by his brother Stanislaus, whom I mistakenly named “Stanislav” in another place. In it was an excerpt from an early J. Joyce journal entry, in his early stream of consciousness, Dubliners‘ style. I thought I might try to emulate it here. Joyce was reflecting on his reading of Erckmann-Chatrian; I on Joyce’s brother Stanislaus.
Retirement and recuperation mix sourly as I recover from a biking accident, still too much in pain to move around a great deal, but impatient to be doing so. The other is upstairs also recuperating from a cold, also impatient, also uncomfortable. The Sunday sounds of her decades old television programs mix with the pomposity of my Royal Concertgebouw radio program enshrouding me in a rough and remorseful reverie. The bright sun on yet another unseasonable day cheers the house plants more than me. I am reading to pass time. Reading Joyce’s early life through his brother’s eyes creates no deeper understanding of James or their father John or their mother Mary. To be born to Mary.
No, the book makes me think more about how children see their own history in retrospection from adulthood. Even with a purpose, we cannot bring up more from the depths of memory than the unbidden images that arise. And even those come with no sense that there was anything really significant behind them, only that we know there probably was something. The images are often the most disjointed where they should be the most influential to developing us as who we are. Yet taken all together, a different kind of mise-en-scène emerges, an history as a child saw it, but not the immediacy as a child experiences it. The child’s emotions stick the memories; the adult’s emotions interpret them. Like twice baked bread, it is the bread but yet quite different from the bread, and sweeter, usually.
How this can sweetens our aging! A reader and writer would know this, and immerse himself in the knowledge. A researcher, a scientist will push away all the color, the music of the memory, strip it of useless feelings, extrapolate and connect the dots of it, recreate what he asserts happened in black and white, a dry point. But it is no longer what happened. It happened and is happening no longer. We can recreate what happened into a new thing that is an interpretation of our history as our history has shaped us to interpret it: self-recreation. What’s happening now is the feeling of remembered feelings, the color of the memory of color, a wholly new color. Accuracy is impossible at best and misleading at worst.
S. Joyce did not ever get it wrong, but did he ever know he was getting it right. As he looked back, whatever love he had for his brother as he wrote certainly filtered and shaped how he remembered his brother some fifty or sixty years earlier. If he knew that, and he may well have, he was not just his brother’s keeper, he was his brother’s recreator.