Who are we? It is a question with an evolving answer, one I believe is most revelatory comes in the space wherein language fails — when we misread, misinterpret, misunderstand the other. Who we are reveals itself within the cohabitational relationship between language and community. I learned this from an argument that brewed one day at Aurora Commons — a disagreement barreling toward violence because language, that reliable tool, had failed.
Cleaning up at the end of the day, an argument in the corner begins to stew — two voices starting to rise, fists beginning to clench, that familiar broadening of the chest. They were climbing higher and higher upon the words each would take turns thrusting out into the air, becoming agile rock climbers of language, finding foothold on the signifiers, escalating almost to blows. My job in this scenario is to be a referee of sorts, attempting to divert the rhetoric from violence and into dialogue. Interrupting, I call for a time out, needing clarification — unable to follow the meaning of the anger, for their disagreement was a semantic one, orbiting around a word I did not know: diggling.
“Please help me understand,” I plead. Reluctantly pausing the argument, they both turn toward me. One points to the other, “He accused me of diggling, of stealing his stuff and I ain’t no thief.” “Wait, no,” the other replied back, “I said you were diggling, but that doesn’t mean stealing, just digging and searching and organizing through stuff, but not stealing — man, we all diggle.” It is a word I have not heard anywhere else and had no context for it. I ask my friends at the Commons what the word diggle means and they tell me, “It’s a junky word, a tweaker word.” Through a word-of-mouth etymological questioning of the origins of the word diggling, what I can best decipher is that diggling was not derived as a disparaging term but rather it began with an innocent definition, one that meant to hunt and search through discarded material in order to find items of value.
What happens next in this story is so rare, and dare I say it, miraculous. In the aftermath of the realization that they had misjudged one another because they misunderstood one another, they actually forgave one another, allowed for terms to be redefined, shook hands, chuckled at their mistranslation and then, putting it aside, went back to helping clean up. Having only met that day, they were strangers of difference to one another carrying with them variances of definitions, disparate definitions of the word diggle. In the space where language failed they did something subversive, they stood upon community as difference rather than upon rigid definitions of language. The Western Machine churns upon isolation and individualism, upon the apparatuses of progress and productivity, setting up language to precede and eclipse community. We view language as something we possess and own and therefore, must defend — language as the arbiter of our borders. Our default definition of community is sameness and uniformity, resulting in dark undercurrents of dangerous ideologies of nationalism, fascism, systematic racism. Community as sameness becomes community constructed as immunity, a barrier serving to protect a cohesive center against an intrusive and dangerous outside — viewing the other and their radically different definitions as contagion to be eradicated.
What this moment of argument moving to forgiveness teaches us is the radically important redefinition of community as a malleable space of difference, as what is constantly being imagined and reimagined. Those two had placed one another before rigid definitions, finding the gap within language to be the space of community, the space of encounter. Who are we? And more poignantly: Who will we be when we continue to become more and more divided? When the polarity of language strains to breaking, what will be left to stand on? Can we imagine community to be more than a perfectly read script of the other — the space in between words and their definitions, a rich space in which to dig and search and hunt for discarded treasure, a space, perhaps, to diggle?
Jacqueline Moulton is an artist and Ph.D. candidate, studying philosophy and aesthetics and has worked at the Aurora Commons since 2012.
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