Tuesday, March 04, 2008

This Culture Thing

I mentioned in my September 29, 2007, entry on this blog that I had spent a good part of the year reading about creativity. That trend has continued into this year. In the coming installments of WORDS ON THE LINE, I will share some thoughts that have struck me as useful to writers looking for heightened inspiration, enhanced quality, or improved productivity.

This week, culture has been on my mind. The idea of culture—whatever that means—frequently surfaces in my writing seminars in the form of statements such as, “I’m new to the company and have to learn the corporate culture.”

Throwing around the word culture without defining it could be dangerous business. Much of what we believe to be true—our behaviors and attitudes—are culturally bound. Even our concepts of space and time grow from our culture, and we express ourselves not by language alone but by visual signs: postures, apparel, inanimate images, music, and video representations among them. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall writes a lot about this idea in The Silent Language (1959) The Hidden Dimension (1969) Beyond Culture (1976), and The Dance of Life (1983). Reading any of these books would get the concerned reader up to speed on the complications of culture. For instance, in The Silent Language, Hall explores what he calls the vocabulary of culture, including our primary message systems, the first being interaction. He notes:

Interaction lies at the hub of the universe of culture and everything grows from it (38).

Since speech and writing play vital roles in interaction, Hall’s theories should make for interesting reading to writers concerned with how their ideas are subjected to misinterpretation depending on what readers bring to the reading.

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