I am speaking of a preoccupation with connotation - an insistence that things relate to one another in a particular way. And despite my misgivings I'm less and less apologetic about my quest.
"Connotations" are those hidden meanings that attach themselves to everything. They are the emotion behind the information. The quest is to find - and make - things that are cohesive and congruent: things that "flow."
It is a delicate balance - this flow - and at the same time reckless. In a sense it is the crown of the mountain that we must strain every nerve to reach. In another sense it is the cosmic rush and rhythm of the universe, requiring only that we whisper and tiptoe to avoid disturbing it.
Without getting sidetracked into a discussion on the philosophical category of aesthetics, it will suffice to point out that this quality - or its absence - is all around us; in colors, in words, in architectural proportions, in music, and even in meals. It is that unstated rule that pairs the subject and predicate - the trumpet and timpani.
Connotation is especially important in literature, which is a one-dimensional medium that stands or falls based on its inner coherence. Letters combine into words, words combine into sentences, sentences combine into paragraphs, paragraphs combine into chapters, and chapters combine into a book - all in a particular way. And then a book needs an index, a cover, a table of contents, and perhaps a few endorsements - all assembled with care and a respect for the whole. I have been known to make a duplicate purchase of a book in order to obtain the cover I wanted. Fussy and frivolous? Perhaps. Honest? Absolutely.
Beatrice Warde, a typographer quoted by William Zinsser in his excellent book Writing To Learn, lends wings to the idea:
If "the tone of voice" of a typeface does not count, then nothing counts that distinguishes man from other animals. The twinkle that softens a rebuke; the martyr's super-logic and the child's intuition; the fact that a fragment of moss can pull back into the memory a whole forest - these are proofs that there is reality in the imponderable, and that not only notation but connotation is part of the proper study of mankind.
People who love ideas must have a love of words, and that means, given a chance, they will take a vivid interest in the clothes which words wear. The more they like to think, the more they will be shocked by any discrepancy between a lucid idea and murky typesetting.
This passage pierced me immediately with its obstinate and obvious accuracy. We've all read books that deserved better bodies. (Harry Blamires's The Christian Mind and this C. S. Lewis boxed set from Harper come to mind.)
I don't normally use a buzzword until long after the buzzards are done with it, but I am wholly captivated by the term "holistic." The "holistic ideal" is a beautiful thing, and, as far as I can see, entirely Christian.
Image courtesy of stokessigncompany.com