Effing the Ineffable
By Christina Ondrus
“I’m in the business of effing the ineffable.” – Alan Watts
in-ef-fa-ble 1. incapable of being expressed; indescribable or unutterable. See synonyms at unspeakable. 2. Not to be uttered; taboo: the ineffable name of God. [Middle English, form Old French, from Latin ineffabilis: in-, not; see in- + efabilis, utterable (from effari, to utter: ex-, ex- + fari, to speak.] – American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
“Ineffability is concerned with ideas that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken words (or language in general), often being in the form of a taboo or incomprehensible term. This property is commonly associated with philosophy, aspects of existence, and similar concepts that are inherently "too great", complex, or abstract to be adequately communicated. In addition, illogical statements, principles, reasons, and arguments are intrinsically ineffable along with impossibilities, contradictions, and paradoxes.“ – Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia
The title of my presentation alludes to an Alan Watts quote, "I'm in the business of effing the ineffable." Its simultaneously high-minded, earnest, humorous and impossible positions are all ones I affiliate with my role as artist. Watts was a British writer and philosopher whose works are often credited for popularizing ideas of Eastern philosophy in the West. His influential books introduced Zen philosophy, meditation, and considerations on the nature of being and self-exploration to the 1960’s American counterculture. This youth movement embraced new methods to expand consciousness that included political activism, anti-war protests, love-ins, gurus, meditation, and the psychedelic counterculture.
Of primary interest to me is the paradox built into Watts’ statement. “Ineffable” is a word used to connote experiences or phenomena that defy articulation or precise description. To speak of the ineffable is a contradiction of terms. Second, Watts uses “eff” as an invented root word or inverse of ineffable. Yet it is a bit more complex; “eff” is not a definable dictionary word, but it does have a slang use as an accepted stand-in for another unnamable-- a vulgar word for sex or an expression of anger. This word choice allows humor, slang, ambiguity, and human nature to enter the statement. Is Watts creating his own word, or suggesting the vulgarity of his efforts toward realizing the impossible? Thirdly, there is “the business of,” where to an extent, Watts acknowledges his endeavor as enterprise, suggesting the dichotomy of the material and immaterial. I find these multilayered paradoxes and ambiguities resonant in my own work and process. My work often explores signifiers of transcendent experience, ambiguities of embodied perception, and the convergence of the rational and the irrational.