Here’s a true story. About dreams and a nightmare

Truth and dreams don’t generally get put in the same sentence. But then, those who spend too much believing things to be true don’t dream.

Luckily, plenty of dreamers don’t get too hooked up on what is true. At the very least the idea of truth reshapes itself after while.

I’m going to continue my journey of honesty today, opening up about a strange part of myself I haven’t talked much about before. My dreams. This is post is more a narrative rather than my usual thinking through of something, because I’m as confused about it all as you probably will be if you read it the whole way through.

I’ve been interested in dreams for a long time, but only the last few years have I become really interested in them, and for a singular reason. Because I questioned why they had gone.

A large proportion of adults don’t think they dream anymore. It’s not the case, but I’m not here to talk about the science/psychology of dreams today and for the sake of reducing convoluted language, I stopped dreaming for most of my teenage years. I didn’t think much of them disappearing and this strikes me as really odd – as will be highlighted when I tell the background of my dreams in just a brief moment – because they play a pretty dramatic role in childhood.

Why do so many of us accept the disappearance of dreams, and why do we have to discount such beautiful experiences as ‘not real’ and hence ‘not important’?

Now I have been working for the last few years to get my dreams back, but let’s go back to the start of my dream story…

As a child, I dreamed vividly. I dreamed almost every night. I was sometimes lucid, although I didn’t know what that meant at the time.

The problem was, most of my dreams were nightmares, and dark, twisted ones at that. The good dreams have long been lost to time, but the memory of those nightmares still stay with me. Where most kids were having nightmares of zombies and aliens, I dreamed of walking over an endless chessboard with no escape. Sometimes it was the voice that whimpered, then laughed, then screamed, with no image at all – and that was accompanied with a feeling of illness that is impossible to describe but that still hits me occasionally when i’m awake to this day. There was the sleep paralysis – that was so real that I was convinced I was cursed.

And then there was the nightmare. Sometimes I called it the man. Sometimes I called it the mummy (it occasionally appeared as a mummified figure). Now it is just called ‘you’. (not directed at the reader, don’t worry!)

I can’t express how terrifying this nightmare was. I won’t even attempt very hard. The problem is that it’s image is both blurred and perfectly vivid in my mind. All I can say for certain was that it embodied fear entirely. It also felt more real than reality every time I experienced it.

I could attempt to say more about why ‘you’ was so unbearable, but it makes me terrified even now.

I, still in my childhood years, decided eventually to take action. This is where (if it hadn’t already) begins to get a bit strange and where you may begin to doubt the ‘truth’ of the account.

My solution, was to confront ‘you’. i decided to tell it to leave forever.

I remember the last  childhood dream of ‘you’ vividly. I was in a Scandinavian-like land at a turn in a river. There was forest all around, and here on the river’s turn was a clearing with a small shack in it. The door faced away from the river, and I new ‘you’ was in there, waiting for me.

This time, ‘you’ was robed all in black, with a hood over the face. The face is the part I can never picture. There might not have been a face. Yet somehow I’m certain ‘you’ had eyes, the most fearful eyes. The door to the shack, as they always did with my encounters with ‘you’ locked.

The sensations I always experienced in the presence of my nightmare started. They are too difficult to explain, not like ‘normal’ fear, so I’m afraid I can’t explain them.

Before it became too much and I sank into the usual complete terror, I somehow (I can’t remember how) managed to strike a deal with ‘you’. I can’t remember it’s side of the deal, but my side of the deal was that ‘you’ would never ever come back. It went to the door. The door unlocked and ‘you’ disappeared. I walked out the building, and the dream dissolved.

My nightmare never returned.

But my dreams disappeared completely.

And this, is why I wondered at the start of this post why I didn’t question the loss of my dreams, or have any concern about the loss of them, for the entirety of my teenage years. I had such a clear moment where my dreams stopped. I did in fact tell my nightmares, in the middle of a nightmare, to stop. And somehow i accepted the loss of dreams with that, without asking why.

I only began to remember parts of my old dreams when I began to meditate a few years back. I remembered how I had told my nightmare to leave me, and suddenly I realised my dreams had almost completely gone for over five years.

I started dreaming again, but no where near as vividly as I used to.

So I decided to try something. I tried to bring back my nightmare, with the intention of learning about it.

A few nights after deciding this, I almost forced myself into sleep paralysis. I forced myself out in terror when the lights in my room started flashing and horrific laughter filled the room.

Since then, I’ve seen glimpses of ‘you’ in my returning dreams. Only now, it seems to be on the run. It never stays for long enough for me to work out how to react. But I Know  it’s the same nightmare.

The problem is, despite the terror this…thing inflicts on me even today, I’m determined to track it down in my dreams. It’s one of my goals for once I successfully begin to lucid dream. I realised a while back that i’ve repressed a large chunk of my childhood, and I think this nightmare has some of the answers..

The nightmare however, seems no longer to be restricted to the dreamworld alone, and this does make me question further how close reality and dream actually are (I wonder about this a lot). Twice in the last few months, ‘you’ has appeared vividly in mere daydreams. I’ve been awake, and it’s been there.

And one time -thank god it was only once – I’m convinced it was in the park on my walk into university. Dressed in a long coat and a hat, ‘you’ was there,

It’s where this shocked, confused post here came from. – https://thoughtofvg.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/welcome-back-still-multi-part-poem-pt1/

So here I am now, chasing a dream, quite literally. Since childhood, I’ve been fighting with the same being, and i’m told there is no reality at all to a dream.

I’m trying to find out.

One last point on ‘you’. I few months back I watched the film ‘insidious’ with some friends, and I had a terrible shock. There is sort of a ‘main nightmare/demon’ in the film. This Nightmare, I think, is the same one as in my old nightmares. I had never seen the film before, but I knew that figure as soon as it appeared on the screen. It wasn’t it’s most common form, but It was the same. I’m still trying to work out how on earth a nightmare from a film produced the last couple of years was the same as in my childhood.

I’m going to leave a more analytical approach to dreams for a later post, but that there was an honest account of my ‘dream journey’ so far. I’ve focused only on parts of it, but I certainly covered the most important parts.

I will finish with a few short points however.

Why do we discount these dreams as trivial as we grow up when they are so important in youth?

How can the same dream be so real, so consistent, so constant, and even start breaking out of the dream world?

Have we all got the divide between ‘reality’ and ‘dream’ completely wrong? How do I know I’m not dreaming right now? What if that dreamworld is my reality and I’ve been stuck in the dream world for quite a while?

Thanks for reading guys, I hope you never ever encounter ‘you’. That won’t stop me searching for it though.


Are you awake? I’m not.

Are you awake? No really, are you? You’re reading this right now, and we generally assume that if you’re busy reading something on the internet you tend to not be asleep.

But I’m still not sure how awake you are. I know I spend a lot of my waking life not really being awake, but rather I drift through life missing some of the most beautiful moments that pass me.

I’ve only realised the extent of this anomaly over the last week or so when I started a little experiment of mine. I have been constantly doing what I call ‘wake checks’.

The origins of this experiment came from my attempts to Lucid dream; when you become aware that you are dreaming and can consequently control it. It is meant to be an incredible experience, and although I haven’t succeeded yet, I’m vaguely aware that I could lucid dream to an extent when I was younger. (I have an interesting story about when my dreams stopped, but perhaps I’ll leave that for another post).

As i just said above that I hadn’t yet managed to lucid dream with the help of my wake checks, naturally i’ll be talking mainly about something other than Lucid dreams today. The fact, from my experience so far, is that wake checks do more than improve your chances of Lucid dreaming. Oh so much more.

Let me actually explain to you what my wake checks entail. The basic principle is fairly self-explanatory. You check whether or not you’re awake. I write ‘Are you awake?’ on my hand everyday in Chinese  (你醒马) and look at occasionally over the course of the day. As soon as I see it in passing, I ask myself “Am I awake? Am I dreaming?”, count the fingers on my hand, close my eyes, then check my hand again, looking for abnormal changes.

This may all seem a little odd, but in a dream certain small details get distorted. By making it customary to check for abnormalities in the waking world (being the strange person I am, I hesitate to use the word ‘reality’), it should increase the chance of noticing abnormalities in a dream – triggering awareness within the dream.

The problem arises when you consider that most people would think it rather strange to check they’re awake, especially when they know that they’re awake.

The bigger problem is that they should, and are missing out in not doing so.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘am I dreaming?’ used for when something incredulous happens. Interestingly enough, if you force the question, you start noticing plenty of incredulous things you pass every day but ignored before as ‘normal’, ‘just the way it is’, ‘boring’.

But things aren’t just ‘the way they are’ or ‘normal’. If you have ever read ‘the Kite Runner’, you may well remember the moment when the protagonist breaks down into tears because he had seen something stunningly beautiful for the first time. The sea.

What is considered normal is just what we are used to, and we tend to ignore it to an extent. An Eskimo isn’t going to be too excited If he met a Bedouin nomad telling of the wonders of icicles. Likewise, the Bedouin would be severely confused for an Eskimo in awe of expanses of sand.

Of course both places are incredible. But for someone, they are normal and for someone, what’s normal for you would be a world of experience for someone else.

You just need to see it.

And wake checks do that.

These are some of the things I hadn’t noticed – or had at least forgotten to the sea of acceptance and normality – that have come to my awareness since starting my wake checks.

-The cold isn’t as uncomfortable as we make it out to be, we just seem to be predisposed to anxiety from it. (of course I may have a different opinion of this if I still lived in Xinjiang, where it gets to -30)

– I’ve noticed patterns I never saw before in the way trees grow

– music has more depth and clarity

-The way different colours interact with each other seems clearer

-The huge amount of movement that happens in one single view at one time is incredible (this one came partly also from a recent training of my periphery vision. That in itself is another example of positive side-effects of projects as I was improving my periphery vision for speed reading rather than for increasing awareness in general)

-Fog has a very distinct smell

-I’ve realised how difficult it is to remain completely in focus of multiple actions. Try taking in everything in front of you in extreme detail whilst also trying to focus on a piece of music.

-Even if I haven’t lucid dreamed, my normal dreams are coming back (the disappearance of my dreams is worth talking about, but not today – it’s a weird story)

-I never noticed before how certain objects illuminate under streetlights at night.

-I see now just how much most people sleep-walk through life, when I see their faces in the street.

-I’ve noticed buildings and monuments I hadn’t acknowledged before.

-I’m more aware of how I feel, and as a result i’m less confused. This gives me confidence in myself.

-I feel like I need to be more productive each day. Being aware of your own wakefulness accentuates the knowledge that you are alive. We’re not alive for very long, and knowing you’re awake is a pretty good reminder that you’re still alive and need to make the most of that.



Some of those points probably appear more poignant than others, but I think that the apparently smaller insignificant points are the more exciting. When you notice how the normal is incredible, you realise that there is so much more to reassess for it’s wonder, and that in turn highlights how exciting the as of yet unseen really is.

So I’ll ask you something again…

Are you awake?

10922797_10204984690669344_395032470757849375_n - Copy

on…words and lost meaning

I’m a writer. Writers love words, right?

Well, yes. It’s hard to write without words. They are the building blocks of how we communicate. They join together to form streams of ideas, which then fork out into a tributary of arguments, developments, thoughts, emotions…quite frankly words are quite useful little things.

I’ve dropped the intensity of that sentence off a hypothetical crumbling cliff on purpose right there. I’ve been thinking lately quite a lot on how much we experience the world without words. Unfortunately the only way to try and tackle this concept of thinking without words is to think about it with words, but that’s just one of those lovely paradoxes that always end up appearing when you think too much.

I’ll start by sharing a quote I’ve found recently. Here’s some wisdom from Terence Mckenna.

“Culture replaces authentic feeling with words. As an example of this, imagine an infant lying in its cradle, and the window is open, and into the room comes something, marvelous, mysterious, glittering, shedding light of many colors, movement, sound, a transformative hierophany of integrated perception and the child is enthralled and then the mother comes into the room and she says to the child, “that’s a bird, baby, that’s a bird,” instantly the complex wave of the angel peacock iridescent trans-formative mystery is collapsed, into the word. All mystery is gone, the child learns this is a bird, this is a bird, and by the time we’re five or six years old all the mystery of reality has been carefully tiled over with words. This is a bird, this is a house, this is the sky, and we seal ourselves in within a linguistic shell of dis-empowered perception.”
~ Terence Mckenna The World Could Be Anything (1990)

found here. https://www.facebook.com/EtherealExposition/photos/a.144806929042766.1073741829.144767382380054/321604901362967/?type=1&theater

Do you know that feeling when you experience something new for the first time? Maybe not. Maybe you haven’t experienced something new for a while, but I doubt that. maybe you’re in the position that Mckenna describes, that you have abstracted everything to the point where there is no wonder in them anymore. Take the view of a young child, pointing at everything  in excitement  on a walk in a forest

“what’s that? that crying flower? Why does it look so sad? Look! It’s crying!” “that’s just a daffodil. That’s just a drop of rain, falling from it’s leaves”

“What’s that noise? It sounds like the ground is shaking! the forest is awake!” “No, that’s just a woodpecker – look! There it is, in that tree.”

“But what is the tree dreaming of? Is she happy?” “no, it’s just a tree.”

Who’s right?

Already a young child has abstracted some things. Bird, tree, flower. We need to so we’re all on the same wavelength and able to talk with each other. But children still have so much more to see, so much more to turn from wonder into the normal. You know when a baby stares at the seemingly most mundane object, in wonder? What if we could do that? why don’t we? I think it’s something to do with everything just being ‘just’ something.

Just a daffodil. Just a woodpecker. Just a tree.

Of course, words are how we communicate with one another. i couldn’t write this to you all unless you partake in this word game known as the English language. Yet as soon as words are placed on something some of the beauty is lost. Let’s take hypnogogia as an example. Most people don’t know what this is, but we’ve all experienced it to varying degrees.

Hypnogogia is the transitional state between sleep and wakefulness. during it we see swirling colours which sometimes form shapes. It’s beautiful. Sometimes unexplainable. I could spend hours writing about it and never quite reach what it actually is. It’s more beautiful in the fact that I can’t full explain it.

In most languages, the script in which something is given its name is biggest abstraction of all. what is ‘t’ on its own? It’s a sound. it’s a shape. It means nothing. How about ‘ttttttt’? now it’s just a meaningless shape. You can’t pronounce that. And then ‘t t t t t t’? now they are shapeand they make a sound. Still no recognisable meaning though. we could attach meaning to the sound though – that ‘t t t t t t’ could describe the tattattattat of the woodpecker in that forest. We’ve applied a total abstraction to a sound/action. And now that action is a collection of meaningless abstractions. This extends to actual words. What does ‘w-o-r-d’ say about the word word? Nothing.

Let’s compare that to Chinese, where the writing sound isn’t totally abstracted. put 女(nü)(woman) with 子(zi)(child) and you get 好(hao)(good). Aside from the fact that the idea portrayed there is a rather traditional view, a woman and child together meaning ‘good’ is very clever and quite beautiful.

Each concept in life has however still been boiled down to a few strokes on paper, even in the Chinese. The words are less abstract, but they do still serve the purpose of defining something in a generic term we all understand, removing part of the personal experience.

What do you experience when you read a novel? Many people who read fiction incessantly might talk of really knowing the characters in their favourite book, and of really feeling the emotions of the character, the environments of the story, a life brought onto those words. The words translate into images. You interpret them into something more. Yet you are always restrained by the author’s choice of words, and your own interpretation of them.

An imaginative reader might get close to the feeling of the unexplained, through extrapolating what they have been told and making it into something new. a great example of this is not with literature but with art. Dürer’s famous rhinoceros. He had never seen a rhino, but he had a great go at sculpting and drawing one on written accounts of their appearance. He got close, but not quite there. That’s what words are like – you can have a good go at explaining something, but you will never truly have the whole image.

"Dürer's Rhinoceros, 1515" by Albrecht Dürer - Christie's. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:D%C3%BCrer%27s_Rhinoceros,_1515.jpg#mediaviewer/File:D%C3%BCrer%27s_Rhinoceros,_1515.jpg

“Dürer’s Rhinoceros, 1515″ by Albrecht Dürer – Christie’s. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:D%C3%BCrer%27s_Rhinoceros,_1515.jpg#mediaviewer/File:D%C3%BCrer%27s_Rhinoceros,_1515.jpg

And now here’s another quote I found over the last few days, this time a criticism of written word.

“The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.” – Russel Means


Although this quote only indirectly affects what was written before it, the divide between spoken word and written word is interesting. The idea I want to look at here is this ‘Legitimate thinking’. When you speak words, those words are accompanied with facial expressions, rise and fall in tone and movement. It’s a marriage of total abstraction and part-abstraction. Conversation allows further discussion of the most disputable points of meaning. The written word lacks that. When words are written to describe something – anything even – no matter how beautiful, chances are that moment would have been more beautiful without them.

My leaving note will be this. Do you know those moments when you think “I don’t have the words” to describe something incredible? Maybe we shouldn’t try.

on modern feminism as a man

I’m writing about something rather different today, but it has to be done. I’m afraid some may consider it controversial, but it has to be written.

I have considered myself a feminist for quite a while. There are plenty of male feminists dotted about and in fact, as far as i’m concerned, if you believe in equality between all genders from all backgrounds and walks of life, you are a feminist. I believe in equality, therefore I am a feminist.

Unfortunately I feel it’s not easy to be a male feminist, simply because we are not truly accepted as feminists by many. There are many reasons for this; some of which I want to talk about below.

1. Feminism is a female movement.

Is it? I expect that some readers may be screaming at their screens at that, but really, is it? Given that feminism is a movement for equality between genders, I argue it is not a female-only movement, but a movement for all. Can one really expect equality when groups are excluded? The male population is after all a rather large group – roughly the same size as the female population.

A common argument for why feminism should be a predominantly female movement is that us men are unable to fully understand the struggle of women. This is probably true, I agree. That doesn’t mean that men shouldn’t be allowed to be part of the movement. Women have an advantage in understanding what is required to reach equality from experience of what is currently lacking in society and unfortunately experience of  the discrimination of women. Can a women’s-only movement however fully understand the end goal (or at least what I understand it to be) of equality? This is, I should quickly add, not to say that men would be any better at understanding  an end goal of equality. We would almost certainly be worse, because men don’t have the advantage of experience I mentioned above. Well, at least men have no personal experience, but I will cover that later.

The point is, a gender equality movement should strive for equality between genders, which requires participation of all genders. In a theatre, do we exclude all but the protagonists, because the minor characters have nothing to offer? No – the minor characters are integral to the play. Does a band consist of a front-man and a backing tape, because the band has less to offer? No, the band completes the music. Men may have less to offer, but they have something to offer, and that should be enough.

2. Men claim to be feminists for personal gain.

This is a difficult point. There are indeed men who exploit the word ‘feminist’ There are numerous stories of guys claiming to be feminists and reeling off rote learned feminist facts to trick women into thinking they are genuinely fighters for equality. I haven’t come across these guys yet (a reason why women have the advantage of experience talked about in .1…) but I’m aware of their sorry existence. These male fake-feminists give actual male feminists a hard time, as we have to be put under scrutiny for actually being reasonable human beings.

I understand why some women would be suspicious of a man who appeared and introduced themselves “Hi! I’m a feminist!”, but extending a few exploitative, horrible, men to representing all male feminists – genuine or not – is the exact same thing as claiming that all people from a particular country are evil or all members of a particular religion are terrorists. The two examples I gave are clearly ridiculous. I think it’s ridiculous to believe all male ‘feminists’ are out to exploit female feminists. Otherwise, my brain deletes the parts of my life where i’m out tricking women into thinking i’m fantastic. After all I know from my experience (and we all know how important experience is) that a. I do not use feminism to pull people, and b. I’m not fantastic.

I am of the belief that most male feminists are feminists for equality, not for getting girls in night clubs. Sorry, all male feminists are, because if they are the latter of the two types, they aren’t feminists. Because they aren’t striving for equality between all genders.

3. Feminism should only have female role models

I have seen on a lot of articles lately that many feminists get annoyed when they see men making a public statement for feminism. I ask, why shouldn’t a man make statements against misogyny or for gender equality? (and that’s not entirely rhetorical – I would love you to comment if you have views)

One reply would seem to be the male lack of experience of being at the wrong end of abuse and misogyny again. We certainly don’t have the most important experience – that of a woman – but to claim that men have no experience of misogyny is pretty narrow-minded. Most men will have had passive experiences of it through observing sexist incidents. To say that men are not allowed to comment on what they see, not allowed to be outraged at how other men treat women, is to say passive experience is worthless. It is to say we must be bystanders. It is to say we may as well accept sexism.

I don’t want that.

Some may say that if a man tries to be a feminist or feminist role model, he is taking his assumed  patriarchal-cultural position of control and in doing so is undermining the feminist movement. Because of societies tendencies to still highlight men more than women, this male role model would be seen more than female role models and drown out the message of the more important women, so some may say.

If a man produces something feminism related, is he realistically going to believe that he, as a man, should be assuming a leadership role? If he believes that, he is delusional. More likely than not he is producing his work because he believes in equality and because he believes he has something to contribute. I, for example, am writing this because I believe in equality and want to contribute something. I don’t think I am any better than a female writer. In fact, so far I feel this article has been written very poorly, but it’s quite late and i’m not in the mood for redrafting.

In my opinion, if a male supporter of feminism gains a lot of publicity, that is either due to the choice of the viewers, or more likely, the publishers. Is it right to say that because current society will push male opinions forward, men shouldn’t express support for feminism? Should a man who speaks out for feminism be criticized by feminists for getting in the way of female advocates of feminism? Perhaps the attack should be directed at the constructs that allow a male speaker to be noticed over a female speaker; not the speaker himself.

4. Men should listen and not push their inexperienced ideas into debate.

I’ve sensationalised this point slightly with my wording, but I’ve seen this kind of opinion all over the web. I have a serious serious serious problem with this idea.

Please go ahead and replace the first word of that heading with ‘women’. Now you have the sort of mad opinion that the suffragette movement fought against. I’m not trying to claim there has been a reversal of roles in society, but that kind of view is scary. It was terrible when it regarded women, its terrible if/when it regards men now.

Some like this idea of men just listening to the debate because men can try to overbear a debate with supposed solutions for all of feminism’s problems. The solution to that kind of problematic person is the same as any debate ever – debate why they’re wrong. Maybe there is something in the debate, maybe there is not. Something will however have been brought to the debate. Is UKIP allowed to make it’s voice heard in politics? Then even if a male feminist is seen as the annoying, even dangerous bit of a debate, it’s they’re right to debate.

I said at the very beginning of this article that I believe feminism is a movement for gender equality. I’ve only talked about a few things here, but I think one thing is clear from it. Feminism risks not being a particularly equal equality movement. Yes, the movement was started by women for women but it will never become an equality movement until all genders are accepted as feminists.



.Now. Why am I writing this? I spend a fair amount of time reading feminist articles, but I never comment. I just read and think. Recently however I keep finding articles almost but not quite denouncing male feminists. Many are on the edge of saying “you can call yourself a feminist in name, but don’t do anything”. There’s even a list somewhere of the things male feminists shouldn’t do.

I’m not comfortable with that. Equality should be fought for by a movement with space for all. It’s ridiculous to claim that an exclusive group can create an inclusive society. I don’t think it could work. And I’m sorry, but I can’t change my views to suite demand. If I am a man who thinks that women should have equal rights to men, that is what I think. I can’t change that view for a a feminist, anti-feminist or anti-male feminist.

I will finish today with a comment that I won’t explore properly, as i’m tired and want to fall asleep, but still want to press that lovely publish button at the bottom of the screen…

I do wonder if one problem now that feminism as an equality movement faces is its name. ‘Fem’-inism does suggest exclusivity for women. In the early days of the suffragettes and Cady-Stanton, it made sense for the movement to be mainly women and to be called feminism. Now it is in a better position to strive for truer equality, but that may demand the dropping of an exclusive name.

Thank you for reading.

Quick note – I apologise profusely for my lack of acknowledgement of the LGBT community and other gender orientations in this article. I have endeavored at the very least to use ‘all genders’ rather than ‘both genders/men and women’ but I haven’t really done enough. I hope that this can be forgiven. 

Yang Xiong


Rhetoric. The most often time we hear that word probably is in context to politicians. when a world leader makes a dramatically grand, yet sweeping statement, there will always bee someone around to exclaim grumpily (and it’s usually me, I admit) “Oh but it’s all rhetoric! Nothing was said there at all!”.

With an opening comment like that, I couldn’t possibly be a supporter of excessive exposure to special rhetorical twists of the tongue, could I?

Maybe that sentence shows where my allegiance really lies. I’m quite a fan of rhetoric and today I want to talk about it a fair bit. Here’s why…

I have a pretty hefty tome of a book stuffed with essays, quotes, speeches and such similar things of important figures from modern Chinese history. I was reading through this the other day, when I came across a quote on rhetoric from a fellow called Yang Xiong, a poet of the Han dynasty – in other words, not modern in the slightest. Here’s what he had to say on rhetoric:

“A woman has beauty; does writing have beauty also? The answer is yes. The worst thing for a woman is to have her inner beauty clouded by cosmetics; The worst thing for a piece of writing is to have its rules and proportions confounded by excessive rhetoric.”

Obviously one must take into account that this has been translated from traditional Chinese (not by me – I won’t take credit for that!) but Mr Yang Xiong seems to have not noticed just how much rhetoric he used on his attack on rhetoric. Even if you excuse that unbelievably obvious rhetorical question, there’s still all the slightly more subtle additions to his hypocrisy; usage of strong superlatives (the worst), repetition of phrases (The worst thing for a…), the comparison between a beautiful woman and literature…that’s a lot of rhetoric for someone that allegedly doesn’t like it very much.

Oh, and the translator hasn’t helped either, by adding alliteration (clouded by cosmetics).

The fact is, it’s pretty tricky to get away from rhetoric, as it’s essentially any element that makes writing catchy. If your text has no rhetoric, considering you would almost have to be a genius to avoid it in most types of writing, it’s probably your shopping list for the week.

And although your shopping habits may be genius, that is not me trying to insinuate that a shopping list is the greatest form of literature man has ever devised. That’s a bit out there even for me I’m afraid.

What might strike some as odd however – at least those who were paying close attention to Yang’s chosen profession – is that a poet who despises ‘excessive rhetoric’ is a rather singular poet. Poetry is the kind of writing where some readers could justifiably wave their arms up in despair, begging for mercy from the onslaught of hyperbole and hyperbaton..and apparently alliteration (that second one was unintentional, honest). Yet here is a poet declaring war on excessive rhetoric…strange man.

Now, the other reason I’m possibly writing on this particular topic today is the book i’m reading currently – “The Elements of Eloquence”, by Mark Forsyth. This lovely little book could be considered a crash course in the art of turning a phrase that makes people go ‘oooh’.

I recommend the book highly, but the main reason I’m mentioning it is that it makes something very clear: You will struggle to say anything at all without a certain element of rhetoric. It seems to me as if it were its own branch of semantics, as essential to why a sentence works as the main underlying rules.

Although the aim of Forsyth’s book doesn’t seem  to point out that almost everything is rhetoric (I haven’t finished it, so this is all supposition. It has more of an aestheticism feel to it currently.), that message shouts out of the pages. The sheer number of excellent terms to describe all these techniques you probably have never heard of really highlights just how many techniques there are that we all use unwittingly. Antithesis and assonance will be common to plenty of us, but anadiplosis and scesis onomaton will not only be all greek to most, but also send every word checker in the universe into a frenzy of red underlining.

So dear readers, don’t reject rhetoric like Mr Yang up there. Mr Yang Xiong was silly. You need it. It would put me out of a hobby, humble me typing away trying to fit in as many memorable bits as possible.

And anyway, You’re going to struggle to get away from rhetoric if you decide you don’t like it!…

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!