Umberto Eco in his Six Walks in The Fictional Woods is referring to the idea of an optical illusion, for explaining how we are perceiving the fictional novels. Throughout his essay we are being shown, several illustrations with which he is visualizing the concept behind his es- say. Although it is not a children’s book, he is adding the illustration for the means of having a common understanding on the topic he is referring to and the concepts he is presenting.
While in children’s books, unfortunately, the freedom of the child using his fantasy is taken away, by – and thus imposing the fantasy of – one or more grownups, directing them in what they must see and understand as to have a common memory. I will come back on this subject later.
In Eco’s book though it is necessary to have the same understanding of the concept he is proposing. He is pointing his finger, saying “this is what I mean and not other”. Being able to maintain a certain common understanding, while using words, either in speech or writing is very difficult, as De Certeau is pointing it out in The Practice of Everyday Life:
“The readable transforms itself into the memorable: Barthes reads Proust in Stendhal’s text; the viewer reads the landscape of his childhood in the evening news.”
Simply because we have agreed that, say: cup is a cup it does not mean that we are talking about the same subject/object. Each of us are having a specific memory of the word, being related to either the time we have learned it first, space, surrounding, atmosphere, mate- rial, color, size or form, are additions to the experience we are relating the word to.
When we say the word cup we refer to all the cups from everyone’s memory, and to the only one cup we relate to personally, all the cups we have happened to see, and even the ones we do not yet know about.
Here I will make a short parenthesis for coming back to what I have said above, about the common memory of the children, whom have shared the same book in the past. Clearly there are a few objects in each generation (related to time) or cultures (related to place) we can think of, that are bringing a sudden nostalgia. Referring to one of these objects from our common memory, has the power to affirm and acknowledge the ground where one that stands facing the others. Thus sharing a specific memory of a specific object can be decisive for taking or not part of the group.
Once this idea is settled there is no need for other words to explain ourselves. We now can trust each others understanding on a number of other discussions, that we do have similar experiences.
Let’s take the 90’s generation as example. We might have experienced objects as Tamaqotchi, Nokia Querty, Pokemon and Dexter’s laboratory even though we come from all different countries and cultures. Recently I have participated in a some similar talks in a few different settings about Tamaqochi. It seems that somehow the memory of this object, keeps reoccurring. There are exactly a few specific answers to the question: “Oh! And do you remember Tamagotchi?!” that represent the object at it’s best and everyone understand their meaning.With or without the additional -
annoyed : “Oooh! Noooo, please….(it was such a stupid game, it would always die during the class)” .
and the enthusiastic : “Yes Yes! (I actually had a few)!”.
Whether one remembers more the annoyance or the pleasure, in the end both sides know exactly what it all meant or felt like. Thus trough sharing a common reference point they are becoming ‘a group’. They can now feel closer by the fact that they have shared a common/similar experience. Trough sharing a common experience the ‘other’ becomes ‘we’. While the ones that did not share the experience have a harder time to relate to the word and the meaning it carries with it.
This of course is a simplistic example and as such I am here not discussing the importance of sharing the idea of the Tamagotchi persé as an object/name, or as an experience, but replace it with something of a bigger importance – and that is where we, although having developed language to be able to transmit thoughts, can not get over the struggles of truthfully understanding their meaning and in some cases we overlook their importance by not being able to relate to other people’s experiences only trough words.