|My red versus (potentially) your red. Source|
We call these raw, unexplainable feelings qualia and refer to our inability to describe them as the explanatory gap. And I am fascinated with the idea of it all—from the loneliness of our own individual feelings to the inadequacies of language.
Ever since I uncovered the concept of qualia, my mind has wandered to it each time I turn to type up a book review (because, as I recently proved, I can connect anything to book blogging). I feel a multitude of insufficiencies as a blogger—I can't use GIFs and I don't post often enough and I don't comment on other blogs as much as I should—but my most pressing insecurity is my inability to describe exactly how a book makes me feel.
I can talk about character growth and world building all day. I can analyze a story's metaphorical meanings and rhetorical strategies. I can quote a text dry and comment on each line until you never want to hear me talk again. I can even tell you that a book made me nauseated with anxiety, bubbly with happiness, or teeming with rage, and I can tell you why.
But I cannot describe precisely how it felt to fall into the world of Rose Under Fire, to be so absorbed and integrated into the story that I suspected the author of utilizing magical powers. I cannot relate exactly how it felt to read Strands of Bronze and Gold, watching the tension grow and grow and feeling like pressure was physically building inside me.
At first, this thought sounds lonely—as lonely as knowing we cannot share our individual perceptions of the color red. I joined the blogging community as a way to share my passion for literature and bond with people who love the same books as I do, and yet I cannot completely know how my blogging friend feels about a novel we both love. The problem even exists for non-reviewers discussing literature—they cannot overcome the bookish explanatory gap either.
However, while the inability to describe your emotional encounter with a novel may seem frustrating, I view it as a challenge. I may never be able to share my exact feelings about a book, but by citing specific details and calling upon my best descriptive writing, I can come close. With each review, I aim to draw near to that perfect description that will flood my readers with every emotion I felt while reading.
Someday, we may think of an arrangement of words that causes a vision of yellow to burn into your brain as bright as the sun. Someday, we might be able to describe the emotional, chemical turmoil churning in our brains when we read a specific book. All we need to do is continue trying.
So keep searching for that right set of words that can describe exactly how you feel about a story. Someday in the future, we may be able to have a book discussion like never before.
Do you ever get frustrated with your inability to describe how books make you feel? Let me know in the comments.
(Special thanks to this brilliant, mind-blowing video by Vsauce for inspiring this post. I highly recommend watching it—he explains qualia and the explanatory gap much more deeply and widely than I do here.)