Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Joint

"The time is out of joint."

"Joint" may be the hippest word in the English language. Not only does it play a key role in one of the most famous sentences of all time, it can be used to mean both a marijuana cigarette and the male sexual organ. It can also be used to refer to a night club and to a prison. Or it can refer to a work of popular culture like a song or a film ("a Spike Lee joint," for example). If you're hip enough, I imagine, it can be used to refer to any work of art.

And the word "art" actually stems from the Latin for "joint". A work of art puts things together, we might say. (Just as a venue—"the joint down the street"—brings people together for an evening.) Hamlet was living in a world that was coming apart because of the lies told by the current king about the death of the previous king. To expose the lie he put on a play. That was his joint. If you're hip enough, you can call your journal article a "joint". "My next joint is going to be about cultural change processes in high-technology companies," for example.

To be articulate is not just to speak clearly. It is to be able to join words together in meaningful ways. And meaning is use. A good joint doesn't just keep things together, it gives them a particular range of motion, it limits their usefulness but also makes it more precise. That's what happens when you join words together in an article—notice that root again: art-icle, i.e., "It's the joint."* You limit their range of meaning but also focus their effect. A piece of writing is internally jointed (especially between the paragraphs) and also joined to the outside world. There are specific points of connection between your text and the work of others, some explicit (in your references) some implicit (in your choice of words).

Research is a conversation. You join a conversation.

*By linking to the Beastie Boys' "Shake Your Rump", I'm revealing my ignorance of music history. The line was in fact sampled from "That's the Joint" by Funky 4 +1.

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