Even the best of us sometimes find ourselves lost for words. Usually it’s because of our own shrinking vocabularies, but sometimes it’s because there just isn’t a word for what we’re trying to describe. It’s a gap that John Koenig has been plugging for the past few years through his project The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, crafting svelte monikers for emotions that have so far remained nameless and neglected. And now he has a webseries to enhance his creations—and it’s fantastic.
It’s no surprise that Koenig’s work is interesting as the notion of naming something is a fascinating process in itself. It is very hard to substantiate the existence of something that does not have a name, even something as obvious as a color or an animal. It grows even more difficult when what you hope to describe is something less tangible, like a feeling. As such, many have found comfort in the ability of certain poems to articulate experiences and emotions that otherwise would have left them feeling isolated. Names are powerful things, and this is something that Koenig’s work trades on.
All the episodes are beautifully produced and are lovely to look at—evidence of Koenig’s trade as a graphic designer. The editing is particularly artful: “Vemödalen” features an almost exhausting—yet seamless—fusion of 465 similar photos from different photographers, while “Avenoir” is a collage of his own home movies to piece together an exploration of life’s linearity.
The videos also perfectly reflect Koenig’s professed methods of naming: a process whereby after each “sorrow” is “bagged, tagged, and tranquilized” it is then “released gently into the subconscious.” Each episode is a soothing meditation on its subject, fortified by a hypnotic soundtrack and Koenig’s twistingly intelligent narration.
It’s a depressing exercise, however. There is a common thread of negativity among the “sorrows”; each definition monopolized by terms such as “smallness,” “inadequacy,” “frustration,” and “impotence.” It’s a sad thought to think of those who will ultimately identify with each one, and you’d hope that there is a point at which each viewer will wish for some positive respite to Koenig’s gloomy output. Maybe he will do it on his own steam, illustrating someone else’s happier feelings.
Screengrab via The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows/YouTube