Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Language Barrier: thoughts on "The Goalie's Anxiety..."

I had a conversation with one of my clients on Wednesday (after the beginning discussion of Handke and "Goalie." I had previously told her about The Sorrows of Young Werther, however, in this conversation I found myself taking an enormous amount of time to say absolutely nothing. I could NOT find a way to convey to her the feeling and tone of Handke's writing that told the story. I tried to tell her of the depersonalization of the reader herself (me) in reading the depersonalization of Bloch himself. I tried to convey the structure of the sentences. I tried to explain how Handke narrates the mundanity of each action, observation or thought in a way that leaves you feeling empty and upended inside. I attempted to describe the slow emergence of Bloch's awareness with the present leading up to the conclusion...

She is very well-read, my client, and so she continued to give me back words and phrases in the effort to grasp what I was trying to tell her. All of them MISSED! MISSED! The longer this went on, the more I became aware of just how brilliant this work of Handke's is; how skillfully he writes about language so that we cannot describe it but only experience what it is for ourselves.

And that was the conclusion we both reached. I wrote the title for her on a sticky note at the end of our appointment.

Psycho and Language

Courtesy of Alex's remarks about Psycho in class I had to re-watch it with the parallels of language in the back of my mind. However trite it may be I couldn't help but relate language to the murders in the film. How many times do we butcher or slaughter what we feel and think by trying to say it. Bad writing/poor speech is the equivalent of "the shower scene." Or could it be the other way around? Spectacular writing is "the shower scene?" You decide.

In one particular scene in the movie Norman is talking to Marion about his mother. Norman speaks about the illness his mother has and how much he hates it. Marion suggests that it might be better to put her "someplace..." referring to an asylum. Norman perks up and says, "You mean an institution? A madhouse?" This got me thinking about the concept of the institution/madhouse of language. In class we refer to language as a prison, however I think a madhouse would be a better term - especially in the light of The Sorrows of Young Werther and The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. We must either live in the madhouse of language or go mad trying to get beyond language.

Language strives to explain the madness but only adds to it. Already I have done no justice to the ideas and thoughts I wanted to communicate. Ultimately all we've done is brutally murder truth. (Cue shrieking violins...)


This is a very interesting idea and seems to be effective on some level. I wonder if the kids understand and know the meaning behind the language or they just sing the songs to the tune that they have memorized.

Language Moving Picture



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Peter Handke

"The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" was Austrian Peter Handke's first widely read novel. It was translated by Michael Roloff, who has a fantastic web site devoted to Handke and his work. You can access it HERE.

The photo above was taken by my friend Zarko Radakovic at a soccer game in what is now Serbia. Peter Handke is on the left, his friend Zlatko Bokokic on the right.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

photos of language

In response to Jorgen's call for photos of language, I've been thinking about possibilities. I haven't settled on the single photo I'll send him before the end of September, but two are currently my favorites, one I took on campus a few months ago, and another a photo I took today of a fine wood carving by Bob Moss that includes a transcription guide from the Deseret Alphabet he often uses to the alphabet we usually use.

The campus photo can be found

Kafka and Hofmannsthal

Today's NYTimes Magazine has an article about Kafka's papers that contains this paragraph:

Kafka's life passed almost entirely within the space of a few city blocks in Prague, where he was born in 1883, attended school and university and, as an adult, lived with his parents and worked in an insurance agency. Kafka and Brod met in 1902, at Charles University, where both were studying law. Brod was 18 — one year younger than Kafka — but already a literary sensation. According to Brod’s biography of Kafka, the two met at a lecture Brod gave on Schopenhauer, during which Kafka objected to Brod’s characterization of Nietzsche as a fraud. Walking home together afterward, they discussed their favorite writers. Brod praised a passage from the story “Purple Death” in which Gustav Meyrink “compared butterflies to great opened-out books of magic.” Kafka, who took no stock in magic butterflies, countered with a phrase from Hugo von Hoffmansthal: “the smell of damp flags in a hall.” Having uttered these words, he fell into a profound silence that left a great impression on Brod.

[the rest of the article is HERE]

What had been on my mind lately.

It is a serious business, I think, to Create. We do it constantly without thought or forethought or introspection. We begin, entitled to Create, and continue from that vantage point. We see Creation as an innately righteous endeavor in which outcomes with negative consequences are the result of other influences and not a result of a tacitly naive indulgence at the beginning.

But creating is dangerous. In the midst of a culture which seduces us to believe that we can control our futures, not just influence them, we embark upon our Frankensteinian missions with what seems the guilelessness of a child. But in fact, perspective is hard-bought. And when we say hindsight is 20/20, and allow ourselves license to continue irresponsible rampant creating, we have still failed to purchase it. Our noble intrepidness leads as often to happy outcomes as it does to folly and tragedy.

I am only asserting that I think we are too quick to move and too slow to think. That good ideas do not necessarily make good realities and the difference between can often be apprehended at least in part from caution and hesitancy at the outset. Instead, we spend much of our time analyzing our creations and rationalizing, demonizing, deifying, or regretting them. Which amounts to our still not learning to reverence the gravity of the creative moment and look as far inside of it as we are able before the first step is taken.

This seems to necessitate an ethics of some kind in order to clarify to ourselves what our true motives are in beginning a Creation. Are we not so led by our egos? This can be either an emotional or a logical process of rationalization. And I don't know if people are truly able to not rationalize in any decision, to be honest. But perhaps we can curb the ego somewhat by considering the effects our creating can or will have on others. Beauvoir thought one's freedom could only be truly ethical when it required that one also esteem and work toward the freedom of the Other. The Tao Te Ching teaches that to understand one's life, one must look to the effects her actions have produced.

Seems a good beginning to mindful creating. And Frankenstein wasn't bad, just misunderstood and isolated. But that eventuality would have been obvious before forcing him into life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Seeing inside her journey, a little

Lord Chandos "Letter": A Personal Response

Just finished rereading Hofmannsthal's description of his language crisis, and realize I've got a similar problem.

HERE it is, if you're interested.

Hofmannsthal: Review of a New Book of Translations

November 4, 2009

The precious Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The precocious, outstanding, gifted poet and frustrated conservative who sought to escape his Jewish roots

Can a bad economy make for great poetry? Hugo von Hofmannsthal thought so. Indeed, he saw his own gift for lyrical writing and reflection as being, in a way, a consequence of the stock market crash of 1873. This self-understanding starts with the fact that Hofmannsthal was conceived at the very moment of the bust. His father, a banker, got word of it soon after arriving in Naples for his honeymoon. Cutting his trip short, he hurried back to Vienna, where he was able to confirm that the family fortune, which stemmed from his silk-trading, noble “von”-earning, devoutly Jewish grandfather, had evaporated. But even harder hit, Hofmannsthal believed, was his mother. She already suffered from weak nerves; according to him, the cause was the tumultuous context of her own birth: the revolutions of 1848. When financial worries came, she dealt with them poorly. In Hofmannsthal’s view his mother’s stress imprinted itself on him in the womb. Its mark was the special sensitivity of the poet.
Clearly, Hofmannsthal liked to spin myths about himself. Yet in treating his talent as a phenomenon that demanded a back story, he was merely acknowledging what was plain to see. Even Karl Kraus, who loathed Hofmannsthal and seized every opportunity to debunk him, acknowledged that Hofmannsthal was a great writer. In a fin-de-siècle Viennese literary scene famously well stocked with brilliant poets and thinkers Hofmannsthal stood out. It helped that he entered the scene so young. He was still in high school when, under the pseudonym “Loris”, he began placing essays and poems in literary journals. His precociousness as well as his virtuosity and the refinement of his observations were unrivalled. Here is Arthur Schnitzler evoking his impression of a reading Hofmannsthal gave in 1892, at the age of eighteen:
"After a few minutes we riveted our attention on him, and exchanged astonished, almost frightened glances. We had never heard such verses of perfection, such faultless plasticity, such musical feeling, from any living being, nor had we thought them possible after Goethe. But more wondrous than this unique mastery of form (which has never since been achieved in the German language) was his knowledge of the world, which could only have come from a magical intuition in a youth whose days were spent sitting on the school bench."
[read the rest of the review HERE]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I got a picture from my 4 1/2 year-old daughter that she drew recently. I asked her what she called it and she gave it a name, but I won't post it.
Below it is a picture I drew well before she was born, which does not have a name.
Both pictures were drawn with black pen.
Note the particular use of lines in each.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Words are Living Beings: A Deleted Scene from "The Sonosopher."

A deleted scene from "The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Sound." Alex explains his belief that words are living beings and then begins a spontaneous performance linked to his artwork.

Foam and Sand

A short clip of Alex Caldiero performing his poem "Foam and Sand" in the film "The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Sound." For more information on the film please visit


Alex and Metaphors

Shot from a camera phone in Italy while filming "The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Sound." Alex explains his belief (or lack thereof) of metaphors.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Experiment in Photography

Hey Language Scrapians... In the past I have, with many others, run a set of 'experiments' in photography, where we take pictures regarding a certain theme, and then publish them on a blog for all to see. The most recent of these experiments happens to have the theme: LANGUAGE. So Scott and I thought it would be of interest to people in this current class (as well as to interest of those from previous classes - and other readers of this blog). So, if you are interested in participating, see the following:

***DESCRIPTION OF EXPERIMENT (please read carefully and completely)***

1. With as creative an eye as possible, take a photograph of anything that fits the theme of 'LANGUAGE'. Language is an expansive albeit vague topic, which can encompass words, speech, bodies, and more... "think outside the box" as the saying goes, and... be as creative as possible when capturing 'language' on film.

2. Submit ONE picture to the email address ( with the subject line reading something like "Photo Experiment: LANGUAGE" - be sure to specify that it is for THIS event. Be sure to submit by 11:59 pm on Thursday, September 30, 2010 (i.e. by the end of this month). **[Early submissions encouraged]**

3. Then, check the blog: on Friday, October 1 to see the pictures.

Feel free too check the blog (at the link right above) to see other previous experiments.

LINK to the facebook event page:!/event.php?eid=155448924483952

Playing by Heart

I am reminded of a quote from a favorite movie, Playing By Heart. "Talking about Love is like dancing about architecture." The thing in itself. Can we only know what we experience, and allow what seem like authentic understandings to exist between ourselves and others?

But I think there is more to us than language. It is only the tool. Something seems to exist that wants language in order to express itself. (not a new thought, I know.) How can we be language or not be language? I thought I had a solid footing here, but I think not, now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Inner (mystical) Experience

This is the beginning of a fine book by a French writer in which he gets at some of the questions we raised in the first section of our course.

After class I was thinking about the discussion of natural language and the conventional language. Conventional language and those that are furthest away from natural language seem to involve the "mind" a lot more. Language can be a tool and the mind can also be a tool to get things figured out and understood. People who are run by the mind can not stop using language which is the tool of the mind. This also connects with the idea of trying to name the unnameable. The mind and language can only go so far on thier own. When they are used as tools one can better comprehend the concept of the Tao. Using your mind and using language are traits of someone who is more centered on "Being". I believe that being is coinsides with the natural language. I'm finding this very hard to express.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wikipedia had a quote by Rousseau that I think relates to what we are studying:

"The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him... Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."

This reminded me of the concept a lot of the people we have studied believe - the notion that to say it is to not say it. This relates to anything, particularly I was thinking about religious texts - by writing it down we instantly discredit it and have made it into nothing. Whenever anyone writes about God or tries to tell what God is, we must mistrust them by virtue of the fact that they have defined God. What they have done is define what God is to them, not necessarily what or who God actually is.
By defining God we have nullified God. I am speaking about all the various religions who profess to know God and claim they have/know the only true God(s). Let me, however sacrilegious it may be, rewrite Rousseau's quote to read - Beware of listening to this impostor [i.e. any religious text claiming to know the only true God(s)]; you are undone if you once forget that God belongs to us all, and God itself is nobody. Meaning that "God" varies from person to person and is so undefinable/illusive that claiming to know God instantly destroys God by putting a fence around God. Oddly enough it reminds me of a song from The Sound of Music, "how do you catch a cloud and pin it down?"
I would also like to bring up the fence that Rousseau mentioned: language is the fence we use to try and contain God, who cannot even be contained. This links back to a class Scott taught this summer about barbed wire; now everywhere I go, all I see are fences and I just realized language is yet another fence. We try to contain what we think and feel inside the realm of language and often times this leaves us speechless and unable to purely define what we feel and think. I don't know - I think I am just contradicting myself now. What do you guys think about language as a fence and God being destroyed by that fence?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hegel on the Absolute


More interesting philosophy ties!  :)

"Though it may seem contradictory that the Absolute should be conceived
essentially as a result, it needs little pondering to set this show of
contradiction in its true light.  The beginning, the principle, or the
Absolute, as at first immediately enunciated, is only the universal.  Just
as when I say 'all animals', this expression cannot pass for a zoology, so
it is equally plain that the words, 'the Divine', 'the Absolute', 'the
Eternal', etc., do not express what is contained in them; and only such
words, in fact, do express the intuition as something immediate.  Whatever
is more than such a word, even the transition to a mere
proposition, contains a becoming‑other that has to be taken back, or is a
mediation.  But it is just this that is rejected with horror, as if absolute
cognition were being surrendered when more is made of mediation than in
simply saying that it is nothing absolute, and is completely absent in the
Absolute." ‑ Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

Colten Strickland

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Have you heard the joke about Adolf Eichmann, the strip-tease dancer and the eminent linguist?...

Language is the armory of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests. -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[and yet...]

Language--human language-- after all, is little better than the croak and cackle of fowls, and other utterances of brute nature--sometimes not so adequate. -Nathaniel Hawthorne (American Notebooks)

Hannah Arendt, from her work "Responsibility and Judgment," wrote:

"Some years ago, reporting the trial of [Adolph] Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of "the banality of evil" and meant with this no theory or doctrine but something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness. However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.

He functioned in the role of prominent war criminal as well as he had under the Nazi regime; he had not the slightest difficulty in accepting an entirely different set of rules. He knew that what he had once considered his duty was now called a crime, and he accepted this new code of judgment as though it were nothing but another language rule [my emphasis added]. To his rather limited supply of stock phrases he had added a few new ones, and he was utterly helpless only when he was confronted with a situation to which none of them would apply, as in the most grotesque instance when he had to make a speech under the gallows and was forced to rely on cliches used in funeral oratory which were inapplicable in his case because he was not the survivor. Considering what his last words should be in case of a death sentence, which he had expected all along, this simple fact had not occurred to him, just as inconsistencies and flagrant contradictions in examination and cross examinations during the trial had not bothered him. Cliches, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their existence. If we were responsive to this claim all the time, we would soon be exhausted; the difference in Eichmann was only that he clearly knew of no such claim at all." (end quote)

Arendt's experience with Eichmann illustrates to me the disagreement in belief between Coleridge's and Hawthorne's views. Where Eichmann clearly used language as a means to wield power to the ends of torture and genocide in a war against the Jews and Others, Coleridge's assertion is born out. But upon deeper inspection, Hawthorne's insistence that language is brutish senselessness seems utterly apparent in Eichmann's vacuous adaptivity without any shift in consciousness--even facing the moment of his own death.

Where Coleridge sees language as the means for identifying what we want and then waging war to acquire it--the occupation of our own worlds [read: words], Hawthorne sees language as oftentimes a waste. Though what it is a waste of, I'm uncertain from the quote. And it is interesting that Hawthorne is using language to denigrate language.

But Arendt's assessment of the simple change in "language rule" identifies the deeper issue of all three quotes: individual perception(s) and one's subsequent intention(s). Language can create victory and destruction simultaneously. It can create meaning while at the same time negating something else. In this sense, Coleridge and Hawthorne are two sides of the same coin. Eichmann was the negative of his own positive.

Another perspective on this follows:

"There is a perfectly true story of the strip-tease dancer who wrote to an eminent American linguist asking him to supply a word to replace 'strip-tease' because of its 'strong connotations.' "I hope," she added, "that the science of semantics can help the verbally unprivileged members of my profession." The eminent linguist, knowing his classical languages, suggested 'ecdysiast.'" -Frank Palmer (1981)

ecdysis n. the shedding or casting off of an outer coat or integument by snakes, crustaceans, etc.

[from The Study of Language by George Yule, 1985]

If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet (Shakespeare), how do we account for our sexist reinterpretations of something like waitress changing to wait person changing to server? Arendt seems to be saying that in Eichmann's case at least, intention was so impersonal to Eichmann, that even his own death was a thing entirely apart from himself. And yet in the case of the strip-tease dancer and the eminent linguist (the juxtaposition of which, I simply LOVE), the linguist is extremely personal in his intellectually-veiled attack. He does exactly with language what Coleridge argues for. However, I think the sum total of what he accomplishes fits more closely with Hawthorne. And why?

For myself, Arendt's observations pinpoint the dangers of context from which we can never free ourselves. Eichmann could BE the staunch leader for true Germany as easily as he could Be the hated war criminal. Language will always at some level, speak the morality of the person and the culture from which it is executed (no pun intended). If I were to simply say "turn right," my language relies upon the history of each word that holds countless meanings built upon each other through all their various reincarnations and then delivered with my own tacit and explicit intentions. The linguist not only wished to humiliate the dancer, he wished to show his own brilliance and superiority to others in the act of it. And yet without using the words 'eminent' or 'strip-tease,' the story would mean something else entirely. Would the persons themselves each be someone else entirely too?

Computer Viruses and Language

I can't help but think about Scott's challenge a few classes ago to answer how it is that we consider language, and specifically naming, as being able to create something.  Naming as creation.  I don't know if I have an answer to that, but I do think there are now many clear cases of language creating something, like self-replicating, independently operating objects purely out of language, namely computer viruses and similar things like worms, Trojan horses and wabbits.  These are programs, ultimately just strings of bits, on or off commands, arranged in ways such that the language itself multiplies itself, albeit using a physical structure already provided by logic circuits.  The program is pure language, and in replicating itself it only creates more pure language, but it still functions and operates with a certain degree of autonomy, able to not only work, but move, travel, locomote, from place to place, computer to computer.  Language that not only moves physically (any book can do that) but moves itself from place to place without a human needing to wield it.  In an interesting kind of way, these objects of computer language are almost alive, if that doesn't sound too cliche.  That an  artificial, purely logical language can give birth to something so solid, real, and locatable in space and time is fascinating, and almost unexpected given the abstractness of artificial logical languages.

If you take the idea seriously, it also means that the creators of the first artificial life, the gods of new life, if you will,  are Loki-like, mischievous computer hackers who mostly just wanted to mess around and experiment, and even make jokes.  Consider - the first serious virus in the wild, as they say, was the Elk Cloner, which displayed a simple rhyme merely touting it's ability to clone itself and infect files. The earliest artificial life was literally a joke. Kind of a geeky, bad one.

Here are a few links to some interesting material on computer viruses as artificial life or not, which means in my mind, artificial life created purely from language.
Paper from Purdue University
Introduction to computer viruses
Scientist "infects" himself, via RFID chip, with a computer virus
Conficker: One of the world's largest worms.
Early discussion of "Self-Reproducing Automata"

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Vehicle of Language

I keep thinking about something Alex said in class today; he stated that language is a vehicle. He said this vehicle can drive on land. Once we run out of land it can sail on water, and when we run out of water it can fly. However silly and trite it may be, but my mind instantly jumped to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, is a vehicle that is unlike no other, it can drive, sail and fly. Bare with me...

I soon began singing the song in my head (it has consequently stayed there all day today) and I then began comparing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to language. In the song from the film, [Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Finale] the owners of this flying car try to describe Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and do so by using a variety of amazing words; they call it "uncatagorical," an "oracle," and "phantasmagorical." Toward the end of the song they state, "It's more than spectacular to use the vernacular." I quickly saw that these words also describe language.

Language is "uncatagorical," it can't be categorized very easily as it is so all encompassing and yet so limiting. Language, especially in the context of what we have been discussing in class, is also an "oracle." Meaning that language is something prophetic/godlike. The dictionary I used said an "oracle" is something that is "typically ambiguous or obscure." Language being "phantasmagorical" fits perfectly too - as it describes defining and traumatic moments in our lives. When something is phantasmagorical it is surreal and unreal - like our classmates out of body experience whilst giving birth or Scott's nightmare he had. But language still seems to fall short when we try to describe one of these experiences - hence language being uncatagorical, an oracle, and phantasmagorical.

I particularly liked the end of the song when it stated, "it's more than spectacular to use the vernacular." Meaning Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (language) cannot be put into words. Using the "vernacular" to describe it still does not do Chitty Chitty Bang Bang justice - it defies the ordinary and common.

This amazing ability to communicate is "spectacular." It is fun and useful to use the vernacular to communicate what we think and feel which is why language is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; it is the perfect vehicle.

Just an interesting excerpt I came across

From Francis Bacon
"New Method"
..."There are also Idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call Idols of the Marketplace, on account of the commerce and consort of men there.For it is by discourse that men associate; and words are imposed according to the apprehension of the vulgar.And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding. Nor do the definitions or explanations wherewith in some things learned men are wont to guard and defend themselves, by any means set the matter right. But words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies."
(Sort of like the idea of putting your foot in your mouth or searching for the "right" word)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Joseph Smith;

Now I am not going to say whether I am LDS or not because I think that might change what people think about what I think about what I read. Maybe I am not familiar even with the Mormon culture, maybe I am. Maybe I am the most devout Mormon ever. Either way, I am not from Utah and I have spent alot of time in other countries, Yes plural, countrieS, I am not talking about an LDS mission.... Anyways,...I also do not completely understand the Mormon culture here.

I dunno about you but when I was fourteen I was much different then I am now and I think if I went into a forest to pray and heard some noises while I wanted so desperately to communicate with God, I would have been scared and frozen if I had heard noises too. Maybe it was an animal, a boogie man, something else my "unlearned" mind could come up with. Maybe he (Joseph) had gone into a place in the forest that was full of black mold or pot, or something and he hallucinated (I mean no disrespect, I am only trying to look at this like I never have before, and maybe I haven't and I know nothing other than what I am reading about Joseph Smith)..He says "not to an imaginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being." Kids can make things up and make things so real to them that they create their own (false and unreal) memories. I am not calling Joseph Smith a lair by any means, but he was only 14. Fourteen. I don't even think if something such as that happened to me at 14 I could even comprehend it. However, maybe that is why he could comprehend it because he had not yet been tainted by everything the world throws at you with age, maybe because he was 14 he was able to have such powerful faith. Maybe what happened to Joseph he could only describe in the words he used, do to the confines of language, and it was actually something completely different then the representation that the Mormon religion follows.
Just some thoughts from another unlearned boy

And on another note, I love what Roger Keller said, in that in all other religions that have 5% of truth, in the Mormon religion he found 6%.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that in the bible there is a description of something as a chariot of fire. I believe this description is used because it was the best way to describe what was seen with the knowledge and language at the time, but who knows, maybe that description was a F-16, but "F-16" was not known then, the word, nor the name which describes it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

Words Cannot Express

Illustration by Serge Bloch


Why The World Looks Different in Other Languages
By Guy Deutscher
304 pp. Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company. $28


Deutscher starts with the puzzling fact that many languages lack words for what (to English speakers) seem to be basic colors. For anyone interested in the development of ideas, Deutscher’s first four chapters make fascinating reading. Did you know that the British statesman William Gladstone was also an accomplished Greek scholar who, noting among other things the surprising absence of any term for “blue” in classical Greek texts, theorized that full-color vision had not yet developed in humans when those texts were composed? Or that a little-known 19th-century philologist named Lazarus Geiger made profound and surprising discoveries about how languages in general divide up the color spectrum, only to have his discoveries ignored and forgotten and then rediscovered a century later? Did you know that Siegfried Sassoon’s World War I psychiatrist, William Rivers, carried out the earliest psychological experiments to test the precise relationship between the colors people could name and the colors they actually saw?
Deutscher does not merely weave little-known facts into an absorbing story. He also takes account of the vast changes in our perceptions of other races and cultures over the past two centuries. Although the strange sequence in which color terms appear in the world’s languages over time — first black and white, then red, then either green or yellow, with blue appearing only after the first five are in place — still has no full explanation, Deutscher’s suggestion that the development of dyes and other forms of artificial coloring may be involved is as convincing as any other, making color terms the likeliest candidate for a culture-induced linguistic phenomenon.
[the rest of the article HERE]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Vinegar Tasters

We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each has dipped his finger into the vinegar and has tasted it. The expression on each man's face shows his individual reaction. Since the painting is allegorical, we are to understand that these are no ordinary vinegar tasters, but are instead representatives of the "Three Teachings" of China, and that the vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence of Life. The three masters are K'ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-tse, author of the oldest existing book of Taoism. The first has a sour look on his face, the second wears a bitter expression, but the third man is smiling.

To Kung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh), life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of, the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K'ung Fu-tse: "If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit." This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.

To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. In order to find peace, the Buddhist considered it necessary to transcend "the world of dust" and reach Nirvana, literally a state of "no wind." Although the essentially optimistic attitude of the Chinese altered Buddhism considerably after it was brought in from its native India, the devout Buddhist often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of everyday existence.

To Lao-tse (LAOdsuh), the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time, but not by following the rules of the Confucianists. As he stated in his Tao To Ching (DAO DEH JEENG), the "Tao Virtue Book," earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws - not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or fight, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.

To Lao-tse, the world was not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable lessons. Its lessons needed to be learned, just as its laws needed to be followed; then all would go well. Rather than turn away from "the world of dust," Lao-tse advised others to "join the dust of the world." What he saw operating behind everything in heaven and earth he called Tao (DAO), "the Way."

Success through failure

I was reminded of some words from a song in Chitty Chitty bang bang as we discussed what makes success possible and kept thinking of the lines " up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success"

The Roses Of Success Lyrics
Every Bursted Bubble Has A Glory!each Abysmal Failure Makes A Point!every Glowing Path That Goes Astray,shows You How To Find A Better Every Time You Stumble Never Time You'll Bumble Even Less!for Up From The Ashes, Up From The Ashes, Grow The Roses Of Success!grow The Roses!grow The Roses!grow The Roses Of Success!oh Yes!grow The Roses!those Rosy Roses!from The Ashes Of Disaster Grow The Roses Of Success! (Spoken)yes I Know But He Wants It To Float. It Will!for Every Big Mistake You Make Be Grateful!here, Here!that Mistake You'll Never Make Again!no Sir!every Shiny Dream That Fades And Dies,generates The Steam For Two More Tries!(Oh) There's Magic In The Wake Of A Fiasco!correct!it Gives You That Chance To Second Guess!oh Yes!then Up From The Ashes, Up From The Ashes Grow The Roses Of Success!grow The Roses!grow The Roses!grow The Roses Of Success!grow The Roses!those Rosy Roses!from The Ashes Of Disaster Grow The Roses Of Success!disaster Didn't Stymie Louis Pasteur!no Sir!edison Took Years To See The Light!right!alexander Graham Knew Failure Well; He Took A Lot Of Knocks To Ring Thatbell!so When It Gets Distressing It's A Blessing!onward And Upward You Must Press!yes, Yes!till Up From The Ashes, Up From The Ashes Grow The Roses Of Success.grow The Rogrow The Rogrow The Roses!grow The Rogrow The Rogrow The Roses!grow The Roses Of Success!grow The Rogrow The Rogrow The Roses!those Rosy Rothose Rosy Rothose Rosy Roses!from The Ashes Of Disaster, Grow The Roses Of Success!start The Engines!success!batten The Hatches!success!man The Shrouds!lift The Anchor!success!
Another idea that isn't new is the image of the phoenix that dies and then rises from the ashes

Words: A Bonus Video from RadioLabs