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Posts Tagged ‘children’

Wittgenstein, Schoolteacher

March 5, 2015 | by

What the philosopher learned from his time in elementary-school classrooms.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

Every philosophy major has at some point had to answer the standard challenge: “What are you going to do, teach?” It’s especially frustrating after you realize that, for someone with a humanist bent and a disinterest in worldlier things, teaching is a pretty good career choice. Unemployables in the humanities might take comfort from the fact that one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, made the same choice. He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”)

By the time he decided to teach, Wittgenstein was well on his way to being considered the greatest philosopher alive. First at Cambridge, then as an engineer and soldier, Wittgenstein had finished his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, at once an austere work of analytic philosophy and—for some readers, Wittgenstein apparently included—an almost mystical experience. In it, he claimed charmingly and not without reason to have solved all the problems of philosophy. This was because of the book’s famous “picture theory of meaning,” which held that language is meaningful because, and only because, of its ability to depict possible arrangements of objects in the world. Any meaningful statement can be analyzed as such a depiction. This leads to the book’s most famous conclusion: that if a statement does not depict a possible arrangement of objects, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Ethics, religion, the nature of the world beyond objects … most statements of traditional philosophy, Wittgenstein contended, are therefore nonsense. And so, having destroyed a thousand-year tradition, Wittgenstein did the reasonable thing—he dropped the mic and found a real job teaching kids to spell. Read More »

The Junket-Eater

February 26, 2015 | by

junket

An illustration from Junket Is Nice.

New York Review Children’s Classics has reissued so many wonderful forgotten texts: novels and picture books and nursery rhymes and even the occasional cookbook. But for my money, none is weirder than Dorothy Kunhardt’s 1933 Junket Is Nice.

The prolific Kunhardt is best known for Pat the Bunny, but long before Daddy’s scratchy face was even a twinkle in her eye, the author was animating a far more sinister beard: that of the mysterious Junket-Eater. The plot of Junket Is Nice is as follows: a fat man with a Rasputin-like red beard sits at a table consuming a massive bowl of junket (“a delicious custard and a lovely dessert”). This intrigues everyone; the people come running to view the spectacle. Between gulps, the Junket-Eater challenges the populace to guess why, precisely, he is eating this enormous bowl of junket. They put forth ever-sillier hypotheses, to which the Junket-Eater screams, “WRONG!” for all the world like a red-bearded John McLaughlin. And then a little boy stands up and tells truth to power: “JUNKET IS NICE.” For which effort he receives SOMETHING NICERead More »

Hard and Fast

December 1, 2014 | by

Don’t ask. (From the V Squared ad.)

If, by any chance, you read the print edition of the Sunday New York Times, as I did around two in the morning, perhaps you, too, were arrested by the full-page advertisement on A23. 11-YEAR-OLD, TWIN ROCKERS, VITTORIO AND VINCENZO OF V² SWEEP LOS ANGELES MUSIC AWARDS! blares the headline. There are seven accompanying photographs. “V² rocked the Avalon Theater, leaving no doubt that they owned the night and their 7 nomination categories,” reads one caption. “Standing ‘O’ for Vittorio and Vincenzo, 11-year-old superstars!” says another. The picture is of a bunch of grown-ups; one of them is sort of standing up. 

The text is laid out like a news story:

Rock N Roll history was made by Santa Rosa, CA home grown rock sensations, Vittorio and Vincenzo of V² (pronounced V Squared). The boys, who only started playing music a few years ago at Rock Star University, Santa Rosa, became the youngest artists to ever perform at the Los Angeles Music Awards, thrilling the sold out crowd of Hollywood celebrities, music industry executives, and music fans lucky enough to secure a ticket to see these future Rock N Roll Hall of Famers perform. Vittorio and Vincenzo did not disappoint.

Who are these future rock-and-roll hall of famers? Who are their parents? What’s Rock Star University—and who had they beaten out for LA Music Award domination? Naturally, I switched on my phone to find out. After all, by this hour, I assumed, this weird vanity project would have at least put a dent in the Internet. Read More »

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Songs of Innocence

September 12, 2014 | by

Giulio_del_Torre_Zwei_raufende_Buben_1927

Giulio del Torre, Zwei raufende Buben, 1927.

If you live in my building on the Upper West Side, you do not need to own an alarm clock, at least not if you want to wake up at eight A.M. Sleeping beyond that hour is impossible—that’s when the preschool opens its yard for the first playtime of the day.

It is a very lovely way to wake up, if you’re in the right frame of mind. Joyful shrieking, terrified screaming, feuds and rivalries and friendships all at once, magnified by the walls all around them. It is much better to take a Blakean view of it, especially if you work from home, because there are periodic recesses throughout the day, and their collective energy is unflagging.

I always liked the background noise of the playground; working by myself all day, it made me feel less alone. It didn’t really strike me as strange until I conducted an interview in my apartment and, when I tried to transcribe it, realized the voices were obscured by the wall of child-call in the background. Still, I didn’t mind; I threw my windows open and welcomed it, as some people do the constant buzz of public radio. Read More »

When Softcore Had Style, and Other News

August 7, 2014 | by

Lickerish_Quartet

A still from Radley Metzger’s Lickerish Quartet, “the enigmatic tale of a decadent family’s seduction,” from 1970.

  • Peter Mendelsund, who designs book jackets, asked people what they see when they read. They “felt that when they read a book they loved, they saw every aspect of it. Not only that, but they felt that the greatness of a book was predicated on the fact that they were able to visualize it. ‘That character was so real,’ they’d say. That myth of the little homunculus sitting in the back of your skull, watching the author’s movie being projected onto the front of your skull—that’s really important to people. But the whole edifice crumbles when you start to ask questions about it.”
  • Was John Hancock’s signature really too big? “Did Hancock know that fifty-six men would ultimately sign the document when he put pen to paper? Or might he have assumed fewer signatories, and thus more space for signing? We know this much: You can’t fit fifty-six Hancock-sized signatures onto the parchment … the document would have needed approximately 5.5 more inches of vertical space to accommodate all the names—even with crammed spacing and slim margins.”
  • Good news for underemployed babysitters: Taking your kids to a gallery is a “total waste of time,” according to the artist Jake Chapman. “He says that standing a child in front of a Pollock is an ‘insult’ to the American who pioneered the abstract expressionism. ‘It’s like saying … it’s as moronic as a child? Children are not human yet,’ the father-of-three declared.”
  • Questioning Shakespeare’s conservatism: “Rebels and usurpers in Shakespeare's plays are always the bad guys … Rebellion against one’s superiors is presented as a matter of misguided jealousy and intrinsic spite.”
  • A maestro of aspirational porn, Radley Metzger populated his soft- and hard-core films of the 1960s and ’70s with Continental swells whose luxe dwellings and vast expanses of land made for optimal prime pleasure domes … [he] elevated his randy projects with sumptuous production values, his meticulous decor and mise-en-scène long outmoded in today’s quickie online porn.” (For the curious, eight of Metzger’s films are coming to Lincoln Center.)

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The Vestigial Clown

June 23, 2014 | by

1948_Hans_Breinlinger_-_Clown_mit_Spiegel

Detail from Hans Breinlinger’s The Clown, 1948.

Yesterday, a friend and I entered into a great debate. It started with my question:

“Does the clown exist who could make you laugh?”

He said yes; he thought that clown who does the act with snow off Union Square would make him laugh. (The show is lauded for its masterful clown-craft and its evocation of childlike wonder.)

“Okay,” I said, “has a clown ever made you laugh?”

“Of course not,” he said.

Does anyone expect to be amused by clowns in this day and age? We all know that clowns are creepy, clowns are scary, clowns are lame—but that understanding has always been predicated on the understanding that, like dolls, clowns are supposed to be happy, fun, innocent. Thus, when a clown goes psychotic, it is doubly terrifying. Or it was thirty years ago, at least. Now, in a world of John Wayne Gacy and It and Insane Clown Posse and Diddy’s coulrophobia-driven “no clowns” rider, we expect clowns to be sinister.

Take this recent survey of kids in children’s hospitals, a historical clown stronghold:

More than 250 children aged between four and sixteen were asked for their opinions—and every single one said they disliked clowns as part of hospital decor.

Even some of the older children said they found clowns scary, Nursing Standard magazine reported.

The youngsters were questioned by the University of Sheffield for the Space to Care study aimed at improving hospital design for children.

“As adults we make assumptions about what works for children,” said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university.

“We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them frightening and unknowable.” 

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