The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

The Rise of Slackness, and Other News

March 27, 2015 | by

General-echo

General Echo‘s 12" of Pleasure LP.

  • Luc Sante on listening to reggae in the late seventies: “General Echo, whose real name was Errol Robinson, was prominent in the rise of ‘slackness,’ the sexually explicit reggae style that began to eclipse the Rastafarian ‘cultural’ style … his songs include ‘Bathroom Sex’ and ‘I Love to Set Young Crutches on Fire’ (‘crotches,’ that is), as well as ‘Drunken Master’ and ‘International Year of the Child.’ ”
  • The Cannes Film Festival saw a lot more action in the fifties: “Of all the grueling daily rituals … perhaps the most frivolous are the combination beach party/publicity functions, where paparazzi scramble to get shots of the ‘traditional striptease by the starlet of the year standing on the rocks.’ This particular custom was spawned in part by Brigitte Bardot’s inaugural, bikinied appearance at Cannes in 1953. But disrobing actresses arguably didn’t become a fixture of the festival until the following year, when Simone Silva got banned for posing topless next to Robert Mitchum—a spectacle that caused a pile-up of frantic, injured photographers.”
  • How the Danish writer Dorthe Nors found her way to the short story: “The Swedes have that big, fearless, existential approach to literature. The Danes have an elastic, playful, anarchistic and ironic way of using language. And here was this dude telling me—the closet Swede—that I should make use of the strengths of my own language … ”
  • What does Taylor Swift have in common with Austen, Auden, Thackeray, and Shakespeare? And don’t say, She’s a storyteller of legendary talents—the answer is more mundane. She’s an adopter of they as a singular pronoun.
  • When John Updike tried to write a Jewish character—Henry Bech, who went on to star in four of Updike’s novels—Cynthia Ozick took him to task: “Updike comes and goes as anthropologist, transmitting nothing … Being a Jew is something more than being an alienated marginalized sensibility with kinky hair.”

Who’s Number One?

March 17, 2015 | by

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and the role of the first person.

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Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

It can be staggering to realize, suddenly, that something you’ve never thought about—something you’ve always accepted as real—is just an article of faith. Language is often what turns the lightbulb on: someone defines reality afresh with a new word (mansplaining, Rebecca Solnit) or by showing the hidden powers and interconnections of an old word (debt, David Graeber). Rarely is the realization about language itself.

Of all the dogmas of classical antiquity, only grammar has held its ground. Euclidean geometry, Ptolemaic astronomy, Galenic medicine, Roman law, Christian doctrine—the schools have radically demolished them all. But even now, Alexandrine grammar still reigns.

The quote is from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888–1973), a deeply idiosyncratic Christian theoretician of the modern era. (All translations are mine, from the two-volume The Language of the Human Race: An Incarnate Grammar in Four Parts [Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts: Eine leibhafte Grammatik in vier Teilen].) Rosenstock-Huessy inspired a few cognoscenti, including W. H. Auden and Peter Sloterdijk, but he is still, it is safe to say, deeply, deeply obscure. It is hard to know what to do with him. I certainly find off-putting the self-evident all-importance of Christ’s Birth or God’s Divine Purpose, which he regularly tosses into his philosophical arguments. (Auden: “Anyone reading him for the first time may find, as I did, certain aspects of his writings a bit hard to take … Speaking for myself, I can only say that, by listening to Rosenstock-Huessy, I have been changed.”) The grammatical dogma he means, though—and which he spent more than one 1,900-page book in mortal combat against—is the innocent-looking list dating back to the Greeks: first person, second person, third person. I love, you love, he/she/it loves, or, if you studied Latin, amo, amas, amat. Read More »

Agatha Christie’s Diamond Cache, and Other News

October 7, 2014 | by

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Diamonds recovered from a compartment in a trunk owned by Agatha Christie.

  • Encouraging news for all who let their modifiers dangle: “A stickler insists that we never let a participle dangle, that you can’t say, ‘Turning the corner, a beautiful view awaited me’ … But if you look either at the history of great writing and language as it’s been used by its exemplary stylists, you find that they use dangling modifiers all the time. And if you look at the grammar of English you find that there is no rule that prohibits a dangling modifier … it was pretty much pulled out of thin air by one usage guide a century ago and copied into every one since.”
  • These are some ways we’ve received our mail: from pigeons, balloons, boule de moulins (“hollow zinc spheres the size of a man’s head and covered with fins … the idea was to place them in the river and let them float along the current … the service was canceled after just eleven days”), pneumatic rail, rockets, cats.
  • “Fincher appears to be more pessimistic about love than Kubrick was. Eyes Wide Shut, a post-Freudian work, takes sexual desire very seriously as a realm where the revelation of inner monsters makes it possible to live with them, with ourselves, and with each other. Gone Girl takes identity very seriously; it subordinates sex to power and love to pride, and suggests that the revelation of monstrosities brings knowledge without wisdom, adds pain to pain, covers masks with masks, and shows screens behind screens.”
  • When you’re stressed, you could drink and smoke or squeeze a rubber ball or get a spa treatment or indulge in some petty larceny—or you could just sit down and write a letter to yourself, which is apparently the way to do it.
  • An Agatha Christie fan has discovered the writer’s lost diamonds in a sealed metal strongbox bolted to the bottom of a trunk. “I had read Agatha Christie’s biography,” the fan said, “so I knew exactly what I was looking at.”

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Telling It Like It Is in Times Square, and Other News

August 29, 2014 | by

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Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America, 1987/2014. Photo: Ka-Man Tse for Times Square Arts

  • Coming this fall: a host of new books about football. But do they hold up against the venerable backlist of football literature?
  • Today in trepidatious grammatical hairsplitting: whoever versus whomever, and all the complications thereof.
  • On syllabus bloat: “Today’s college syllabus is longer than many of the assignments it allegedly lists … The syllabus now merely exists to ensure a ‘customer experience’ wherein if every box is adequately checked, the end result—a desired grade—is inevitable and demanded, learning be damned.”
  • Every night between 11:57 and midnight, the slogan “This Is Not America” has appeared on a high-definition LED in Times Square—a message from the Chilean conceptual artist Alfredo Jaar, who debuted the work in a decidedly more analog form back in 1987.
  • Science shows that listening to your favorite songs, regardless of their genre, will generate “strikingly similar brain activity patterns” of a sort that can encourage creativity.

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Knausgaard Truthers, and Other News

July 21, 2014 | by

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Just where does the hype end and the man begin?

  • Fact-checking the Knausgaard craze: Have Norwegian workplaces really instituted “Knausgaard-free days” in response to the success of My Struggle? The people demand the truth!
  • On clichés and their complications: “An expression is much more likely to be regarded as a cliché if it has typical or frequent use in contexts where it doesn’t apply very well (by being imprecise, misleading, or inaccurate, for example). Take the noun phrase best-kept secret … As a few examples will show, things that are dubbed best-kept secrets are in fact often not secret at all, and it is rarely specified, sometimes not even implied, in what sense they are ‘kept.’ ”
  • Remembering James Garner: “Garner wasn’t an actor who ‘reached,’ per se. He wasn’t doing accents or putting on prosthetics or trying to make himself over into someone he wasn’t. Movie and TV producers hired him to be James Garner.”
  • Is Amazon killing writing, or is it the market? “We are witnessing a bad Hollywood remake of a bad Hollywood remake of the Content Wars of the 1990s and 2000s … The plot remains the same: The traditional publishers of content defend their business models against the assault of the Internet. There’s some suspense, and then the Internet wins.”
  • Weird Al’s usage wars: “I purposely left a split infinitive at the end of my song … to be ironic, and also to see how many online grammar pedants it would annoy.” But then he didn’t realize that spastic is a slur in the UK …

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Keep Calm and—Stop It, Just Stop It, and Other News

June 27, 2014 | by

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Even the creators of the slogan didn’t like it.

  • Bernard-Henri Lévy remains, at sixty-five, the paragon of “noble insolence”: “Responding to a recent query from a Parisian newspaper about the secret of his perpetual youth, his advice was, ‘Don’t spend time with boring people.’ The unbuttoned white shirt—he tells interviewers that he would choke otherwise—is a form of social provocation that he doubtlessly relishes; it also constitutes a dandyish parlor trick, leading otherwise shrewd judges of character and intellectual talent to underestimate his political acumen and Puritan work habits.”
  • The “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster that launched millions of profoundly vacuous parodies is seventy-five years old today—but it was only first seen in 2001. The British Treasury refrained from printing it during World War II because they thought “the phrase was ‘too commonplace to be inspiring … it may even annoy people.’” Prescient.
  • Have novelists exhausted the supply of decent titles? Last year saw two books called Life After Life; this year there’s Remember Me This Way and Remember Me Like This; and Stephen King’s Joyland came eight years after Erica Schultz’s Joyland.
  • Celebrity novels, reviewed: Chuck Norris’s The Justice Riders “wraps up with Justice sharing the gospel with Mordecai, then shooting him dead after the bad guy rejects Jesus—which is sort of Norris’s worldview in a nutshell.”
  • To catch a (phone) thief: “You’d NEVER send a message with the incorrect ‘your’—no matter how plastered you are!”

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