Posts Tagged ‘language’
May 27, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- As an editor at Faber & Faber, T. S. Eliot had the chance to publish Animal Farm. He declined. And he had sound porcine reasons for doing so, according to a newly digitized letter he wrote Orwell in 1944: “The positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing … After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
- Memorial Day has only been around for about 150 years, meaning it’s not terribly old as far as memorials go. Consider instead the Bayeux Tapestry, which likely dates to the 1070s. Alison Kinney writes, “It’s a seventy-by one-half-meter length of linen panels worked in crewel, its madder-, mignonette-, and woad-dyed yarns still as vivid, after a thousand years, as the tints of the Art Nouveau comic strip Little Nemo … The medievalist Valerie Allen writes about the Bayeux Embroidery’s ‘dynamic things grounded in space and time,’ ‘from kitchen utensils to war gear … Objects acquire a kind of agency by exerting their inherent “virtue,” wearing down conventional distinctions between human and non-human to the point that a hand, a sword and a relic can all share in the same phenomenal luminosity.’ The Embroidery itself is just such a luminous agent: a war memorial—a Normandy Beach war memorial, no less. In this place occupied by hundreds of memorials, planned and incidental, fleeting and obdurate, from funerary sculpture to the bunkers that, after seventy years of coastal weather, still bear flamethrowers’ char marks, memorials develop unpredictable, unaccountable vibrancies that can shape the conflicts, even the topography, of later battles. That is, if they can first escape violence, neglect, and ordinary wear and tear.”
- Because your day needed the phrase intravaginal hardware for the pregnant body in it, here is Sasha Archibald on a thrilling development in consumer electronics: “A company in Spain recently released a new product, the Babypod. The device entails a small roundish speaker … The idea is to insert the speaker inside one’s vagina, like a tampon, and connect the auxiliary jack to an iPhone, from which the mother-DJ selects a playlist. The music is piped in directly where it can be heard best … Women have presumably always enjoyed the utility of an interior pocket, though no one has written this history. The nineteenth-century spirit medium Eva C. had a trick of producing ectoplasm from her vagina, and police report finding jewels and drugs, money and handguns, stolen phones and credit cards. In these cases, the vagina is treated as a secret lockbox—a hiding place no one will think to look, the corporeal equivalent of a buried treasure chest. The Babypod inhabits the woman in a totally different fashion. The very purpose of the device is to announce itself and broadcast sound. It makes the vagina speak. The Vagina Monologues didn’t need to get more literal, but they have.”
- While we’re in the vicinity of the genitals: “When reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers … In ninety-six articles, totaling a little more than fifty thousand words, groin was used 148 times across headlines, body and photo captions. Of course, in sports, groin injuries can mean something very different from your basic knee to the crotch. So at best, this creates unnecessary ambiguity in order to demur from coarser language. The next most frequently used was some form of below the belt with seventeen appearances, followed by nuts with fifteen, low blow with fourteen, a few variations of private parts totaling twelve, between the legs with ten, and balls with nine.”
- There’s one last thing you need to do before the holiday weekend, and that’s to engage in a debate about canon formation with whomever is sitting nearby. As a launching-off point, consider this: “A great artist possesses both empathy and imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are as complexly nuanced as any in circulation today, Othello takes on racial prejudice directly, and Twelfth Night contains enough gender-bending identity shenanigans to fuel multiple drag shows and occupy legions of queer scholars … Although you’ve written that the English department ‘actively contributes to the erasure of history,’ what it really does is accurately reflect the tainted history we have—one in which straight white cis-men dominated art-making for centuries—rather than the woke history we want and fantasize about. There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past. Same goes for people of color in Wordsworth’s day, or openly queer people in Pope’s, or … ”
May 25, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- After he published the Tractatus, Wittgenstein traded philosophy for gardening, and developed a fixation on home design that may have led him back into philosophy’s embrace: “To details like the door-handles, in particular, Wittgenstein accorded what [the biographer Ray] Monk calls ‘an almost fanatical exactitude,’ driving locksmiths and engineers to tears as they sought to meet his seemingly impossible standards … Monk argues, more than once, that this design project brought Wittgenstein ‘back’ to philosophy … But I doubt that the return to philosophy was prompted by social connections, which were always a mixed bag for the antisocial Wittgenstein. I prefer to believe that the prompt was in the handle. For when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, the idea that drove him beyond all others was that the nature of language had been misunderstood by philosophers … Words did not, he had come to believe, primarily provide a picture of life (the word “snake” representing, or sounding like, an actual snake); they were better conceived of as a part of the activity of life. As such, they were more like tools.”
- Jacob Harris was scoping out some nineteenth-century newspaper ads (don’t judge; this is how some of us get our kicks) when he stumbled upon an ad for the Brooklyn Furniture Company composed entirely of typography—a direct predecessor of the ASCII art that would come more than a century later. “The face resembles modern ASCII art, but it was published at a time—March 20, 1881—that seemed impossibly early,” he writes: “In many newspapers, these early examples of text art vanished not long after they arrived … Apart from the two advertisements I had found, the style apparently never caught on in the Times. But why not? To answer that, I looked more at the Eagle where I found the earliest ads—and where they survived for several decades longer than everywhere else. They are there in 1881, when one bold advertiser filled an entire page with ASCII text. They are there in 1888, when the Eagle advertised its election night almanac in the familiar large letters. They are there all the way up to July 3, 1892, a day the same Brooklyn Furniture Company again ran a half-page ad with their address in large ASCII letters. And, then, on July 5th, they were completely gone, replaced by modern layouts and fancy typography. Those upgrades likely explain, at least in part, what happened. ASCII art flourishes most when technology is limited; you don’t need Print Shop anymore when you can do digital layout on your computer and have an inkjet printer.”
- “The gift and curse of American hyperbole, truthful and otherwise, has lately been distilled in a single omnipresent word. In 2016, everything is ‘everything.’ That’s what the Internet is telling us, at least. Or yelling at us, in capital letters, with blaring hashtags attached. ‘@Beyonce’s #MetGala dress is EVERYTHING,’ Self magazine proclaimed recently on Twitter … Internet one-upsmanship is a definitively 21st-century art form, but ‘everything’ carries a hint of yesteryear—a whiff of the hot air that once swirled through medicine-show tents and carnival grounds … The Internet has a way of placing all of us—you, me, the online peddler of counterfeit Viagra, the editor of The Paris Review—in the undignified position of those touts who haunt the sidewalks outside bad restaurants in tourist-trap neighborhoods, thrusting menus in the faces of passers-by.”
- In which Edward Docx attends the 2016 British Esperanto Conference: “There are few times in your life that you can be certain that you are doing what nobody else in the world is doing—or has ever done—or will likely do again. This was one of them. I was sitting at a table of six, with a Catalan, a Brazilian, a Belgian, a Londoner and a Slovakian, while they munched and guzzled their way through their kareos and had what I can only describe as the most kinetic, exciting and involving conversation in Esperanto that Spice City (of Stanley Street, Liverpool) is ever going to witness. The animation. The jokes. The asides. The soliloquys. The antanaclasis. Oh, if only I had known what they were talking about I could have … I could have told you. But I was converted. The whole idea and application of Esperanto was so obviously amazing, so demonstrably persuasive, so self-evidently practical that I forget all over again about English; English; English.”
- The Internet is a fine place to find good writing. But it’s the best place to find moronic writing—just try. It’s such an effective moronic-writing delivery system that print media got jealous: “There are too many people filling every possible orifice of the Internet with their idiot opinions and comical prejudices and poorly constructed arguments … But: Have you seen what’s not on the Internet? You would think, what with the supposed influence of those who man the precincts offline, away from the free-for-all of our type-and-post world, that there would be safety in the smooth, heavy paper and creamy finish of print … And yet: THEY ARE NOT ALL THAT MUCH BETTER … It turns out most people don’t have anything very interesting to say and they’re actually a lot worse at saying it than we previously anticipated. Also, what no one expected is that shit flows upward, splattering the finer precincts we once looked to for wisdom with the same awful patina of chatty, ‘relatable’ garbage whose ultimate goal is to be passed around without anyone mentioning how gross your palms feel once you hand it off. We were warned and we didn’t listen and now we’re all paying the price.”
May 23, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On the streets of English, adverbs are the knockoff Rolex salesmen lurking in the shadows, always ready to sell you something shiny and fake. Christian Lorentzen urges you to stay away: “The adverbs easiest to hate are the so-called sentence adverbs—also known as conjunctive adverbs. Writers who lean on the crutches of moreover, accordingly, consequently, and likewise are declaring a lack of confidence in the sequence of their own logic or a lack of faith in their readers’ ability to follow it. Deploying indeed is tantamount to saying, ‘I’ve just had a thought and, indeed, I’ve just had another.’ Next time you come across the word meanwhile, ask yourself when else all this could have been happening. What is the adverbial phrase of course but a smug duo dropped in to congratulate writer and reader for already agreeing with each other. Nevertheless, nonetheless, and the atrocious however are symptoms of an anxiety over a proliferation of the word but. But you can never have too many helpings of but, and sound thinking will make hay of contradictions.”
- Today in bowel movements: they’re never as good as they used to be. As Maggie Koerth-Baker writes, “Since at least the Renaissance, Western cultures have fretted about their own bowels while looking back to an imagined past where mankind pooped in peace and harmony. According to James Whorton, professor emeritus of medical history and ethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, modern life has long been considered the ultimate cause of constipation. Take, for instance, a bit of doggerel poetry from mid-1600s England: ‘And for to make us emulate, / The good old Father doth relate / The vigour of our Ancestors, / Whose shiting far exceeded ours’ … More than just nostalgia, though, the belief that modern lifestyles caused constipation was viewed as a medical emergency, on the scale of what we think of the obesity epidemic today.”
- Most historical fiction aspires to verisimilitude—the author hopes to convince readers that she’s conjured an accurate version of the past. But “a handful of recent works of fiction,” Lucy Ives writes, “have taken up history on radically different terms. Rather than presenting a single, definitive story—an ostensibly objective chronicle of events—these books offer a past of competing perspectives, of multiple voices. They are not so much historical as archival: instead of giving us the imagined experience of an event, they offer the ambiguous traces that such events leave behind. These fictions do not focus on fact but on fact’s record, the media by which we have any historical knowledge at all. In so doing, such books call the reader’s attention to both the problems and the pleasures of history’s linguistic remains … restoring historical narratives to what they have perhaps always already been: provoking and serious fantasies, convincing reconstructions, true fictions.”
- When I pass by a beautiful woman, the first thing I think is, God, I hope she doesn’t get tuberculosis. Then I think, She probably already has tuberculosis. I’m especially inclined to believe this if the woman is dressed in a high Victorian style—in the nineteenth century, I have learned, “one of the ways people judged a woman’s predisposition to tuberculosis was by her attractiveness, [historian Carol] Day says. ‘That’s because tuberculosis enhances those things that are already established as beautiful in women,’ she explains, such as the thinness and pale skin that result from weight loss and the lack of appetite caused by the disease. [A 1909 book] confirms this notion, with the authors noting: ‘A considerable number of patients have, and have had for years previous to their sickness, a delicate, transparent skin, as well as fine, silky hair.’ Sparkling or dilated eyes, rosy cheeks and red lips were also common in tuberculosis patients—characteristics now known to be caused by frequent low-grade fever.”
- Pity the Emily Dickinson biographers, for theirs is a life of mystery and suffering: “In the twenty-first century, Emily Dickinson has become very much about our selves, an interpretation that has been allowed to flourish partly because of her anonymity: The bulk of her poems, of course, were published after she died, and she lived with her parents all her life, unmarried and leaving letters that only hint at possible lovers, hardly ever leaving her home. During the last thirty years, it has been many writers’ impulse to try her on, explore the ‘masks,’ as [Jerome] Charyn calls them, that she wore in her poems, and give motive to her writings through more expressive means.”
May 10, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Many people hate the word moist. Indeed, it has become almost expected to hate the word moist, with its connotations of limp handshakes, cloying Uriah Heep types, and creeping damp. A recent study found that the aversion was real, reported the New York Times: “Data from the current studies point to semantic features of the word—namely, associations with disgusting bodily functions—as a more prominent source of peoples’ unpleasant experience.”
But here’s the thing: I like moist. And not just because of good associations with the groundbreaking Moistworks blog, either. I think moist just needs better PR. Read More »
May 4, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Those of you who were spared the three chapters of the saga that was The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills “Reunion” missed something. Well, you missed a lot of things—mainly people accusing Lisa Vanderpump of various machinations involving the rumors of Yolanda Foster having Munchausen syndrome. The last installment centered primarily on whether or not Lisa had said, on the way out of somewhere, “Why don’t you involve Kyle?” and whether this constituted throwing Kyle under the bus, and how long Kyle had known this information, and what it meant if it was true, and if Kyle is Lisa Vanderpump’s toady, and whether or not Lisa Vanderpump has a hard time apologizing, generally. It would be a good exercise in language proficiency to have to translate this entire situation to the proverbial extraterrestrial. Even by the standards of the Real Housewives franchise it was petty to the point of inscrutability—idiotic and exhausting. It combined the moral rectitude of the Weimar Republic with the elegant good taste of a Trump building. Read More »
May 3, 2016 | by Ane Farsethås
Édouard Louis, born in 1992, grew up in Hallencourt, a village in the north of France where many live below the poverty line. Now his account of life in that village, written when he was nineteen, has ignited a debate on class and inequality, foisting Louis into the center of French literary life.
En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (Finishing off Eddy Bellegueule) is unsparing in its descriptions of the homophobia, alcoholism, and racism that animated Louis’s youth in Hallencourt. “We thought the book would be as invisible as the people it describes,” said Louis, who rejects any romantic views of the “authenticity” of working-class life. His publisher thought the first edition, two thousand copies, would last years. But hundreds of thousands of copies have sold in France, and the book is being translated into more than twenty languages. The novel, which has earned Louis comparisons to Zola, Genet, and de Beauvoir, is set to appear in English later this year.
Eddy Bellegueule can be read as a straightforward coming-of-age story, but beneath its narrative is an almost systematic examination of the norms and habits of the villagers—inspired, Louis has said, by the theories of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It’s as if he’s taken the whole place and put it behind glass—like observing the inner workings of an anthill.
Who is Eddy Bellegueule, and why do you want to finish him off?
Eddy Bellegueule is the name my parents gave me when I was born. It sounds dramatic, but yes, I wanted to kill him—he wasn’t me, he was the name of a childhood I hated. The book shows how—before I revolted against my childhood, my social class, my family, and, finally, my name—it was my milieu that revolted against me. My father and my brothers wanted to finish off Eddy Bellegueule long before, at a time when I was still trying to save him. Read More »