The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘language’

Mystery

February 5, 2016 | by

With all the controversy surrounding the renaming of problematic buildings, it seems fitting to draw attention to another bit of suspicious rebranding. Perhaps you’ve seen the BBC miniseries previewed above. “Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None,” is, of course, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians—which was originally, notoriously, released serially in the UK under the title Ten Little Niggers. (This was the British music-hall version of the minstrel song.) Even in 1939, this title was considered too offensive for American publication. Read More »

Ornery Little Critters

February 1, 2016 | by

S. J. Perelman, ca. 1957.

From a letter sent by S. J. Perelman to Betsy Drake, dated May 12, 1952. Perelman, one of the most popular humorists of his time, was born on this day in 1904; he died in 1979. Donald Barthelme called him “the first true American surrealist.”I classify myself as a writer of what the French call feuilletons—that is, a writer of little leaves. They’re comic essays of a particular type,” Perelman told The Paris Review in 1963. Here he advises Drake on the miseries of screenwriting. “The mere mention of Hollywood induces a condition in me like breakbone fever. It was a hideous and untenable place when I dwelt there, populated with few exceptions by Yahoos, and now that it has become the chief citadel of television, it’s unspeakable,” he told the ReviewRead More »

Striking Similes

January 21, 2016 | by

There’s an abysmal simile making the rounds online right now, drawn from a certain splashy literary debut: “Breasts like bronzed mangoes.” Yes, it comes courtesy of a male writer, of course; and yes, Google suggests it’s the only use of the phrase “bronzed mangoes” in recorded history. Even so: as an object of ridicule, this is what you’d have to call low-hanging fruit. Read More »

Ready Player None

January 7, 2016 | by

Talking to Jonathan Blow about his new game, The Witness.

From The Witness.

“Don’t print this,” Jonathan Blow tells me. I’ve just asked him how his game The Witness is going to end, having spent an hour playing it alone at the Bryant Park Hotel—in a suite I’d discovered was actually Blow’s personal room when I got a glass of water. He’d gone to the lobby so I wouldn’t feel like I was being watched as I played. I felt immediately conscious of being in someone else’s space as I stepped through the bedroom to reach the bathroom sink. The bed was still unmade; a small bag sat agape on a chair beside a pile of clothes in the corner. Blow’s games excel at making one conscious of these things: of being in someone else’s territory, at once intimate and opaque. Like unknowingly stepping into someone’s bedroom, it’s natural, when you play his games, to want to make sure you can find your way back out again, even as you think about going further in.

Blow is the designer of two commercial games—2008’s Braid and now The Witness, due out later this month—and he’s as much a point of fascination as his creations. A 2012 profile in The Atlantic by Taylor Clark called him “the most dangerous gamer.” Though Braid added, by his own admission, “a lot of zeroes” to his bank account, he lives in a largely unfurnished apartment in Oakland, displaying what Clark described as “a total indifference toward the material fruits of wealth.” His longtime friend and programmer, Chris Hecker, told Clark, “You have to approach Jon on Jon’s terms. It’s not ‘Let’s go out and have fun.’ It’s more like ‘Let’s discuss this topic,’ or ‘Let’s work on our games.’ You don’t ask Jon to hang out, because he’ll just say ‘Why?’ ” Read More »

Who’s Number One?

December 31, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

Eugen_Rosenstock-Huessy

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

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

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 >>

Quote Unquote

December 28, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

quinndombrowskithelibrary

Quinn Dombrowski, The Library, 2010. Image via Flickr

A sentence goes viral—why?

I recently discovered that a sentence of mine, written many years ago in a book that had enjoyed some critical praise but disappointing sales, had gone viral.

I suppose I google myself about as often as any writer does, and I hope not more often, but on the occasion of my discovery I was doing so at someone else’s behest: in preparation for a new book, my publishing house had asked me to compile a portfolio of reviews of my previous books. As I scrolled through the search results, hunting for newspaper and magazine URLs, I became aware that I was seeing the same words and sentence fragments over and over again in the highlights at the top of each hit. “Eating…” “…communion…” “ …hospitality in general…” The combination sounded vaguely familiar. I finally tracked down the full quote at Goodreads.

The book, The Duchess Who Wouldn’t Sit Down, from 2003, is an anecdotal history of hospitality in Western civilization, in reverse chronological order from Nazi Germany to Homeric Greece. The sentence, hidden deep within the body of the book and in no way positioned to draw attention to itself, reads as follows:

Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared. Read More >>