Visual language: or a new wander

In which I begin a new intellectual wander amongst the idea of visual language, particularly in comics, or at least that is how I got interested in it in a roundabout way.

My son and my friend Dave will probably laugh at me as this is the kind of thinking they’ve both done for much of their lives. They are visually arty. And musically. I am neither.

Past wanders

I am not sure that I am going to continue homebrewing and I am, after my last session of doing so, seriously reconsidering my beer judging. But those are different stories. This is about a new rabbit hole. “Psst, over here. “

Context

As my Thursday AM coffee shop book, I am currently reading Smits, Rik. The Puzzle of Lefthandedness. Translated by Liz Waters, Reaktion, 2011, and it is fascinating! At least to a left-hander from a family of left-handers. Old enough that my parents were “seriously discouraged” from using said left hand and that even my doing so was looked down on, at the least, at school. Yes, I smeared a lot because that stupid non-smearing way to supposedly hold your pencil was dreamt up by a right-handed zealot with a sadistic streak. [That’s my story.]

Anyway, fascinating book! It is a series of 38 essay-ish pieces (I am about halfway through) about left-handedness but also about the concepts of left and right and their symbolic meanings, and so on. Sort of like 38 takes at tossing a dart at the dart board of the topic from 38 different points in space from all around the target. So, thus, not a coherent, long-form, argument, but a truly interesting way to break off into related topics.

The last couple chapters I read started with one on left and right in the murder genre of Western painting. Because of course “we” have one! ::sigh:: Then there was one on the violence towards women—almost always sexual—in Western painting. This also included the object of the male gaze, the “harlot.” Next was one on left and right in married couples portraits, and single portraits also, which also translates into where the woman stands in a traditional church wedding and which side she exits on, etc.

Interspersed throughout these chapters were talk about how all this depiction of movement [arriving vs departing, messengers with good news versus bad news, etc. transferred to most other forms of art and much of culture, including the stage, the silver screen, comic books and graphic novels, advertising, and so on. Much of this was also looked at cross-culturally; in literate cultures, much hinges on direction of writing and reading.

The point

All this really got me thinking as I have been reading so many graphic novels, comics, and some manga and I am often lost by the artwork and I am self-aware enough to know that sometimes it isn’t simply me or bad art but that I just don’t understand the conventions; especially true regarding manga and other forms of Japanese comics/anime.

Neil Cohn

Over the past weekend I discussed this with my wife and she started poking the Interwebz and found the the following article: Cohn, Neil. Comics, Linguistics, and Visual Language: The Past and Future of a Field. http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/P/NC_Comics&Linguistics.pdf. Accessed 6 Mar. 2018.

Yesterday I got a chance to print it and read it and it was mind-blowing how perfect it was for me. It isn’t exactly a practical lexicon of comics art, if you will, or not at all, which is what I sort of wanted: something to the point without being overly theoretical or way too wordy or …. I wanted the perfect “document” for me. This is a very close second and, in many ways, better, in that it provides a great entry into what I am looking for.

The article is exactly what the title purports to be: Comics, Linguistics, and Visual Language: The Past and Future of a Field. It shows why “a language of comics” is the wrong object of study and that it is actually “visual language,” akin to “spoken” and (I forget what he called them, but) “manual,” that is signed languages.

Lots of great citations, as he has a good lit review early on, and then looks at the topic from most angles of study in linguistics, covers the research done in that area and the research needed, along with what the proper questions and concepts are in that area, and how they map, if at all, and whether that matters, to other forms of language (for instance, photology versus phonology).

Scott McCloud

The heaviest cited piece he uses is: McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. First HarperPerennial edition, HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, of which he says, “…, contemporary works on comics in a linguistic light—both in America and abroad—have exploded since the publication of comic artist and theorist Scott McCloud’s (1993) graphic book Understanding comics.” and “McCloud’s approach has permeated nearly all linguistically-driven studies since its publication” (4). Ten total cites to it. The author has 20 cites to his own work. But that is spread across 11 different titles versus one. [Not saying that isn’t fair as he seems mighty prolific. I still need to check out Cohn’s website, http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/] But McCloud’s book seems to be the object to engage with in the article and in linguistics and comics since 1993.

When I looked up McCloud’s book to see if we had it at COCC—which we did—I saw that we had a 2nd McCloud book so I grabbed it too when I went up to get Understanding comics. It too is a graphic novel, McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Harper, 2006. And next to it was another early classic, also cited by Cohn, so I grabbed it as a possibility: Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist; [Incl. New and Updated Material. Norton, 2008.

 I have read his fiction graphic novel, The Sculptor.

Wissenschaft

Of course there is language to this kind of thing but at what level of analysis and so forth? Or is it all practical versus theoretic and where and how have they influenced each other? I need a Wissenschaft on visual language.

Seeing as I do not have one—although that linguistics article went a long way towards portions of theory, and McCloud’s books, along with possibly Eisner’s, will hopefully provide some great practical knowledge—I will have to construct my own.

But that is par for the course:

“Wissenschaft incorporates science, learning, knowledge, scholarship and implies that knowledge is a dynamic process discoverable for oneself, rather than something that is handed down. It did not necessarily imply empirical research.

Wissenschaft was the official ideology of German Universities during the 19th century. It emphasised the unity of teaching and individual research or discovery for the student. It suggests that education is a process of growing and becoming.” (Wikipedia, “Wissenschaft.” Emphasis mine; spelling mistake Wikipedia’s)

I love Wissenschaften since they are, amongst others things, intellectual histories and that is my favorite kind of history by far. I also agree with the philosophy of education.

A New Wander

I have been needing a new rabbit hole—a new intellectual wander—and I do believe I have found it. No idea how far I will go but there are still a handful of citations to look into from Cohn’s article. I mean, seriously, how could I, with my assorted background(s) not read “Impossible Objects as Nonsense Sentences”? A title like that is like an opiate to me. And I have a few books to begin with; two of which are nonfiction graphic novels, my favorite kind.

Ottaviani & Purvis – The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (illustrator)

Date read: 15-16 August 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016gnc, 2016nfc

Cover image of The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis

Hardback, 234 pages
Published 2016 by Abrams ComicArts
Source: Central Oregon Community College Barber Library [QA 29 .T8 O772 2016]

 

I enjoyed this, just as I enjoyed Ottaviani’s Feynman, which I read in 2012. I also just marked most of his books as To Read in Goodreads.

“I still work as a librarian by day, but stay up late writing comics about scientists.”

I didn’t know he was a librarian too!

Aha! That’s right. “He now works at the University of Michigan Library as coordinator of Deep Blue, the university’s institutional repository.[1][2]” [per Wikipedia].

The book consists of some prefatory material, 222 pages of graphic novel, an author’s note a bit over a page long, an annotated 3-page bibliography and recommended reading, and 6-pages of notes and references.

The graphic novel proper consists of the following sections: “Universal Computing” (pp. 1-66), “Top Secret Ultra” [think Bletchley Park] (pp. 67-152), and “The Imitation Game” (pp. 153-222) [links are to Wikipedia].

Highly recommended! If you know about Turing, and have, like me, perhaps read his papers on universal computing and the imitation game (philosophy and applied computer science undergrad), then this is still a great resource with all of the notes and references to specific works that might be of particular interest to you.

If you know little to nothing about Turing then this is a great introduction. Far better even than the recent (2014) movie, The Imitation Game, with Cumberbatch and Knightley. The presence of actual citations and sources are the basis for this claim.

This is the 41st book in my 2016 9th Annual Graphic Novel/Manga Challenge Sign-Ups

This is the 20th book in my Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

This is actually way past 20 nonfiction books for me this year; I simply have failed at reviewing quite a few, or finishing reviews, which is essentially the same thing. Many were started.

Quadbeck-Seeger – World of the Elements: Elements of the World

World of the Elements: Elements of the World, 1st ed., by Hans-Jürgen Quadbeck-Seeger, with kind support from BASF; translation by ??

Date read: 16 January – 08 February 2015

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Cover of Quadbeck-Seeger's World of the Elements

Hardback, 111 pages

Published 2007 by WILEY-VCH

Source: COCC Barber Library (QD 466 .Q3313 2007)

Let me just start with saying this book is crap. There. Out of the way.

No idea who the translator is as I cannot find any translation note; I must assume the author did the translation. There is a German-language edition, with a blue cover, which I found at the Deutschen Nationalbibliothek. The translation is fine, although at times it seems to vary between British and American usage and there is at least one “und” that the proofreader missed.

My main gripe is just who is the intended audience for this book? It is an odd mix of fairly serious science which attempts to give us some of the chemistry and physics of the periodic table and of the individual elements, while also educating us on other schemes for laying out the elements in a meaningful order; these efforts still go on, by the way. Not only do I not know who the intended audience is, I do not think there is one. The easy material can be found most anywhere and the more difficult material is only of use to a completely different set of readers. It is a really mixed bag of content.

Nowhere does the author ever define just what is an element. I have no real understanding as to why I am supposed to accept that some man-made by-product of a nuclear bombardment that has a half-life of 2.6 seconds is an actual element. I believe that the author attempted to educate us about such things with talk of periodicity and other issues but, in my opinion anyway, the important dots are never connected. I do know that there are perfectly good theoretical reasons why these man-made elements qualify but this author does not make it clear.

The entries for each element show: where it is located in a color-coded periodic table, its abbreviation, atomic number, atomic weight, images of things made from the element, an info box on discoverers, derivation of the name, and a list of properties. But most of these properties, although ostensibly written in English, contain so many other terms from physics and chemistry that are never defined that you really are just caught in a web of words and learn little about the actual properties of the elements. And if you already knew enough to fully understand most entries then this would not ever be a book you would need.

Some other editing problems: Under Curium (96) Pierre Curie’s dates are listed as (1958-1906) (p. 80). OK, I know Pierre died gruesomely but it wasn’t 52 years before he was born gruesome. Element 77, Proactinium, has Properties text that just runs out mid-sentence.

Throughout some of the discussions of topics, and even within some Properties for various elements, issues of philosophy of science arise and are generally brushed off as “spooky,” which they kind of are. Also, this book is not the place to try and address those as the author (correctly) acknowledges. But then we get near the back of the book…

In the section, “The Elements and Life” we get a list of the three criteria that most “definitions” of life require. These criteria will not tell us whether something is alive but can help us rule out that which is not. But then the author adds a fourth criteria: “All life wants to live!

Um. No. No fucking way! Until we get a much better grip on what “life” is or isn’t this kind of talk is utter nonsense and a category-mistake of the highest order. Life wants nothing. Life is not the kind of thing that can want. Now if he was to say that “All individual life forms want to live” he would get some credit. Of course, we are well aware that this is also not the case as many humans and other animals simply do give up their will to live. Perhaps we could claim “The exception … blah blah.” But life wants not a goddamned thing!

Two pages later same section, there is a breakout box talking about how the number 4 (and 5, and 6) occur over and over in nature. The author ends with

“We can only take note of these facts, and even partly explain them. But we must be careful not to draw any deeper conclusions. Or did someone have an idea to combine arithmetic and life?”

WTF?! So much for no “spookiness.” Seriously though, these two entities are simply things that cannot be combined. Mathematics is a descriptive language and can be used, in many ways, to describe living entities. But it does not describe life and they cannot be combined either. And just who was supposed to do this combining? Spooky.

In the boxes for the discoverers there are often two entries with different dates. Seemingly willy-nilly sometimes the oldest is on top and sometimes the most recent date is on top. Often the descriptions in these boxes leave one wondering at the actual “discovery” of the element.

I think the author did a reasonable but mostly ineffectual job as I do not think either the author or publisher (or between them) ever had a good idea who the audience was. The proofreaders did OK but missed a few glaring things. The book designer/layout folks completely and utterly blew the design of this book.

There are so many books for the general public about chemistry and particularly the periodic table and the elements that this book should be skipped. In fact, I have another book on the elements geared to a popular audience that I checked out the same day; I am hoping I can give it a better review.

Leave this book alone except in a dire emergency. And then, good luck!

This is the 9th book in my Traditional Chesterfield armchair

Harris – Integrationist Notes and Papers 2009-2011

Integrationist Notes and Papers 2009-2011 by Roy Harris

Date read: 29 January – 01 February 2015

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover of Roy Harris' Integrationist Notes and Papers 2009-2011

Paperback, iv, 104 pages

Published 2011 by Bright Pen

Source: Own, bought from Amazon

It has been far too long since I read any integrational linguistics. The preface states “This publication is the third in the collection of Integrationist Notes and Papers that began in 2003, and completes the series.” The 1st clause is true but the 2nd is not. There are currently three more (INP 2012, 2013, 2014) that I acquired recently at the same time as this one.

Others in the series:

I am truly looking forward to reading the remaining volumes (began INP 2012 yesterday; finished it early today). I have read the first two a couple times already, but then I have owned them for several plus years now.

I am not going to do a “proper” review but will provide you the table of contents and a small excerpt from each paper. Perhaps you’ll be enticed to have a further look. [If you are new to integrationism I would suggest you start elsewhere; feel free to ask. Then again, if you already have some linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, etc. these may give you something to “wake you from your dogmatic slumbers” and provide something to react to.]

At paper 34 The Translation Myth, I give a few thoughts on where all this was heading with my never-completed CAS project. I was actually attempting to do something much bigger—it was required due to the nature of integrationism and the sad state of philosophical awareness, theory critique, and knowledge of language and linguistics within librarianship and information science. See what I say at 34; that is the gist / the nub / the rub of why I embraced integrationism. It could begin to explain lots of difficulties which seemed to arise because of other views of language.

I am not suggesting that the kind of work subject analysis takes could ever be easy or even easily theorized. But it should be doable and, to me, language gets in the way. Something is wrong with our thinking and talking about language and the many and highly varied ways that way of thinking creeps in and impacts areas folks are not even aware of. Much of the work of subject analysis and of indexing and abstracting is metalinguistic, amongst other meta-s. Our talk about language best be sorted if we are to talk about the metalinguistic. And it isn’t. It is so far out of sorts that the problems reverberate pretty much everywhere. Thus, theoretic descriptions of translation, indexing and abstracting, subject analysis, and any other primarily metalinguistic activity (what is a description? what is a good description? It isn’t going to get any better.) are bound to obscure, in some manner, the doing of the actual activity.

Contents:

  • Preface
  • 26 Language Myths, East and West
  • 27 On ‘Primitive’ Languages in Linguistic Theory
  • 28 Linguistic Relativity
  • 29 Saussure and Logic
  • 30 Sentences and Systems
  • 31 Theory of Mind
  • 32 Mental Misrepresentations
  • 33 The Quest for Qualia
  • 34 The Translation Myth
  • 35 On Ultimate Questions
  • References

Preface

“Integrationism is perhaps best known for its most heretical tenet: that linguistics can dispense with the concept of ‘a language’. … It follows directly from the broader semiological principle that no sign is contextless. This applies as much to linguistic signs as to any. … Context is an intrinsic part of communication.” (Preface, 1)

26 Language Myths, East and West

“The two principal components of the Western language myth – the fallacy of telementation and the fixed code fallacy – are dual aspects of the myth of semantic invariance. Telementation guarantees semantic invariance as between speaker and hearer on a given occasion. The fixed code guarantees semantic invariance as between all members of a linguistic community at all times. … I have always regarded these as myths for the simple reason that there is no non-circular evidence in support of either” (4/5)

27 On ‘Primitive’ Languages in Linguistic Theory

“Chomsky’s primitive language is that famous idealized system which enables speakers in ‘a competely homogenous speech-community’ to communicate, without interference due to ‘memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors’ (Chomsky 1965: 3). In short, the ghost operates in what appears to be a communicational vacuum.” (20)

28 Linguistic Relativity

“The notion that an argument is either inherently sound or inherently defective, without reference to grammar or to any external criteria, is amongst the most confused in the history of the subject. Arguments must be judged by their context.” (27)

29 Saussure and Logic

“One of the more conspicuous gaps in Saussure’s linguistic legacy is his failure to provide any clear account of the relations between logic and language.” (35)

30 Sentences and Systems

“The term sentence is a metalinguistic expression. What we think of as exchanging verbally with others in the course of our daily affairs are not “sentences” but questions and answers, remarks and observations about the past, present or future. Whether or not any of these happen to coincide with what a grammarian defines as a “sentence” (under any of the many definitions of sentence that have been proposed) is simply irrelevant.” (53-54)

31 Theory of Mind

“Knowledge, in integrationist epistemology, is always a form of activity.” (63)

32 Mental Misrepresentations

Behaviourism vs. mentalism

“The immense damage which generativism has done to the academic study of linguistics is not merely to resuscitate a language myth that goes back to the days of Plato, but to resuscitate it in a form where it sounds like the product of the latest psychological research.” (75)

33 The Quest for Qualia

“It was only ever a belated attempt to resurrect the ancient concept of intrinsic essences and make it psychologically respectable.” (84).

34 The Translation Myth

“A well-known paper entitled ‘The theory of translation’ begins with the observation:

     To translate is one thing; to say how we do it, is another. The practice is familiar enough, and there are familiar theories of it. But when we try to look more closely, theory tends to obscure rather than explain, and the familiar practice – an ancient practice, without which Western civilization is unthinkable – appears to be just baffling, its very possibility a mystery. (Haas 1962: 208)

The interesting notion here is that theory obscures rather than explains the practice of translation. An integrationist would say that the reason why it does is that, throughout the Western tradition, translation theory – like linguistic theory in general – has been predominately segregationist in its assumptions.” (85-86)

This! This is what I had hoped to address in my CAS thesis. That never got written. That description of the act of translation versus the theory sounds exactly like the relationship between the practices of indexing and abstracting, and of subject analysis, and of their respective theories. That is the gist of what I wanted to address.

35 On Ultimate Questions

“The reason for the elusiveness of initial postulates, like ultimate questions, resides in the (epistemological) fact that the concept of ‘a language’ is not a given, waiting to be described, but is constructed – and can be differently constructed – in the course of inquiry.” (97)

If you got this far I hoped you found something thought-provoking. I just love this stuff but wish I had a better foundation of all the theories integrationism critiques. At least I have exposure to much of it and better than that in some cases.

This is the 3rd book in my Traditional Chesterfield armchair

de Botton – How to Think More About Sex

How Think More About Sex How Think More About SexAlain de Botton; Picador 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I read de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex on 1-2 November 2014. It was not quite what I expected; I also expected more. Then again, I gave a mixed review to The Architecture of Happiness, which suffers from some of the same issues.

But first, the contents:

I. Introduction

II. The Pleasures of Sex

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

III. The Problems of Sex

     1. Love and Sex

     2. Sexual Rejection

     3. Lack of Desire: Infrequency, Impotence, Resentment

     4. Pornography: Censorship, A New Kind of Porn

     5. Adultery: The Pleasures of Adultery, The Stupidity of Adultery

IV. Conclusion

Homework

My comments and excerpts:

de Botton writes in an overly generalized fashion, he considers few alternatives, he is quite probably contradicting himself on a couple occasions, he is often anthropomorphic and reifies to no end, and he seems to have written this book from a healthy, Euro-skinned, heterosexual of reasonably decent (or better) looks perspective. Gays, transexuals, asexuals, whatever do not appear. Do not get mention. Nor do the vast majority of people who are of mediocre appearance at best. Apparently, the only ones who should be thinking more (clearly/intelligently/humanely) about sex are healthy good-looking heterosexuals. Not.

I know this book is short but it leaves so damned much out. And that is perfectly fine and certainly expected. But if you are leaving out that much of the human experience of sex without even mentioning that you have no space for it then you do not deserve to name your book How to Think More About Sex. It really is that simple.

Based on this alone, one probably ought skip this book. But it is short and it has great moments. There are things of import to think about that he brings up. Some of his offerings for ways in and/or out of things are fine and some are bunk. But he is trying to intelligently discuss sex. I appreciate the hell out of that! But this only hits on occasion and it misses by so damned much in its general approach to ignoring much of the world’s population’s individual experiences.

Let’s dive in.

I. Introduction

I really liked this bit in the Intro. The end of that first paragraph is a bit over the top but I can’t argue really with that full one after it. He does a decent but succinct job of showing how messed up our “thinking” is about sex and, thus, why we may need to think/talk/act more intelligently about it.

“…. We [are] bothered by sex because it is a fundamentally disruptive, overwhelming and demented force, strongly at odds with the majority of our ambitions and all but incapable of being discreetly integrated within civilized society.

     Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.” 6-7

II. The Pleasures of Sex

He leaps right in trying to show that sex is messy and great and vengeful and loving and …. He does a good job showing that we truly are less in charge than we think when it comes to sex. This is also a bit thin for someone new to it (I am not) but he’s on the right track. Evolutionary biology can only explain so much (if it does at all) and one has to bring other theories to bear to explain more than mere biological sexual attraction for reproductive purposes. He does. Are they the right ones, or at least highly useful?

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

          “It could sound disgusting — and that’s the point. Nothing is erotic that isn’t also, with the wrong person, revolting, which is precisely what makes erotic moments so intense: at the precise juncture where disgust could be at its height, we find only welcome and permission. The privileged nature of the union between two people is sealed by an act that, with someone else, would have horrified them both.” 22

          “Sex temporarily liberates us from the punishment dichotomy, well known to every one of us since childhood, between dirty and clean. Lovemaking purifies us by engaging the most apparently polluted sides of ourselves in its procedures and thereby anointing them as newly worthy.” 37

On fetishes:

          “In a clinical sense, a fetish is defined as an ingredient, typically quite unusual in nature, which needs to be present in order for someone to achieve orgasm.” 38

          “In this wider sense, fetishes are simply details — most often related either to a type of clothing or to a part of another’s body — which evoke for us desirable sides of human nature. The precise origins of our enthusiasms may be obscure, but they can almost always be traced back to some meaningful aspect of our childhood: we will be drawn to specific things either because they recall appealing qualities of a beloved parental figure or else, conversely, because they somehow cancel out, or otherwise help us to escape, a memory of early humiliation or terror.

          The task of understanding our own preferences in this regard should be recognized as an integral part of any project of self-knowledge or biography. What Freud said of dreams can likewise be said of sexual fetishes: they are a royal road into the unconscious.” 39

Tying our fetishes to issues of values and the good life which he’ll bring out later:

          “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy’, the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” 44

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

          “A consensus emerges about which sorts of faces we find most appealing. From these studies [cross-cultural], evolutionary biologists have concluded that a ‘sexy’ person of either gender, far from being an unclassifiable abstraction, is in essence someone whose face is symmetrical (that is, the right and left sides match precisely) and whose features are balanced, proportionate and undistorted.” 81

          “The discipline [evol biol] absolves physical attraction of the charge of being purely superficial. While conceding that we judge people by their appearance, it holds that appearances themselves are anything but trivial and indeed point towards some rather profound qualities.” 84

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

          “Evolutionary biology confidently predicts that we will be drawn to people on the basis of their evident health, but it has not put forward any truly convincing theories about why we should prefer one specific healthy person over another.” 63

But what about people who clearly are not “healthy” who find love and are attracted sexually to others?

          Wilhelm Worringer’s theory on art appreciation; essay, “Abstraction and Empathy,” 1907 64-8

          Worringer’s theory applied to sexual attraction 69-72

          “We then declare people ‘sexy’ when we see in them evidence of compensatory qualities, and are repelled by those who seem prone to drive us further into our extremities.” 70

          “We need both art and sex to make us whole, so it is not surprising if the mechanisms of compensation should be similar in each case. The specifics of what we find ‘beautiful’ and what we find ‘sexy’ are indications of what we most deeply crave in order to rebalance ourselves.” 72

III. The Problems of Sex

This section attempts to offer possible remedies, or at least ways in, to mitigate some of the many problems with sex. Of course, only a few are covered in the short space allowed. I am not sure how effectively he deals with some of them either.

     1. Love and Sex

          “It’s time for the need for sex and the need for love to be granted equal standing, without an added moral gloss. Both may be independently felt and are of comparable value and validity. Both shouldn’t require us to lie in order to claim them.” 79

Amen! The data on this–and he does provide some; there is much more–show what a damaging idea modern love (and marriage) truly is. Maybe someday perhaps the two can be pulled apart in a more sane and sensible way but I have my doubts.

     2. Sexual Rejection

          “We don’t have to take sexual rejection as a sure indication that another person has looked into our soul and registered disgust at every aspect of our being. The reality is usually much simpler and less shattering than that: for whatever reason, this particular individual just can’t get turned on by our body. We can take comfort in the knowledge that such a verdict is automatic, preconscious and immutable. The one doing the rejecting isn’t being intentionally nasty; he or she has no choice.” 82

If we could already use reason in regards to love and sex then this probably would be less of an issue than it is. Realigning our views on the issue, as he suggests, would be useful but quite unlikely to be of use to more than a handful of people, statistically speaking.

     3. Lack of Desire:

          i. Infrequency

               “The solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before.” 97

               “While going about their quite different types of business, the lover and the artist nonetheless come up against a similar human foible: the universal tendency to become easily habituated and bored, and to decide that whatever is known is unworthy of interest. We are prone to long for novelty, kitschy romanticism, drama and glamour.” 99

               “We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine.” 102

          ii. Impotence

     Argues that this is a “symptom of respect.” Not buying that for a second, except in some percentage (I’m going with small) of all cases. And the reason why is all the bullshit he says about men in these paragraphs. Again, overly generalized beyond all possible acceptance. Gamergate and #teamharpy, along with way too many other things today show us that most men have not “evolved” as de Botton seems to think.

          iii. Resentment

               “By overwhelming consensus, our culture locates the primary difficulty of relationships in finding the ‘right’ person rather than in knowing how to love a real — that is, a necessarily rather unright — human being.” 121

Yes. This bit is quite valuable. Again, shows the utter destruction caused by the currently prevailing (by those in power) views of love and marriage in Western society.

     4. Pornography:

          i. Censorship

I. Just. He seems to accept, and argues, that pornography is extremely dangerous to society and that some form of censorship is necessary. He is writing in particular about the Internet. Yes, indeed, let’s let nanny-state governments censor the Internet so we can get back to work. Jackass! There are so many intermediate steps.

I should explain that my vehemence here is he because he made no real argument for pornography being an immense destructive force; just assumed via anecdata.

          ii. A New Kind of Porn

I. Just. Don’t. But now he wants a new kind of porn. “Virtue porn.”

“Yet is is possible to conceive of a version of pornography that wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue — a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.” 139

OK. This might work for a few folks; he should go back and re-read his discussion of fetishes though, as a first caution. And some of his examples later on make some sense; again, for a few folks. But his discussion. Oy! His example to lead us into pornography that might support our virtues is Sandro Bottticelli’s The Madonna of the Book, c.1483.

Seems to be contradicting himself in these two sections also. Porn must be censored. Oh, look, a new kind of “virtue porn.” Make a choice or choose a middle ground, sir.

     5. Adultery:

          i. The Pleasures of Adultery

               “However, the real fault in the situation lies in the ethos of modern marriage, with its insane ambitions and its insistence that one person can plausibly hope to embody the eternal sexual and emotional solution to another’s every need.

               Taking a step back, what distinguishes modern marriage from its historical precedents is its fundamental tenet that all our desire for love, sex and family ought to reside in the selfsame person. No other society has been so stringent or so hopeful about the institution of marriage, nor ultimately, as a consequence, so disappointed in it.

               In the past, these very distinct needs — for love, sex and family — were wisely differentiated and separated out from one another.” 152

          ii. The Stupidity of Adultery

This section brought out how also very middle-class and above focused it is.

IV. Conclusion

     “When every contemptuous but fair thing has been said about our infernal sexual desires, we can still celebrate them for not allowing us to forget for more than a few days at a time what is really involved in living an embodied, chemical and largely insane human life.” 175-6

I can certainly agree with this view, but while he did a decent job arguing this, if it was what he truly meant to argue then I suppose it would have been a somewhat different book. Or perhaps not.

Homework

This is the sources section.

Conditionally recommended is what I am going to say. That is, if you want to think more about sex. Then again, if you want to think more about sex then I would recommend this book [any edition would be fine], even if the focus of each is not the same.

Administrivia:

I had to create a record at Open Library so I could use John Miedema’s OpenBook plugin. I had hoped I was done with adding so many records there but is good to be writing again. And it is a nice record.

frenetic, or a comment on the New Media Citation digped of 2 Nov

digital citation in new media.
one hour, twitter,
go! #digped.

wrong tools.
tweets & convos
race past.

reflection,
@Jessifer files
Storified version.

On Friday the 2nd of November I participated in a Twitter chat on the topic of new media citation practices. It was quite “raucous” as Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) calls it in his post at Hybrid Pedagogy. For me, it was “frenetic.” [OED online. Sense 2b: Of a quality, power, act, process, etc.: frenzied, manic; wild, passionate; rapid and energetic in an uncontrolled or unrestrained way.]

As soon as it was over I attempted to write a poem describing my experience of it. I got the first two stanzas out fairly quickly but then got no further. This morning, Jesse posted his Storified version to Hybrid Pedagogy and I read it through. I think he (and it) does a good job of capturing much of what was said, although clearly not everything was captured, as he used about a score of the total of 440 tweets.

The second stanza of the poem above reflects more my frustration with the tools I was attempting to use. I have participated in less than a handful of tweet chats previously and I was not prepared for this raucous freneticism. I was at my desktop for it—wouldn’t even begin to think of trying it on the iPad—where I use the Twitter app for Mac from Twitter. But I wanted to keep that kind of separate from what I was doing so I opened Twitter in a Chrome tab on the desktop I am using for DigiWriMo and ran a search for the #digped hashtag.

Perhaps the biggest problem was that the Twitter search on their website was not showing me tweets (or more specifically, replies) from some of the folks I follow. For example, @Jessifer’s responses to me were only showing up in the Twitter app for Mac. I figured this out fairly early as my phone was next to me and kept vibrating as I got replies that I wasn’t seeing.

Robin Wharton (@rswharton) suggested I try Tweet Chat but I, in the moment, assumed it was an app and not simply a website. Later, Sara seconded it as a good tool also. I will definitely try it the next time.

The next biggest issue, not directly related to the chat but to DigiWriMo, is that I was trying to copy my tweets and the links to them into Scrivener to save them towards my word count. This was much easier from the Twitter app than the browser. This meant switching desktops and multiple windows and …. I eventually moved the Twitter app onto the same desktop but things stayed hectic due to the volume of things going on in the chat.

On the other hand, stanza two in the poem above also reflects my firm belief that Twitter is simply not the place for such conversations. Sure, it sort of worked. If you look at the comments on this post at Hybrid Pedagogy you’ll see that a few of the participants think differently than me. And that is fine. I have had these conversations before. Twitter works great for some conversations but, at least for me, fails horribly for others.

There were so many differing, and frequently unexplicated, assumptions behind (most of) the tweets and no way to tease out philosophical, departmental, temperamental or other differences. There were, on occasion, conflations, or at least lack of specifying, between whether one was talking about a standalone bibliography (annotated or not) or one attached to a specific work (article, book, blog post, etc.). There was little actual real discussion about what purposes/roles/functions a citation actually does or should play. There was much agreement that things are, and probably should, change in academia regarding citation practices. I am fairly sure that sometimes some of us were bringing “old” media issues back into the discussion supposedly about “new media.” But I am not sure there is, or should be, a lot of difference. Certainly the how of how one goes about making a citation in many new media might frequently need to be different than how one does in a print medium, but I remain fully unconvinced that the why is different.

To me, these sorts of higher level questions are of more interest and ought also be more immediate. Once the larger issues of why—multiple reasons corresponding to different roles/functions—are sorted out, then it is time to figure out best practices (within disciplines/communities/media/etc.) for actually doing so. One of the larger questions—or perhaps more intermediate—to me then becomes answerable, or at least addressable.

Back in the day, over 5 years ago now, myself and others (and no doubt many others elsewhere including such folks as the makers of Zotero) were wondering what and how bibliographies could be of the web and not simply on it. Sadly, I never got very far with that, and all of the people involved in the conversation with me at the time have also moved on to other things, although I am willing to bet that they are still highly intrigued in how things could be different if we had better tools.

Some of my questions were:

What purposes (if any) do bibliographies serve on the web? Is there one?
What form should web-based bibliographies take to support those purposes?
Should embedded COinS or some other OpenURL or similar technology be employed?
What would be the best way to present our literature in a web-based bibliography that might entice you to read some of it?

I was also trying to get at things better tools could do for us and allow us to do. My brilliant friend, Jodi Schneider, hit the nail on the head, as usual, with her comment:

Ok: in my ideal bibliography system:

You would be able to:
* filter, search, and sort items by any metadata field.
*select any subset of the bibliography (including the whole thing)
*and do actions on the whole or your selection

Here are some actions I would want:
*download citations to your own collection (online or locally hosted on your own computer)
*mark the subset for later use in the online system
*search the full-text of all items in the subset. Results would show KWIC snippets and could generate subsets for further actions
*add all references to your collection (preserving field structure)
*use an associated “bibliography processor” to download all the associated items. Your processor would be able to authenticate for your library access and individual subscriptions. It would create a new subset of problem items, for manual inspection, which could easily be passed to other services (like ILL).

Other bibliography thoughts:
*free online resources and subscription resources would be distinguished by an icon
*a good bibliography should give a sense of the field–clustering and facets may help with this, and leveraging the structured data (e.g. by journal, tags/descriptors, etc.)

If we had tools that easily pulled citations, references, links, pointers out of new media documents, web pages, reference managers, and what-have-you, and that easily added them to other documents, whether web-based or not (prior to printing, of course) and that allowed us to easily manipulate sets and subsets of them and to perform assorted actions on them easily, then not only would our lives be easier (and, arguably perhaps, better) but much of the discussion that took place in the tweet chat would be moot.

Only the larger questions of why we would cite or compile bibliographies would remain, along with some issues of formatting. But, despite the amount of effort that goes into formatting citations into the almost innumerable styles that are out there, the reasons for specific formatting styles is rarely ever known by most users of them, and even less frequently ever actually theorized (and how much of this formatting is just bullshit wasted effort in the first place?). We truly need to get rid of about 95% (or more!) of the styles that exist for formatting citations (in any medium) and revisit the why of the specific how of doing so, with good and proper reasoning for each choice.

Ah. Now Mark the librarian and inveterate footnote/citation tracer is talking. ::sigh:: I think for now I’ll just wander off of this obviously passionate topic. It seems clear that many of my first-order concerns with citation practices are not the same ones as many of those who participated in the chat. And that is perfectly OK, too.

I do want to add that I did, though, despite the poem or any of the above comments, enjoy myself in the chat. It was just a very frenetic enjoyment which could have been helped by better tools.

“Better tools.” Maybe that ought be the title of this post.

 

My Two-Thirds Book Challenge Personal Assessment

In October 2011, after finishing another book reading challenge, which a friend of mine had handled excellently, I decided it was my turn to reciprocate, and I wanted another reading challenge, so I came up with the Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

This post is my reflection on how it went for me.

Initial choices

I made a list of 30 books of which I hoped to read 20. Then, because I’m a cataloger/classifier, I divided them into 6 gross categories just to see what areas I had picked and then to maybe lean towards reading at least one from each to ensure my reading stayed broad. (Of course, I read many other books during this timeframe that were not on my Challenge list. Many of those were graphics novels and poetry.) After a couple of months, because of certain timely shifts in interest I non-specifically substituted 2 books.

My full set of initial choices and their categories can be seen at My Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

How it worked out

The following is how it worked out for me. The books listed are the ones I finished (and 2 which I started but did not finish yet):

HISTORY / ANTHROPOLOGY / RELIGION

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History by Mircea Eliade

PHILOSOPHY

In Defence of the Enlightenment by Tzvetan Todorov (substitute)

LITERATURE / FICTION / POETRY / CRITICISM

Pale Fire (Everyman’s Library, #67) by Vladimir Nabokov

The Way It Is by William Stafford

Transformations by Anne Sexton

PROFESSIONAL READING

(Began only) Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet by Christine L. Borgman

(Began only) Libraries and the Enlightenment by Wayne Bivens-Tatum (substitute)

Thoughts/Commentary

As is fairly evident, I did not do well with the challenge I set myself. I finished 6 books (30%) and began 2 others out of the 20 I was aiming for.

Now, there are extenuating circumstances seeing as we moved halfway across the country this summer, which sucked up an awful lot of time. We also jumped into life in Bend with both feet when we arrived which only made the moving in process longer. (I hope to be writing here about some of the things we have done since arriving in Bend soon).

Extenuating circumstances or not, I am perfectly happy with the way the challenge turned out for me as I explicitly learned something about myself. I was loosely aware of it before, but this just cemented it.

That is, there are too many interesting books out there for me to specify what I will be reading over the next year.

I still want, and intend, to read all of the books on my challenge list. Just as I intend to read many others on previous lists or those on no particular list. There will also be many new books or books new to me that I will read. (E.g., we have acquired 136 books in the 1st 9 months of 2012 (during the Challenge) but that number doesn’t include books acquired in Oct-Dec 2011, nor the many books read from assorted libraries.)

So, the bottom line is, I need a somewhat looser form of reading challenge to be ‘successful’ by any sort of standard measure. Maybe as vague as “I’ll read x number of books in the next year” is the best I can do. I would hope to be able to provide a little more structured early guidance to myself perhaps, but I’m not sure I know what that is. While my reading choices are not fully based on whim by any means, they are heavily influenced by a wide variety of input mechanisms—friends (in assorted ways), sites like Goodreads or Library Thing, tweets by others, the book catalogs that two librarians (us) receive in the mail, browsing shelves in multiple places, book reviews stumbled across, and so on and on.

There simply are too many books out there waiting to be read for me to be so scheduled about what I will read. And I am perfectly happy with that.

I hereby declare the Two-Thirds Book Challenge a success for me. I look forward to seeing how the other participants assess their own personal Challenges.

 

 

 

Two-Thirds Book Challenge Update 6

This is update 6 in the Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

Helen

Helen has been quite busy this month … catching up on blogging things that she has read over the last few months.

Trinity by Leon Uris

She gave this one 5 stars in goodreads. “It is a dreary & beautiful slog through fictionalized history of a conquered people.” See her review for more.

The Littlest Hitler by Ryan Boudinot

This collection of short stories garnered 3 stars from her. While the “stories were all technically very well written” she “just kept thinking over and over that it was all trying too hard. The writing was effortless and a pleasure to read, but the story was always a little too hip, a little too cool, a little too ‘look how shocking.'” She hopes to try some of his more recent stuff before writing him off.

Pure Drivel by Steve Martin

“Usually I love Steve Martin’s writing, but this one was a miss for me.” 3 stars. See her review for why this one just didn’t work for her.

Scenes From An Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine

Another 5 star book. “I hear that this comic isn’t his best work from lots of folks, but since a) I’ve read and loved all his work and b) I feel a kinship to his attitude about most things, I feel qualified to say this book was awesome.” As someone ‘recently’ married, she has convinced me to read it.

Murder Unleashed by Rita Mae Brown

“This story is a murder mystery that encompasses a wide variety of topics including but not limited to: the mortgage crisis, squatter’s rights, hunger both human and animal, coyote’s and ranch politics, cattle farming, campaign finance, school buses, and sex industry workers. I’m sure there was more, plus the everyday lives of regular characters. The story is easy and RMB has a gift for packing a lot of content into a weekend read without making it laborious.”

She thinks the series is improving but read her review to find out why she only gave it 3 stars.

 Jen!!

After a drought, two books down

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

“This is the fourth book in the Dresden series and I loved it. It lived up to Butcher’s standards for adventure, inventiveness, and fun.”

Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes

“[I]nspired by a reference in The Violets of March” she was led into the Stacks at UIUC and was “glad that I followed through on reading it. … Indeed, I found it a thoughtful telling of a life, the choices made, and the results that come from those choices.”

Sounds like a good read. And Brava, Jen, for daring the Stacks! I miss them so very, very much!

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer

Past, present, Vienna, World War II, art, death and lovers. Wow. “The book drew me in almost instantly, making want to know more about the characters–their past, their future, how they would deal with the present. … This book is a wonderful get-a-way from the day to day and I especially like the time shifting of it and getting to witness the impact that the choices made in one’s youth had on the future.”

Sara

Quiet Renaissance Power

Sara reviewed two books “that were very different but struck similar chords” for her, which she read during the same time period as part of her Creativity theme for the 2/3rds Book Challenge: Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain, and The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one by Margaret Lobenstine.

“In the end, I benefited from reading both of these books and I think reading them at the same time worked out really well. From Renaissance Soul, I have a list of specific goals and a timeline which actually feels realistic. From Quiet, I have several other book recommendations (I think I’ll finally get around to reading Flow now) and better ways of articulating what I need to myself and others.”

She does caution readers about an “us and them” premise which is present in both books, though.

E

The Wild Palms (If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem) by William Faulkner

This was a tough one for E but it will be with her for a long time. Life often puts these complex and difficult texts in front of us during times of stress, whether we need them or not, and they change us; often for the better, more often not appreciated until much later.

Read her powerful review.

“Do I even need to tell you that there can’t possibly be a happy ending? “That story ends very badly for all involved, you know.” “Don’t all the good ones?” And then there’s this, where I am right now, drinking bourbon in the back room of my new apartment in Pilsen, listening to the whistle of trains in the distance, scanning for the moon against the night sky.”

Keep scanning for the moon, my friend. She’ll always be there for you. Day or night, day and night, she has always been there for me.

Mark

In Defence of the Enlightenment by Tzvetan Todorov

I really wanted to like this book but it let me down. Sure, my review is far more nuanced than that, and I am glad I read it, but that is the gist of my reaction to it.

See you next month.

Two-Thirds Book Challenge Update 4

This is the 3rd update to the Two-Thirds book Challenge.

2/3 Book Challenge: A Visit from the Goon Squad

E read this for her book club back in November but didn’t get the review posted until early January. She has been having a legitimately busy life the last several months. Hopefully things will calm down for her soon.

“I can say definitively that [Jennifer] Egan is a master storyteller. A Visit from the Goon Squad weaves in and out of time, with a number of stories told in layers, folding and unfolding onto themselves.”

“I wish I’d written this review closer to finishing the book – or to my book club’s discussion – as there are aspects of it that we found problematic that I’ve since forgotten.”

“And in that exchange lies the weight of the book, the way we measure the passage of time, all of the things we want to say but can’t, all of the things we try to say but fail to communicate, all of the moments in time that slip through our fingers.”

Sounds intriguing; see her review for more details.

Jen

Eleven Minutes, Paulo Coelho

“I read his book The Alchemist sometime in the last year or two and liked it. His writing is simple in quite a beautiful way. I like simplicity. I get lost in lyricism and can’t uncover deeper meanings. Coelho is right up my alley, but I don’t think that I could tear through his books one after the other. … In Eleven Minutes Coelho delves into love and prostitution, through the eyes of the young and beautiful Maria. Ah, love.”

Jen says she is too jaded for the love story here but I wonder if it wasn’t perhaps the storytelling. There are many ways to tell of love, and only a very few approach the sublimity of being in love.

The Violets of March, Sarah Jio

The Violets of March, …, is a delicious meal laid out stunningly on the table.”

“What a wonderful book. Romance and mystery (not a murder mystery–an historical mystery), beautifully woven together.”

“It’s the characters, not the romance, that will stick with me for a while. I’ll wonder about them and what they’re up to, the way I do with old friends I haven’t spoken with in a while.”

Jen references her comment in her previous review about being jaded, which has, perhaps, not been mitigated by this book but temporarily overcome.

Yes, Jen, some of us do use our amazon wish lists like that. By the way, you can put a comment, link, etc. in the notes for each item on your wish list to help keep track of just that issue. I try to do so when I read a review somewhere; it helps if I can go back 6 months or 2 years later and see why I once thought I wanted a title and to get some additional (original) input into whether it still speaks to me.

Mark

Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

“This is the 4th book that I have finished in my Two-Thirds Book Challenge. I started it 6 October 2011 and finished it 15 January 2012. I had not intended to take so long but it is somewhat complex and, in all honesty, the rampant Freudianism/psychoanalysis is simply too much at times.”

But it is a classic text and I do believe it is worth reading.

Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return

“The gist is a comparison of how primitive or archaic humans viewed history versus how historical man views history. For archaic human, Eliade claims, everything that mattered—that had meaning—was a repeat of an archetype of some previous event or action in ‘primordial’ time, and that these things were endlessly repeated as the world was, in fact, repeatedly re-created anew.”

Modern, historical, humans have lost that which then leads us straight into the “terror of history,” a form of existential crisis.

I found this an excellent and engaging book, which, for me, generated as many questions as it may have answered. I like that.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment and good reading, whatever that may be for you!

 

 

 

Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return

This is the 5th book that I have read for My Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

I stated at the end of my review of Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces that I hoped that this might be a good follow-up book to Campbell and I have to say that I think it was. It is certainly a different project than Campbell’s but it dovetails nicely.

Contents:

      • Introduction to the 2005 Edition by Jonathan Z. Smith
      • Foreword
      • Preface
      • Chap. 1: Archetypes and Repetition
        • § The Problem
        • § Celestial Archetypes of Territories, Temples, and Cities
        • § The Symbolism of the Center
        • § Repetition of the Cosmogony
        • § Divine Models of Rituals
        • § Archetypes of Profane Activities
        • § Myths and History
      • Chap. 2: The Regeneration of Time
        • § Year, New Year, Cosmogony
        • § Periodicity of the Creation
        • § Continuous Regeneration of Time
      • Chap. 3: Misfortune and History
        • § Normality of Suffering
        • § History Regarded as Theophany
        • § Cosmic Cycles and History
        • § Destiny and History
      • Ch. 4: The Terror of History
        • § Survival of the Myth of Eternal Return
        • § The Difficulties of Historicism
        • § Freedom and History
        • § Despair or Faith
      • Bibliography
      • Index

This is a fairly complicated book but I found it in no way tiresome to read, as I often did Campbell. Is it more “true” than Campbell? I don’t think we can ever know that but most of it is certainly plausible. My biggest concern, as it is in many areas, is can we really get into the head of archaic man? So many things were so different then than how they are, or have been for a good while, for any of us that can read (or could have written) this book.

The gist is a comparison of how primitive or archaic humans viewed history versus how historical man views history. For archaic human, Eliade claims, everything that mattered—that had meaning—was a repeat of an archetype of some previous event or action in ‘primordial’ time, and that these things were endlessly repeated as the world was, in fact, repeatedly re-created anew.

“The essential theme of my investigation bears on the image of himself formed by the man of the archaic societies and on the place he assumes in the Cosmos. The chief difference between the man of the archaic and traditional societies and the man of the modern societies with their strong imprint of Judaeo-Christianity lies in the fact that the former feels himself indissolubly connected with the Cosmos, whereas the latter insists that he is connected only with History. …” xxvii-xxviii

“The reader will remember that they [traditional civilizations] defended themselves against it [history], either by periodically abolishing it through repetition of the cosmogony and a periodic regeneration of time or by giving historical events a metahistorical meaning, a meaning that was not only consoling but was above all coherent, that is, capable of being fitted into a well-consolidated system in which the cosmos and man’s existence had each its raison d’être.” 142

The Hebrews, with their faith in Yahweh and their interpretation of events being a manifestation of His will, gave us ‘history.’ This view evolves over time, eventually leading to historicism.

“Thus, for the first time, the [Hebrew] prophets placed a value on history, succeeded in transcending the traditional vision of the cycle (the conception that ensure all things will be repeated forever), and discovered a one-way time. This discovery was not to be immediately and fully accepted by the consciousness of the entire Jewish people, and the ancient conceptions were still long to survive.” 104

“It may, then, be said with truth that the Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God, and this conception, as we should expect, was taken up and amplified by Christianity.

We may even ask ourselves if monotheism, based upon the direct and personal revelation of the divinity, does not necessarily entail the “salvation” of time, its value within the frame of history.” 104

“From the seventeenth century on, linearism and the progressivistic conception of history assert themselves more and more, inaugurating faith in an infinite progress, a faith already proclaimed by Leibniz, predominant in the century of “enlightenment,” and popularized in the nineteenth century by the triumph of the ideas of the evolutionists. We must wait until our own century to see the beginnings of certain new reactions against this historical linearism and a certain revival of interest in the theory of cycles; …” 145-46

The problem for modern man is one of existentialism, although that term is never used. It is, though, described in the text in places.

“For our purpose, only one question concerns us: How can the “terror of history” be tolerated from the viewpoint of historicism? Justification of a historical event by the simple fact that it is a historical event, in other words, by the simple fact that it “happened that way,” will not go far toward freeing humanity from the terror that the event inspires.” 150

What is interesting, and Eliade points towards it even in 1949, is that there is a nostalgia, a return even, towards the archaic view of history.

“Some pages earlier, we noted various recent orientations that tend to reconfer value upon the myth of cyclical periodicity, even the myth of eternal return. … …, it is worth noting that the work of two of the most significant writers of our day–T. S. Eliot and James Joyce–is saturated with nostalgia for the myth of eternal repetition and, in the last analysis, for the abolition of time.” 153

I think this kind of thinking is also reflected in the current interest in the Mayan calendar and 2012, in various forms of magical thinking like that involved in the Singularity, and other views and ideas floating around in early 21st-century consumer culture. I would really love to have Eliade’s take on this.

Eliade’s analysis leads him to claim that Christianity is the answer modern man has arrived at to combat the “terror of history.”

“But we are able to observe here and now that such a position [historicist] affords a shelter from the terror of history only insofar as it postulates the existence at least of the Universal Spirit. What consolation should we find in knowing that the sufferings of millions of men have made possible the revelation of a limitary situation of the human condition if, beyond that limitary situation, there should be only nothingness?” 159-60

“In this respect, Christianity incontestibly proves to be the religion of “fallen man”: and this to the extent which modern man is irremediably identified with history and progress, and to which history and progress are a fall, both implying the final abandonment of the paradise of archetypes and repetition.” 162

Personally, this leaves me unsatisfied. I am not sure that this is simply an objective (or as objective as possible) analysis or whether it is the answer Eliade wanted. Throughout most of the book, and even in the final clause above [the final sentence of the book], he seems to be more positively drawn towards the archaic human view than that of the modern, historical human.

I wonder whether the existential crisis is not simply overstated here, as it is in many places. Or perhaps it was more of a crisis when this book was written; it was certainly more of a ‘movement’ then than now. Perhaps 21st-century humans, at least those of us living our lives in our blogs and on twitter and so on, are simply too busy to feel the ‘crisis’ as deeply.

Something from the foreword which I fully agree would be a good thing:

“Our chief intent has been to set forth certain governing lines of force in the speculative field of archaic societies. It seemed to us that a simple presentation of this field would not be without interest, especially for the philosopher accustomed to finding his problems and the mean of solving them in the texts of classic philosophy or in the spiritual history of the West. With us, it is an old conviction that Western philosophy is dangerously close to “provincializing” itself … by its obstinate refusal to recognize any “situations” except those of the man of the historical civilizations, in defiance of the experience of “primitive” man, of man as a member of the traditional societies. … Better yet: that the cardinal problems of metaphysics could be renewed through a knowledge of archaic ontology.” xxiv

There are some interesting comments in a couple of places regarding the views of the elites (particularly the educated/intellectual elite) vs. the common person that I found intriguing, and that speak to related issues of today.

I imagine that I will revisit this work in the future. I am not entirely sure I understood everything Eliade claims; in fact, I know I didn’t. Another read might not fully solve that issue but it would help immensely I imagine. And I do think some interesting work on current culture could be done with the framework he has outlined here.

Recommended.