DEALING WITH THE OMNIUM-GATHERUM.

The historian Keith Thomas has an essay in the LRB that exemplifies the working method an “anonymous reader” describes as involving “a great many references to and citations of a generous selection of (mostly printed) texts and documents, which account for a high percentage of the text.” I could follow the same path, quoting (for instance) Thomas quoting C.G. Crump of the Public Record Office (“‘Never make a note for future use in such a form … that even you yourself will not know what it means, when you come across it some months later.’”) or Thomas quoting G.M. Young (“my aim is to go on reading until I can hear the people talking”) or Thomas quoting a Scottish friend of David Hume’s (“‘Why, mon, David read a vast deal before he set about a piece of his book; but his usual seat was the sofa, and he often wrote with his legs up; and it would have been unco’ fashious to have moved across the room when any little doubt occurred.’”), but I’ll content myself with quoting a terrifying passage quoted by Helen DeWitt, from whose paperpools post I was sent to the LRB:

It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written. The awful warning is Lord Acton, whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him. An unforgettable description of Acton’s Shropshire study after his death in 1902 was given by Sir Charles Oman. There were shelves and shelves of books, many of them with pencilled notes in the margin. ‘There were pigeonholed desks and cabinets with literally thousands of compartments into each of which were sorted little white slips with references to some particular topic, so drawn up (so far as I could see) that no one but the compiler could easily make out the drift.’ And there were piles of unopened parcels of books, which kept arriving, even after his death. ‘For years apparently he had been endeavouring to keep up with everything that had been written, and to work their results into his vast thesis.’ ‘I never saw a sight,’ Oman writes, ‘that more impressed on me the vanity of human life and learning.’

For the rest (including the “omnium gatherum of materials culled from more or less everywhere”), I refer you to Thomas’s well-larded and thought-provoking essay.

Comments

  1. This sounds like what John Livingston Lowes did with Coleridge in The Road to Xanadu. He read and excerpted every writing that Coleridge was known to have read, then made a book of the result:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-road-to-xanadu-john-livingston-lowes-789383.html

  2. I’m pretty sure I’ve described Keith Thomas’s working method once before. Here is a fuller version, the one I’d read, by Alan Macfarlane.

  3. Call me Lord Acton, I guess.

  4. xyzzyva says:

    Knowledge distracts and absolute knowledge distracts absolutely?

  5. When I was about twenty I got a great deal of pleasure out of reading The Road to Xanadu (thanks for the link, Gary!). Ca 45 years later I got a great deal of relief out of dumping, along with my library, a slew of obscure and recondite data and anecdote gleaned from approx. 3 decades of reading in the history of cartography. ‘After enlightenment, hew wood, draw water.’ In a couple of weeks I go back to the farm and become the man with a hoe for a few months.
    I still get a good deal of pleasure out of reading in the omnium-gatherum mode; it would have been satisfying to produce something that gave some people some pleasure, but I became weary of uncomprehending and negative responses.
    Better a fair-weather agricultural labourer than a pale, hairy, bent, red-eyed grump.

  6. Thomas’s magnum opus, “Religion and the Decline of Magic”, written decades ago, is terrifying in its erudition, mainly because he knows all the stuff one wouldn’t naturally come across in one’s research of the subject.

  7. Sounds like Frazer’s method in writing The Golden Bough, though I gather he kept his notes quite organized.
    I confess a fondness for omnium-gegathert texts. The perspicuous arrangement of a number of quotations can advance an argument.

  8. I confess a fondness for omnium-gegathert texts.
    Oh, me too; I hope nothing in my post sounded like I was disparaging them.

  9. “Perspicuous” (MW: “plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation”) at the Google link is a poor rendition of übersichtlich for several reasons. For one thing, “perspicuous” is not an everyday English word, while übersichtlich is street German, even when Wittgenstein uses it. More importantly, something is übersichtlich when it is well-organized, and thus easy to survey as a whole.
    This doesn’t exclude clarity and precision, but nor do clarity and precision of presentation by themselves add up to a well-organized whole. Wittgenstein’s own work is witness to this.
    English-speaking commentators of Wittgenstein, Hegel, Heidegger etc. often make very heavy weather of simple German expressions. The reason is probably either that they have not mastered the language, or are poor “communicators” – or else that the thing cannot be done in this way. It might be more effective to spend 20 years learning the language, than to spend 40 years dicking around with translations. ars excerpendi is a supervenient art: first you have to understand what you’re dealing with.
    I recently listened to Dreyfus, in one of his Heidegger lectures at Berkeley (available on the net), trying to explain vorhanden and zuhanden in Sein und Zeit to philosophy students as if the words contained the basic principles of relativistic wave mechanics. Of course Heidegger has waved his wand over these everyday words (vorhanden at any rate, zuhanden is a bit old-fashioned to be heard on the streets), and pulls many a rabbit out of his hat. But if you don’t know the difference between a hat and a rabbit, you can’t appreciate the magic. Even when you do, it’s unlikely that you can explain it to someone who doesn’t. It’s like trying to translate a really good joke, i.e. one not based on tits and bums.

    “my aim is to go on reading until I can hear the people talking”

  10. I hope no one supposes that the matters I remarked on crop up only in connection with “foreign languages”. A big problem with the mother tongue is that one assumes it is a snitch to understand everything that has been written in it. Omnium-gatherum and voluminous notes are not the issue, but rather: what have I understood of all this ?

  11. More importantly, something is übersichtlich when it is well-organized, and thus easy to survey as a whole.
    Well, that’s what “perspicuous” suggests to me, better than either “surveyable” or (which could also be possible) “synoptic”. “Surveyable” especially doesn’t, to me, suggest that there’s anything about the arrangement in question that’s particularly suited for eliciting some particular interpretation or purpose.
    The reason is probably either that they have not mastered the language, or are poor “communicators” – or else that the thing cannot be done in this way.
    Observe “Generic Ways of Functioning” for an example of a native speaker of German making heavy weather of German terms in Heidegger. The fact that such and such a word also occurs in day-to-day German is not a warrant for supposing it should be simple to figure out what someone means by it in a philosophical text.
    (This is especially true if, as is the case with both Heidegger and Wittgenstein, the philosopher in question thinks that our terms and uses thereof have been encrusted with philosophical prejudices which need to be exposed or overcome. “Unsere falsche Philosophie ist der ganzen Sprache einverleibt; wir können so zu sagen nicht raisonnieren, ohne falsch zu raisonnieren.”)

  12. Bathrobe says:

    There is something terrifying about this posting and this thread. We are not talking merely of how people collect, organise, and put to creative use prodigious amounts of information; we are talking of how people spend their lives! I will never read a non-fiction book again without thinking of how much of the author’s life force was literally poured into writing it. Three decades of reading and collecting information is a massive commitment of time and energy, and I can only wonder at the sense of relief that lakon derived from dumping it. I wish him well with his hewing of wood and drawing of water.

  13. Bathrobe says:

    My understanding is that Japanese philosophers have huge problems translating Western, esp German philosophy into Japanese. What is “easy” in German becomes massively complex and impenetrable in Japanese. In some cases (like English) they have opted to take over the German term, e.g., アウフヘーベン auhuheeben for aufheben. This can be also be translated into recondite Chinese-character expressions like 止揚 shiyō (‘stop lift’) and 揚棄 yōki (‘lift throw-away’), but they don’t mean a lot to the average Japanese.

  14. The fact that such and such a word also occurs in day-to-day German is not a warrant for supposing it should be simple to figure out what someone means by it in a philosophical text.
    I did not issue such a warrant, nor apply for one. My point was that few people can get blood out of a turnip. To understand such an achievement, you must at least know what a turnip is. If you don’t, then there’s no way you can appreciate what’s going on. Carrying on as if you had witnessed the birth of Venus won’t hack it. High-falutin’ words do not provide a shortcut to understanding any more than apparently simple words do.
    “Unsere falsche Philosophie ist der ganzen Sprache einverleibt; wir können so zu sagen nicht raisonnieren, ohne falsch zu raisonnieren.”
    Note that that’s almost identical to the bitter complaint of every tearful adolescent: “No matter what I say, you say it’s wrong”. But Lichtenberg was no fool: the old sweetheart included so zu sagen.
    There is something terrifying about this posting and this thread. We are not talking merely of how people collect, organise, and put to creative use prodigious amounts of information; we are talking of how people spend their lives!
    My sentiments exactly. I found Oman’s opinion especially uppity:

    ‘For years apparently [Acton] had been endeavouring to keep up with everything that had been written, and to work their results into his vast thesis.’ ‘I never saw a sight,’ Oman writes, ‘that more impressed on me the vanity of human life and learning.’

    WTF ?? What vanity ? May we not suppose that Acton lived as he wanted ? What is Oman’s beef: that he was unable to found a career on the exploitation of Acton’s notes ?

  15. Better a fair-weather agricultural labourer than a pale, hairy, bent, red-eyed grump.
    Not at all. Much depends on preferences, social skills and income. The grump can afford to invite the fair-haired labourers over for the weekend, and they are glad of an opportunity to top up their spending money. In any case, it is the labourers who are more likely to be hairy, and picking strawberries for years is known to cause incurvatio in se.

  16. English-speaking commentators of Wittgenstein, Hegel, Heidegger etc. often make very heavy weather of simple German expressions.
    I discussed this phenomenon (including Bathrobe’s aufheben) here.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    I think that many people who translate from languages they are only superficially familiar with (especially if their knowledge is from books rather than from living in the language in question) do not recognize that some (to them) unusual metaphors belong to everyday language, but they take them as particular to an author, so they translate them literally instead of trying to find a culturally appropriate equivalent (which would probably be mentioned in a good dictionary).
    I remember hearing someone who had just read a translation of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s La voie des masques “The way of the masks” (about Northwest Coast aboriginal culture). He was enthusing about the “wonderful image” of “a rosary of islands” to describe an area of that coast. In fact, un chapelet d’îIes is not L-S’s flight of poetic fancy but a common expression for “a string” of things, which could be islands or insults or whatever. Another example I remember, also in an otherwise generally competent translation from French, read “they (scholars, anthropologists, etc) no longer knew to which saint to dedicate themselves”. The English-speaking reader might well wonder why those people needed to dedicate themselves to a saint or saints in the first place. Again, ne plus savoir à quel saint se vouer is a common expression meaning “not to know which way to turn (after trying several ways of dealing with a situation)”. It does come from a Catholic tradition of calling upon saints for help, promising to dedicate special devotions to the one who will help, but it is now a common expression which anyone could use, whether Catholic or not, and which does not imply anything about one’s own religious practices.
    Just a few days ago, reading Le Monde online, I found the term déshabiller “to undress [someone]” in an odd context, something like a proposal for a law or regulation where some details were being omitted. It took me a few seconds to realize that this was a translation of “to strip”, a word with a much wider meaning than the French word (and for which the meaning “undress” is not the most common one, especially as a transitive verb). I don’t know whether this interpretation is now current in “metropolitan” French, so all kind of things can now be “undressed”. In fact, the closest equivalent to “strip (something from something else)” would probably be dépouiiler (quelque chose ou quelqu’un) de ….

  18. “Do not recognize that some (to them) unusual metaphors belong to everyday language, but they take them as particular to an author, so they translate them literally instead of trying to find a culturally appropriate equivalent….”
    This is an enormous problem in translating Chinese and probably Japanese poetry. There are popular translations into English which run wild in this regard, notably Amy Lowell. The resultant poems might be quite nice, but distant from the Chinese.
    Even at a more advanced level than puzzling things out with a dictionary, you have to learn to sort out ordinary every day language, dead metaphors, ordinary everyday poeticisms, opaque esoteric phrases, and original figures and coinages. I’ve seen translations which make some conventional poetic image, the equivalent of putting a rose in an English-language poem somewhere, into the key word of a poem which was really about something else entirely.

  19. Bathrobe says:

    I realise that this kind of thing is very common, but one example that struck me was from Alexander Woodside’s Vietnam and the Chinese Model (which I don’t have with me).
    Woodside used a metaphor of ‘silkworms eating at a mulberry leaf’. This is a nice, fresh metaphor in English, but it is quite apparent that Woodside is referring to the Chinese expression 蚕食 cán shí (Japanese sanshoku), literally ‘silkworm eat’. Chinese-English dictionaries give the meaning of ‘nibble’ (as in ‘a policy of “nibbling” at another country’s territory; a tactic of nibbling away’). Japanese-English dictionaries more bluntly translate it as ‘encroachment, invasion, aggression’.
    Woodside’s approach is very nice for local colour, but when I read it my reaction was pretty much in line with JE’s comment about Amy Lowell — not that it was fresh, but that it sounds like the attempt of a Chinese learner to air his new-found erudition.
    Of course, the Bible (esp. King James) was a great conduit for the introduction of ancient Hebrew and Greek expressions into English. I am sure that many of them were hackneyed phrases in their time, but they took on a new lease of life after they entered English.

  20. I discussed this phenomenon (including Bathrobe’s aufheben) here.
    I suspect I’ve grumped about it several times here, but until now you hadn’t referred to that post. Good one, but all too short on comments. I too think that “lift” for aufheben is an excellent idea. A thoughtful translator might be able to carry it off over long stretches, provided they allow themselves a little flexibility. Unless you intend to creat a German 101 cheatsheet instead of a translation, there’s no good reason to ensure that the number of occurrences of aufheben be equal to that of “lift”.
    Because I put “survey” in bold in what I wrote about übersichtlich, ben w thought I was suggesting “surveyable” as a translation. But my point was to explain the meaning of übersichtlich, not to find one word to serve in its place. When you squint carefully, you see that “survey” hints at the etymology of “übersichtlich”. Far too many people are fixated on individual words as units of translation. In contrast, I find that in translating one usually has to shake out entire sentences and paragraphs, air and iron them, trace the pattern onto another fabric, then fold this back down by a different technique. Another possibility is to employ the traditional method of prolonging the life of bedsheets.
    you have to learn to sort out ordinary every day language, dead metaphors, ordinary everyday poeticisms, opaque esoteric phrases, and original figures and coinages.
    This is just as true of the mother tongue. As a kid I was dazzled by the KJV paradox of “in my father’s house are many mansions”. Later I learned that up into the 17th century one of the meanings of “mansion” was a room or lodging in a house.
    This is an example of what Bathrobe is saying in the last paragraph of his comment, which I saw only when about to post mine.

  21. I don’t know. While I have of course encountered similar phenomena with non-native speakers’ readings of Russian, I’m increasingly reluctant to begrudge people their enjoyment of the unfamiliar contours of a new language. Why even bother otherwise? You’re never going to be a native speaker anyway.
    (Something like this just happened to me with Marx’s famous expression “Der Tradition alle toten Geschlechter lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Lebenden.” How awesome, I raved, that Marx would write “weighs like an alp” instead of “weighs like a mountain” or something equally banal! Of course, an “Alp” is actually an incubus, and Marx is referring to its traditional habit of sitting on people’s chests while they sleep and squeezing them. But an actual Alp would have been even better.)

  22. Translations of Freud are especially criminal in this regard. In the official English (!) translation of Freud “Besetzung” and its derived form are translated by forms of the coinage “cathexis”, and there are many more examples.
    cathexis [kəˈθɛksɪs] n pl -thexes [-ˈθɛksiːz]
    (Psychoanalysis) Psychoanal concentration of psychic energy on a single goal [from New Latin, from Greek kathexis, from katekhein to hold fast, intended to render German Besetzung a taking possession of]

  23. This is just as true of the mother tongue.
    Usually you don’t even think of dead metaphors as such in your own language, but they leap out at you in a language you’re learning. I remember either in German or in Chinese looking up a word and finding that it meant “unfold” or “unroll” and thinking that that was an insightful metaphor for what it was saying, but then realizing that it was just a standard translation or analogue of the English word “develop”, which etymologically means that.
    Of course, a lot of these English metaphors are mediated by French or Latin, as in this case. One thing I think I’ve noticed in Chinese poetry is that they very seldom (except in Buddhist writing) use borrowed foreign words for effect, partly because the writing system makes them look silly, so that the vocabulary of Chinese poetry, while archaic and “poetic”, is actually simple and natural, like the common speech of more perfect humans.

  24. I’m increasingly reluctant to begrudge people their enjoyment of the unfamiliar contours of a new language.
    While this is of course the proper attitude toward learners and casual users, it is only right to hold professional translators to a higher standard.
    Translations of Freud are especially criminal in this regard. In the official English (!) translation of Freud “Besetzung” and its derived form are translated by forms of the coinage “cathexis”, and there are many more examples.
    Yes, I mentioned this in that earlier post I linked above (“It’s the same mentality that chose to render Freud’s Besetzung by ‘cathexis,’ Fehlleistung by ‘parapraxis,’ and Ich by ‘ego’”). And I just discovered a new one, anaclitic, which the OED defines rather helplessly as “Orig. in phr. anaclitic type (tr. G. Anlehnungstypus (Freud), lit. ‘leaning-on type’), a person whose choice of a ‘love object’ is governed by the dependence of the libido on another instinct, e.g. hunger; also in extended use, characterized by dependence on another or others (see quots.).” Not being an initiate, I found this hard to distinguish from cathexis, and sure enough, they both turn up in this pudding of a sentence:
    1922 J. STRACHEY tr. Freud’s Group Psychol. vii. 60 The boy has begun to develop a true object-cathexis towards his mother according to the anaclitic type.

  25. It appears that the anaclitic type falls in love in an unhealthy way. The term cathexis would cover any falling in love, even the good kind.

  26. bruessel says:

    “Der Tradition alle toten Geschlechter lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Lebenden”
    small mistake, it should be “Die Tradition aller toten Geschlechter …”

  27. German can create words for concepts on the fly in a way that English resists, because the article can turn just about any word into a new concept, and a compound word can be interpreted as more than the sum of its parts. Latin and Greek differ in the same way. Greek can freely create compounds for concepts the speakers want to create, or conceptualize a word by preposing the definite article, but Latin doesn’t work that way.
    So the translators of Freud had the same problem as the early Christians who spend centuries debating on the appropriate Latin term for concepts so basic as Savior. For a long time they used Greek terms because all the possible Latin words sounded ugly or stretched the possibilities of Latin word construction.

  28. I happen to be reading The Varieties of Religious Experience. James seems to have handled the omnium gatherum pretty fucking well.

  29. My Freud is pretty rusty, but IIRC Ø is pretty much on target. All investments of libidinal energy in an object, “healthy” or not, are cathexes. Anaclisis (which is a topic only sketched in Freud’s own writings) is a specific form of dysfunctional cathexis, where libido remains bound to objects that satisfy primary bodily functions, e.g., the (female) breast that provides nourishment.
    Now that I’m at it, I’ll break a lance for such cultisms as “sublate” or “anaclisis”. They definitely add an academic patina not present in the original German, but on the other hand (a) they make the reader immediately aware that this is a technical term with a highly specific meaning, which prevents a good deal of confusion; and (b) they are far easier to adapt to further translations than more idiomatic coinages. My French, for example, is atrocious, but I am fairly capable of following Roudinesco’s Théorie de l’inconscient et politique de la psychanalyse simply because of the technical lexis, which draws as much from Ancient Greek in French as in my native Spanish.

  30. (a) they ["cultisms" such as "sublate"] make the reader immediately aware that this is a technical term with a highly specific meaning, which prevents a good deal of confusion; and (b) they are far easier to adapt to further translations than more idiomatic coinages.
    Freud was perfectly capable of forging terminology based on Greek and Latin, had he wanted to do so. Due to the mocking to which his later ideas were exposed, he was particularly concerned to be seen as the originator of an objective science. All the more would we expect him to have introduced a terminology of a kind familiar to him from his original profession: neuropathologist. Those were the conventions to be followed in order to be intelligible across linguistic boundaries.
    But Freud did not do this. Why not ? Because he wanted to be understood, that’s why. In what I have read of Freud, in German of course, I find him explicitly cautious about the metaphorical, provisional nature of his formulations. He got more dogmatic as the years went on, but he never gave his jargon a learnèd “patina”. I think his ideas are absurd from A to Z, but I have to say the man knows how to work the old smoke and mirrors machinery.
    Freud’s followers, in contrast, were scratching each other’s eyes out over which of them was the most objective and Closer to The Truth, even before he kicked the bucket. Jones is the phoney as far as Freud’s reception in the English-speaking world goes. He and other followers of Freud like to hide their squabbles behind scientific terminology, and so preferred to leave clarity behind. There are no “highly specific meanings” in their Greecy jargon.
    I suppose it’s no accident that you mention Roudinesco. Just last weekend I saw brief tv interviews with her and Michel Onfray on arte. In France currently the fur is flying due to Onfray’s latest book, in which he does a hatchet job on Freud. French intellectuals on the whole have not yet risen from their genuflective position regarding Freud. What Onfray say is fairly ho-hum in Britain and America, but it deserves to be said, particularly in France, and especially in the way he says it. The aunties such as Roudinesco and Kristeva are having hissy fits. Quel spectacle !

  31. It’s interesting that psychoanalysis in Germany never became the societal obsession that it became in America, lo! these many years ago. I suspect that’s because Germans can read Freud without the patina.

  32. @Stu: none of your comments addresses my argument, except perhaps for Freud wanting to be understood, an intention that IMO is nowadays better served by technical lexis than idiomatic coinages.
    I have no commitment to psychoanalytic theory, which I am just competent enough in to follow when it crops up in a topic closer to my own focus. I was making a strictly linguistic point: sometimes, clarity is *not* better served by a Strunk-and-Whitean vocabulary. Even when a given theory is wrong, it is easier to correctly appraise when the polysemy of everyday lexis doesn’t muddy the waters. To get there, you can either repurpose a term, such as statisticians did with “significance”, thus requiring readers to make the effort to remember it is used in a technical sense, or coin a technical one, thus requiring readers to make the effort to learn it. No free lunches either way.

  33. Bathrobe says:

    I don’t think Alon and Grumbly Stu are talking at cross-purposes. Freud may have avoided creating specialist technical vocabulary, but there is no particular reason why this approach should be adopted when translating him into English. Especially as familiar, everyday words are the most likely to have different semantic fields in different languages.
    Slightly off on a tangent here, one example of different connotations/associations that comes to my mind is in a rather controversial area, that of Japanese “comfort women”. Given the nature of the issue, one of the first things to cause indignation among English speakers is the name that the Japanese gave to the women. The term “comfort” in English suggests that the women were provided as one of the “comforts” to be enjoyed by soldiers. The word “comfort women” is actually a translation of 慰安婦 i’anfu. My first exposure to the Japanese term 慰安 was in the expression 慰安旅行 i’an ryokō, literally “comfort trip”. This was nothing more than a company-sponsored outing designed to “comfort” employees for the stress and tiring nature of their work. The word i’anfu could perhaps be (slightly) better translated as “consolation women”, “consoling” the soldiers for their tough lives (although “consolation” has its own semantic baggage in the term “consolation prize”). I am certainly not condoning the Japanese army’s use of “comfort women”, but I do suspect that the choice of words to translate the Japanese term may have subtly coloured people’s reactions.

  34. How about “sisters of solace” ? or “pick-me-up ladies” ?

  35. On the prevalence of Freud, psychonanalysis is more Austrian than German and came to America with exiled intellectuals and maybe also with former Austrians and Austrian subjects in the film industry. That last part is pretty speculative, but there were a lot of such people in Hollywood, and I remember that when I was reading Hedy LaMarr’s autobiography “Ecstasy and Me” (recommended) I was a bit surprised at her early adoption of psychoanalysis, but then I remembered that she was Viennese.
    There are, of course, obvious reasons why there were few psychoanalysts in the German-speaking world after 1945.

  36. There are, of course, obvious reasons why there were few psychoanalysts in the German-speaking world after 1945.
    Oh no, there were sufficiently many of them. Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich were two of the prominent ones. But psychoanalysis never became a society fad, possibly because there was a lot of work to do rebuilding Germany and most people couldn’t be bothered with that overheated head stuff.
    À propos, I might as well pass on the provisional results of my research into the origins of the English acronym “PC”. Unusually, there appears to have been a parallel development. In the vernacular, I find evidence for Pussy Cant. In refined dialects, as spoken by the counterparts of French vigilaunties such as Kristeva and Roudinesco, the origin seems to be Perfidious Circumlocution.

  37. “….most people couldn’t be bothered with that overheated head stuff.”
    These are Germans you’re talking about? They seem to have bothered about a lot of different overheated head stuff.
    Psychoanalysis didn’t have much impact on the average American either. During the 50s and 60s pop psychoanalysis was everywhere, but it had already ween watered down by, e.g., Tennessee Williams, and then it was watered down again by viewers who thought that Williams was a profound and difficult thinker. During the 60s it was overwhelmed by a swarm of cheerier and more optimistic forms of therapy. You still have a few words like “anal” that are commonly used, but people mostly use that because it’s a nasty thing to say about neat and tidy people.

  38. The origin of “PC” is pretty well known. The term was popularized by Christopher Cerf and coauthor Henry Beard in the “Official Politically Correct Dictionary” of 1992. He later regretted writing the book when the term was taken over by the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Before it became popular it was used in left/liberal circles to tease a certain kind of rule-following cultural leftist. I suspect that it traces back to “correct position” Marxist splinter groups, mostly Trotskyist, which might only have 50 members but felt that they were a leading force in world history because they had the correct position.

  39. I think pc is either from Mao or from someone earlier, via Mao. I remember some Maoists in San Francisco in the late ‘seventies talking about “politically-correct thoughts”. They were quoting Mao, possibly it’s something from the Little Red Book of the ‘sixties. Do Maoists still exist? Probably not.

  40. I think his ideas are absurd from A to Z, but I have to say the man knows how to work the old smoke and mirrors machinery.
    Grumbly, you’re a man after my own heart.
    The origin of “PC” is pretty well known.
    I believe Grumbly’s version of PC is parallel to your own version of Dravidian.
    Louis Menand on psychoanalysis and psychiatry
    Well, mainly on psychopharmacology; he seems to take for granted that Freud is passé.

  41. I remember some Maoists in San Francisco in the late ‘seventies talking about “politically-correct thoughts”.
    I remember that too, now you mention it. That was where the phrase came from, proximally at any rate. John mentions Trotzkist(ic ?) splinter groups, but I don’t think Mao had any truck with Trotzky. Was anyone influenced by Trotzky except Trotzkyites ?

  42. Well, mainly on psychopharmacology; he seems to take for granted that Freud is passé.
    Come to skim it again, you’re right. I think I discussed his observation that all forms of talk therapy have equal success with my parents so much (they being Jungian shrinks) that the focus shifted in my memory. Still a good article, though.

  43. It may also be true that all diets work at the beginning, because at first people are thinking about what they eat, but then as they get used to the diet they slip back to eating absent mindedly and got fat again.

  44. proximally
    Maybe I should have said proximately. Does anybody here distinguish the two ?

  45. It may also be true that all diets work at the beginning, because at first people are thinking about what they eat, but then as they get used to the diet they slip back to eating absent mindedly and got fat again.
    The question is, are all these animuses and acai berries necessary if only because the idea of them appeals to certain people — because that’s the only way they’ll pay attention to what they eat and feel?

  46. I’m sorry — and you probably know a lot more about analysis than I do, Jim — but anyone who thinks depression is maybe just “a sane response to a crazy world”, has clearly never suffered from depression. The idea that SSRI drugs are a capitalist conspiracy to make everyone feel happy in a sad old world is just a platitude. Next he’s going to tell me every cloud has a silver lining, so buck up. It is totally fucking obvious, if you have any first-hand experience, that serotonin deficiency & depression are linked. I know people who’d still be alive today if SSRIs had been around in the 80s.

  47. Maybe I need to reread the article more carefully, but I remember him saying that the research shows that SSRI drugs definitely do help with severe depression, just not so much with everyday depression, which is hard to tell apart from sadness (obviously all the boundaries are a little hazy). I don’t have any more tolerance for that buck up bullshit than you do, I don’t think, but I thought he was pretty evenhanded presenting different views.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    I totally agree with AJP. “Depression is just a response to a crazy world” is on a par with “schizophrenia and autism are caused by cold-hearted mothers”, both glib formulas put forward by people who never personally experienced those conditions but intuited from their own neurotic needs. The brain is an organ of the body, and like any organ it needs certain nutrients. People do not all have exactly the same bodily constitution and needs, and the brain is not an exception.

  49. Just to be clear, it’s not Menand but Gary Greenberg (who’s book is being reviewed) who thinks that “in most cases, their depression is not a mental illness. It’s a sane response to a crazy world.” I agree it’s a stupid attitude, but at least he qualifies it with “in most cases.”

  50. depression is not a mental illness. It’s a sane response to a crazy world.
    That was the burden of the song Szasz sang in the 60s. I know it helped me personally, but I have come round to a different view about these matters. I’m pretty much of the same opinion as everybody here, except that I am not so sanguine about our knowledge of how these drugs work, and what the effects of prolonged use may be. In any case, I no longer believe that other people need only to be told to pull themselves together. I too have seen therapy help people, with and without the administration of drugs. Who’d a thunk it. But as far as my own self goes, a gobsmack in season is still the best antidote to hissy fits, depression and I don’t know whatall.

  51. Yes, who knows about the long-term effects. I only know about the effects without SSRIs. As m-l says, the brain is an organ that needs its nutrients.

  52. I first heard the term ‘politically (in)correct” from friends of my sister, students at Oberlin, in the late 70′s. They were using it ironically to tease each other about thoughts or words which, if uttered, would or wouldn’t offend their well-intentioned if somewhat think-alike set. I always assumed that this jocular use derived from a serious use on the part of some hard-core lefties.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    More on the brain:
    I used to have a book called “Nutrition and your brain” (I think), written by a doctor whose name was something like Watson or Wilson. He wrote that psychiatrists, etc, tended to dismiss any role for nutrition because blood tests always showed that patients’ levels of various nutrients were “within the normal range” for people in otherwise reasonable health. But he had noticed that psychiatric patients tended to be at the extremes of the normal range, not around the middle like most people. He quoted case after case of people having all sorts of unusual delibitating symptoms (including catatonic schizophrenia, in which the patient is not responding at all) which disappeared or were greatly reduced after they were given the correct balance of nutrients for their particular metabolism. Undiagnosed allergies were also often the cause of baffling psychiatric problems. I bought this book in paperback in the late 60′s or early 70′s, so it was probably written in the 60′s. I lent it to several people in turn, and I guess that the last person did not return it.

  54. There are various states called depression and the diagnosis of mental conditions isn’t done very exactly. You can more or less walk in and say “I think I’m depressed” and get diagnosed. I’ve known people with black depression and it was absolutely crippling, tending toward suicide. I know other people being treated for depression whose unhappiness seems entirely rational, based on a lifetime of mistreatment, but anti-depressants do help them function.

  55. Bathrobe says:

    As far as I know, Maoism is still alive and well in places like India and Nepal.

  56. That’s very interesting, m-l. I wonder what became of that discussion.

  57. In Trollope, we have the Duke of Omnium, whose ancestral joint is Castle Gatherum.

  58. Thanks, M. That led me to some interesting articles about nutrition.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you for searching, MMcM. It is the right book. I recommend it.

  60. “Maoism is still alive and well in places like India and Nepal”…and the internet, of course. The internet is like a zoo. You meet all kinds of weird and, um, wonderful creatures there you never come across in real life.
    I was also under the impression “politically correct” had a Maoist origin. I seem to remember it eclipsed the similar phrase “ideologically sound”, which might have had Stalinist roots.

  61. Nobody mentioned George Eliot’s Casaubon and his Key to All Mythologies on this thread yet? Or Pope’s scholiasts,
    “A lumberhouse of books in every head,
    For ever reading, never to be read.”

  62. Maybe I should have said proximately. Does anybody here distinguish the two?

    In anatomy, proximal and distal are antonyms, describing how structures relate to some vague centre of the body; the foot is distal to the knee, the knee is proximal to the foot, the fingernail is distal to the axilla. So ‘proximally,’ for me, would have the associated adverbial meaning (‘he made the first incision just proximally to the insertion of the gracilis’) and ‘proximately’ would mean what everyone understands by it.
    But I don’t anticipate a wider public learning about the distinction in my lifetime, so in practice, unless you’re writing for medics, which you go for doesn’t matter.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    “Distal” and “proximal” (or “proximate”) are used as technical terms in linguistics too, to distinguish between the scope of demonstratives. For instance, in English “this” is proximal (close to the person speaking) and “that” is distal (far, or farther, from the person speaking). These are basic, and many languages have finer distinctions (eg words meaning “that, not too far”, “that, way over there”, etc) with corresponding technical terms.
    Grumbly, I understood your “proximally” as meaning “more or less”, that is “approximately”, but it did seem idiosyncratic. “Proximately” I would have found very strange, since it is so close to “approximately”.

  64. In German it is common to distinguish between unmittelbar and mittelbar. These correspond more or less to “directly” and “indirectly”. But mittelbar never has the connotations of “in a roundabout way”, “devious” that “indirectly” can have (for me, in some contexts). mittelbar is in straight contrast to unmittelbar (inmmediate), and means “farther back”, “mediated [accessible through intermediate stages]“. The two German words refer to positions on an imaginary line of precedence, something that is not quite true of “directly” and “indirectly”.
    “Proximally” was an inelegant grab at the German concepts. Later I remembered the medical use of “proximally/distally” as explained by Aidan. What I was getting at when I wrote: “That was where the phrase came from, proximally at any rate.”, was “most recently” as opposed to “farther back” (earliest origin of the phrase). The elegant con-snatch would have been “immediately”/”mediately”.

  65. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, Thank you for explaining. But “immediate(ly)” already has a meaning which is not the opposite of “mediate(ly)”. “Unmediately? Unmediatedly?”

  66. marie-lucie, I don’t understand why you say that immédiate is not the opposite of médiate. (I’ve added stress marks just this once, to make clear that I’m talking about the adjective, not the verb)
    Here is the argument. It will be granted that “immediate” is etymologically “in” + “mediate”, where the “in” is the negative prefix. That is, “immediate” means “not mediate” – whatever “mediate” meant or means. However, since “immediate” means “with nothing intervening”, its negation means “with something intervening”. The negation of the equivalent “in” + “mediate” is the negation of the negation, which is the affirmation: “in” + “in” + “mediate” = “mediate”.
    In this way it is established that the opposite of “immediate” is “mediate”, and also that “mediate” can be taken to mean “with something intervening”. Another way to say that something is “intervening” is with the word “intermediate”. But since in my opinion “mediate” already carries a sufficient sense of “medium” and “something in between”, I feel that the “inter” in “intermediate” is superfluous.
    All told: it is quite plausible, indeed elegant – not to mention sexy and cost-efficient – for me to use “mediate” as the opposite of “immediate”.

  67. This is not without precedent. The Petit Robert, in the entry for médiat, gives immédiat as “CONTR.“.

  68. I feel that the “inter” in “intermediate” is superfluous
    In English as she is spoken / written, which may not be germane, immediate means lacking something intermediate, but mediate refers not to that middle thing but to the other end. E.g., Biographia Literaria.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    You native speakers sort it out between yourselves.

  70. It is totally fucking obvious … that serotonin deficiency & depression are linked.
    Crown, let’s take for granted that there all sorts of obnoxious people with obnoxious judgments about shit they don’t understand, including depression and its medications. Still, I have to ask: even if someone were to prove a perfect correlation between serotonin levels and depression, would people be wrong for seeking (or even preaching) cures that aren’t pills? I’ve been thinking about this in regard to what William James calls “Medical Materialism”; here’s an explanatory link (which saved me from retyping quotes). If we can point to something that’s happening in the brain of a depressed person and from there prescribe something to help, that’s great — and again, fuck people and their judgments — but just because we have useful insights into the physiology doesn’t mean we totally understand the phenomenon and should stop asking questions (even those that risk being obnoxious because they’re near impossible to answer).

  71. MMCM, I can hardly let pass an argument about “English as she is spoken/written” that is based on a reference to Coleridge (floruit 1795-1825) dilating on logic, of all things. What Coleridge writes on the page you linked is not that mediate “refers to the other end” (of what ??), but that mediate is to be contrasted with original:

    All truth is either mediate, that is, derived from some other truth or truths; or immediate and original. The latter is absolute, and its formula A. A.; the former is of dependent or conditional certainty, and represented in the formula B. A. The certainty, which inheres in A, is attributable to B.

    Anything that is not immediate is mediate, just as I have been saying. But mediate is not an “end” of anything. The dot notation appears to mean “based on”, “is derived from”, and can be extended indefinitely: in a subsequent paragraph Coleridge writes B. C. D. E. F. &c to mean “B is based on C is based on D …”. It is clear that Coleridge is reheating the old ontotheological arguments for the existence of “first principles”, even before Kant was cold in his grave. Coleridge is interested in immediate/original truths as starting points for syllogisms, what we today call axioms without any pretence that they are truths. He is not trying to demonstrate that there must be ultimate derived (mediate) truths. His mediate truths lie on half-open infinite intervals of inference whose closed boundaries are the immediate truths.
    I now suspect that the Spanish mediatamente, which the RAE gives as con intermisión o mediación de algo, has been an unconscious influence on my choice. In any case, I too speak/write English. What other people say is their business. Having set out, to my satisfaction, the reasons why I think “mediately” is a reasonable word to set in opposition to “immediately”, I expect to sleep well tonight.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    jamessal, treatment for depression does not have to be all drugs. Whatever we produce (or fail to produce) in our bodies is a function of the things we eat and process (or fail to process). Some parts of our bodies (including the brain) may not all be in synch with the rest, and require a different amount or balance of various nutrients. so the right treatment might not be Prozac or whatever, but the appropriate balance of vitamins, etc. One good thing about this realization is that the patient has much more control of their state of mind. Part of the problem with depression is that if you get worse, you cannot see any way out. If you know that there are certain steps you can take to control it, you are more likely to take some of those steps.
    Here is a personal anecdote: a few years ago I was visiting my daughter for a few days (on the other side of the continent). One afternoon I went out on my own, going to bookstores, etc. After a couple of hours, as I was walking on the sidewalk I started to feel very depressed, thinking that I would never see my daughter again, and tears started to roll down my cheeks. At the same time, I was thinking “how can I go back to work if I am weeping all the time?” After I got back to my daughter’s place we discussed what could have triggered this episode. It turned out that two days earlier, we had bought some fresh-ground almond butter (ground right in front of us). We ate some on our toast the next morning at breakfast and found it just the tiniest bit rancid, but not enough to keep us from eating it. The following morning we ate some again, and that very afternoon the depressive episode occurred. So we threw away the almond butter, and nothing like this ever happened again. If I had not been alert (through long experience) to the fact that I am very much affected by certain foods (for good or bad), or the lack thereof, I might have continued to eat the same food, gotten much worse, and been sent to some therapist or even to a hospital. This is the type of occurrence that is described in the book I mentioned above.

  73. Anything that is not immediate is mediate
    Because there is something intermediate.
    GS ― immediate.
    GS ― intermediate ― mediate.

  74. Jim, I agree with you 100 pro – except with respect to that little rhetorical device you use for particular emphasis. But having just written “what other people say is their business”, I can hardly complain, can I ? Can’t I ? MMCM and marie-lucie are trying to make me get a crewcut, so I’m in a mean mood.

  75. Because there is something intermediate
    Ah, so it’s my conflation of intermediate and mediate that you are questioning !? But how can mediate = in-the-middle be a final terminus ad quem ? Even the notion of an original terminus a quo has failed to satisfy over the centuries. There are only provisional termini in either direction, and uncertainty is our profit.

  76. MMCM: or are you skirmishing from a différance point of view ?

  77. Ah, so it’s my conflation of intermediate and mediate that you are questioning !?
    Yes, that was the bit a quoted at 03:51 PM. Something can be both immediate and intermediate.
    But I was leaving open the Humpty Dumpty defense.

  78. Boy, I can’t remember what annoyed me about that article anymore, though I do think it was as much Louis Menand as this Greenberg guy — after all, his review wasn’t critical of Greenberg. HA! Yes I do! It was that sentence that I’ve heard so many people say over the years, in one way or another: “in most cases, their depression is not a mental illness. It’s a sane response to a crazy world.” He’s using mental illness to make a political point (it’s the world that’s really crazy, not the people). I can’t see how anyone who says that could have a clue what depression is like. Depression isn’t about being sad at the state of the world. If you’re depressed you might feel that way, but plenty of people feel that way who aren’t at all depressed. Major depression is all about you yourself, not about other people. You aren’t able to function, you don’t want to get up, you don’t see the point of living anymore. There’s no point, life’s a bore, it isn’t going to get any better, let’s pack it in. SSRI drugs change that way of thinking. So, by all means seek cures that don’t require drugs — of course drugs pose all sorts of other difficulties including side-effects, known and unknown — and I’m all in favor of therapy (and analysis), maybe they provide additional help to a person with major depression, but I don’t think they’ll ever replace the SSRIs (maybe more advanced drugs will come along that will replace them). I’m convinced of the serotonin-depression connection and the nutrition-depression connection that m-l talks about.
    I don’t have time to read the Wm James now, but I will tomorrow! Thanks for posting it.

  79. Thanks for the anecdote, ML. I must say, though, I’m always wary of that kind of personal empiricism — especially when it regards food. People in my family (whom I’ve been meaning to ask about the book you mentioned, because they just might know it) are always ruling one thing or another out of their diet because of this or that experience, as though their lives are perfect laboratories. They approach food like a minefield and never seem to consider that there are things that don’t make you feel good immediately, or even the next day, but are ultimately good for you. (Fiber is an example: if you eat little of it and then a lot of it, you’ll feel terrible; but most people really should be eating more.) That said, the problem with *always* being wary of anything is that it makes you question the most reasonable of instances: you’re probably safe avoiding rancid almond butter.
    Whatever we produce (or fail to produce) in our bodies is a function of the things we eat and process (or fail to process).
    Might not exercise play a part, too? And once the door is open that far…you better shut it quick, someone’s trying to sell you an Acai berry!
    except with respect to that little rhetorical device you use for particular emphasis.
    Yeah, I guess that was taking it a little far. Between James’s powerful rhetoric and my growing annoyance with the New Atheists, I’ve been in a mood to cut pushy mystics more slack than ever. But it won’t last.

  80. Crown: well, now I’m going to have to go back to that part of the article and see if I find the way he says it as ignorant and annoying as you do. But not today. We’ve got a soffritto on the stove — to pour over shrimp we just brined — and the game is almost on…
    And a good Sunday evening to you all!

  81. marie-lucie says:

    jamessal, I could have cited more anecdotes, this one was a particularly striking incident.
    Might not exercise play a part, too?
    Yes, of course, exercise does rev up your body functions, but if you are deeply depressed you are not in a mood or position to exercise. But you do have to eat something, so it might as well be something that will not aggravate your condition and will perhaps improve it, causing you to have more energy to do some exercise, etc.
    AJP: serotonin is not something you get from the environment (like a food), it is naturally produced by the body in greater or lesser amounts, depending on our own metabolism but also what foods we eat. See wikipedia:

    In humans, serotonin levels are affected by diet. An increase in the ratio of tryptophan to phenylalanine and leucine will increase serotonin levels. Fruits with a good ratio include dates, papaya and banana. Foods with a lower ratio inhibit the production of serotonin. These include whole wheat and rye bread. ….

    Grumbly, what’s that about a crewcut? you must have got me mixed up with someone else.

  82. this one was a particularly striking incident.
    And a bad jumping off point for me to pontificate about drawing lessons from personal experience. Sorry.
    Yes, of course, exercise does rev up your body functions, but if you are deeply depressed you are not in a mood or position to exercise. But you do have to eat something, so it might as well be something that will not aggravate your condition and will perhaps improve it, causing you to have more energy to do some exercise, etc.
    Yes, that makes sense.

  83. m-l: AJP: serotonin is not something you get from the environment (like a food)
    Did I say that? I can’t find it anywhere. I know it’s more complicated than that, it comes from trytophan. Actually it looks really hard to control serotonin through diet. It’s hard enough trying to control just blood sugar through insulin without trying to indirectly increase serotonin as well. I can’t see it happening in my lifetime.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: This is what you wrote:
    I’m convinced of the serotonin-depression connection and the nutrition-depression connection that m-l talks about.
    it looks really hard to control serotonin through diet.
    You could try increasing bananas and cutting down on whole wheat and rye bread (as per my wikipedia quotation). Of course such measures might take a while to show some effect, but there is no harm in trying.

  85. Systemic serotonin levels are mostly irrelevant to serotonin levels in the CNS; the blood-brain barrier means it doesn’t get across, it needs to be manufactured within the brain. That’s why you can’t directly give serotonin as an antidepressant, though you could, if you were willing to have someone administer a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) on a regular basis …

  86. there is no harm in trying.
    Quite right.
    if you were willing to have someone administer a lumbar puncture
    Well, I’ve benefited as much from technological advances in medicine during my lifetime as I have from pharmacological ones, so maybe that’ll be possible one day.

  87. Aidan: does that mean that all those serotonin pills people were gulping in the American 90s (my brother, a radiologist, was obsessed with that kind of thing) did absolutely no good ?

  88. Grumbly Stu, there’s a type of tumour that pumps out serotonin constantly, and mood effects are not documented in the standard texts. They wouldn’t go to the trouble of manufacturing SSRIs if orally-administered serotonin itself was very helpful. That said, the pills probably did some good despite that, even the best anti-depressants don’t beat the placebo effect by a dramatic margin.

  89. Thanks, Aidan. I see I didn’t understand what an SSRI is. I had thought it was some serotonin compound.
    In recent years I have seen several German TV programs on placebo phenomena. One that seems to be widely known now was observed when faked meniscus operations turned out to be effective in reducing patient complaints about knee pain and walking difficulty.
    There was another fascinating topic that possibly I should not be calling a placebo phenomenon. The subjects were leg and arm amputees who had phantom pain and emotional difficulties in connection with “the limb that wasn’t there”. Physiotherapists placed mirrors on the amputated side of the patient’s body in such a way that the patient saw the reflection of the remaining limb as if it were the missing one. In the course of talking and practicing (I can’t remember exactly what), almost all of the patients showed dramatic reduction of their problems.
    Perhaps it’s a pity that these placebo effects can’t be kept secret, since the wider they are known, the more people can develop mental resistance to them. I am pretty sure that I myself could turn off my sarcasm and disbelief in an instant if I were desperate and in pain. Thank God it’s all bluster anyway, and I’m just a lachrymose neurotic wreck at heart.

  90. Without a phantom of some sort, artificial limbs cannot be used, which is why people (notably, thalidomide babies) born without limbs have no use for artificial limbs.
    “The toe bone is distal to the foot bone,
    The foot bone is distal to the ankle bone,
    The ankle bone is distal to the knee bone,
    The knee bone is distal to the thigh bone, …”

  91. That’s interesting, I didn’t know that.
    I saw the thing with the phantom pain and the mirror in one of those movies where Robin Wiiliams is a whacky but brilliant doctor. In the movie, it was Robin Williams’ own whacky but brilliant idea.

  92. marie-lucie says:

    the placebo effect
    Is the jolt you get from too much coffee due to the placebo effect? what about the effect of a few beers or glasses of whisky? what about the effect of not drinking them if you normally do on a daily basis? If those liquid parts of your diet can have a definite effect on your mood and mental functioning, why can’t some of the solid parts?

  93. If those liquid parts of your diet can have a definite effect on your mood and mental functioning, why can’t some of the solid parts?

    Oh, they can and they do. The effects of the opiates compared to placebo are dramatic in pain relief, and the difference in effectiveness of the anti-depressants compared to placebo specifically in major depression are clinically useful.
    It’s specifically moderate depression where the trials say that the medications we have available today are not much better than placebo; this is not to say that medications never will be much better for this indication.
    That said, it may be that moderate depression is like cancer [to be clear, not in its morbidity or mortality], an umbrella term where the most effective treatment depends on details of the particular cancer, despite that the overall disease process is always similar. E.g. there’s a type of leukaemia that can be cured with Vitamin A, and the best societal approach to cervical cancer at the moment is vaccination of girls against human papilloma viruses 16 and 18; but Vitamin A is not a treatment for cancer generally, and nor is HPV vaccination preventative of cancer generally.

  94. How interesting, I’d never thought of such a possibility. So in the future they may have a whole set of specific terms for varieties of what we lump together as “depression.” Makes sense (and adds to my feeling that we are still living in the Dark Ages).

  95. Hah, well, that was my own conceit, I don’t pretend to know how things will work out. It may be that moderate depression will be as amenable to treatment, despite any Vielfältigkeit, as was bacterial pneumonia.
    By the way, ¡viva México! (Some context….)

  96. marie-lucie says:

    My point is that “treatment” does not have to mean drugs, drugs, drugs.

  97. Kerry NZ says:

    Getting back to the original post, am I correct in thinking that the quote at the end of Thomas’s essay confuses Verstehen and Begreifen? My understanding was that the sort of intuitive understanding being referred to is covered by Begreifen, whereas Verstehen refers to a more analytic understanding.

  98. I’m afraid that’s above my pay grade, but perhaps a commenter with more expertise in German will be along to answer.

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