Hand of Irulegi.

Several people have sent me links to this Sam Jones story in the Guardian about a surprising find:

More than 2,000 years after it was probably hung from the door of a mud-brick house in northern Spain to bring luck, a flat, lifesize bronze hand engraved with dozens of strange symbols could help scholars trace the development of one of the world’s most mysterious languages.

Although the piece – known as the Hand of Irulegi – was discovered last year by archaeologists from the Aranzadi Science Society who have been digging near the city of Pamplona since 2017, its importance has only recently become clear.

Experts studying the hand and its inscriptions now believe it to be both the oldest written example of Proto-Basque and a find that “upends” much of what was previously known about the Vascones, a late iron age tribe who inhabited parts of northern Spain before the arrival of the Romans, and whose language is thought to have been an ancestor of modern-day Basque, or euskera.

Until now, scholars had supposed the Vascones had no proper written language – save for words found on coins – and only began writing after the Romans introduced the Latin alphabet. But the five words written in 40 characters identified as Vasconic, suggest otherwise.

The first – and only word – to be identified so far is sorioneku, a forerunner of the modern Basque word zorioneko, meaning good luck or good omen.

Javier Velaza, a professor of Latin philology at the University of Barcelona and one of the experts who deciphered the hand, said the discovery had finally confirmed the existence of a written Vasconic language. […]

Velaza’s colleague Joaquín Gorrochategui, a professor of Indo-European linguistics at the University of the Basque country, said the hand’s secrets would change the way scholars looked at the Vascones.

“This piece upends how we’d thought about the Vascones and writing until now,” he said. “We were almost convinced that the ancient Vascones were illiterate and didn’t use writing except when it came to minting coins.” […]

Despite the excitement surrounding the deciphering of the inscription, Velaza counselled calm study rather than giddy conjecture. After all, he added, the hand hails from one particular moment in time and tells us only that the people in the area then spoke and wrote the Vasconic language. […]

“It’s true that this is an extraordinarily important text but I’d urge a bit of caution about using it to extrapolate too many conclusions about what happened afterwards. But linguistically speaking, it’s going to provide linguists who specialise in the Vasconic language and Proto-Basque with something they haven’t had until now.” He added: “I think we should be excited – but we should still be very rigorous scientifically speaking.”

Not every recent Basque language discovery has lived up to its billing. Two years ago, a Spanish archaeologist was found guilty of faking finds that included pieces of third-century pottery engraved with one of the first depictions of the crucified Christ, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Basque words that predated the earliest known written examples of the language by 600 years.

Although the archaeologist, Eliseo Gil, claimed the pieces would “rewrite the history books”, an expert committee examined them and found traces of modern glue as well as references to the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes.

We discussed the Gil fakery back in 2008. Thanks, rozele, Stephen, and Alon!

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says

    I was struck on reading this in the Graun by

    “We were almost convinced that the ancient Vascones were illiterate and didn’t use writing except when it came to minting coins.”

    This is pretty incoherent. If you’re all illiterate, who’s actually going to be reading the inscriptions on your coins? Would it be just a ploy to deceive foreigners about the educational level of your people, perhaps?

    It also seems to me that coins are quite a bit more durable as specimens of writing than most; so if there is going to be any evidence of literacy at all, it’s not surprising that you’d find it in coin inscriptions more than shopping lists (say.)

  2. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Words Of Power written in someone else’s script to make the coins more valid? There are examples of that, I think, where it doesn’t matter if e.g. the letters come out backwards as long as the idea is there.
    (See also meaningless English on Asian clothes? And meaningless Asian scripts in English tattoos!)

  3. If you’re all illiterate, who’s actually going to be reading the inscriptions on your coins?

    What Jen said. Inscriptions on coins aren’t for the reading pleasure of the coin-using public, they’re a show of power/importance. See the mancus of King Offa.

  4. Well, I guess almost all people here can read الله even if they know nothing about the Arabic script…

  5. I have never seen meaningless Enlgish on Asian clothes:( Only broken English (which I can produce myself;))

  6. The line that DE quotes echoes a similar line above in the text which mentions writings on coins before Romans introduced their alpjabet.

    Which
    – if understood as “their own writing system, limited to coins” is extremely surprising as DE said
    – if understood as “imitation of someone else’s coins” needs calrification. Whose coins?
    – if understood as “adaptation of someone else’s writing system to write their language, limited to coins” both needs clarification and is surprising.

  7. Still holding out for a newspaper article on Basque that refrains from using the seemingly mandatory epithet ‘mysterious’, but at least they didn’t wheel out the ‘oldest language in the world’ jive for a change.

  8. So, what does the coin-based Vasconic corpus look like? How much further back does the new inscription go?

    (Plus, can you use the bronze hand to comb out lice?)

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    CGEL demonstrates conclusively that English is mysterious. I don’t think there can be any argument about that.

    Apparently Welsh (the Oldest Language in Europe © BBC passim) is mysterious to Chomskyites because the rules for soft mutation of verb objects don’t conform to the One True Theory properly. (Makes me proud …)

    I like to think I have done my part in rendering Kusaal mysterious.

    the mancus of King Offa

    Tee hee! A cheap occidental knockoff …
    However, even there they did see a need to put OFFA REX on it in Comprehensible, for the benefit of the infidel Arabic-illiterate English.

  10. Fellow hatters may find this of interest: a transliteration of the entire text (bearing in mind that Iberian script did not distinguish voicing as a feature in stops, so the letter transcribed as (say) K might stand for a /k/ or /g/ phoneme: also, a syllable ending in a stop could not be represented in writing: as a result, the number of possible readings is rather high, making it all too possible that this inscription will forever remain a mystery ):

    sorioneku · {n}
    tenekebeekiŕateŕe[n]
    oTiŕtan · eseakaŕi
    eŕaukon ·

    So, is this Proto-Basque? A close relative thereof? Some Indo-European language -with “sorioneku” as a loanword, perhaps?- with “oTiŕtan” and “eŕaukon” being accusative (or neuter nominative-accusative?) singulars? Proto-Kusaal?

    The floor is open…

  11. Stu Clayton says

    oTiŕtan

    What is the significance of capital “T” in this transliteration ? Are there upper-case and lower-case sounds ? And here I imagined that with phones, phonemes, allophones итд I already had enough indigestible fiber on my plate.

    I’ll just guess that there is some convention at work here that one has to know, but that I do not. After all I’m not whining about the significance of “-” or “{” or CARRIAGE_RETURN. That’s Proto-Linguistics for sure.

  12. January First-of-May says

    I have never seen meaningless Enlgish on Asian clothes:( Only broken English (which I can produce myself;))

    Not sure about Asian clothes in Asia, but I have frequently seen meaningless (or at least fatally mangled) English on Asian-produced clothing in Moscow (such specimens are commonly in view on the subway), often (but not always) in form of depictions of newspaper articles. The text quality varies from “legitimate English text, with a bunch of letter substitutions suggesting an illiterate copy” to “Markov chain level nonsense”. IIRC a few times I’ve seen what looked like similar attempts at French.

    (I remember an excellent example of the former on one of my pairs of underpants. There were several lines of what looked like some kind of poetry about love, with many missing words and some mixed-up letters; I was intrigued because it clearly looked based on a real text, and fortunately enough coherent words remained to let me google up the original poem.)

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    The floor is open…

    It isn’t Proto-Kusaal*, alas (otherwise, I could, of course, translate it …)

    I wonder whether, if the artefact had not been discovered in a place where the Vascones were already known to have been, the inscription would even have been identified as “Proto-Basque” at all.

    And … “it was probably hung to bring luck”, while the solitary word that looks like Basque means “luck”, without any comprehensible context at all. I wonder if there is some circularity to the reasoning? (Maybe not so much: are there actual other examples in that region of such hands, inscribed with the word for “luck” in other languages, which are actually known to have been used as luck charms in that way? That would make a difference.)

    * An actual thing. The Agolle and Toende Kusaal dialects differ enough that reconstructing the Common Kusaal protolanguage is quite interesting. It had more long-vowel contrasts than either modern dialect, for example, and must have been as conservative in that respect as modern Mooré (and more so, overall, as Kusaal preserves contrastive vowel glottalisation, lost in Mooré.)

  14. What is the significance of capital “T” in this transliteration ?

    The Spanish Wikipedia has an explanation:

    El texto se puede transcribir a partir del sistema de la escritura ibérica nororiental. No obstante, el signo con forma de T latina, que aparece en la 2ª posición de la 3ª línea, no es un signo ibérico ni aparece en otras inscripciones ibéricas; únicamente se ha visto en monedas de dos cecas vasconas, que rezan: oTtikes y uTambaate.

    https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mano_de_Irulegui

    So the letter has been left “untranscribed”, so to speak, with T as a placeholder. There is a treatment of this letter here (in Spanish):

    https://ifc.dpz.es/recursos/publicaciones/37/26/06ordu%C3%B1aaznar.pdf

  15. There has been a lot of activity in the last couple of decades on reconstructing Proto-Basque. I’ve read variants of this story in a bunch of places but haven’t seen any specialists in Basque historical linguistics say anything about it. So far, all I could dig up is a favorable tweet from Ander Egurtzegi:

    Hi! It’s still way too early, but in my personal opinion it’s a major find. It involves a whole document (and not partial as usual) which consists of lexical words (and not names a.u.). It also shows that Vasconic was written in a variation of the Iberian semi-syllabary BCE.

    Aquitanian is attested on the other side of the Pyrenees, written with a Latin alphabet and starts in the 1st c. CE. There might be ground to just call this Vasconic (the language of the Vascones) as Gorrotxategi does. I’m not sure about the interpretation, tho. Patience 😊

  16. Maybe not so much: are there actual other examples in that region of such hands, inscribed with the word for “luck” in other languages, which are actually known to have been used as luck charms in that way? That would make a difference.”

    At least there is no shortage of hand depictions (and modern hamsas)… “The image of the open right hand is also seen in Carthage[8] (modern-day Tunisia) and ancient North Africa and in Phoenician colonies in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).” says WP. I don’t know if there are any ancient hand amulets. Various depictions of supposed ancient ancesors of modern hamsas that I saw look less hamsa-like than this one (are not metal – hanging – upside down).

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    the original poem

    The concept of the original poem strikes me as pretty incoherent, come to that: If you love me, make sure that it’s for no particular reason. (You can only hope that she isn’t altogether serious.) It deserves to end up on a pair of underpants, if you ask me.

    I’m not a great fan of either Browning as poets, though. (Particularly not Robert, who frequently seems quite cringeworthy to me – in his highly intellectual way.)

    hamsa

    Good thought, drasvi.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamsa

    I’d though of that as specifically Islamic, but I see that it’s older than that.
    It seems to be more apotropaic, but I suppose the distance from that to “good luck” is pretty damn short.

    Still, it would be nice to have some corroboration that this was also a thing in northern Spain two thousand years ago.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Ander Egurtzegi

    Oh, BTW: A history of the Basque prosodic systems in open access.

    There is a wide diversity of prosodic systems in Basque. According to the most exhaustive description (Hualde 1997), there are at least three very different prosodic systems in the modern dialects, Western, Central, and Eastern. In the Western system, only some words are accented lexically, and the accent falls on a non-final syllable. Other words are unaccented, if they do not contain accented roots or pre-accenting affixes. Unaccented words only get a post-lexical accent in their final syllable when pronounced in isolation or immediately preceding the verb. In the Central system, accent falls on the peninitial syllable of the word, with the exception of marked words (i.e., words that are lexically marked and do not follow the standard pattern). In the Eastern varieties, stress-accent falls on the penultimate syllable in the unmarked pattern, its base being the word or the stem. In addition, a fourth prosodic system needs to be added to these, namely the Goizueta system described by Hualde and Lujanbio (2008), Hualde et al. (2008) and Hualde (2012). This system shows two different pitch accents that can fall on either of the first two syllables.

    This paper presents new reconstructions of Basque prosody that go back to Old Proto-Basque, including a proposal for the Common Basque stage (cf. Michelena 1981/2011), as well as a complete diachronic account of both marked and unmarked patterns of the major prosodic systems of the modern language. Alongside the newly reconstructed proto-systems, we present a very detailed account of the evolution of each modern prosodic system, enabling a thorough reconstruction of their history. In addition, our chronology provides the first account for the development of the complex pitch-accent system from Goizueta that only involves the proposal of a single process. All proposals are grounded in phonological, typological, geographic and historical evidence.

  19. Well, once I asked myself what are things that make me happy for no reason and came to interesting conclusions. But I don’t think that underpants is a bad place for poetry.

  20. Stu Clayton says

    But I don’t think that underpants is a bad place for poetry.

    I agree. However, DE opined that underpants are a good place for bad poetry. I agree with that as well.

    What is not clear is the ontological status of underpants. They seem to be substantial, in that they can support poetry. But they are also apparential, in that they veil matters of more moment – or seem to do so.

    The locus classicus of these questions was the 90s advertising campaign featuring Mark Wahlberg in Calvin Kleins and not much else.

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    Very interesting paper. Thanks, DM.

    I’m always keen to see papers on these topics, not least as I’m still trying to come up with phonologically plausible ways that Western-Oti-Volta/Buli-Konni/Yom-Nawdm could have managed to invert their tone systems.

    The authors seem to have copied stuff from papers about African register tone systems without being very familiar with the original data, though: for example (p5) it actually isn’t common for HLH to become HHH; what happens is that it becomes HH!H, where ! is an emic downstep, a very different outcome. (There’s a reason why autosegmental approaches to tone were pioneered by Africanists …)

    And it’s very much an open question, not an accepted fact, whether Proto-Bantu had a system where H simply contrasts with not-H; there are certainly modern Bantu languages where this doesn’t work, and you can’t get away with just making L tone the absence of H.

    They are probably correct in saying that rightward H tone spreading is commoner than L tone spreading, but L tone spreading is actually pretty common too, at least in Africa (part of the reason why L-as-mere-absence-of-H often won’t work.)

    But the fact that the supposed analogies with African systems aren’t really as solid as they might be probably doesn’t actually damage their arguments much in practice. There’s no reason to think that the Proto-Volta-Congo system ever arose from a system anything like what they propose for Proto-Basque, and therefore no actual reason to expect the systems to behave or develop similarly anyway.

    One language I know of that does have the HL…H -> HH…H thing is Saramaccan (McWhorter and Good call it “tonal plateauing”); Saramaccan, of course, has developed a tone system out of a stress system, also helped along by a liberal admixture of loanwords with quite different prosodic structure … they might have done better to look at that than at Larry Hyman’s ideas about Niger-Congo tone in general (which I have numerous doubts about.)

    Anyhow:

    The idea that the big typological change in the Basque system was driven by wholesale adoption of Latin loanwords that broke the old system is ingenious.

    [Pity nothing like that will work for WOV …]

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    I wouldn’t say EBB’s sonnet is bad exactly, at least not qua poetry: it’s more that the sentiment expressed in it strikes me as ill-thought-through and/or quite horrifyingly abject.

    I wonder, given the poet’s background and general outlook, whether the idea has been affected by the Christian notion that God loves us because that’s what he does, not because of anything lovable about us at all. I think that, at any rate as sometimes understood, this is also a fundamental misunderstanding; in any case, to transfer the idea to a human lover strikes me as pretty misguided, to put it mildly.

  23. David L. Gold says

    The first thing that came to mind when reading “probably hung from the door of a mud-brick house in northern Spain to bring luck, a flat, lifesize bronze hand” was the amulet know as a خمسة ( khamsa) in Arabic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamsa).

  24. Stu Clayton says

    to transfer the idea [that God loves us because that’s what he does, not because of anything lovable about us at all] to a human lover strikes me as pretty misguided

    That’s pretty radical. Out the window all the Brides of Christ and Isaiah 54:5 [Christ as Husband].

    However, Christian doctrine does insist on arranged marriages, especially those it arranges itself. That would dispel any difficulties with “lovers”. Modern love is a late intruder.

  25. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The text quality varies from “legitimate English text, with a bunch of letter substitutions suggesting an illiterate copy” to “Markov chain level nonsense”.

    Yes, I was thinking about things like ‘Precise Dwarf Bravery’ – any words work, as long as they’re English – but the ones with random wrong letters might actually be closer to what I meant!

  26. @DE: Her argument is pretty straightforward. If you love a person, say, for their beauty, will you stop loving them when age or illness destroys it? However, the conclusion – “for love’s sake” alone – doesn’t necessarily follow from the argument. What if I love someone for something immutable in/about them?

    The love she demands is perhaps too much to ask for – but also the only kind worth being called love.

  27. So it was a medieval Moroccan Jew who travelled in time to the 1st century BC Vasconia, built a house, made a hamsa and then found herself in 21st century where she studied archaelogy, to return back in the 1st century and leave an inscription on her hamsa that 2000 years later would help her advance her scientific career.

    Something like this.

    @DE, the ichthys and ✡ are all over the place in NW Africa too.

  28. What is the significance of capital “T” in this transliteration ? Are there upper-case and lower-case sounds ?

    Klingon uses case in its standard Latin transliteration, though only Q/q are phonemically distinct. Roughly speaking, a lower-case letter like thas an expected pronunciation [t], whereas D does not (it is retroflex).

    The concept of the original poem strikes me as pretty incoherent, come to that: If you love me, make sure that it’s for no particular reason.

    I interpret it as meaning “Don’t say you love me because of an accidental property, because those can change; love me because of my essential properties, which persist.” Gale had a frontal-lobe stroke on Saturday or Sunday with substantial cognitive impairment, which is probably going to change a lot of her accidental properties, but I believe I will still love her. Granted, cognitive impairment is on the border between accidental and essential, because it is not clear (yet) whether the impaired person is the same person or not.

    (She also has pneumonia, which is being treated, and yesterday she had a cardiac shock event, which is similar to a heart attack, but rather than the cardiac arteries being blocked, her heart basically shrugs and says “Life is too hard; I give up”; her heart enzymes surged to 20,000, where 35 is normal. She is expected to recover from that spontaneously in a few weeks. I’m about to go visit her in the hospital even though she is sedated and intubated.)

    I’m not a great fan of either Browning as poets, though.

    Meredith, quoth Oscar, is a prose [Robert] Browning, and so is Browning.

  29. Gale had a frontal-lobe stroke on Saturday or Sunday with substantial cognitive impairment

    Very sorry to hear that. Good wishes to both of you, and keep us posted.

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    @Alex K:

    The argument assumes that the lover is incapable of finding new reasons to love her (or anything at all to love, apart from what she herself imagines is appealing to him at this moment – in this case her compliance with his opinions and her general pitifulness, which gives him a chance to feel sorry for her.)

    That’s pretty dismissive of the lover … (this is also, more or less, what’s wrong with the argument about the love of God, in my own universally-respected-and-definitive-ex-cathedra theological opinion.)

    Those of us who’ve stuck with and still love the same person for many years can testify to this dynamic. Love is not static.

    @JC:

    Very sorry. Posted this before seeing yours, and thought about deleting it, but I suppose it’s accidentally relevant. I’ve left it as it was: forgive the preachiness, doubly inappropriate in the circumstances.

  31. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Love me for a reason, let the reason be love?

    (Sorry to hear that, JC)

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    Out the window all the Brides of Christ and Isaiah 54:5 [Christ as Husband]

    That’s the other way round though: a human analogy for something God does (and it’s hard to see how we can talk about God at all without some kind of analogies like this; I must say that this particular analogy doesn’t work as well for us as it did for the original writers, come to that, and for reasons which are by no means to the discredit of our modern culture, either.)

    It’s not treating an ordinary (i.e. not Christ) human being as if they were God (a thing generally frowned on in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, although some of my coreligionists in the US* don’t seem to have got the memo.)

    * And elsewhere. Even more Alas.

  33. John: a refue shleyme to gale!

    and perhaps* i have andalus on the brain, but the EBB sonnet feels to me like a victorian mirror-image descendant of the andalusi theological/erotic poetic trope of “i love him more because he treats me badly”: the point of love is that it’s undeserved, and the power of love is shown in how undeservingness strengthens it (whether the speaker is the beloved or lover in the scenario).

    .
    * read: definitely

  34. JC, keep strong

    DE, it’s a poem, for poetry’s sake. Not a dissertation. And if you don’t like it there doesn’t have to be a reason.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    @rozele:

    I must concede that I am not cut out to appreciate erotic/theological poetry (though I do understand that others really do find something perfectly genuine in it that I am unable to appreciate.) In general, I have no feeling for mysticism at all, though I admire (from a slightly perplexed distance) certain of my relatives who plainly do.

    I’m personally quite happy, for example, with the erotic reading of the Song of Songs (though the imagery involves an appreciation of the beauty of goats which I struggle with.) The single best thing about it is that it’s in the canon, and quite right too.

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    And if you don’t like it there doesn’t have to be a reason.

    Sure. But it doesn’t mean that I mustn’t give a reason. I have a specific reason for disliking the poem, which I can articulate, and did. You don’t have to agree with me (and presumably don’t …) That’s fine by me.

    I’m also doing the poet the courtesy of engaging with her ideas (which in general were complex and interesting and worth paying attention to, whether one agrees with them or not) rather than simply treating the poem as a bit of meaningless prettiness.

    I suspect EBB herself would actually have much preferred that someone disliked her poem because of its implications rather than took those implications as purely ornamental. (Though I also suspect that she’d have taken issue with my reading of the implications …) She was a serious person. In a good way.

  37. I can articulate

    Of course. It’s just when I hear “this poem is illogical”, I am like “aren’t they all?” And before anyone doesn’t ask, “illogical” and “meaningless” are different things.

    and presumably don’t …

    I neither agree nor disagree. I am unable to appreciate English poetry at all.

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    I actually don’t think it’s illogical (that was Alex K’s take.)

    Nor, indeed, do I think it’s bad in the sense of being poorly made verse technically (far from it.)

    I disagree (quite strongly) with what I take it to be saying: I think it’s the message which is incoherent: not the structure of the poem itself, but the idea behind it.

    In hindsight, “incoherent” wasn’t a brilliant choice of words in criticising a poem, as it naturally implies that one is finding fault with the structure, which is not what I intended.

  39. Sorry, JC.

  40. Trond Engen says

    Life. It’s coming for all of us. And yet it’s all we’ve got.

    @JC: The story of you and Gale is unlike any other. Keep it going.

  41. Trond Engen says

    The text in sketch and in normalized letters.

    The coincidence of the word sorioneku, an object that might be interpreted as a charm even without it, and the Basque countries does seem too much for chance. Still: How does the form sorioneku chime with the current reconstruction(s) of Proto-Basque?

    The lines straight across the palm in the first image suggest good omens as found in chiromancy. I don’t know how old the line-reading type is. Fairly modern, I’d imagine.

  42. it strikes me as ill-thought-through and/or quite horrifyingly abject

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially while walking home from the hospital (only about 1.2 km), and I just don’t see any abjection. The first three reasons for being loved are all superficial ones, such as any reasonably attractive woman might hear from men at any time (and if not EBB herself, then her friends, or at the very least from literature), however they actually felt. The fourth one — “I love you because you agreed with me, which was mildly pleasant at the time” — is an absolute expression of fragile ego: agreement is absolutely trivial, and mild pleasure is equated with love? Some love. If someone told me they loved me for my smile, I’d feel pretty insulted; further, I would strongly suspect I was being manipulated emotionally. This is not abjection; on the contrary, it is self-assertion: what, that’s the best you can come up with, or do you think I am so emotionally downtrodden I’ll take any (probably insincere) emotional crumb you choose to throw at me?

    But as we learn at the end of the octave, she does love him (for which she wisely gives no reasons: le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point) and wants her love returned, as we self-domesticated primates generally do, and so she warns him: if that’s all you see in me, then one day it will all change, because I will change, and then where will we be? (I remember very well the shock of seeing my “other significant other” after almost a year apart and realizing that mysteriously after 15 years I was somehow not in love with her any more, something that had never happened to me before. We parted, and as it turned out, forever; she moved away, and a few years later I learned that she had died.)

    In the sestet there is some softening — it is delightful that you comfort me, she says — but there is still a warning: if it’s comforting me (which is an emotional rush) that makes you love me, what will happen when you cheer me up thoroughly and I no longer require comfort? But when she says “love me for love’s sake”, I confess that I can no longer follow her, unless this is meant as a verbal token of the mysterious heart’s reasons that the reason cannot at all perceive (as I understand Pascal to be saying). “The artist deals in what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction [or poetry generally] does this in words.” —Le Guin

    could have managed to invert their tone systems

    Surely this is no more mysterious (which is not to say that it isn’t mysterious) than the fact that Iban, a basal Malayic language, has inverted the meanings of many nouns relative to its, er, relatives: e.g. what surfaces in Standard Malay as kampong ‘cluster of buildings, village’ (> English compound) has the Iban cognate kampung ‘forest, jungle’. By what gradual process could that happen? Similarly, did those varieties of Swiss German that have low pitch on stressed syllables go through a transitional phrase in which the general Germanic high pitch became flattened out before dropping below the baseline? Surely not. Yelp ‘boast’ came to be applied to the sounds made by animals, especially dogs, and the old sense disappeared, both within the 15C: what transitional meaning could have existed? Natura interdum facit saltum after all, it seems.

    The argument assumes that the lover is incapable of finding new reasons to love her (or anything at all to love, apart from what she herself imagines is appealing to him at this moment – in this case her compliance with his opinions and her general pitifulness, which gives him a chance to feel sorry for her.

    All I can say is, I think you have EBB all wrong, and that the interpretation I present above makes much more sense to me: she is much tougher (and more pragmatic, in the good sense) than you make her out to be.

    Those of us who’ve stuck with and still love the same person for many years can testify to this dynamic. Love is not static.

    With that I heartily agree. But eternity, the last word of the poem and the most explicitly “religious”, does not mean an indefinite prolongation of time, or a situation (which would be correctly described as “static”) in which time passes but nothing happens, like waiting for Godot. It points to the abolition of time (and analogously of space). As another poet had it, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour”. It is in this sense that love is said to be eternal, even among us highly mortal primates.

    thought about deleting it […] doubly inappropriate

    I am very glad you did not. Why “doubly”, though?

    The story of you and Gale is unlike any other. Keep it going.

    Trond: I am not sure whether you mean that our story is unlike any other because we ourselves are unlike any other people, just like everybody else, or whether you mean something more specific. If you can expand (or expound), please do.

    In any case, as of last night Gale was fully off sedation but still mostly unresponsive: at most she will move her arm if you call her name, but then again sometimes she moves her arm even if you don’t, so this may be a coincidence. Medically, she went into atrial fibrillation yesterday morning (heart rate up to 160, which is pretty high when all you are doing is lying still); a rhythm-regulating drug brought that down into the 120s by last night. The risk here is that normal rhythm resumes suddenly (cardioversion), in which case the unpumped blood sitting in her heart will be forced into circulation, and if it has clotted and the clot goes to the brain, bingo, a second stroke. But the unit she is in specializes in cardiac telemetry, so the staff is hopefully on top of the situation (unlike with the first stroke, which happened at home) and can apply a clot-busting drug quickly.

    For myself, I realize how foundational to me her responses to my expressions of feeling are, and how cut off I feel when she can’t make any response. This is not like watching her sleep, though the outward appearances are similar. When she’s asleep, I could wake her if I needed to (but I don’t, because I know how precious sleep is); now it’s not possible, and so I am on the outside looking in with my nose pressed against the glass (one of her favorite expressions, as it happens). And now I feel a bit like EBB’s lover, but only a bit: I would like to think I have built up an emotional credit reserve that lets me believe (in the sense of ‘sense’, not a strictly rational belief) that she will eventually come home.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    I persist in my feeling that EBB (while her actual love for Robert may well have been very different, and I agree she was no passive character at all) in the sonnet as it stands seems to be asking for a somewhat crippled kind of love, a pale shadow of the real thing.

    Does anyone really want to be loved for no reason at all? (This is not at all the same as being loved for odd reasons, or for reasons that make no sense to anyone but the lover.)

    Love is not merely not static, it is not passive either: it’s inventive, and discovers, or indeed, creates what it loves.

    But more of this and I shall be writing mottoes for Hallmark cards ….

    [“Doubly” because preachiness is rebarbative at the best of times, but especially so from one not currently in pain to one who is.]

    Surely this is no more mysterious (which is not to say that it isn’t mysterious) than the fact that Iban, a basal Malayic language, has inverted the meanings of many nouns relative to its, er, relatives

    Yes: it’s not so much that I think it’s logically impossible (after all, it plainly isn’t, because it’s actually happened) as that I haven’t so far managed to come up with a plausible mechanism; partly because I haven’t yet come up with a good explanation of how Western Oti-Volta’s three basic word-level tone patterns can have arisen from a Volta-Congo-style system where every mora is high or low tone, so although the overall word-level correspondences of tone across Oti-Volta as a whole are clear enough, it’s not clear to me how the systems correspond sctructurally.* I suspect it’s a matter of tones slipping back one mora (there are examples of that sort of thing from other language families.)

    * There are two independent published accounts of how the WOV system arose from a mora-level H/L system, which are essentially equivalent, but they only work for nouns, not verbs, and can’t account for how tone changes in derivation at all.

  44. David Marjanović says

    Similarly, did those varieties of Swiss German that have low pitch on stressed syllables go through a transitional phrase in which the general Germanic high pitch became flattened out before dropping below the baseline?

    I think something completely different happened here: in languages without phonemic stress, you often get low pitch on the first syllable. The same holds for unstressed words in languages (like Tokyo-type Japanese or western Basque) where stress is phonemic but absent from most words. If phonemic stress is later introduced through loans, this low pitch gets interpreted as stress – and, with enough substrate influence, replaced by ordinary high-pitched stress.

    Swiss German is much more reluctant to borrow non-initial stress than the rest of German. Even initialisms like EU and USA get their low-pitched stress on the first syllable there. It has plenty of Romance influence, but elsewhere in the language system.

  45. Kampong/kampung: cf. ‘grove’.

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    Lucus a non lucendo …

  47. How’s that? I don’t know any other sense of grove. There may be a connection between grove ‘thicket’ and grave, but if so it’s at the pre-Proto-Germanic level.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    The graves of academe !

  49. Trond Engen says

    @JC: I don’t know if I can expand much. It just felt right when I wrote it. But I can say that those snippets of a life that we sometimes get give the outline of a story that I at least haven’t heard anywhere else. Not in the blurb dense. I don’t know anything about that. But still ‘unlike any other’.

  50. The discussion about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets led me to this very interesting account about how the authors rooted out forgeries of a number of nineteenth-century pamphlets—most importantly, a fake first printing of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Presumably because of the harsh nature of British libel law, the authors, John Carter and Graham Pollard, never name explicitly name the culprit Thomas J. Wise as the forger. They pile up a great deal of evidence—that the forged editions, so far as they can be traced, all appeared to pass through his hands; that he authenticated numerous forgeries; and that he must know the actual identity of the forger. However, they never actually accuse him of personally being responsible for printing the forgeries (which would be a crime), preferring, with acid irony, merely to attack his competence, judgement, and financial probity.

  51. Lucus a non lucendo…

    This phrase reflects a persistent confusion among the ancients (Quintilian Inst.; 1 6.34: lucus quia umbra opacus parum luceat; Servius In Vergilii Aeneidem commentarii 1.22: Lucus a non lucendo; Isidore Etym. 17.6.7: Lucus est densitas arborum solo lucem detrahens, tropo antiphrasi, eo quod non luceat; sive a luce, quod in eo lucebant funalia vel cerei propter nemorum tenebras, etc.). They all perpetuate a mishearing of what must have originally been an example of etymology κατὰ μετάθεσιν as an example of etymology κατὰ ἀντίφρασιν. What was meant is that the reversal of sounds or letters (μετάθεσις) shows the reversal of meaning: culus a non lucendo.

  52. David Eddyshaw says

    I think you pulled that out of your lucus.

  53. Does anyone really want to be loved for no reason at all?

    Well, yes, I do. That is, if you love me and can say why, I am more than doubtful that you actually do love me, rather than that you are saying you love me in order to put me in your debt emotionally. As I keep saying, there is no (damned) reason about it.

    (This is not at all the same as being loved […] for reasons that make no sense to anyone but the lover.)

    When Gale wants to know why I love her, I can’t reply, because it makes no sense to me either. When I ask her in turn why she loves me, she simply retorts “That is quite different!”

  54. Etienne: So, is this Proto-Basque? A close relative thereof? Some Indo-European language -with “sorioneku” as a loanword, perhaps?- with “oTiŕtan” and “eŕaukon” being accusative (or neuter nominative-accusative?) singulars? Proto-Kusaal?

    Me: The coincidence of the word sorioneku, an object that might be interpreted as a charm even without it, and the Basque countries does seem too much for chance. Still: How does the form sorioneku chime with the current reconstruction(s) of Proto-Basque?

    I don’t know much about Proto-Basque, but it would seem exceptional if zorioneku have survived almost unchanged. I see that PB *-n- fell away or became -h- between vowels, but maybe not in all environments?

    That said, it does strike me that the element eseakaŕi could be a case form of PB *etse “house”. I see that -(k)ari is the modern dative suffix. A charm for protection of the house ought to mention the house, and the dative is as good a case as any. But I don’t know how the paradigm is reconstructed for PB.

    The letter transcribed as T would seem to be closest to the m of other Iberian alphabets, but I understand that PB had no *m. OTOH, the inscription does seem to lack the symbol for *l and for “the other *s”, If it’s the latter, the element oTi- might perhaps be a precursor of utzi “leave”. But that’s a wild guess. I don’t even know if the word is inherited, and I can’t find anything like the ending in the modern paradigm.

    The buts are important. Resemblances with three- or four-letter roots are easy enough to find. Correspondences with reconstructed forms and morphology are worth much more.

  55. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah: just because a reason is ineffable, it doesn’t follow that it doesn’t exist at all.

    Telling people why you love them (assuming that you actually can) might indeed be a Bad Thing, even a power play of some sort; again, it doesn’t follow that having a reason need be a bad thing.

    If driven to tell someone just exactly why I loved them, I would probably say “Because you’re you.” This is not a cover for “no reason.”

    If the true answer is “no reason at all”, doesn’t it follow that I could just as well have loved somebody else entirely, every bit as fervently? I love you by pure chance. (I can’t see this one doing as well on Hallmark cards as my previous efforts …)

  56. This is a fascinating and confusing discussion of love; I think I understand what each person is saying, but have no idea how to reconcile the apparently opposing points of view, which may in fact be describing the same phenomenon.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    which may in fact be describing the same phenomenon

    That had occurred to me. There’s something of a tree-falls-in-the-forest-with-nobody-to-hear-it aspect, maybe. Is an ineffable reason a reason at all?

    C S Lewis describes in Perelandra the faces of the planetary angels/guardian spirits/whatever of Mars and Venus as being terrifying*, because they reflect a completely impersonal absolute love. I think I know what he meant, but I’m not at all sure that “love” is the right word for it. I think “impersonal love” is a contradiction in terms (and I have little doubt but that JC agrees.)

    * This is actually after they agree to adopt a form our viewpoint character is comfortable with. Before that, they are like something out of Ezekiel. Too many eyesway too many ,,,

  58. David Marjanović says

    Well, yes, I do. That is, if you love me and can say why, I am more than doubtful that you actually do love me, rather than that you are saying you love me in order to put me in your debt emotionally.

    Huh. The first time I fell in love (of two so far), I had fourteen known reasons. The second time I didn’t have a reason to count.

    If the true answer is “no reason at all”, doesn’t it follow that I could just as well have loved somebody else entirely, every bit as fervently?

    I’ve seen some vague hints that some people actually are like that.

    may in fact be describing the same phenomenon

    Or, conversely, orthogonal phenomena.

    While I’m at it, I think the people who say “love is a choice” are actually aromantic and just aren’t aware of it because Western culture doesn’t know that’s a thing.

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    it would seem exceptional if zorioneku have survived almost unchanged

    Yes, I was thinking that, too. Though what little I’ve seen in the way of Proto-Basque reconstruction does seem to show surprisingly little change in the form of words over a couple (one supposes) of millennia.

    There’s a nice list of presumed Aquitanian correspondences here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquitanian_language

  60. ” are actually aromantic and just aren’t aware of it because Western culture doesn’t know that’s a thing.”

    @DM, wait, does not know what?

    I thoguht the stereotype is that “romantic love” is modern Western culture…

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    Auden’s Heavy Date proposes that the object of love may be somewhat … arbitrary (verse 10 is actually what came to mind, but I thought the whole poem deserved quoting):

    Sharp and silent in the
    Clear October lighting
    Of a Sunday morning
    The great city lies;
    And I at a window
    Looking over water
    At the world of Business
    With a lover’s eyes.
     
    All mankind, I fancy,
    When anticipating
    Anything exciting
    Like a rendezvous,
    Occupy the time in
    Purely random thinking,
    For when love is waiting
    Logic will not do.
     
    Much as he would like to
    Concentrate completely
    On the precious Object,
    Love has not the power;
    Goethe put it neatly:
    No one cares to watch the
    Loveliest sunset after
    Quarter of an hour.
     
    Malinowski, Rivers,
    Benedict and others
    Show how common culture
    Shapes the separate lives;
    Matrilineal races
    Kill their mothers’ brothers
    In their dreams and turn their
    Sisters into wives.
     
    Who when looking over
    Faces in the subway,
    Each with its uniqueness,
    Would not, did he dare,
    Ask what forms exactly
    Suited to their weakness
    Love and desperation
    Take to govern there:
     
    Would not like to know what
    Influence occupation
    Has on human vision
    Of the human fate;
    Do all clerks for instance
    Pigeon-hole creation,
    Brokers see the Ding—an—
    —sich as Real Estate?
     
    When a politician
    Dreams about his sweetheart,
    Does he multiply her
    Face into a crowd,
    Are her fond respones,
    All-or-none reactions,
    Does he try to buy her,
    Is the kissing loud?
     
    Strange are love’s mutations:
    Thus, the early poem
    Of the flesh sub rosa
    Has been known to grow
    Now and then into the
    Amor intellectu–
    —alis of Spinoza;
    How we do not know.
     
    Slowly we are learning,
    We at least know this much,
    That we have to unlearn
    Much that we were taught,
    And are growing chary
    Of emphatic dogmas;
    Love like Matter is much
    Odder than we thought.
     
    Love requires an Object,
    But this varies so much,
    Almost, I imagine,
    Anything will do.
    When I was a child, I
    Loved a pumping-engine,
    Thought it every bit as
    Beautiful as you.
     
    Love has no position,
    Love’s way of living,
    One kind of relation
    Possible between
    Any things or persons
    Given one condition,
    The one sine qua non
    Being mutual need.
     
    Through it we discover
    An essential secret
    Called by some Salvation
    And by some Success;
    Crying for the moon is
    Naughtiness and envy,
    We can only love what–
    —ever we possess.
     
    I believed for years that
    Love was the conjunction
    Of two oppositions;
    That was all untrue;
    Every young man fears that
    He is not worth loving;
    Bless you, darling, I have
    Found myself in you.
     
    When two lovers meet, then
    There’s an end of writing
    Thought and Analytics:
    Lovers, like the dead,
    In their loves are equal;
    Sophomores and peasants,
    Poets and their critics
    Are the same in bed.

  62. With the girl I exchanged looks with from grade 3 to 11 I didn’t think about reasons. We just exchanged looks:)

    I was not so… in modern Russian slang it is called продуманный “thought through” (in literary Russian plans are so, not people who plan).

  63. David Marjanović says

    I thoguht the stereotype is that “romantic love” is modern Western culture…

    Exactly. Western culture assumes romantic love happens to everyone at least potentially. It doesn’t.

  64. Trond Engen says

    David E.: There’s a nice list of presumed Aquitanian correspondences here

    Yes, I’ve seen it. I don’t think the close relation between Aquitanian and Basque is much in doubt.

  65. David Eddyshaw says

    Sure: it was just the fact that the Proto-Basque forms were not so far removed from either Aquitanian or modern Basque.

    But then, some of the Algonquian languages (like Fox, for example) are not miles away from the protolanguage as far as the structure of individual words is concerned. Not every language is as restless as French or English.

  66. Trond Engen says

    Ah, good points. And closer to (my) home: Finnish, keeping the structure of Indo-European borrowings intact for millennia.

    Aquitanian is attested in the first couple of centuries CE, the younger end of the period suggested for Proto-Basque, but since the corpus consists almost entirely names, I guess there’s little by way of morphology and syntax. This hand is at least a century older, so it would be a slightly older Proto-Basque, but if so, the morphology seems different from contemporary Basque (and apparently more different than expected, since the researchers are stuck but not dismissing its Basqueness).

    The possible (or likely) relation to Iberian would be older. It would be fun if the hand could be parsed with Iberian input.

  67. According to me, there is a right answer to “Why do you love me?”: “Because of our shared history. Because we joyfully did X and Y and Z together, and expect more to come.” I think this is similar to DE’s “Love is not static”.

  68. Nor should anything else in life be. “Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen: Verweile doch! du bist so schön! Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen, Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn!”

  69. The Economist’s article states

    “Such striking hand-shaped designs are unknown in Spanish or neighbouring cultures.”

    https://www.economist.com/europe/2022/11/17/written-basque-may-be-1000-years-older-than-anyone-thought

  70. What else do they have to reconstruct proto-Basque from? Isn’t it just Aquitanian and modern Basque? Not sure how they could reconstruct anything that looked radically different as a proto-form if the two languages you can draw from are that similar.

    To me, it’s the similarity between Basque and Aquitanian that is incredible (based strictly on David’s Wiki-link to correspondences–I have no independent knowledge.) There are apparently more differences in English between nt north suburban home and the SW Side of Chicago than there are between modern Basque and the Aquitanian of inscriptions 1700-2000 years ago.

    I suggest the Basques are just putting us on, pretending to speak and write the language of the inscriptions when outsiders are present. They actually speak Kusasi to their children.

    I’m also not sure what to make of the reconstructions, though. For example, the word wolf. They offer two exemplars from Aquitanian – oxson and osson – and one from modern Basque – otso. They determine that the proto-Basque from must have been *otso.

    If you postulate the proto-Basque existed in, say, 250 BC, then it seems to have changed more in 250 years to get to the Aquitanian form than it did in 2250 years to get to the Basque form. Fascinated to hear the methodology.

  71. David Eddyshaw says

    The Aquitanian forms seem to be largely elements of personal names, and to have been assigned the meanings given in the list on the basis of Basque/Proto-Basque lookalikes with meanings that seem plausible as elements of personal names. They actually do look plausible enough, but there seems to be at least some potential for circularity in this.

    It’s also (of course) the case that bearing a name in the language of Ethnicity X does not necessarily mean that you actually are a member of Ethnicity X. I know of a half-German/half-Sinhalese woman who has a Kusaal name. And I think even Hat Himself may not be completely Greek.

    I think the idea is that Aquitanian was a sister language of Proto-Basque, rather than its ancestor, though.
    Modern Basque is pretty diverse: I imagine there’s quite bit of material there for rigorous reconstruction of an older form of the language. I recently mentioned something similar with Kusaal: the two modern dialects differ quite substantially, making the reconstruction of a common Proto-Kusaal neither trivial nor pointless; from what very little I know, it sounds like modern Basque dialects can differ among themselves more than Agolle and Toende Kusaal do.

  72. @D. E.: “…just because a reason is ineffable, it doesn’t follow that it doesn’t exist at all.”

    Reasons don’t exist in the same sense as humans and animals do. All causality is dubious and might be illusory.

    “I love you by pure chance.”

    Yes, from my point of view as a human: I didn’t choose to love you, just happened to.

    “I would probably say “Because you’re you.””

    Yes, from a suprahuman point of view: because the higher power(s) wanted me to love you.

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t actually mean “reason” in the sense of “cause”: more like “subjective rationale.” This might be an ex post facto rationaiisation, even. Probably quite commonly is …

    But in any case, if we ban all reference to causality on the grounds that it all might be an illusion, we will be reduced to nothing but waffling about our feelings. And while in some abstract sense the concept of causality is indeed highly problematic, those who actually try to apply this insight in their real lives are not holding comfortable tenured positions in philosophy departments. They are sad marginal individuals who are not coping at all.

  74. David Marjanović says

    I’m also not sure what to make of the reconstructions, though. For example, the word wolf. They offer two exemplars from Aquitanian – oxson and osson – and one from modern Basque – otso. They determine that the proto-Basque from must have been *otso.

    Oh, that is easy. [ts] is alien to Latin, so no letter was available for it, and the sequence ts didn’t occur either. The available choices were to use the one available affricate letter, x, or to write the homorganic fricative, s. Both choices were made at random.

    On top of that, the Basque distinction between laminal z and apical s, likewise tz and ts, didn’t exist yet. The apical ones seem to be caused by rounded vowels, apical r (which itself is mostly from intervocalic l) and not terribly early Romance loans.

  75. @DE, “this table fell down because I broke its leg” implies a shared model of universe and shared interest (I know that among all reasons you want to know “I broke it”).

    But there is also a predictive element: “hey, this table looks stable, but if I break its leg it falls in love“.

  76. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes …

    Well here again that dont apply
    But I’ve gotta use words when I talk to you.

    https://genius.com/Ts-eliot-fragment-of-an-agon-annotated

  77. I just don’t know how this ‘practical’ causality can be applied to love.

  78. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t think “love” is significantly different in this regard from human experience in general.

    Most of our impression of logical coherence in the world about us is based on constructs presented to our consciousness by a whole elaborate autonomic system whose functioning is inaccessible to us on a personal level (though amenable to scientific study, at least potentially.)

    Even our impression of “the present moment” is a convenient approximation generated by our physical bodies. When I decide to move my arm, the electrical activity in my brain associated with this event precedes my conscious awareness of the intention to move it … we all live in a sort of
    broadcast delay loop:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadcast_delay

    One learns to live with it …
    The truth is out there … but our access to it is much more indirect than, not only rarefied philosophy, but even our everyday concrete experience, leads us to think.

    We’re all flying in fog with defective instruments. (Which is why it’s essential to compare notes with one another.)

  79. I just don’t understand how to apply this practical causality to love.
    It is a state.

    Also the genre often implies answers like “because you are so and so” (brown/green/short/tall – attributes of the person). But love is our mutual state. Let it be not the exclusive romantic love but some other sort of love.
    Does that mean that I love everyone who has these qualities, including people I don’t know?

  80. I don’t mean that you are “wrong”, of course.

  81. David Eddyshaw says

    Does that mean that I love everyone who has these qualities, including people I don’t know?

    Not at all. Why should love (and its supposed reasons) be conceptually simple? Nothing much else is (of any human interest, anyway.)

    Those other people are just “they.” They aren’t the beloved “you.”
    Other “reasons” the lover adduces for loving won’t explain why the love is directed at that person, and not another; but that doesn’t mean that those reasons are nonexistent, irrelevant or illusory. They’re just not (logically) sufficient reasons. (After all, if we only ever loved people for logically sufficient “reasons”, the human race would probably be extinct by now.)

  82. Does that mean that I love everyone who has these qualities, including people I don’t know?

    Ты в сновиденьях мне являлся,
    Незримый, ты мне был уж мил,

  83. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t mean that you are “wrong”, of course

    You can mean that if you like, drasvi!
    I’ve been wrong before, and (who knows?) may even be wrong again … (hard to imagine, I know.)

    If I am wrong, this discussion has at least helped me to refine my wrongness a bit. (I can at least see where the weak spots in my argument are, rather better than I did …)

    But love is our mutual state

    That is what Auden says in his poem, too. (And in Kusaal, the verb nɔŋ “love” belongs to the imperfective-only conjugation, the other transitive members of which express relationships, like “be equal”, “be older than”: mutual states, indeed.)

    But states can be caused too; not just actions.

  84. just embroideries, after catching up on the thread (and most importantly the update from JC):

    what surfaces in Standard Malay as kampong ‘cluster of buildings, village’ (> English compound) has the Iban cognate kampung ‘forest, jungle’. By what gradual process could that happen?

    the particular example makes me wonder if the inversion is a deliberate transvaluation, preserving a sense of “home-place” across the line between state and state-evading groups.

    the stereotype is that “romantic love” is modern Western culture

    yes. but that stereotype is entirely based on starting the story with the troubadors, when it’s quite clear where they got that complex of ideas: al-andalus, and specifically the arabic modernist poets’ elaborations and improvisations on the idea of ‘udhri love. the whole kit & caboodle, in its narrative as well as lyric forms, is calqued directly from the arabic/persian(/turkish) literary tradition, with iseut & tristan (et al) very thinly disguised variations on the layla & majnun story.

    Heavy Date

    i hadn’t seen this before (i’ve only read auden spottily, though i like him a lot), and i’m so glad to know it now. i assume (from the 2nd half of stanza 13) that it’s one wystan wrote not long after he and chester got together, and i wish i knew all the private jokes that must be in it!

    as for stanza 10, though, i don’t think he’s saying that love objects are interchangeable or arbitrary so much as that anything can be one (for the right person and circumstances). i doubt childe wystan would’ve accepted a locomotive as substitute for his pumping-engine any more than his grown inheritor would’ve traded chester for philip larkin, but he was confident there was someone out there whose tastes ran opposite to his in each case.

    and as sometimes happens with mr. w. h., he sometimes shoves himself into a bad idea, as i think happens in stanza 11, where love as a “way of living” and “relation” get essentially contradicted by love as “mutual need”. the latter feels to me like a preconceived idea that he’s trying to shoehorn in, especially because he lets it override the rhyme scheme.

  85. Well, it is possible maybe to interpret the situation as “someone is in the state ‘beloved by drasvi'” – where drasvi can ask questions like “why do I love you?” “because ………” “aha, thanks. Yes, it definitely explains my behaviour”

  86. January First-of-May says

    Does that mean that I love everyone who has these qualities, including people I don’t know?

    AFAICT there are (at least) three big categories for the answers here…

    1) Well yes, if any such people exist I will surely love them too. But the combination of specific relevant qualities is sufficiently rare that I’ll probably never again encounter anyone else who shares it, and/or if I do encounter any such people I’d probably just confuse them for people I already love.

    2) Yes, but only in the case of a lack of [some other, negative, qualities], which I do not yet know about those other people. If they don’t have those, I will surely love them too, but I’ll have to meet them to find out.

    3) The easy, if mildly cheaty, way out: “being known to me” is one of those positive attributes that contribute to my love. So I cannot love people I don’t know (or, at least, not on that particular attribute combo) exactly because I don’t know them.

    (Caveat: I have a suspicion that I might be aromantic. I’m not quite sure, because it’s hard to tell if what I feel towards people I consider to be nice is in fact romantic love or something else, and because it’s hard to exclude the scenario that I just never happened to meet anyone with enough of the right positive attributes to ping my metaphorical “love” sensor. Or even that I did meet them but other circumstances prevented me from letting the relationship develop further enough for me to remember.)

  87. David Eddyshaw says

    as for stanza 10, though, i don’t think he’s saying that love objects are interchangeable or arbitrary so much as that anything can be one (for the right person and circumstances)

    I agree; I was interpreting him as more or less saying the same thing as I’m trying to (but rather better.) I imagine that Young W would have been quite happy to explain what it was that he saw in the pumping engine (probably at length.)

    The poem is dated “October 1939” in my copy, so your conjecture about Chester Kallman fits very nicely.

  88. “if any such people exist I will surely love them too.”

    What confused me is application of “causality” to states: “I will” is an event, while “I love” is a state.
    But yes, it can be fixed by your 3).

    But it seems we are seriously drifting towards the philosophy of “why”.
    It is indeed important that DE does not mean a list of “necessary and sufficient” conditions. Our answers to “why” questions are not always about them….

  89. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t see any specific difficulty with the concept of causing a state: after I heat something, then it’s hot.

    I presume you actually mean something different by “state” from the mere grammatical sense? Something like “non-agentive”, rather?

    If so, I see what you mean, but I disagree: I think that loving is (at least sometimes/partly) agentive. It’s something you do, even if a large part of it can be something that just happens to you (a part that perhaps coincides to a great extent with the culture-bound modern Western notion of “romantic” love.)

    [The Kusaal verb nɔŋ “love”, that I mentioned above, is actually unique among verbs of the imperfective-only conjugation in that it possesses a main-clause imperative form: nɔŋim! “love!” Interestingly, for “love” in the “I love you” sense that you might whisper passionately to your beloved, the verb used is bɔɔd “want”, and that one, unlike nɔŋ, doesn’t have a main-clause imperative or a derived agent noun.]

  90. It seems to me that everyone in this discussion is thinking about first-person love: “Why do I love this other person?” It may add some clarity (or complication, which may or may not be the same thing) to consider the reverse situation: “Why did that person stop loving me even though I haven’t changed?” If this hasn’t happened to you, you are fortunate, but please accept for the purposes of the discussion that it is a real thing and rather puts a spoke in the wheel of the “list of attributes” theory.

  91. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat
    You are assuming that the attributes are essential to the beloved and not (mainly or even only) inferred (and in a sense, created continuously) by the lover. The sort of outgrowing/rejection scenario you refer to could occur as a result of the beloved wilfully or inexcusably behaving in a manner judged to be incompatible with the selected attributes. In long-term relationships, I suspect that partners try to be complicit in avoiding this type of cognitive dissonance.

  92. David Eddyshaw says

    I think my own arguments become no more incoherent when considering such questions.

    We seem to be talking largely about the degree to which loving is a choice, which overlaps with another (insoluble?) question we were talking about not long ago, Free Will.

    By chance (I think: I forget what chain of associations led me there) I was just reading Daniel Dennett’s review of the ineffable Sam Harris’ Free Will, which is quite informative about Dennett’s own “compatibilist” position on the issue, and which bears on this aspect of our debate (I think):

    https://www.rifp.it/ojs/index.php/rifp/article/view/rifp.2017.0018/777

  93. The sort of outgrowing/rejection scenario you refer to could occur as a result of the beloved wilfully or inexcusably behaving in a manner judged to be incompatible with the selected attributes.

    No, in the case I am thinking of the beloved was behaving exactly the same, but the other party had changed their list of selected attributes. So it’s not that it disproves the “list of attributes” theory; rather, it shows that the list is not immutable.

  94. aromantic

    I have close friends “exotic” from Russian perspective, but they are all educated and europeanised.
    Perhaps culturally closer to me than Englsh speakers (I have an impression that it is easier for a Russian to find common language with an Italian than English speaker). They believe in romanic love – and may grumble at some of their friends who are into arranged marriages.

    Once I saw an apology of arranged marriage from a girl from Sulawesi: a confident description of how it works with details like marrying within the same circle.

    Well… If you can choose (that is: select a person who you don’t know well, but who seems interesting) an aranged marriage is…. an adventure. You can explore this person. (not her words, just my speculation. She simply was looking forward).
    But I am glad that I can explore you all without marrying you.

  95. “An ordinary Japanese schoolboy once received a girl from a different world with supernatural abilities as a gift” [change genders according to yours and your orientation] is a romantic story too.

    Except that in the anime I recently watched the unusual classmate was a boy, and the main hero was so too, and no one was gay, it was just not about that.

    I suppose both romantic stories are stories about friendships/adventures, but the former is just slightly suggestive.

  96. I also don’t know if I know romantic love. The thing is, I know love that is just love (to a person), and I’m not interested in sex with a person I don’t love. But when you do love someone as a human being, you identify with this person.

    At least I do “losing my mind” part well.

  97. If driven to tell someone just exactly why I loved them, I would probably say “Because you’re you.” This is not a cover for “no reason.”

    No, but it is a wee bit tautological ….

    If the true answer is “no reason at all”, doesn’t it follow that I could just as well have loved somebody else entirely, every bit as fervently? I love you by pure chance.

    The word I would apply is not chance but grace, although as an agnostic I don’t presume to know by the grace of whom or what.

    “Because of our shared history. Because we joyfully did X and Y and Z together, and expect more to come.”

    Maybe, if you put full weight on joyfully. Otherwise, I think what you are describing is friendship, and since Gale is also my closest friend, I don’t often have to sort out the two feelings, but I can.

    What else do they have to reconstruct proto-Basque from?

    There is also internal reconstruction, although it is unanchored at the far end.

    And while in some abstract sense the concept of causality is indeed highly problematic, those who actually try to apply this insight in their real lives are not holding comfortable tenured positions in philosophy departments. They are sad marginal individuals who are not coping at all.

    We Peircean persons reject causality in favor of producer-product relations, and while some of us are in a way marginal (my father taught philosophy, but to law students) and all of us are sad from time to time, we are not, in general, among those who suffer for their bad philosophy.

  98. David Eddyshaw says

    Hmm. This producer-product relationship seems awfully like cause and effect (enough so to rescue you doctrinaire Peirceans from marginality, anyhow. This is Good …)

  99. @DE, I think I associate causality with prediction of “events”.

    But it is not a philosophical diagreement, I just thought it is what you are speaking about (including the scheme with necessary and sufficient).

  100. the particular example makes me wonder if the inversion is a deliberate transvaluation, preserving a sense of “home-place” across the line between state and state-evading groups.

    Well, the Iban are migratory, unlike most Malay speakers, which perhaps explains it. But there are other semantically reduced words not so easily accounted for.

    “Why did that person stop loving me even though I haven’t changed?”

    Well, as I said above, I stopped loving my “other significant other” Beatrice (I realized there is no longer a reason not to name her) even though she hadn’t changed. But it was not a matter of me changing my list of lovable attributes, because I could no more explain why I loved Beatrice than why I love Gale. I couldn’t and can’t explain why I fell out of love with her any more than I could explain why I fell in love with either of them.

  101. so interesting, the whole set! i can’t come up with an anchoring semantic field that all these examples relate to (though not being iban myself, that’s not a surprise), but the fact of so much parallel transvaluation feels more deliberate than accidental (though intuition is not, shockingly, demonstration).

  102. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s like a whole people deciding to adopt ackbay angslay or verlan as their L1.

    I suppose it’s no more (or less) remarkable than other successful efforts by communities seeking to underline their distinctiveness by deliberate wholesale language engineering (like Copper Island Aleut and Michif.) Just a (much) more thoroughgoing version of a pretty widespread phenomenon: developing an insider-speech to underline the distinctive nature of your group (and/or exclude others, or to protect the group from others.)

    On reflection, these sorts of language recreation efforts aren’t actually analogous to the tone inversion of Western Oti-Volta et al, because they involve changing language features that speakers are actually aware of, and can consciously play with. That isn’t the case with tone (indeed, it commonly comes as news to even quite sophisticated speakers of tone languages that they do, in fact, speak a “tone language.”) Deliberately and consistently transposing high and low tones throughout would be at least as hard as for an English speaker to consistently swap voiced and unvoiced obstruents on purpose.

  103. @David Eddyshaw: … ackbay angslay

    Is “back slang” what you call it in Britain? The North American tern is “pig Latin.” I have had to explain to several Europeans (although not native English speakers), that pig Latin does not mean “bad Latin,” “dog Latin,” “kitchen Latin,” or the like. I inferred that the term was probably not used in Britain, but I never knew what the comparable name was.

  104. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes.

    Hausa has similar language games. In one such game you get, for example

    gida “house” -> gibida
    hatsi “grain” -> habatsi
    tabarma “mat” -> tababarma
    ɗa “son” -> ɗabaɗa

    Another is even more like Pig Latin, e.g.

    zaure “entrance hut” -> rezau
    tasa “bowl” -> sata
    kalme “hoe” -> mekal
    raƙumi “camel” -> ƙumira
    takalmi “shoes” ->kalmita

    [All stolen from Paul Newman’s* The Hausa Language]

    * Not that one.

  105. “are actually aware of” – I think phonological contrast already implies some degree of awareness… Also consider jokes about accents.

  106. David Eddyshaw says

    phonological contrast already implies some degree of awareness

    Up to a point (along, of course, with a language-specific unawareness of most phonetic contrasts.)

    But I doubt whether most English speakers could tell you that /p/ is to /b/ as /t/ is to /d/, and those who can have normally been taught the fact rather than noticed it themselves.

    Kusaal speakers, similarly, can tell you that kʋk “chair” does not sound the same as kʋk “ghost”, but can’t tell you how the words differ, still less that the difference is “the same” as the difference between siak “suffice” and siak “agree.” Unless they’ve read a Kusaal grammar …

  107. /p/ is to /b/ as /t/ is to /d/,

    But what about Russian jokes, where German accent is represented by devoicing?

  108. (Less systematically: p happens in Arab baby talk).

    The point is that generalisations about creative repertoire of speakers are dangerous (the Arabic example illustrates an idea that someone who assumes that Arabic speakers can’t distinguish b and p based on Arabic phonology would be wrong).

  109. David Eddyshaw says

    But what about Russian jokes, where German accent is represented by devoicing?

    Much easier than swapping all voiced and unvoiced obstruents; just as pronouncing all Kusaal words with the same tone throughout would be easy enough, much more so that systematically swapping them around.

    Actual historical sound changes where an entire phonological feature, like glottalisation, or nasalisation, or lexical tone, or indeed consonant voicing contrasts, have been completely lost, are very common. Swapping two phonological features around, while leaving everything else the same – not so much.

    Even for once-off language games, even if it is possible to do something like that at all without the benefit of knowing a formal analysis of your language’s phonological system (which I doubt), I don’t think human brain processing power is up to keeping something like that going for very long at all.

    I know that there exist some actual cross-linguistic studies of language games like Pig Latin/Back-Slang and the Hausa phenomena I mentioned above, though I’m not familiar with any myself. They may prove me wrong.

  110. I only object to this: “because they involve changing language features that speakers are actually aware of, and can consciously play with”
    I’d be careful with predictions about what people “can play with”.

  111. David Eddyshaw says

    I think that you can be aware of a feature of the phonology of your language without being able to describe it or even to freely manipulate it.

    For example, L1 UK English speakers may notice that South Africans speaking English don’t aspirate voiceless stops, and may even be able to imitate the effect, but they still won’t know (unless they’ve studied phonetics) what the difference actually consists of, and they still won’t be able to swap round the aspirated and unaspirated allophones of /k t p/ in their own speech (again, unless they actually know something about phonetics.)

    If you speak Kusaal to a Kusaasi without getting the tones right, they’ll certainly notice that your pronunciation is weird, and may even be able to imitate the effect (if they’re a cheeky child, at any rate: no adult would be so rude) but still they won’t be able to tell you what exactly you’re missing.

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    There was a South African comedienne in Apartheid days whose act rejoiced in sending up Afrikanerdom (dressed as a Voortrekker woman throughout.) She would start by writing on a blackboard the following words for the Brit audience to recite in ever-more-manic chorus:

    THESIS A FREAK UNTREE.

    [Unfortunately, try as I might, I can’t remember her name …]

  113. “I think that you can be aware of a feature of the phonology of your language without being able to describe it or even to freely manipulate it.”

    Yes, though again, I would abstain of predictions:)

    Honestly, “be able to” is a very tricky concept, and “awareness” is one more tricky concept:/

    For different reasons: when you ascribe to someone a property “is not able to”, you introduce a fully hypothetical quality. What is not hypothetical : “I tried N times, failed each time. I don’t know what to do!”.

  114. actual cross-linguistic studies of language games

    in english, the ones i know work purely on the syllable level: pig latin moves the first syllable to the end and appends an extra one, and the openglopish/obie-gobie family alternates existing syllables with a fixed additional one. verlan, as i understand it, also works at the level of syllables, as do the two hausa examples DE brought in (with one seeming to have some vowel shifting in the inserted syllable to match the syllable preceding the insertion).

  115. David Eddyshaw says

    Found a paper on “Pig Latin” in Akan:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285589306_Some_Phonological_Processes_in_an_Akan_Linguistic_Game

    Not as common as it once was, apparently. I blame texting.

    Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of Ousseina Alidou’s thesis A Phonological Study of Language Games in Six Languages of Niger, which is the source of Newman’s examples. Sounds interesting.
    Adomako’s paper has references to accounts of such things in Burmese, Estonian, Tagalog and Thai, though I haven’t been able to access any so far.
    Mary Haas seems to have studied the phenomenon more widely, too.

    Can’t find the Conklin paper on Tagalog, but this is a paper on the phenomenon in Hanunoo by him:

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/410602

    The examples in the various languages don’t seem to involve transposing phonemes (much less allophones), but seem mostly to involve either transposition or insertion of syllables (with interesting things to be deduced about syllabification in the languages in question.) English Pig Latin actually seems to be unusually complicated in this regard, but then so is English syllable structure. I wonder about Georgian Pig Latin?

  116. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    For some reason (probably to do with outdated notions of masculinity vel sim) — for some reason, I say, Danish males use a lot of creaky voice, to the extent that (I once read) male creaky voice is also a feature of English in some US states with heavy Danish immigration. Utah, maybe.

    Since it’s a gender-linked feature many Danish gays tend to de-emphasize it, to the extent that it’s the most widely recognized way of caricaturing gay speech. I was able to mimic the effect myself long before I ever knew there was something called creaky voice. (Using a lot of creaky voice will aggravate a sore throat, I found out).

  117. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s very interesting. (One hopes that Danish Manly Men are not mistaken for Valley Girls by the USians, what with all this vocal fry going on …)

    Does the superimposed creaky voice interfere with stød?

    Kusaal vowel glottalisation is often realised as creaky voice, though it can also be just as a glottal approximant after the first/only vowel mora (hence the rather misleading orthography, as in e.g. sʋ’ʋg “knife.”) Except in questions, the distinction is neutralised on short vowels preceding pause, in favour of glottalisation, so for example gɛn /gɛ̃/ “tire” falls together with gɛn’ “get angry.” So the Kusaasi do vocal fry too … (so also in Fulfulde; this might possibly be quite widespread in West African languages, but the phonetic descriptions often don’t go into enough detail to tell.)

  118. @rozele: “Standard” pig Latin only moves the first consonant (or, depending on dialect consonant cluster) of word to the end, not (in my experience) a full syllable. (However, I have encountered varieties in which the whole first syllable was moved if and only if there were no consonants in the that syllable.)

  119. David Eddyshaw says

    The WP article on creaky voice tells me that the phenomenon in Korean is called “stiff voice.” Truly, All Threads are One.

  120. I’m not sure if it is connected to any particular stereotypes about men : there are biological differences.
    But interestingly, creaky voice is sometimes the female genderlect. Cf. WP (and DE) for vocal fry.

  121. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I’m not a phonetician, but I think stød is a suprasegmental increase in creakiness. So if you start very creaky you end up with near complete interruption of the airflow; from modal voice you just enter the creaky region a bit. But to a Dane those are the same thing.

    Also IIRC, vocal fry is something that happens on low spots in an intonation contour. The way I hear it, Danish speakers generally maintain the same voicing throughout, whether that’s modal or creaky. (Letting intonation cause creaky voice would really mess with stød, I think).

    @drasvi, it’s very possible that there’s a physiological background, but it’s clearly not insurmountable if it can be the female genderlect as you say. And to Danes, a male not using it sounds effeminate–maybe the physiological difference caused the stereotype, but the connection is there.

  122. David Eddyshaw says

    I’m not sure if it is connected to any particular stereotypes about men : there are biological differences

    Well, given that Kusaasi men and women use vowel glottalisation identically, there must be some cultural basis for the thing in Danish. The stereotypical Valley Girl vocal fry thing seems to be largely confirmation bias and/or ill-informed pseudolinguistic pop punditry, though. Language Log had a lot about this, e.g.

    https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=20155

    suprasegmental change in creakiness

    Makes sense (probably); it would be parallel to the fact that men and women alike have no trouble speaking tone languages despite often speaking in different absolute registers.

    So stød, stødder, støddest, really.

    This reminds me of the fact that the difference in the average pitch of men’s and women’s voices varies by language/culture (greater in Japanese than German, for example.) I recall LL talking about that, too.

  123. I just mean, the stereotype is not necessary about “men are so and so [mentally]”, it can be “male voices are so and so [physically]”.

    P.S. I of course don’t deny that it is or can be arbutrary. I only mean, if it (as Lars suggests ) historically has to do with any specific notion of masculinity, this notion itself can be based on purely acoustic associations.

  124. David Eddyshaw says

    True: the man/woman pitch-difference variation between cultures must be based on actual real-world average physiological differences, but evidently also has a powerful overlay of culture, possibly in both directions.

    Not so sure about creaky voice though. Kusaal is not by any means unique in having it as an emic vowel feature, and whether creaky voice correlates with low tone seems to be very variable cross-linguistically, to the degree that I wonder if the term is really always being applied to the same phenomenon.

    I have the impression that there actually is a fair statistical correlation between lexical low tone and vowel glottalisation in Kusaal (the example sʋ’ʋg “knife”, that I gave above, is low tone, for example) but there are plenty of exceptions.

    I suspect glottalisation implies low tone more strongly than low tone implies glottalisation, though the issue is complicated by the existence of frequent syntactically-motivated low-tone overlays, and by the fact that very many short clitic words are both low-tone and not glottalised; most low tones on non-clitic words in a typical stretch of Kusaal discourse are probably not lexical. (It’s not a thing I’ve ever really looked at.)

    Comparative work on Oti-Volta shows that a lot (at least) of glottalised vowels derive historically from -VC- sequences, too, which would make it harder to see why there should be any tone correlation in the first place …

  125. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @drasvi, of course I don’t have any way of knowing if that male-female difference got entrenched in Danish because boys were thinking “I want to sound like a tough guy” or if it just happened as a sort of speciation event and stereotypes got built around it later. Starting from the tough guy concept just seems the sort of thing that men used to do.

    I don’t think anybody even knows for how long it’s been that way; there are dictionaries and grammars from like the 17th century and later but if anybody was describing a gender difference in voicing back then, it hasn’t been recognized by modern scholars AFAIK. When I was learning to speak (1960s) I’m pretty sure I didn’t have any concept of sounding tough, I was probably just trying to sound like my father.

    (And since Japanese was mentioned: watching old Samurai movies it’s obvious, to a singer at least, that the tough guys are pressing their voices down into a “gruff” register).

  126. David Marjanović says

    But I doubt whether most English speakers could tell you that /p/ is to /b/ as /t/ is to /d/, and those who can have normally been taught the fact rather than noticed it themselves.

    Funnily enough, p t k are called “hard” in German, and b d g are called “soft”; these terms are used whenever you have to explain how something is spelled across bad acoustics (mostly on the telephone, historically at least) or if your native accent doesn’t make the distinction. “Not with a hard T, with a soft D!” (Frozen contrastive stress.)

    What the distinction is varies widely: voice, aspiration, length, various combinations, or none of these…

    None of this is ever extended beyond the plosives in my experience. Interestingly, however, g is called “soft” even though its name doesn’t use the same vowel as that of k.

  127. David Eddyshaw says

    AFAIK there’s nothing really comparable in English: “voiced” and “unvoiced” are fairly technical, and while they are surely everyday terms for Hatters, I don’t think we are representative of Anglophonia in general in this.

    Germans invented linguistics, anyhow, so they’re special.

    The Japanese obsess about their pitch-accent system, I gather, but I think that is for a whole lot of sociolinguistic reasons, combined with a tendency to obsess over the supposed uniqueness of the Japanese language in general. On the other hand, kana actually uses a diacritic for voicing.

    But once literacy is the norm, you’ve left the linguistic Garden of Eden far behind, anyway.

  128. I just ran across this comment from a decade ago and found it resonated remarkably with the present discussion about love:

    I’m something of an advocate against criticism, actually. There are some people–critics, scholars, connoisseurs of a certain field–who can sometimes provide useful criticism, but for others, who enjoy more casually, criticism is often wrong (that is it provides the wrong reasons for liking/disliking) and even worse is likely to confuse one’s opinion rather than clarify it.

    An example: I hated the movie No Country For Old Men. I thought about this a little after I saw the movie, and I’m really not sure why I hated the movie some much. When pressed for a reason, I say that it was violent and senseless. But this is a terrible reason: I’ve liked other movies that were violent and senseless, and surely there are a lot of people who would claim that the movie was not senseless at all. One person I talked to said he liked the fact that the movie didn’t have a score. But this is clearly not a justification for liking the entire movie. I actually liked this also, I thought it was really interesting and would like to see more movies do this, though I think it’s actually possible that somehow the scorelessness set up me up for hating the movie, but I don’t know. When I told another person I didn’t like No Country For Old Men, he said something like “Oh, it’s got great acting and great cinematography.” This also seems like a terrible form of criticism. Like in this school of criticism there are five boxes to be checked off: Good Acting, Good Directing, Good Writing, Good Cinematography, and Good Other Stuff (costumes, music, special effects). Then the number of boxes checked corresponds to the number of stars you give a movie. I think this is often the kind of criticism people give when trying to reason their like of a certain movie, and I think it’s awful.

    I think one reason it’s so hard to provide reasons for liking a movie, is because if you like the movie you like all of it, all two hours of it. So when you say why you liked a movie, you don’t have two hours to talk about it, so you say that you liked one particular character, or one particular scene, or you say that “I think Christopher Nolan has very good directorial sensibilities” (actual quote), when what you really like is the whole of the movie, the way all the individual things work together over the course of two hours. For paintings or music, it’s even worse, as it’s nearly impossible to provide even bad criticism without technical knowledge. If you wanted everybody who went to art museum or to the symphony to provide reasons for why they liked/disliked what they saw or heard, you would end up with a lot less patrons of art museums and symphonies.

    (The comment continues, but that’s the gist.)

  129. I do associate “melodical” with feminine and “noicy” with masculine… I mean, no, I don’t think singers are unmanly or that noicier female voices are unattractive.

    But there is such an association, and I beleived it is eventually based on a generalisation of an actual difference in distribution of noices over voices…
    Yes, there is also an association with “tough”, but men are in average bigger, hairier etc.

    Actaully, “femininity” combines several somewhat contradictory trends (and kilometers of literary works are dedicated to this) while the Real Man is an adult, not child. Now when a quality (hairiness, mightiness) distinguishes adult men form both young men and women – what of these contrasts are more important?

  130. David Marjanović says

    […] this comment from a decade ago […]

    Yes. Case in point: my dad gushes over good acting and is quick to point it out; I don’t notice it – I guess I suspend disbelief and immerse myself in the story, so I take good acting for granted and only notice acting that is so bad it breaks the suspension of disbelief and takes me out of the story. (Unless I make a conscious effort to watch out for good acting, which I don’t do often; it probably requires that someone pointed it out first.)

    I don’t think I ever noticed William Shatner’s famous overacting either – as a feature of the actor at least. I guess Cpt. Kirk was just an overall believable character, and his grandiose voice merely appropriate to the grandiose text of his speeches.

  131. David Eddyshaw says

    I see what you mean, Hat, but I think I would call in aid my notion that love is (partly) an active choice. “I love you” has something of the flavour of “I’m strongly biased in your favour.” The loved one might well quite rightly feel miffed by anything purporting to be a wholly objective appraisal of their charms, even if it was actually quite positive …

    With films, the analogue might not be so much the competent film critic’s “This is a great movie because of X, Y and Z” so much as the fan’s “I really enjoy superhero movies, even when the acting and the plot aren’t all that.”

    This still wouldn’t mean that the fan liked the movie for no communicable reasons at all.

    “I don’t know what she sees in him”* need not seriously imply that “she” is actually deranged …

    * One usually hears this statement with the pronouns this way round, for some reason.

  132. @Brett – you’re right, i was hasty! but i think my point mostly stands: what pig latin transplants is the initial consonant or consonant cluster (and in some versions the first, plus any preceding vowels) because that plus the added dipthong can be a well-formed syllable; the versions that don’t move anything when there’s an initial vowel don’t because vowel-dipthong isn’t a reliable syllable structure.

    thinking about the pig latin edge cases is fun: i recommend “antler” and “earworm” in particular!

  133. I take good acting for granted and only notice acting that is so bad it breaks the suspension of disbelief

    For me good acting is not about believability. Good acting makes a character engaging, it stands out, you wish to follow it. I remember watching some extremely stupid French comedy where nothing at all was remotely beleivable. Every role was extremely stupid, plot was contrived, dialog uninspiring and so forth. There were no aliens, no special effects (but I guess it was a murder mystery). But they somehow convinced Catherine Deneuve to play a part. It wasn’t an outsdanding performance, just a solid job of a good actress. And it absolutely stood out.

    And I don’t really understand what is wrong with describing elements of a movie. You cannot like or dislike a film based on these descriptions, but they do give some information that is possible to transmit by talking and writing. Obviously, film is another medium and cannot be converted into words. As an example, they say Lord of the Rings features spectacular views of New Zealand. I didn’t watch any of it and I am not interested in spectacular views. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like it. Maybe it has other good though not outstanding features. But if I were interested in dramatic open air shots, I would have more likely given it a try.

  134. THESIS A FREAK UNTREE

    Apparently it was actually THE SCISSOR FREAK UNTREE, and the woman’s name was Elaine Loudon, playing “Mitzi Wildebeest”.

  135. David Eddyshaw says

    Thank you! I’ve been trying to remember that for ages.

  136. @DM I guess I suspend disbelief and immerse myself in the story, …

    Allegedly Dinner For One is played every Christmas on German TV.

    Nothing about the ‘plot’ seems believable; the acting is totally over-the-top IMO.

    Do you watch it? Your father?

  137. they say Lord of the Rings features spectacular views of New Zealand.

    It does contain spectacular views. Also NZ does contain spectacular views. Whether much of NZ remained after digital ‘enhancement’ I rather doubt.

    To be honest I could only stand the first movie. The acting was so wooden, the plot so dull I felt I’d done my duty as a Kiwi.

    The way to see the views is with your boots on, miles from any civilisation.

  138. To be honest I could only stand the first movie.

    Those were horrible movies; I saw them for family reasons, but nothing could make me sit through them again.

  139. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @AntC, yes it is, and on New Year’s Eve in Scandinavia, and it’s our civic duty to watch it. It’s the last fragile thread keeping the illusion of a common cultural experience alive. That and the Queen’s speech.

    More here. How soon we forget.

  140. David Eddyshaw says

    Says WP:

    In Sweden, the show was suspended for six years after its first screening, deemed unsuitable because of James’ heavy drinking.

    It’s always satisfying when people live up to their stereotypes.
    According to WP, Frinton was actually teetotal in Real Life.

  141. David Marjanović says

    Allegedly Dinner For One is played every Christmas on German TV.

    No, every New Year’s Eve.

    Nothing about the ‘plot’ seems believable; the acting is totally over-the-top IMO.

    It’s not a movie, it’s a sketch… a set piece of comedy that lasts a few minutes. There is no story in it. You watch it twice, you know it by heart and could probably act it out yourself.

    You know what’s played every Christmas on German TV? Home Alone 2. The violence distracts from the acting, so I’ve never noticed how good or bad the acting is.

  142. Why would anyone show Home Alone 2 as an event when the original Home Alone is available? The first movie is superior in almost every conceivable fashion.

    My wife wanted to walk out of the second Lord of the Rings film, but a I said we should stay to the end. I had given up on the film also by that point, but I still wanted to see what they had done with Shelob. And then she wasn’t even in the film! We never saw the last one.

  143. David Eddyshaw says

    My children thought all three LOTR films were wonderful, with the result that I ended up sitting through all three more than once.

    My fond paternal hope is that they may all have grown out of it by now, but I’m afraid of broaching the subject in case they haven’t.

    I liked Ian McKellen’s scenery-chewing, though. (BRIAN BLESSED would, of course, have been better, but then that is always the case.)

  144. Having enjoyed Peter Jackson’s wonderful Braindead aka Dead Alive, I don’t want to be disappointed by seeing his talent wasted on a high-budget movie that’s not so uplifting.

  145. David Eddyshaw says

    I kick arse for the Lord!

    “Uplifting” doesn’t begin to describe it. How Jackson disappointed us in his later career!
    (The zombies in The Return of the KIng are not remotely in the same league, and there’s far too much buildup before you get to them.)

  146. I refused to let my kids watch the Jackson movies until we had read the real Tolkien first.

  147. Having enjoyed Peter Jackson’s wonderful …

    Yes his early low-budget movies were excellent. I particularly remember Heavenly Creatures.

    Similar big-budget deterioration with Ken Russell – his Elgar and Delius I still remember.

  148. until we had read the real Tolkien first.

    [This is going to be an unpopular opinion round here but …]

    The main problem in dramatising Tolkien is the Tolkien: it’s so dull and goes on far too bloody long. The acting in the movies I described as “wooden”, because the writing is wooden. It takes an actor with the chops of McKellen to overcome that.

    The dramatization I remember is The Hobbit by BBC radio in 1-hour installments over 13 weeks. Michael Hordern as Gandalf.

  149. Heavenly Creatures was great but it was relatively high budget, and it has no bodily leakage.

    For a very-short-attention-span version of Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) I rely on Eleanor Morton.

  150. it’s so dull and goes on far too bloody long.
    Didn’t seem like that to me, but I think my daughter would sympathize. She started reading LotR and abandoned it when reading “Two Towers” – she told me she got bored when Frodo and Sam were shlepping endlessly through Mordor. (She finished the books a couple of years later.)

  151. For a very-short-attention-span version …

    Thanks but I don’t lack attention-span. I’ve read Ulysses, Odysseus, The Iliad, Tristram Shandy, Gargantua & Pantagruel; I stayed awake through the whole of Bondarchuk’s War & Peace.

    It’s Tolkien: there’s no human interest (by which I mean chiefly there’s no sexual tension); it’s unidimensional – the characters are defined by whether pro- or anti- destroying the RIng. I could go on …

  152. January First-of-May says

    What little I’ve read of LotR, back in the mid-oughties, did not (as I recall) seem particularly dull, but nevertheless was so extremely long that I only made it about 20% of the way.
    I decided that I should continue again some day, but AFAIK I never actually got around to doing that.

    EDIT: I’ve also read, and very much enjoyed, Gargantua & Pantagruel, though admittedly in a Russian translation. [I’ve long considered trying the original, but didn’t get the courage before my French skills withered from disuse.] I think I’ve read the Odyssey (again in translation) but don’t recall much about it. None of the other works AntC mentioned.
    I gather that some people have managed to finish reading Worm, which makes all those other works look like upbeat novelettes… I never started that one, but mostly because I don’t like stories where everything just keeps going ever worse until most of the good guys die. (I hadn’t read most of Stephen King’s writing for the same reason.)

  153. David Eddyshaw says

    Myself, I share AntC’s opinion about LOTR, but have always been struck by the evident fact that many people who seem every bit as aware of true beauty and depth in literature as I am, disagree (my literary hero Auden was one, for example.) I conclude that there must be some perfectly real appealing quality about it which is simply wasted on me, but is real nonetheless.

    It’s tempting to imagine that it is the appeal to the inner language nerd, but I don’t think it can be: the appeal of LOTR is evidently by no means confined to Hatteroid types, and – as we see – many Hatters are unmoved by it. Whatever it is.

    Also, Michael Moorcock was famously scathing about it (“Epic Pooh”), which is a powerful recommendation in my book. (It’s impossible to read his malicious and petty takedown without being moved to disagree with him on principle … also, what’s with dissing Pooh? The man’s a barbarian.)

  154. Its appeal is real, but (to my mind) depends on your reading it at an age when your literary tastes are not yet fully formed, so that you can still enjoy Boy’s Own adventures (which is what LOTR is, when you get right down to it, with a load of metaphysical codswallop ladled on top). College (when I read and enjoyed it) is probably the latest it can be so read. Other authors who should be read before adulthood sets in, if at all: Hermann Hesse, J. D. Salinger. (Probably J. K. Rowling as well, but I wouldn’t know, since by the time I tried the first HP, when it made its appearance on these shores and well before it became a phenomenon, I was hopelessly corrupted by real literature and cast it aside with an imprecation.)

  155. David Eddyshaw says

    and cast it aside with an imprecation

    In bad Latin? (I actually got as far as the third volume, but didn’t finish it, an unusual thing for me when I’ve actually gone and paid for a book already …)

    I think Salinger did better stuff than Catcher in the Rye, which in any case seems to be mostly liked for reasons which have little to do with the actual book itself, and more to do with identification with terminally annoying protagonist.

    I agree that Hesse is for teenagers, though.

    I actually read LOTR myself at the Hesse-vulnerable age in question, and got through it, but even then was quite sure that I never wanted to read it again (I remember saying as much explicitly in a school-report review of it.) It’s interesting that I nevertheless remember a great deal of it in some detail, which I don’t think is entirely the result of repeated involuntary exposure to the ghastly films (see above.)

  156. I agree that Hesse is for teenagers, though.

    Any person, of any age, who can read more than 20 pages of Das Glasperlenspiel should be monitored for other, less obvious self-harm.

  157. Odyssey is also a Boy’s Own adventure story, so what? And LotR, which is a bit too long for my taste, is much more than that (and I don’t mean philosophy). As for the Harry Potter saga, it’s a sports memoir about a talented athlete whose quest to become a champion is always interrupted by life.

  158. But badly written, and it is impossible for me to ignore that.

  159. Books of any kind: writers and publishers make money off them, and readers have endless opportunities for heated discussions about their merits.

    While people are occupied with such aesthetic matters (obstacles épistémologiques), bad guys go about their pragmatic business unheeded. It’s a win-win.

  160. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I read the whole HP “main series” as they were published for reasons unrelated to their merits as books, but my take is that Rowling cunningly targeted kids of the age of the protagonist with each volume — there is craftmanship in that, if not art, and it clearly paid off.

    I read LotR at the golden age of 13, and maybe it was the fascination of the complete world that had been built, but I wasn’t looking for sexual tension and didn’t notice its absence.

  161. David Eddyshaw says

    Pretty clear than Gandalf has a thing for Saruman. You didn’t pick up on that, even?

  162. Brett, Shelob appears near the beginning of the third movie. The stories are divided into parts a bit differently from in the books. You didn’t miss anything.

    Read LOTR at 17. Agree with Lars. Never touched Rowling.

  163. Stu Clayton says

    I read LotR at the golden age of 13, … but I wasn’t looking for sexual tension and didn’t notice its absence.

    The same is true from age 73 upwards. It would only be an auntie climax.

  164. Add Kerouac to the list.

  165. I read The Hobbit and the L.R. at the other golden age of seven. Of course I didn’t understand everything then, but I’ve read it uncountably many times since, of course. It’s part of the core of my understanding of literature, along with plenty of other things.

  166. David Eddyshaw says

    I remember staying in the house of some American missionaries in Nigeria (very generously loaned to us, who didn’t know them at all, in the absence of the owners in the US) and discovering that the sum total of works of fiction in the house was LOTR along with the collected oeuvre of Frank Peretti; this seemed, from my limited research, to be quite typical* of the bookshelves of US Protestant missionaries.

    (Peretti’s works are of no literary value whatsoever, though quite interesting from an anthropological standpoint as data.)

    I’m not at all clear what conclusion to draw from this. Tolkien’s works are hardly in-yer-face Christian propaganda, after all. Maybe they just transcend boundaries.

    * Typical, but (I am happy to say) by no means universal.

  167. Pretty clear than Gandalf has a thing for Saruman.
    The internet agrees.

  168. David Marjanović says

    All this makes me curious about LOTR. I’ve never read it or watched the films.

    I really don’t have trouble with reading an asexual plot… or an aromantic one for that matter. In fact, from an early age I’ve been annoyed that so many authors seem to feel obliged to squeeze a love story into absolutely anything.

  169. David Eddyshaw says

    C S Lewis somewhere talks about “mythopoeic” writers, and says that this ability is quite distinct from literary excellence, and indeed can transcend the – perhaps very pedestrian – language that the “myth” is transmitted in. As far as I remember he wasn’t talking about his friend Tolkien at that point; but perhaps he might as well have been. (It may have been David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus that he was discussing, but I can’t really remember.)

  170. Odyssey is also a Boy’s Own adventure story,

    Sure: bonking their way back across the Med, visiting various nymphs and priestesses; with Odysseus’s member needing strapping down to get him past the seductive Sirens; only to find a bunch of priapic rivals squabbling over his wife.

    Do I need to remind the reason they went to Ilium in the first place?

    Or were you reading the expurgated version?

  171. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Ganduman: no, I didn’t. Putting gay people in books was not really a thing I was aware of in 1973. I may have been wondering if Frodo had a thing for Galadriel (because who didn’t), and I’m sure I was cheering for Eowyn/Aragorn, but not wanting anything more than the happily ever after, hall full of babies and dogs trope.

  172. In fact, from an early age I’ve been annoyed that so many authors seem to feel obliged to squeeze a love story into absolutely anything.
    Yes, it can be annoying. One example is Vassily Aksyonov – he’s one of my favourite authors, but quite often he seems to insert sex scenes in his novels because he can and it’s a thing they did in the 60s/70s.

  173. @David Eddyshaw: I would have thought A Voyage to Arcturus was about the furthest thing from mythopoeic. Lindsay is not seemingly interested in creating a world with a mythos of its own, but instead using the fantasy setting to parody various real-world philosophies.

  174. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s entirely possible that I have misremembered.

    Not sure that I have the same take on Arcturus as you, though; it seems pretty hardcore Gnostic to me (of the miserabilist rather than the party-animal type.) The other philosophies make an appearance just in order to be found wanting.

    I prefer it to the other Gnostic classic in English, viz John Crowley’s Ægypt series, which is much better written and frankly much more interesting, but which, for reasons I’ve never been able to explain to myself adequately, I find very annoying. It may be little more than the irritating personality of the protagonist (so call me shallow.)

  175. Gnosticism is clearly what Lindsay selling to the reader, but there isn’t much of an affirmative case for it, at most the last few chapters, plus occasional sprinkled suggestions earlier. Most of the book is spent ridiculing other philosophies, one or two chapters at a time. I don’t find that very effective a pitch, particularly since Lindsay seems to think that the conclusions to be drawn in a wide variety of situations are that amy opposing NPCs will inevitably be murdered.

  176. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t find the argument compelling either (obviously), but I think the Gnostic theme is flagged up pretty clearly throughout, myself, though Lindsay deliberately avoids spelling it out explicitly until the final parts of the novel in order to create some narrative tension; I think that works quite well, myself. I do think that the power of the novel transcends the sometimes pedestrian writing and plotting, which is why it occurred to me as a possible example of what C S Lewis was on about.

    I might be more kindly disposed to the Ægypt saga if I was more kindly disposed to Gnosticism, I imagine; there, the theme is very much in-yer-face. I’d still say it’s well worth reading, assuming you haven’t done so already. It’s an impressive work (even though Harold Bloom liked it.)

    I once wrote a pages-long review on Amazon explaining why I didn’t like it, eventually realising that that was actually quite a recommendation, and subsequently deleting the review on the grounds of its general incoherence. Something about the series really got under my skin, and not in a mere Dan Brown way …

  177. AntC, I didn’t realize “Boy’s Own” means “no sex”. Learned the expression from the context. Thought it meant a quest for a plot and not much else.

  178. Thought it meant a quest for a plot and not much else.

    That is its basic meaning — lots of jolly adventures, happy ending — but “no sex” is pretty much taken for granted, though pirates and Merry Men can leer at fair maidens.

  179. @Hat indeed. “Boys Own” = Boys only.

    LOTR has those androgenous Elvin creatures but definitely no sex, slurs against Wizards notwithstanding.

    Those other adventures I listed date mostly from before Victorian prudery. So they’re not knowingly setting out to shock/the sex isn’t gratuitous/it’s an organic part of the ribbon of the characters’ lives.

    Joyce OTOH knows just who he’s shocking.

  180. I love Tolkien and taught a course in him nine times, but to me the sexlessness is much preferable to the occasional allusions to overt sexuality–Wormtongue the stalker, Morgoth the dismemberer.

  181. Stu Clayton says

    allusions to overt sexuality–Wormtongue the stalker, Morgoth the dismemberer.

    Dismembering is not a part of overt sexuality. It belongs to the mythological Zimmer frame that Freud flogged to our ancestors, claiming they couldn’t get on properly without it.

  182. David Eddyshaw says

    Dismembering is not a part of overt sexuality.

    Is this statement not a bit normative? Who are we to condemn the simple pleasures of others?

  183. PlasticPaddy says

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armin_Meiwes
    A case in point….perhaps, Stu, you should apologise to the voluntary cannibal victim community (pronoun: et).

  184. Gnostic fiction does seem to be a thing – I guess the concept of a demiurge has a natural appeal to the creators of fictional universes… Charlie Stross’s Glasshouse stands out in my memory as an unusual example of one being disguised as science fiction rather than fantasy.

    from an early age I’ve been annoyed that so many authors seem to feel obliged to squeeze a love story into absolutely anything.

    Hear, hear! Probably an inevitable side effect of being an early reader.

  185. Any person, of any age, who can read more than 20 pages of Das Glasperlenspiel should be monitored for other, less obvious self-harm.

    I was just listening to Maryanne Wolf, who I gather is a neuropsychologist at UCLA, talk to Ezra Klein about how reading physical books effects the brain in profound ways that are quite different from reading on a screen. She is a huge fan of Herman Hesse, which I found odd since no one seems to be a fan of Hesse these days. She is a big proponent of making time for immersive reading. She described how screens had damaged her ability to read Das Glasperlenspiel, a book she had apparently held in high esteem in her college years. When she picked it up a few years ago she found it horribly boring and couldn’t read beyond the first 20 pages. But, with practice regaining the right immersive pace, she reread the book and actually enjoyed it (so she claimed). So Stu, there is hope for you yet.

    I remember a German teacher in high school mentioning Das Glasperlenspiel as a sort of Everest in literature one needed to climb, but I have never gotten around to it. I think will go rewatch Peter Jackson’s LoTR films instead, they really are smashing entertainment.

  186. David Eddyshaw says

    I am one of the three people who has read Das Glasperlenspiel. I expect it did me a power of good without my realising it.

    But seriously, who would take literary recommendations from a neuropsychologist? I ask you …

    [I used to know a neuropsychiatrist with excellent literary taste, but that is of course a very different thing. Moreover, he was Hungarian. Nuff said.]

  187. David Marjanović says

    reading physical books effects the brain in profound ways that are quite different from reading on a screen

    I bet that’s only true for people who automatically forget to blink as soon as they look at a screen. (That means, strangely, most people.)

  188. David Eddyshaw says

    A large part of the point of Das Glasperlenspiel is exactly that high Castalian culture is threatened by the “Feuilletonistische Epoche“, though the annoying protagonist eventually comes to believe that secluding oneself from the ignorant uncultured masses in the echt Castalian manner is Bad, and nobly sacrifices his position to go forth into a dark world to spread Culture.

    It seems to me that anybody who is a “huge fan” of this sort of thing is liable (neuropsychologist or no) to bring certain preconceptions to the study of the modern world of reading on screens. (Bad! Bad! Texting is ruining our young people’s brains, and – worse yet – their very spelling … We’re all doomed!)

    The picture of Hesse on the German WP page for Das Glasperlenspiel is wonderfully sinister, btw.

  189. “to bring certain preconceptions to the study of the modern world” – but : “pure evidence-collection without any kind of theory about what you’re investigating is impossible. (If you think that that is what you are actually doing, it’s because you are blind to your own unexamined assumptions.)

    Also I am a huge fan of Star Control II (a EGA game…).

  190. David Eddyshaw says

    I also suggested that it is important to have the capacity to modify (or even discard) your initial assumptions.

    “The Internet is rotting our brains” is a little tropelet in its own right. It perpetuates itself happily throughout mostly right-wing media, floating quite free of the world of real evidence.

    The most egregious Brit pusher of this comforting-to-old-buffers concept I can think of has been

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Greenfield%2C_Baroness_Greenfield#Impact_of_digital_technology_controversy

    The Grauniad has her number:

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2014/oct/03/mind-change-susan-greenfield-has-a-big-idea-but-what-is-it

    Professor Greenfield attributed the reluctance of the Royal Society to elect her to membership to sexism. Indeed, what other explanation could there possibly be for failing to elect someone who’s been on television so much?

  191. @David Eddyshaw: Unlike some of the purported fantasy classics I have read, A Voyage to Arcturus was definitely engaging, and I wanted to keep reading. However, I thought that purely imaginative episodes and elements of the narrative were far superior to the philosophical axe grinding. I enjoyed it, but it’s certainly not something that I expect to read again.

  192. January First-of-May says

    Dismembering is not a part of overt sexuality.

    As far as I’m concerned, some harmless consensual dismembering can absolutely be a part of sexuality. The hard part, in our current world, is making it sufficiently harmless; of course once we don’t limit things to this world, there are many possible solutions to that.

    (I was seriously tempted to link to some galleries of consensual dismembering porn. Unfortunately the ones I know of don’t entirely focus on the non-permanent versions.)

  193. I was seriously tempted to link to some galleries of consensual dismembering porn.

    Yeah, don’t do that. We all know Rule 34 and can imagine our own galleries.

  194. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    The Internet may have rotted my brain, but then being firmly rooted in consensus reality is a real drag when it comes to maintaining a rich inner life.

  195. As far as I’m concerned, some harmless consensual dismembering can absolutely be a part of sexuality

    This is a major theme in Crimes of the Future, the new Cronenberg film. May appeal to those who did not like Jackson’s LotR. Certainly better acting and plenty of grown up themes. Also, funnily enough, Viggo Mortensen stars in CotF as well.

  196. January First-of-May says

    This is a major theme in Crimes of the Future, the new Cronenberg film.

    Looking it up, I was thinking of, well, a bit more harmless than that [the word “dullahan” comes to mind] – and is it even consensual? – but yeah this does seem to be pretty close.

  197. Stu Clayton says

    [various judicious comments]

    You guys are underthinking this. I said dismemberment is not part of OVERT sexuality. Due to laws and such, it must be practiced covertly in order not to snuff itself out.

  198. David Eddyshaw says

    So to speak.

  199. JC: Any news about Gale?

  200. John Cowan says

    Sorry for my failure to update the LH community all this time. I realized that I was getting somewhat disconnected from bill-paying reality, and asked some of my friends and Gale’s (not two separate groups) to start calling me to making sure I hadn’t climbed into bed and covered up my head and said they could not find me. So I’ve been updating them instead.

    At any rate, Gale’s out of the hospital and in a rehab facility so she can recover her strength after months in bed. Unfortunately, it’s about a 90-minute commute from home each way, and has far shorter visiting hours, which mostly coincide with working hours, so I haven’t been able to see her as much as I would like. (It is the only rehab in NYC which provides both physical/occupational therapy and dialysis; see below.) The Great Wind Chill Spell of the past weekend didn’t help either, as it kept me indoors.

    She’s been through a whole series of nosocomial medical issues. Notably, the contrast medium used to look at her heart has damaged her kidneys to what they are calling “end-stage renal disease”, so she’ll need dialysis for the rest of her life (I suppose a transplant is a possibility, but at age 80 I doubt she’ll bubble up to the top of the transplant list. We’ll see), though she did not need it before. She had a second attack of Covid (the first ended was just before the stroke), and she had to spend several extra weeks in the hospital because she pulled out her own dialysis catheter. She also has incontinence (one of the few things that isn’t new) and several bedsores.

    At any rate, if it weren’t for all these other physical-mental shocks beyond the stroke, she’d be home now, but as things stand, no one has the slightest idea when that might happen. She is now talking to both me and the staff, but she has no continuity of memory from one visit to the next: if I come back after two days, she tells me I’ve been gone for a week and she has given up on me, and she doesn’t even remember who has and who has not seen her other than me. She also keeps asking me to explain over and over again why she can’t go home: it doesn’t seem to stick.

    As of a few days ago, she was screaming at me pretty much non-stop to take her home right away, but that’s not feasible, since she could barely sit up in the bed for more than 30 seconds (which is still an improvement). She has also gotten rather paranoid about her caretakers, and as she has had three different inhalation pneumonias they are keeping her on baby food, which she hates and mostly refuses to eat unless I feed her myself, so she is losing weight disturbingly, as I’m only there for about one out of every six meals.

    I asked for a copy of her paperwork, and they showed it to me: it is about a foot (30 cm) high, so asking them to copy it is not feasible. As a result, there are undoubtedly some details I have forgotten.

    The fact that she’s now smiling at me (when not screaming at me) does do a great deal to restore me, however. I still love her, and she says (again when not screaming) she loves me. Feel free to ask questions, as this report is far from complete.

  201. Jesus, that’s awful. Thanks for updating us, and I hope her situation improves pari passu with the weather.

  202. I went there yesterday evening and basically played music for her, which she says calms her down (and it really does). The playlist was mostly Stan Rogers: I started with “The Mary Ellen Carter”, which is a song of hope for recovery when almost despaired of (a ship, not a person, but the idea’s the same), and “Northwest Passage” (a journey to the sea), and then a series of love songs: “45 Years”, which is how long we’ve been together now; “The Field Behind the Plow”, about the combination of optimism and pessimism family farmers need to survive; and “Lock-Keeper”, about the adventure of staying home.

    I was going to go on to “Lies”, but she asked for Simon and Garfunkel, so as a joke I played “Wake Up, Little Susie” from the 1983 concern in Central Park (she muttered “That’s an old one” and I replied “Not as old as you” and snickered), and then “The Boxer”. Then they had to change her bed and visiting hours were over anyway, so I went home and ordered some dinner from a 24-hour restaurant, most of which I ended up tossing out today because I didn’t like how it tasted (no reflection on the restaurant; I’ve ordered from there before).

    I’m not linking all this stuff, but it’s on YouTube. Anyway, I know this is not CowanHat, but based on Trond’s and Hat’s encouragement I’ll continue to post about it sometimes, using this convenient page.

  203. Please do; I’m sure more Hatters than Trond and I are concerned and want to know what’s going on.

  204. thank you for letting us know, JC – that sounds incredibly trying and difficult, and i’m glad that gale has you by her side. sending hope for, and trust in, a refue shleyme.

  205. David Eddyshaw says

    Amen. Please keep posting.

  206. JC: Please keep posting here. And to echo one of my teachers when I was training to be a lifeguard a few decades ago (it feels like a lifetime ago): Helping others is admirable, but helping others requires a great of strength, so: Do not ever forget to take care of yourself in the process of helping others.

  207. +1

    (To adopt the cool kid custom for expressing concurrence in my Zoom chats.)

  208. J.W. Brewer says

    I will just add that it is an excellent and prudent arrangement to have a coterie of folks who will take the initiative to check in on John C. to ascertain whether he is or isn’t hiding under the covers (or staring out a window blankly with a whiskey bottle in hand) or whatnot, which takes the onus off him to e.g. post here as a way of signaling his degree of functionality. That those folks checking in on him do not leave an online record of it here doesn’t mean it isn’t a very good thing to have going on.

  209. I hope that Gale will get better and that you’ll be able to share many more happy years together!

  210. Thank you all for your encouragement. Last night after I left, Gale was sent to an ER/A&E for rectal bleeding (for whatever reason they chose a different hospital this time, possibly just a consequence of which doctor saw her this time) and has been admitted, but her floor is not answering its phone.

    To adopt the cool kid custom for expressing concurrence in my Zoom chats.

    I hope that cool kid is being used with irony here. I have been using +1 and -1 (and to a lesser extent +0, meaning ‘I do not oppose this’) on technical mailing lists literally for decades. It may be, however, that these forms are breaking out into the wider community. Michael Everson tried to ban them on the language-tag mailing list, but it turned out that he thought we expected him to actually add them up, which is not at all the case.

    A nice thing about cool kid is that it shows off the allophony of /k/ in English.

    a whiskey bottle in hand

    That at least I can rule out, not only because of my family history of alcoholism that induced me to go quietly teetotal in my pre-teens before I had taken a drink, but also because I find burning sensations in my oral mucosa so painful that I would spit out the first mouthful and take no more (it’s happened a time or two by accident). I also think beer smells like horse piss, while I am at it.

    I suppose I might have the bottle in hand, but for what? Once as a teenager I was unbearably and agonizingly bored, so I scratched myself with a (sterilized) pin to see if that would change anything. It did: I was then both agonizingly bored and in mild physical pain. I put on a band-aid and left it at that.

  211. J.W. Brewer says

    Perhaps not a literal whiskey bottle given John C.’s reported longstanding standoffishness toward the Water of Life, but it is, I would humbly submit, good for those who find themselves in certain sorts of stressful situations to be self-aware of the general human propensity to mitigate the effects of such stress via various forms of self-medication. When the same situation causing the stress also leads to the physical absence from the household of the long-time spouse or other companion who would otherwise be ideally positioned to notice and gently point out a perhaps imprudent uptick in self-medication compared to prior baseline, the risks can be heightened. But any kind of routine checking in by long-time friends willing to some extent to be busybodies will help mitigate some of these risks.

  212. > I have been using +1 and -1 (and to a lesser extent +0, meaning ‘I do not oppose this’) on technical mailing lists literally for decades. It may be, however, that these forms are breaking out into the wider community.

    Interesting. I first ran into +1 last summer in zooms with people from the NY/DC not-for-profit space (space being a similar word that, at least with that meaning, isn’t quite mainstream, but is wildly prevalent in the TedTalk/foundation space. I’m not in these worlds. I’m adjacent.)

    Initially, we only saw +1 in zooms, I think because there’s often a need to express agreement that would be verbal in a live meeting, and the thumbs up emoji seems too vapid. Though +1 is vapid as well. The people in my group made fun of it for months. Before we adopted it in full throat. In recent weeks, people have started speaking the words ‘plus one’, which I still find ridiculous. I suspect it’s still done tongue in cheek. But it will calcify.

    -1 wouldn’t be sporting in these forums. This is a space where happy emoji-dittoing can be obligatory, like Kundera’s forced, voiced laughter. Someone makes a comment you distantly recognize as intended to amuse, and suddenly 7 people have clicked the tears of laughter emoji, 5 of whom didn’t find it funny. Definitely no negative thoughts can be expressed so directly as by typing -1.

    We wrote a glossary over the first month of our participation, the verb to cabin being the opposite of to kitchen-sink, etc. A lot of gratuitous use of ROI to seem the sort of person who’s deeply involved in high finance. But the group expanded and now we don’t hear those much. Only +1 had staying power.

  213. Gut check outcome – my sister and brother-in-law have never seen or heard +1. Both are professionals who use zoom, but they’re in the manufacturing and retail spaces, respectively. My wife is not voting in this election. I used an arbitrary deadline to ensure her voice was suppressed.

  214. I don’t think I’m self-medicating past baseline; my tendency is toward self-neglect (failure to take my meds, especially, which entails getting less sleep and less regular sleep).

    Is this purely a chatter space? What do you do when a substantive proposal has been made that you disagree with? Does that require a full verbal expression?

  215. Stu Clayton says

    No, a “rhetorical question” will suit as well.

  216. At first, I thought you referred to JW’s substantive proposal for some Hatters to check in on you. But I think you’re asking about the use of +1.

    I was exaggerating. But the groupthink happy-emoji pressure is real. And negative expression would more typically be swaddled in ifs and buts so that the idea can be gently ushered out. A flat -1 could happen, but would seem harsh unless the presentation elicited it:

    >>Here’s an idea so-and-so who’s not one of us suggested, and I don’t really support it, but I thought I’d ask.

    > – 1

    I don’t find that so surprising. Most social settings I’m in, people are wary of outright rejection of ideas.

  217. I’d be reluctant to use an unhedged -1 there, because the original post is itself so hedged. But a proposal like “Let’s switch to Google Chat/Microsoft Teams!” could very well provoke a -1. It’s not uncommon for there to be an informal norm to follow -1 with some explanation or an alternative proposal; +1 can stand alone more easily.

  218. Stu Clayton says

    Most social settings groups I’m in are wary of outright rejection of ideas.

    That demonstrates good breeding. As the princess did who spent sleepless nights lying on a dried pea, instead of throwing it out the window for the birds.

  219. There is a natural tendency to expect positivity in social interactions, but it that expectation can lead to problems.

  220. David Marjanović says

    I think I encountered +1 around the time Google+ started. I’ve never seen -1 or +0 before.

    Please do; I’m sure more Hatters than Trond and I are concerned and want to know what’s going on.

    Oh yes. I simply have nothing intelligent to add.

  221. At the moment I will take even stupid. “I have no comment, and I am making it”, to turn Cage up to 11.

    I heard from the hospital. The rectal bleeding has stopped for whatever reason, but other problems have recurred and appeared thick and fast. I see I didn’t mention atrial fibrillation and low blood pressure as among the problems she’s had during this process: well, she has them again: her systolic blood pressure is 90 despite extremely heavy-duty BP-raising drugs. One of the side effects of the drugs she is getting is mottling in the skin of the extremities, which is an early sign of necrosis, so there’s a balancing act here. This plus the kidney problems plus some kind of lung issue which is keeping her oxygen saturation low (70%) adds up to multiple organ failure, which is not a good thing, at all.

    She still hasn’t been eating enough: she’s going to be put on a nasogastric feeding tube for the second time.. I have urged extreme watchfulness, given that she had three episodes of inhalation pneumonia from the first tube. Another balancing act. They are also going to put her on a breathing tube, which means more sedation. “How many blows can a mind sustain / While still you can call it a mind? / … / The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind / The answer is blowing in the wind.”

    I have for the fourth time now filled each institution in on her wishes: if her heart stops or whatever, resuscitate her; but if she enters a persistent vegetative state or has otherwise lost her mind (as from a second stroke), keep her comfortable and let her die. This is the closest she’s come to that in my time (she almost died of a Crohn’s attack many years ago, but her Crohn’s actually disappeared completely when she was 40 — her doctor said that if she had not personally made the diagnosis, she would have refused to believe that Gale ever had Crohn’s given the total lack of scarring on her bowel. If she does die, I will find the cheapest and most expeditious way of disposing of the corpse, as I have zero attachment to it. If there is to be a memorial service, it will be up to others to arrange it.

  222. January First-of-May says

    I’ve never seen -1 or +0 before.

    Now that I think about it -1 might have came up a few times, but if so it was very rare and I can’t think of any specific examples offhand. +0 is new to me, though I think I have seen the likes of +1000 to indicate enthusiastic support.

    I have no idea when I first encountered +1. It was a while ago. To me this seemed like an instant-messaging thing, so Discord and/or WhatsApp/Skype; I was never really active on IRC, and ICQ was before my time, but I imagine it must have been common on the former, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it existed on the latter (chronologically earlier).
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in Zoom, but I hadn’t been in many Zoom calls. I know I’ve been using the verbal form (in Russian: плюс один) since long before I discovered Zoom existed.

    On further consideration, David might be right here – that is, Google+ introduced +1 as the default reaction, and this might have taken it into the mainstream even if it was an obscure mailing-list thing before.
    …actually, now that I’ve remembered the Russian form, a search for the common erratized variant плюсадын easily finds instances from 2010 and 2009. So it’s definitely older than Google+, at least.

    but it turned out that he thought we expected him to actually add them up, which is not at all the case

    The actually-add-them-up version goes “seconded”, “thirded”, “fourthed” and so on; it usually lasts to no more than 6-7 before either the conversation goes somewhere else or someone loses count.

  223. David Marjanović says

    “How many blows can a mind sustain / While still you can call it a mind? / … / The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind / The answer is blowing in the wind.”

    “It turns out that [wájnd] did use to be the pronunciation of wind for a long time. The OED entry for wind, written in the early 20th century, actually says that the word is still commonly taken to rhyme with [-ajnd] by “modern poets”; and Bob Copper and co. can be heard pronouncing winds as [wájndz] in their recording of “The Banks of the Sweet Primroses”. The [wínd] pronunciation reportedly became usual in Standard English only in the 17th century. It is hypothesized to be a result of backformation from the derivatives windy and windmill, in which lengthening never occurred because the [nd] cluster was not in word-final position. It is unlikely to be due to avoidance of homophony with the verb wind, because the words spent several centuries being homophonous without any issues arising.”

    …oh, I see you’ve commented on that post.

  224. My daughter and her family are driving up from Virginia to see Gale for the last time: they are expected to be here in about three hours. She’s unresponsive now: she’s intubated and on three different pressors (BP-raising meds), and her systolic pressure is barely 60 now. She’s also on fentanyl to keep her out of pain. We have all agreed that after they get here and say goodbye, everything will be turned off and she will die pretty much immediately after that. So this is it.

    I just sang her one of Tolkien’s songs from The Road Goes Ever On (music composed and performed on the piano by Donald Swann[*], singing by William Elvin), namely “I Sit Beside the Fire and Think”, which she wants sung at her memorial:

    I sit beside the fire and think
    Of all that I have seen
    Of meadow-flowers and butterflies
    In summers that have been

    Of yellow leaves and gossamer
    In autumns that there were
    With morning mist and silver sun
    And wind upon my hair

    I sit beside the fire and think
    Of how the world will be
    When winter comes without a spring
    That I shall ever see

    For still there are so many things
    That I have never seen
    In every wood in every spring
    There is a different green

    I sit beside the fire and think
    Of people long ago
    And people who will see a world
    That I shall never know

    But all the while I sit and think
    Of times there were before
    I listen for returning feet
    And voices at the door

    She would have been 80 on April 2nd, and we would have been together 45 years (and married for 40) on Halloween.

    [*] The song “Namarie” was composed by Tolkien; it’s a sort of Gregorian chant, and was sung a cappella.

  225. Oh, hell, JC. I’m so sorry. But that’s a wonderful song to go out on. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  226. Stu Clayton says

    It’s a terrible thing when people you love die, John. I’ve been through that a few times. And am no wiser than before.

  227. Thirded. I too am so sorry to learn this piece of news. That poem/song is lovely -Gale definitely had excellent taste.

  228. I’m so sorry, John. Because you’ve shared so much of your life here, I’ve long thought of Gale as one of the regulars.

  229. Gosh, sorry, John.

  230. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed yes.

  231. So sorry to hear.

  232. Irene and Dorian got here and we said goodbye. Gale was detubated (?) and disconnected from her pressor drugs, plus more fentanyl. She died at 10:48 EST (UTC – 5). As C. M. Kornbluth said in “The Marching Morons”, death is the end of pain.

  233. joining the chorus: i’m so sorry, JC.

  234. Alon Lischinsky says

    I’m so sorry, John

  235. My deepest condolences on your loss, John.

  236. “I love you” has something of the flavour of “I’m strongly biased in your favour.”

    Indeed. We in the neo-Peircean community see love as a compound emotion with two parts, (passive) appreciation and (active) devotion. Mere appreciation reduces the beloved to a kind of work of art, and it is — not objective exactly, because what Alice appreciates, Bob may be indifferent to and Charlie downright repulsed by — but impersonal; one may have a purely aesthetic response to a nude painting or sculpture, but it is after all a representation of person with no clothes on, generally in a pose designed to elicit a sexual response. The Victorians had a point, their trouble was an inability to realize just what one can get used to in the right context; the point is often made that a woman wearing a bikini shows more flesh than a woman wearing only a bra and panties, but the latter is far more sexualized.

    There is a third element to love, which is the irreplaceability of the beloved. Without that, one has loyalty rather than love. You can be loyal to your team, but if you move away and stop attending their games (this example is of course set in a time when games were mostly attended rather than watched, e.g. secondary-school teams today), you can readily transfer your loyalty to your new team. I loved Gale (I hardly know whether to say loved or love) as I have loved others before and since, but there can be no other Gale in my life.

  237. J.W. Brewer says

    Aιώνια η μνήμη. It is almost 15 years since the “new widower” phase of my own life began, and I can assure John that uncertainties of tense and aspect etc. in referring to the beloved or ones own status vis-a-vis the beloved may seem ubiquitous for a while. My advice FWIW is at least in the short term to utter/type whatever first draft, in that regard, your brain is sending to your mouth or fingers and not try to self-consciously edit or impose some sort of consistent house style. Most of my memories from the first year or so of my own experience have been kind of tucked away in deep storage where I don’t ruminate over them very often, but they remain retrievable if desirable, such as where they might be of potential use to someone else trying to navigate their own, inevitably different and distinct, circumstances. So if I can be of any assistance, do not hesitate etc.

  238. Love was my first instinct.

  239. Don’t say with sorrow: they are not there
    But with gratitude: they were

  240. I’m so sorry, John. My condolences.

  241. My condolences, too.

  242. David Marjanović says

    *insert Gilgamesh’s lament for Enkidu*

    I’ve spent a few hours (I think) looking for a particular blog post that takes that as its starting point. Can’t find it. 🙁

  243. Andrej Bjelaković says

    My condolences, John.

  244. John, my sympathies to you and those around you and Gale.

    If it helps to post here, by all means carry on. If it suddenly doesn’t help, don’t. No expectations.

  245. I have observed an ongoing paradox that when people contact me to condole me, I often find themselves comforting them, either for their own suffering at Gale’s loss, or from what (in an excess of empathy) they take to be my own suffering. At the moment it’s more of a dull ache plus a sense of relief that I actually feel.

  246. Indeed, mourning is a most personal thing, and as often as not, when you mourn someone, it doesn’t match the stereotype of how it’s expected to be.

  247. Trond Engen says

    Adding my voice to the elegy.

    Both of my parents and more recently my father-in-law died from different cancers. Relief was certainly a prominent feeling with all of them, and for very different reasons. Some of those reasons were noble and others less so.

    It has sometimes struck me that the sort of disproportional grief we may feel with the death of royalty, celebreties or other distant people of some personal importance to us is the sense of loss without all those other feelings that come with being close.

  248. Have thou and I not against all fates conspired
    And seized this sorry scheme of things entire?
    Have we not shattered it to bits, and then
    Shaped it closer to the heart’s desire?
    —Omar Khayyam > Edward Fitzgerald > Norman Spinrad >me

  249. this comment from [only a few months ago, and I’d forgotten it]

    … my dad gushes over good acting and is quick to point it out; I don’t notice it – I guess I suspend disbelief and immerse myself in the story,

    Ref m’learned colleague on a current thread — which I don’t want to pollute further.

    Clearly I’ve been labouring under a misunderstanding all my (literary) life. If I can “immerse myself in the story”, I can believe it as a possible-world. Good acting helps to make it more believable. I don’t have any “disbelief” needing suspending. Tristram Shandy — to take one of my favourites (I have been to the actual house in Yorkshire) — or Ulysses/James Joyce — to take another — or Odysseus/Homer (I’ve visited temples in Greece) — seem to me absolutely stuffed with true-to-life. I feel no need to suspend anything. Merchant/Ivory settings of E.M.Foster the same.

    Contrast a recent Booker winner/placed in a supposedly historical NZ setting ‘The Luminaries’. I don’t care how much historical research Catton (allegedly) did. It’s a load of codswallop full of cardboard personas. I don’t believe any of those people could have existed/nor have behaved in such contrived (by the author) ways.

    Tolkien/horror movies (where I want to yell ‘get out of there, you idiots!’) are asking me to suspend the belief this is a possible world. So I call it ‘suspending belief’.

  250. David Marjanović says

    I thought “suspension of disbelief” meant “not constantly remembering that this is fiction”.

  251. @David Marjanović: I don’t think so. One can read Barchester Towers knowing full well at every moment that the city of Barchester and the eponymous cathedral are completely fictional. In fact, it may improve the experience, knowing one can choose one’s favorite picturesque streets and buildings to represent the ones in the story. But that is not disbelief; nor is forgetting that the whole setting is fictional suspension of disbelief.

    Suspension of disbelief comes into play when one’s natural, involuntary reaction to a story element, as a reader, or viewer, or listener, is that it could not be (as opposed to simply is not) real; yet one puts that out of mind for the sake of enjoying the story. Get Out has plenty of obviously unrealistic elements—including the neurosurgical technology and the caricature of liberal views on race—but that observation is easy to set aside, since they are key parts of an engaging plot. In Dune, the presence of a magical drug produced from the bodies of giant annelids who live on a deadly desert planet is no problem; it is easy for a reader to suspend disbelief, because those elements make for an interesting and compelling science fiction story—however manifestly absurd they are by real-world standards. However, if Get Out had ended the villains abruptly swallowed up by a Shai-Hulud bursting out of the ground, that would probably not work; one’s suspension of disbelief would almost certainly fail in the face of such deus vermis ex machina.* Similarly, some readers (including myself) have much harder time suspending disbelief regarding the sociological elements of Dune—since the people in the story (in contrast to the vagaries of the alien environment) are apparently intended to be representative of realistic human behavior.

    * I tried to use Google Translate to get the cases right here, since I don’t know Latin. However, it seemed to have really trouble translating “worm god” into Latin. It kept wanting to translate the worm part with a form of tergum. I wonder if there is some overexposure in the training data to scientific works discussing ecdysozoan cuticles.

  252. I agree with Brett.

  253. Stu Clayton says

    The WiPe article gives a dispassionate overview of the expression “suspension of disbelief” vel sim used down the ages, especially as-one-knows promoted by Coleridge (for it is he!):

    #
    The traditional concept of the suspension of disbelief as proposed by Coleridge is not about suspending disbelief in the reality of fictional characters or events but the suspension of disbelief in the supernatural.[10] This can be demonstrated in the way the reader suspends his disbelief in ghosts rather than the non-fictionality of the ghosts in a story. According to Coleridge’s theory, suspension of disbelief is an essential ingredient for any kind of storytelling.

    The phrase “suspension of disbelief” came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century, often used to imply that the burden was on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it. This might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. These premises may also lend to the engagement of the mind and perhaps proposition of thoughts, ideas, art and theories.[11] With a film, for instance, the viewer has to ignore the reality that they are viewing a staged performance and temporarily accept it as their reality in order to be entertained. Early black-and-white films are an example of visual media that require the audience to suspend their disbelief for this reason.[12]

    Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres in written literature and visual arts. Cognitive estrangement in fiction involves using a person’s ignorance to promote suspension of disbelief.[13]
    #

  254. One usually hears this statement with the pronouns this way round, for some reason.

    I remember a song (but Dr. Google not helpful today) that goes “I’m not a jealous woman / but I don’t know what he sees in her / I don’t know what he sees in her / I don’t know what he sees in her!” I remember it not for artistic merit but for its demonstration of English contrastive stress.

  255. John Cowan says

    Is this statement not a bit normative? Who are we to condemn the simple pleasures of others?

    Indeed. In the fictional universe in which I used to write, a large fraction (perhaps 1/3 to 1/6) of the population are (oversimplifying greatly) vampires, of the Anne Rice instant-death type rather than the Dracula a-little-bit-at-a-time type. One of the human characters calls herself Ppling (the first P is silent); she compensates for her boring life as a barista by planning an Epic Poem (she thinks in capitals) about the Old Days, in which vampires built up a civilization based on breeding humans as food, one per month per vampire (your vampiric tax dollars at work) — supplementing this, like many agricultural societies, by hunting “wild” humans as their ancestors had done. (Of course, human hunters don’t have to deal with rifle-equipped deer.) The theme of the Epic is the ecstasy of the Kill, not for the vampire (who actually experiences it as quasi an addictive drug) but for the human who is Killed, against all evidence that the Kill from the human perspective is merely agonizing pain with no redeeming elements whatsoever.

    Ppling has nothing but disdain for the modern era in which vampires are, for the most part, sustained on blood-bank blood, something even more boring than being a barista. Indeed, one day she is attacked by a juvenile vampire who didn’t quite make it to the blood bank that month, whereupon she discovers that she is in fact one of the rare humans who can survive vampire attacks with nothing more than a headache. When she wakes up from the attack, she is mostly annoyed: she fell on her bum and it hurts, and the vampire tore her coat (it’s winter) and she’s out the money for a new one. She’s a minor character, so we never do find out whether she writes the Poem and/or goes on to a well-paid, if boring, career as a blood-bank technician.

    =====

    Gale’s cremains were returned to me today in the mail, about 2 kg worth of them. They are usually called ashes, but in fact they are small bone fragments and dust. Cremains is of course a portmanteau word, one of the few non-Carroll ones that have made it into the language. They were accompanied by five copies of her death certificate plus a “Confidential Medical Report”; apparently the powers that be no longer think that someone who needs proof of death needs to actually know “of which death the dead [person] was died”, whether “bellycrab” or otherwise.

    This document lists the immediate cause of death as Gram-negative sepsis from a urinary tract infection “due to or a consequence of” end-stage renal disease. No mention of contrast medium, heart problems, or pneumonia, not to mention the fact that the immediate cause was removing the oxygen and the pressor drugs until her vital statistics were all zeros. Producer-product theory FTW. Indeed, the ultimate cause of death is no doubt birth.

    In a few weeks, depending on logistics, the cremains will be interred close to the Austerlitz house near the cremains of my parents, some other relatives, and various feline persons. It’s a nice grassy spot between two trees where we used to sling a hammock in the summer.

  256. J.W. Brewer says

    The bitter voice of experience within me wants to say to John Cowan “Dude, you’re probably gonna need more than 5 copies for all the stupid BS paperwork you’re eventually gonna have to deal with.”

    The more positive voice within me says “May all those whose mortal remains are interred at Austerlitz (N.Y.) be untroubled by the unquiet ghosts of Napoleon and/or President Van Buren.”

  257. John Cowan says

    I have already ordered another five copies, which various sources (online and off) agree is more than enough. And thank you for the wish.

  258. John Cowan says

    The person whose friend is going to transport me and the cremains to their final destination hasn’t been able to arrange this yet, so they are still sitting on my dining room table (this is perfectly sanitary, I hasten to add) in a light blue plastic box that contains a perfectly ordinary plastic bag. When we do make it there, I’ll be inviting the Boston folks as well, who (unlike me) have cars and can drive.

    =====

    Gale’s memorial was held on May 6th at the New York City Writers’ Room, because its executive director is the person mentioned in the previous paragraph, who volunteered the space, rather than because Gale had any connection with the institution. Some people, notably Irene and her children, attended by Zoom; it was recorded, and when I get told where this is archived, I’ll leave a link.

    Like my father’s memorial, the Event was in the nature of a Quaker meeting: we had a period of silence, and then people came to the mike (needed for Zoom purposes) and told their stories. I was the first to do so: after rambling on for a bit, I sang the Tolkien song I mentioned above: I wasn’t sure when I posted earlier that I would be able to do so in front of 30-odd friends, but I was. Since then I have undertaken to have dinner with various attendees, excepting the out-of-town ones.

    My biggest problem at present has been insomnia (see the timestamp of this posting) and the concomitant difficulty in getting up in time for work. I don’t think I’m going to lose my job over this, but I wish I could find another job, as I am finding this one tedious (though well-paid, fortunately).

    ======

    My fifth grandchild, Elena (with commas), will make her appearance early next month by C-section. There seems to be some debate (infinite are the arguments of mages obstetricians as to whether this will happen at T – 2 weeks in her case rather than the more usual T – 1 week, so I am trying to arrange my arrival at Virginia Beach appropriately. I’m a little concerned that I’ll have trouble working down there (a household with four non-talking children (“Irish quadruplets”) is more than somewhat distracting), but I’ll do whatever’s necessary. I should explain that Luca Avgust(ovich), the eldest of the four, is probably autistic as well as definitely {earw,banj}axed, which between them mean that he doesn’t talk despite being four years old: he just screams.

    ======

    So far I have needed only one death certificate, to persuade the bank that my joint accounts are no longer joint, everyone else being happy to take my word for it. I assume that the tax authorities will need the same. I’ve been trying to figure out without success whether i have to pay Gale’s unpaid dental bill: it seems to me that tooth replacement should not count as essential medical services, but I don’t actually know.

  259. PlasticPaddy says

    @jc
    Maybe consider telling the dentist you would like to donate the amount on the bill to his preferred charity?

  260. Thanks for that report, JC. If I had been in town I would have wanted to be there. I hope your workplace is as tolerant/understanding as mine was when I was in a parallel state (after my mother’s death and during my divorce). Hang in there.

  261. J.W. Brewer says

    @JC. My recollection (which could be inaccurate, and/or the rules might conceivably have changed) is that the tax authorities just took my word for it. Or perhaps didn’t need to just take my word for it because they shared information/database-access behind the scenes with the Social Security Administration which tries very hard to keep track of which SS #’s are associated with people who are not eligible for future benefit checks because they are no longer alive?

  262. John Cowan says

    Maybe consider telling the dentist you would like to donate the amount on the bill to his preferred charity?

    Fifteen thousand smackers, or whatever it is? I think not.

  263. PlasticPaddy says

    @jc
    A bill of this level probably represents something like thirty to forty hours professional work, plus materials, tax and business overheads. I think you may need (apart from any ethical considerations) to engage with the creditor (or face ugly and protracted legal or debt collection proceedings). If you think the amount is too much for the work done, then you can get a breakdown and/or plead reduced circumstances. The dental practice may be run by gougers, but it is not responsible for Gayle’s death.

  264. PlasticPaddy, it’s really none of your business, and if I were you I would have let it go after the first (unsolicited) suggestion.

  265. PlasticPaddy says

    OK, sorry for any distress caused.

  266. John Cowan says

    To clarify, in common law countries one does not inherit the debts of the deceased, with certain exceptions, of which “necessary costs” is one. I have not been able to find out definitively whether this kind of dental repair counts as necessary.

  267. David Marjanović says

    Open access!

  268. I’m a little concerned about JC — he hasn’t commented in a while and hasn’t responded to my e-mail. Anybody know how he’s doing, or know how to reach him? I don’t have his phone number.

  269. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    No updates on his LinkedIn since he stopped at Bank of America. But it has his phone number, I’ll email it to you.

  270. Alas, it appears to be no longer valid.

  271. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Possibly an old work phone. I messaged him on there.

  272. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Answer on LinkedIn 10 minutes ago. JC is snowed under from job search stuff, catching up with email.

  273. Whew! For this relief much thanks.

  274. Stu Clayton says

    Good.

  275. Trond Engen says

    Good news. And let’s hope he comes out from under the snow with a job.

  276. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I sent him a link to this thread.

    Fair warning: JC now lists XSLT on his CV, and I spent 5 months last fall doing that as well. Trigger us at your own risk.

  277. Stu Clayton says

    Into every life a little weird shit must fall. I did my statutory few months a while back.

    <xsl:output omit-xml-declaration=”no”/>
      <xsl:template match=”node()|@*”>
        <xsl:copy>
          <xsl:apply-templates select=”node()|@*”/>
        </xsl:copy>
      </xsl:template>

      <!– remove PMD nature by replacing it with blank –>
      <xsl:template match=”projectDescription/natures/nature[text() =
        ‘net.sourceforge.pmd.eclipse.pmdNature’]”/>
      …

    It must be a good thing to have that on your CV. I bet it’s not at all “popular” with cloud-brained agile Reactive event-driven young programmers. Only us old guys have the nerves of steel to do what needs to be done.

  278. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I had a feeling that Stu would know whereof I spoke.

    Free hint to event-driven agilists: When you understand section 6.7.1 of the TR, things will no longer seem like magic. You do however need to understand the whole TR before you can understand 6.7.1. This is still easier than the HoTT book where you understand nothing truly until you understand all, but still not agile enough for the modern age, I suspect.

  279. David Eddyshaw says

    According to WP:

    While XSLT was originally designed as a special-purpose language for XML transformation, the language is Turing-complete, making it theoretically capable of arbitrary computations

    The fools! The fools! They’ve doomed us all with their unholy meddling!

  280. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Just wait until they program a compiler in XSLT. With XSLT as its object language.

    Vade retro, indeed.

  281. Okay, you got me remembering and I went and found an .xsl file on the disk from eighteen years ago with this comment.

    <!-- If this is method="html", then FireFox gets a little further in
    processing this stylesheet on the client side when the .XML
    file is opened. It makes a HTML document and binds the
    document Javascript variable. But it messes up internally
    inside the Google Maps API script.

    Unfortunately, when Xalan transforms the file that way, it
    writes character entity references inside constant strings
    inside the script element. This is contrary to section 16.2 of
    the XSLT spec. And marker titles then display wrong.

    So, in balance, XML is the best we can do.
    -->
    <xsl:output method="xml" encoding="utf-8" omit-xml-declaration="yes"/>

    So at least back then you couldn’t actually use XSL with an XML file as a stylesheet in the browser. You had to run it though the XSLT processor to get an [X]HTML file.

  282. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @MMcM, I think that’s just a snippet meant to be included from a larger stylesheet, or possibly used with a processor that defaults almost everything. Also Firefox may have become more compliant — my project didn’t involve sending non-HTML documents to browsers, so I have no experience.

Speak Your Mind

*