An interesting passage on language, nationality, and modernism from Terry Eagleton’s LRB review of Long Time, No See by the Irish writer Dermot Healy (which came out in 2007!):

Someone once remarked that Synge wrote in Irish and English simultaneously. The English of this novel is inhabited from the inside by the tones and rhythms of Irish, so that from the viewpoint of Standard English its idiom is as persistently off-key as its realism. Synge almost never uses an Irishism that you might not hear in real life, but nobody in Ireland talks like that all the time, or ever did. His characters speak in poetry, not prose. Joejoe, Mister Psyche, the Blackbird and their colleagues are far from poetical personages, yet their everyday talk is flavoured with the speech habits of a foreign idiom. ‘It would make a dog think,’ ‘you long black bastard’, ‘It’s a grand class of a day,’ ‘He was like a shook fox,’ ‘trying to keep the chat from going dark’, ‘a lock of food’: such phrases are as foreign to English ears as Healy’s writing is remote from the English novel of suburban adultery. ‘She was like the hare, enchanted,’ Joejoe says of a former girlfriend in an unwonted outbreak of emotion. ‘The hare has a lot to answer for. Filling you with the gra then going down to wash her clothes and hair at low tide and leaving you here be yourself. That’s all I can say, it skips through your mind, all men’s mind, so I’ll leave it.’ The sentences are curious partly because the speaker, like most characters in the book, is obeying the laws of private fantasy rather than public logic, but also because of the spectral presence within them of a language other than English.
Being stranded between two tongues in this way is one reason Ireland proved so hospitable to modernism. In fact, it was the only part of what were then the British Isles in which a flourishing native modernism, as opposed to one imported from abroad, actually took root. Modernism tends to thrive in conditions of political turbulence, which was more in evidence in the Ireland of the time than it was in Britain. Ireland achieved partial independence at the point of a gun at just the time Ulysses was published. Modernist art also tends to spring from the collision between tradition and modernity, which was evident enough in the nation of Yeats and Lady Gregory. It is typically the work of literal or internal émigrés, men and women caught on the hop between different cultures and languages. If literary modernism is the point at which language comes to be about language, taking itself as the object of its own inquiry, this vein of verbal self-consciousness was already obvious in a country for which language had long been a political minefield. The members of the Gaelic League did not just speak Irish; they spoke it combatively, self-consciously, which is not quite how E.M. Forster spoke English.

A piquant remark later on in the review: “It is said of some of the Celtic Revivalists that they translated their work so often from Irish to English and back that they sometimes forgot which language they had written in to begin with.”


  1. I take it Eagleton is a passable English scholar?
    Pity he doesn’t stick to that.

  2. Another book that I think benefits from being between two languages is the memoir Red Azalea, by Anchee Min, who didn’t learn English until well into adulthood. At first reading the style seems simply rough, without graces; but then you realize that English words have been carefully and accurately deployed, without ever using an English cliché. I don’t know any Chinese, so I can’t say what’s Chinese about the shape of the sentences and passages, but there are turns of phrase that surely must be literally translated. The whole thing seems like a difficult and successful attempt to put Chinese-language memories into English (and it’s a really insightful reflection on sex and personal relations in Communist China too).

  3. ^seconded on this reminding me of Red Azalea, great novel.

  4. I don’t buy Terry Eagleton’s half-baked theory. For a start, there wasn’t much flourishing native modernism in Ireland that wasn’t literary. Why would his conditions that “proved so hospitable to modernism” have had no impact on art, music and architecture? Eileen Grey and Francis Bacon who both came from Anglo-Irish backgrounds couldn’t wait to leave for London and Paris; I can’t think of any other non-literary Irish modernists apart from Yeats’s painter brother Jack, and though there must be some they weren’t of the same calibre as Joyce and co. As for the “conditions”: it’s absurd to say there wasn’t political turbulence in Britain during the period that runs from about the time of the foundation of the Labour Party to the General Strike and the Depression: what about the suffragettes? the First World War? Does he think a few more weeks in the trenches would have turned Rupert Brooke into J. M. Synge?
    Modernist art also tends to spring from the collision between tradition and modernity, which was evident enough in the nation of Yeats and Lady Gregory.
    The collision between tradition and modernity was not less evident in the nation of Lutyens and William Golding. What sprang from the collision between tradition and modernity is Postmodernism.

  5. I guess the modernism of Virginia Woolf, Wyndham Lewis, Edith Sitwell, and D.H. Lawrence was imported, according to Eagleton? But from what country exactly? I guess you could argue that Eliot and Pound exported a certain modernism to London, but that certainly doesn’t exhaust British modernism.

  6. Wyndham Lewis certainly imported his modernism (Vorticism) from the pre-war Italy of the Futurists. Of course you could argue that he was Canadian anyway. Virginia Woolf despised Joyce and certainly didn’t rate him, I remember she called him a (something-) “little” man in a typical British upper-middle-class putdown. I don’t think of Eliot’s modernism as imported, it’s connected to England and English places or at least place names. Lawrence seems completely English to me – on a personal level he might not seem quite so creepy and disgusting to me if he’d actually been Irish instead of coming from Nottingham.

  7. Tadhg Dall O hUiginn says

    Why do people write this kind of stuff about the Irish? J.M. Synge was an English speaking protestant. He was no more “stranded between two languages” or “caught on the hop betweeen different cultures” than the Queen is. His interest in the Irish language was fleeting affectation brought about by a summer holiday in the Aran islands. By the way, the term British Isles still includes Ireland, being a geographical expression and not a political one.

  8. the term British Isles still includes Ireland
    There’s no reason not to change it to Irish Isles, in my opinion.

  9. Jonathan Mayhew says

    But anyway it is dumb to think of modernism, the quintessentially international movement, is “native” to any place.

  10. I don’t know about that. Constructivist architects rather cleverly reworked a number of features from vernacular Russian architecture that are still singularly Russian. And some of the worst, most boring modern architecture is in the “International Style” – named after Hitchcock & Johnson’s book on early modernism – the buildings of Lincoln Center or the gridded and striped corporate cigarette boxes on Park Avenue, for example. In the words of Auden,

    Due to the Curse of Babel, poetry is the most provincial of the arts, but today, when civilization is becoming monotonously the same all the world over, one feels inclined to regard this as a blessing rather than a curse: in poetry, at least, there cannot be an ‘International Style’.

  11. No doubt, Crown. But what I have never understood is: was it meant to be bad and boring, or is that just the way we see what its creators meant to be splendid and soaring? I should really like to be enlightened on this point.

  12. Bathrobe says

    ‘Bad and boring’ vs ‘splendid and soaring’. I like that!

  13. That’s a good question, and the short answer is no, I know of no building that is intended to be bad or boring. There is an expression “dumb” (describing a building as “it’s just a dumb box”, for example) that’s used as praise, but nobody using it thinks “dumb” is also “bad”. (Bad is also subjective, I bet there are lots of buildings I like that you don’t and vice versa.)
    Modernism alienated people towards architecture, as it did towards literature. Architects really build to please other architects; a phenomenon that occurs in other art forms too. Those things don’t help, but I’m guessing you’re thinking especially about corporate modernism, Sixth Avenue in the 50s. That began in the US after WW2 (New York got MOMA and a little bit of post-Art Deco modernism at Robert Moses’ World’s Fair during the thirties, but big corporations building in the modernist style only got going after the war). Most of that work was designed by firms of architects that themselves had the structure of a big corporation, so what was anyway a very abstract kind of design (stripes of metal stone and glass) was being executed by an anonymous group of people. That didn’t help.
    But you’re talking about indisputably bad and boring work. Well, there have indeed been some influential and prolific architects whose work was mostly bad: Philip Johnson is the most notorious and that was a story of power and influence rather than a fight over aesthetics. The interesting point about Johnson is that his BEST work was in the Modernist style (he’s credited as co-designer, with Mies, of the Seagram Building), and it’s only later that his work became truly awful. I love his Glass House in Connecticut, that he built as a youngish man under Mies’s influence. Later on, in the 1980s, he made a couple of hideous proposals for Times Square, but my favorite of his really terrible buildings is the PPG Building in Pittsburg, based on Barry’s Houses of Parliament. How he got into a position to build this stuff is a long story. He lived to be 100-ish, and because of his connections and enormous influence few people ever said a bad word against him in public (the reward he gave for this obeisance was steering big commissions towards others).

  14. “Modernism alienated people towards architecture, as it did towards literature. Architects really build to please other architects; a phenomenon that occurs in other art forms too.”
    Much architecture is necessarily inflicted on the general public in a way that, say, death metal or a three-act opera score for comb and accordion isn’t. Only a small minority of the people who see an average building will be architects or likely to share architects’ tastes; to me it’s a failing in an architect to build something that architects will appreciate but no-one else.

  15. To me it’s a failing in an architect to build something that architects will appreciate but no-one else.
    Yes, that’s a good point. To make the case for the other side, some architects don’t think they have to take the role of performing seals providing a service to the consumer. They may prefer, for political or intellectual reasons of their own, to engage the public on their own terms.

  16. from The Best of Myles (A collection of Flann O’Brien’s column in the Irish Times and quoted here only because of weird coincidences in my reading this weekend)
    A lifetime of cogitation has convinced me that in this Anglo Irish literature of ours (which for the most part is neither Anglo, Irish, not literature) nothing in the whole galaxy of fake is compatible with Synge. That comic ghoul with his wakes and mugs of Porter should be destroyed finally and forever by having a drama festival at which all his place could be revived for the benefit of the younger people of today. The younger generation should be shown what their fathers and grand-daddies went through for Ireland, and at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.
    We in this country had a bad time through the centuries when England did not like us. But words choke in the pen when one comes to describe what happened to us when the English discovered that we were rather interesting people actually, that we were nice, witty, brave, fearfully seltic (sic) and fiery, lovable, strong, lazy, boozy, impulsive, hospitable, decent, and so on till you weaken. From that date the mouth-corners of our smaller intellectuals (of whom we have more per thousand births than any country in the world) began to betray the pale froth of literary epilepsy. Our writers, fascinated by the snakelike eye of London publishers, developed exhibitionism to the sphere of acrobatics… …. Listen in the next time when there is some bought and paid for Paddy broadcasting from the BBC and you will understand me better.
    This trouble probably began with Lever and Lover, but I always think that in Synge we have the virus isolated and recognisable. Here is stuff that anybody who knows the Ireland referred to, simply will not have. It is not that Synge make people less worthy or nasty, or even better than they are, but he bought forward with the utmost solemnity amusing clowns talking a sub language of their own and bade us take them very seriously. There was no harm done there, because we have long had the name of having heads on us. But when the counterfeit bauble began to be admired outside Ireland by reason of its oddity and ‘charm’, it soon became part of the literary credo here that Synge was a poet and a wild Celtic god, a bit of an genius… … (and )we, who knew the whole insides out of it, preferred to accept the ignorant valuations of outsiders on things Irish.

  17. For place read plays

  18. Bathrobe says

    to engage the public on their own terms
    A marvellous expression. And I suspect untranslatable into many languages. The meaning is also tantalisingly vague. Could it be rephrased as ‘I do what I want and the public can put up with it?’ Or are there other, better ways of putting it?

  19. What I meant was that rather than supplying a public service (providing easily-accepted, nice buildings), they might want to stir things up a bit and question what’s nice. To do that, they have to sort of set their own agenda. A good example of that attitude can be found in the work of Peter Eisenman, someone I worked for when I was young (and whose work I’ve never specially liked – but it IS interesting).

  20. The Best of Myles – I rather hope not. This is pretty dreary stuff, just more of the boring neverending quarrel about what’s really “Irish” and what’s fake, nothing to do with what’s good or bad about Synge. I can understand why O’Brien didn’t like him; and as a real Gaelic speaker (and writer) he had some reason, I suppose, to look on him as a “dilettante.” But Synge was really a poet – that much Eagleton gets right. Think of him as a man steeped in Racine and Moliere, who took a few odd sentence patterns and cadences of Irish English and made them into his own homegrown alexandrine. He was a mythmaker like Yeats, not a purveyor of “local color.”

  21. Graham Asher says

    Flann O’Brien is writing ironically, at least in part, or perhaps I should say his tongue is well into his cheek. The clue is in the sentence “The younger generation should be shown what their fathers and grand-daddies went through for Ireland, and at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.” The phrase “when it was neither profitable or popular” is a catch-phrase from his comic and satirical writing.

  22. Yes I can see that a bit, now that I’ve read more than just the excerpt given.

  23. John Cowan says


    I was reading an LRB review of two books on Mies, and when I saw the Farnsworth House, I immediately thought of the Johnson Connecticut House that you pointed to above. This, I think, epitomizes the architect-as-servant vs. the architect-as-artist debate: these buildings are beautiful, and Mies’s version has been compared, says the article, to a Shinto shrine. But nobody lives in a Shinto shrine. Who on earth would want to live with every detail of their lives exposed to the neighbors or to any random passerby? (Okay, there are blinds, but they are not original.) As I’m also finding out all too personally, houses with overly large windows are devilishly hard and expensive to heat. I thought at first that Farnsworth had sued Mies over these things, but it turns out that he sued her for non-payment of bills that she had already signed off on, even though they overran the cost estimates.

    Wikipedia says that Mies said the house was designed to fit into the natural scene, but it has in fact flooded twice. A house that can’t even keep out the rain isn’t, according to my philistine notions, much of a house. (Secondary moral: never trust 100-year or 500-year flood estimates in the New World, there is by definition insufficient evidence! When I first arrived at college, the campus was covered with mud due to a 100-year flood; in fact, the third 100-year flood in the last 16 years.) Also, flat roofs make no sense in snow country: the roof is likely to cave in one fine day.

  24. By coincidence, I was just reading Rosemary Hill’s LRB review of Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, by Rachel Cooke, and this passage on Alison Smithson made me think of AJP and discussions like the one in this thread:

    The chapter on Smithson, who with her husband, Peter, achieved a reputation out of all proportion to the number of buildings they put up, is one of Cooke’s best. Born in 1928, Smithson is among the youngest of the women she considers. A contemporary of Margaret Thatcher, Smithson, like Thatcher, made her way in a masculine environment by behaving like a man, only more so. Cooke is careful to avoid special pleading. Her tactful descriptions of Smithson as a woman who ‘did not invite closeness’, and to whom ‘collaboration … did not come naturally’, leave no doubt that she was, in many ways, a nightmare. But she was a nightmare of a kind familiar in architecture, almost a caricature of the megalomaniac male architect as solipsist and ideologue, indifferent to practicalities, clients, anything at all except his own vision.

    The Smithsons won their first project soon after they qualified. The chillingly antiseptic Smithdon High School at Hunstanton in Norfolk was described by Alison as ‘the most truly modern building in Britain’; there had been ‘nothing like it since Inigo Jones’. The great American modernist Philip Johnson praised its ‘distinction’ in the Architectural Review. Local people disliked it, possibly because, as the Smithsons thought, they were unsophisticated but without doubt because the combination of glass façades and inadequate underfloor heating meant that the north side of the building froze while the south was like a hothouse. A difference in temperature of as much as 30ºC from one side to the other not only made it unpleasant to inhabit, it had the effect, as Pevsner pointed out, of warping the structural metal frame.

    Such drawbacks made no difference to the Smithsons’ reputation with their peers. Avant-garde architecture between the wars was largely a literary construct. A physical building was, as Harry Goodhart-Rendel drily remarked, merely ‘an unfortunate but necessary step’ between the architect’s perspective drawing and the ultimate photograph. When it came to photographing the Hunstanton school for the architectural press Smithson removed every trace of children and all the furniture, restoring the building to what one admiring critic called its ‘protean, didactic state’. In 1953 she and her husband published their drawings for an unbuilt scheme, a concrete house with a flat corrugated iron roof and ‘no internal finishes whatsoever’: had they not been thwarted in their attempt to buy the site in Soho, this would, as they put it, have been the first example of the ‘new brutalism’ in Britain. The phrase stuck. With a leading role in an ‘ism’ the Smithsons had the final accoutrement of architectural chic.

    Public taste meanwhile continued to disappoint. The Smithsons went abroad in 1951 to avoid the horrors of the Festival of Britain; their House of the Future at the Ideal Home Exhibition of 1956 attracted mixed notices, with some visitors reduced to helpless laughter by the costumes of the actors who inhabited it: they wore tights with built-in foam rubber shoes. Alison couldn’t think what was funny. For their only major public commission the Smithsons had to wait until the late 1960s, when they built the Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, East London. An attempt to create Corbusian ‘streets in the sky’ and put their social theories into practice by force majeure, it had a certain conceptual dignity but was never a practical success. Soon after it was finished in 1972 the estate was vandalised, the social centre and launderette closed in weeks. After a long battle between Tower Hamlets Council and the Smithsons’ admirers, who include Hadid and Richard Rogers, the estate is currently being demolished.

  25. John Cowan says

    Alas, we poverty-stricken types only get the first graf.

    Which brings me to the fact that LexisNexis is letting me go as of March 1, and so I am looking for employment. Resume. If any Hattics know of suitable jobs, drop me a line at Thanks.

  26. Well, hell. Find Cowan a job, people!

  27. Language, thanks very much for that review. There was lots I hadn’t heard. Brutalism, as I thought everyone in Britain knew by now, comes from le Corbusier’s admirers’ admiration of raw concrete, béton brut, and has nothing to do with brutal designers.

    she was a nightmare of a kind familiar in architecture, almost a caricature of the megalomaniac male architect as solipsist and ideologue, indifferent to practicalities, clients, anything at all except his own vision.

    Someone’s been reading Ayn Rand. For all their faults, I’ve never met an architect remotely like that (thank God).

    Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, East London. An attempt to create Corbusian ‘streets in the sky’ and put their social theories into practice by force majeure, it had a certain conceptual dignity but was never a practical success. Soon after it was finished in 1972 the estate was vandalised, the social centre and launderette closed in weeks. After a long battle between Tower Hamlets Council and the Smithsons’ admirers, who include Hadid and Richard Rogers, the estate is currently being demolished

    No, no, no. Robin Hood Gardens is being demolished so that it can be replaced by new luxury high-rise apartments, not because its problems couldn’t be fixed. It might have been “an attempt” at streets in the sky, but it’s far from the first, as she implies, and others worked fine (Park Hill Estate in Sheffield was recently renovated very successfully). Goodness, these clichés about modernist housing have been around since the mid-1970s and if not wholly mistaken they’re become very mixed up by retelling. I don’t know anything about the Smithsons’ “social theories”: Hunstanton copies Mies’s IIT in Chicago, and Mies is well known to be without any social conscience, he’d have worked for anyone. As for le Corbusier’s own Marseille block, l’Unité d’habitation, it’s not only more successful than the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens in the sense of being popular, the social thinking behind it is still interesting (something about monks and bucolic rural courtyards, I can’t remember the details at the moment) – and despite what she & nearly everyone else implies, the dates for “discovering” these faults are way earlier than 1970-ish, more like the mid-fifties according to David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain (some history of the 1940s & 50s that I’ve recently been reading).

    Aaaah! The Smithsons! I hate the buggers. Comparing herself to Inigo Jones – how dare she.

    John, I’ll let you know if I hear anything, though there must be a line of potential employers round the block by now. As well as being a more interesting piece of architecture than Johnson’s own estimable glass house it would be worth dedicating a daytime soap to the Farnsworth house. Dr Farnworth (a she) was Mies’s jilted lover. As a result, the dynamic of who paid the bills when isn’t driven by the usual expectations for client satisfaction.

  28. I was hoping for just such an informed and splenetic reaction; you never disappoint!

  29. Also, flat roofs make no sense in snow country: the roof is likely to cave in one fine day.

    I only just spotted this. John, I was taught it in architecture school by people who liked pitched roofs (Robert A.M. Stern, mostly), but it’s actually wrong. Carrying a snow load on a flat roof requires little more joist depth than it would on a pitched roof, but it has the advantage that the snow doesn’t fall off. Every winter I have to shovel all the ice and compacted wet snow that falls with a huge ‘whoosh’ off my 60-degree pitched roof, obstructing the driveway and narrowly missing (so far) any people or dogs or goats who are walking past when it falls . The snow that remains on flat roofs has the additional benefit of providing insulation.

  30. Trond Engen says

    My architect father-in-law says that Scandinavian architecture went wrong when it took inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Mediterranean cornices rather than Frank Lloyd Wright’s protruded roofs.

  31. John Cowan says

    there must be a line of potential employers round the block by now.

    Alas, if it were only so! But I, and even my professional experience, am not describable in a capsule phrase, which seems to be what’s needed. Commoditized jobs and commoditized employees are the word of the day, and even senior ones like myself are expected to have spent the last 15-20 years doing the same damn thing, a particularly silly idea in information technology. An all-rounder (utility infielder) like me has to have a back door into a company simply in order to break the iron wall of Human Resources and its kowtowing to the sacred job description. Indeed, all the jobs I’ve ever gotten in the almost 40 years I’ve been working have been by word of mouth. Nonetheless, I diligently do the resume submission dance: who knows, maybe the horse will learn to sing this time.

    Dr Farnworth (a she) was Mies’s jilted lover. As a result, the dynamic of who paid the bills when isn’t driven by the usual expectations for client satisfaction.

    Well put! I didn’t know that.

    it has the advantage that the snow doesn’t fall off

    That was precisely the disadvantage I have in mind. In places (and times, we now must say, with the onset of global warming) where the snow never melts until spring, but just keeps on piling up, the load-bearing capacity of any non-whooshing roof is eventually reached and exceeded.

    Hat, I’ve applied for an “XML expert” job in the OUP New York office: do you have any contacts there that could help me?

  32. Alas, no; my former OUP contacts are scattered to the winds, and most of my work now comes via their subcontinental subcontractors. Don’t get me started. But of course I’ll be glad to put in a good word for you with anyone you suggest.

    to break the iron wall of Human Resources

    Oh, how I hate HR! When I started at my first proofreading job, hiring was done by the head of proofreading, in consultation with the entire staff; within a few years, HR had executed its usual land grab, and candidates now had to go through them, and they made the final decision. Their choices were not ours. Oh, how I hate HR! (Or “Personnel,” as I like to call them just to be annoying.)

  33. John Cowan says

    It seems that Étienne-Louis Boullée is thought to be the original megalomaniac architect, but Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Speer, Narek Sargsyan (the former Chief Architect of Armenia), Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly all seem to have won awards of various sizes for it.

  34. John Cowan says

    My economics professor said that the term “Human Resources” was evidence of the ongoing transformation of labor into capital belonging to someone else. He was more right than ever he knew. He always used yachts as his stock example of a luxury good, but for whatever reason he called them “yatches”. Native speaker, too. Go figure.

  35. marie-lucie says

    snow does not fall off

    In mountain areas which experience heavy snowfalls, houses are built with roofs at a fairly sharp angle. In Québec, another region of heavy snows, traditional houses have roofs pitched at a sharp angle, but curving sofly in front into an overhang. I think that this curve has the primary function of preventing snow from falling too rapidly off the roof and on people coming or going.

    Ten years or so ago (just as the Iraq war was starting) I was due to fly from Halifax to Arizona via Toronto and Denver. When I showed up at the airport I was told that no planes were landing in Denver because snow had caused the roof ot the main terminal to collapse. When I actually flew into Denver a few days later I saw the roof in question, which had only partially collapsed and been repaired. This roof was (and probably still is) meant to look like a chain of snowy peaks. The design prevented snow from staying on the tops, but not from sliding down and accumulating in the bottoms, putting pressure on the “seams” which joined the various modular sections.

  36. When I started at my first proofreading job

    When I started at my first reporting job (for a community weekly), I recommended as an extra pair of eyes for Tuesday night proofreading a guy a year behind me in J-school. He was hired for a buck-and-a-quarter an hour; I was making 100 a week. I left after a year; he stayed forty. Except for at least the last thirty he was business manager. Went through a couple of nice yachts he once told me. No doubt retired on a nice pension too. I yet toil in Mammon’s vineyard.

  37. original megalomaniac architect


  38. Boullée is thought to be the original megalomaniac architect, but Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Speer, Narek Sargsyan (the former Chief Architect of Armenia), Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly all seem to have won awards of various sizes for it.

    “Architects ultimately have little power. What they have is the power to suggest. They always rely on others to implement their ideas.” – Reinier de Graaf

    Going back to the original point, I don’t think ‘megalomaniac’ is an accurate description of le Corbusier. A megalomaniac is someone who loves power or is deluded into thinking that they are very powerful. A megalomaniac planner is someone like Robert Moses in New York, who was not a designer but a bureaucrat: he held three key City positions that allowed him to build freeways, bridges, parks and public housing with very little opposition even though they required the demolition of whole neighbourhoods – now that’s megalomania. Le Corbusier never really acquired power to get things done. He wrote about city planning, but he didn’t practise it much. I think his interest was in the city’s and building’s relationship with people and nature: from something as small as a chair or a chaise longue to the huge public buildings at Chandigarh or to a city like Algiers or Paris (you can also see from those images that those three approaches to designing cities are quite different: this is someone who loves generating ideas, he’s not someone who’s interested in power).

  39. Well, today I accepted an offer for an interesting (and permanent!) job, after spending too much time consulting at various places. I actually had two offers on the table, and went for a walk in Bryant Park today, trying to decide which to take. I came back, gave notice, called one prospective employer and told them I wouldn’t be taking their offer (but wished to keep lines of communication open — you never know), and got a call from my new employer just as I was picking up the phone to call them. I’m just waiting to find out how much of my two weeks’ notice I’ll actually be working out: probably not zero, but not the full two weeks either.

  40. Congratulations, and say hi to Bryant Park for me!

  41. (turns, waves out the window)

  42. My start date is Monday the 27th.

  43. Good luck with the new income source!

  44. Trond Engen says


    And that’s fast. Around here it would take longer. Or at least be postponed to the convenient first-workday-in-the-month-being-a-Monday the week after.

  45. That almost happened, but since I just took a week off (necessarily without pay, qua non-employee), I had to insist on starting sooner.

  46. I accepted an offer for an interesting (and permanent!) job

    Congratulations. You need to update your LinkedIn.

  47. marie-lucie says

    That’s quite heavy. Thank you for taking the time to help me with my request. Get well soon.

  48. George Gibbard says

    Very glad to have you back.

  49. Good lord. Thanks for the update, and I hope your recovery proceeds apace. I certainly never suspected any disordered thinking from your comments here!

  50. Trond Engen says

    There was no way to guess. A disordered John Cowan still runs circles around most of us.

    Glad it was sorted out at last. Best wishes for a quick recovery!

  51. still runs circles around most of us

    You certainly would not have thought so if you were watching me trying to type a coherent and reasonably typo-free sentence. It seemed like about 90% of the time my fingers were misaligned on the keyboard despite my repeated efforts to position them. What’s more, I abandoned any number of comments I tried to make, either because I couldn’t make them legible or because they simply made no sense. So it seems my ability to edit/censor myself remained fairly intact.

  52. What an wonderful intellect.

  53. Minor update: some of the problems were only hypothetical, but new problems have now appeared. My hemoglobin is only 60% of what it should be, accounting for my fatigue, so more tests and more doctors.

  54. Argh. Keep us updated as you can/wish. Doctor hell is one of the worser hells.

  55. marie-lucie says

    JC, at one point I too had lost a lot of hemoglobin, I was exhausted, and I had to have blood transfusions.

  56. David Marjanović says


  57. Good lord. I’m glad you’re keeping us posted, and I sure hope the year ends with no further troubles, foot-related or otherwise.

  58. Yikes! Get well fast!

  59. Trond Engen says

    Is it too late to change my wishes? Here’s for a full recovery!

  60. John, get well. I hope it’s not worry and pain-killers that made you elide the space in your name.

  61. No, I don’t know how that happened. Thanks for the heads-up.

  62. Get better!

  63. Get well soon!

  64. Here’s to a full and speedy recovery!

  65. Get well soon, Cowan.

    I had a blood transfusion yesterday. It is wonderful that Languagehat the blog is open 24 hours

  66. Lost my new job after six months, was unemployed for two (the other job was no longer hiring, alas), found a new new job and have been there a month. So far so good.

    LinkedIn updated.

  67. Lost the new new job too, but was reaped just in time by Mark Shoulson (who has finally started reading LH, just because he belongs here) who was in his own words “hunting for brains to feed to his slave masters” (who pay a hefty recruitment bonus). Much protektsia at the new³ job, and having fun (which is something I haven’t been able to say for quite some time). So hopefully it will last.

  68. I think I speak for the entire Hattery when I say we join you in the hope it will last, and thanks for keeping us updated!

  69. David Marjanović says

    Sounds great!

  70. This has become the unofficial John Cowan status page on the Hattery, so I’ll just mention that I am now twittering under the name, not of Sanders, but of Woldemar_Avalon. Those who are interested in the twittersphere are invited to have a look.

  71. The job was a good job as jobs go, and as jobs go, it went. Looking as hard as I can.

  72. Dammit. But thanks for keeping us updated!

  73. Got a new one starting November 1. We’ll see.

  74. May it endure!

  75. Fingers crossed!

  76. John Cowan’s latest non-employment status:

    My second grandson Luca Avgust(ovich) LeChevalier is expected on September 26. His father (not the same as Dorian’s) was adopted from Russia by friends of ours, and he and Irene hit it off as kids — and then again as adults.

  77. David Marjanović says


  78. Delightful! (And much happier news than I was expecting when I saw “non-employment”…)

  79. marie-lucie says

    Non-employment is not the same as unemployment. As for myself, I am non-employed (at least officially), not unemployed.

  80. speedwell says

    I just read the original article above (I don’t want to think about job stuff right now; I am suffering in that regard). Eagleton is not only wrong that no Irish person would speak like that, I could tell you probably within a fifteen-mile radius where they speak exactly like that. I may be an American expat living in the Northwest of Ireland with a Northern Irish husband, but I’m paying attention.

    Edit: It just occurred to me to look up Dermot Healy and see where he lived. Of course. He lived here.

  81. Ha, that’s great — thanks for checking!

  82. The job is dead, long live the next job (when I get it).

  83. Damn. May it be soon!

  84. I do have the next job, and I also have the next grandson: born yesterday at 7:20 AM (New York time) by C-section, weighing 8 pounds 12 ounces (~ 4.4 kg). Mother and baby are doing fine, and I’ll be seeing him for the first time this evening.

    I think it’s cool how Luca’s American middle name will differ only by a suffix from his Russian patronymic. I don’t know if there are Russians named Лешевале, however: Dr. Google gives only one hit and it may be a mere transliteration.

  85. Congrats on both! And the correct Russian version is Лешевалье, which gets a lot of hits — all apparently French persons, however.

  86. Congratulations! And welcome to Luca.

  87. I do have the next job, and I also have the next grandson: born yesterday at 7:20 AM (New York time) by C-section, weighing 8 pounds 12 ounces (~ 4.4 kg). Mother and baby are doing fine, and I’ll be seeing him for the first time this evening.

    A slice of life, that I’m sure will entertain people here (while not of direct relevance to millinery or to linguistics); back around the turn of the millennium, when Ireland developed an economy worth migrating to, the usual pattern around the birth of a newborn of Polish or Slovakian parentage was that the midwife would document the mass of the child in grams, and carefully convert it to pounds and ounces to tell the parents, who had no idea what to do with this information, and would have been about a thousand times more comfortable with the kilograms.

  88. Congratulations from me too. I’ve just reached the early preparatory phase of sending the kids out on their own.

  89. Congratulations!

  90. David Marjanović says

    4.4 kg

    A globular one! ^_^ Prepare for unbelievable cuteness.

  91. Actually he is quite linear, though still in the habit of curling his legs up most of the time, so that no definitive length (or height, as it will eventually be) has been established yet. The hospital’s lights are rather too bright for him, so he spends much of his time with his face squinched up. His blood sugar was low at birth, so they put him on a fixed feeding schedule (from which he has now been relieved) so that when I got there he was hungry but wouldn’t be allowed to eat for 90 minutes more. But I did hold, rock, sing, and speak to him.

  92. Congratulations from me as well !

  93. John Cowan says

    Well, the baby is doing excellently after a semi-colicky period that had him crying much of the time (but not so bad that he couldn’t sleep, fortunately); unfortunately the job went west yesterday. Here we go again. This time, however, the circumstances with my manager were much more positive. Lawyers (on my side) are probably in my near future.

    “If You’re Over 50 [in the U.S.], Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours”

  94. Dammit. Keep us posted, and keep your powder (and the baby) dry!

  95. John Cowan says

    Luca is still semi-colicky; we’re going to try changing his diet to all-soy to see if that helps. We can’t do anything about the fact that he suckles very hard and ends up swallowing air, though.

    New baby due on November 21, sex still unknown, names still unknown. I am going to propose Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

    I talked to a lawyer who told me I had no case, and I believe him. It’s been hard to find a new job this time, but I think I have one, alas at only about 75% the income of the last two and probably only for a year. I was expecting to start at the beginning of April, but the bureaucracy has been dragging its feet. Supposedly only one step is left, being fingerprinted, but I missed my fingerprinting appointment and it’s not obvious how to make a new one. We’ll find out next week.

    I spent Saturday through Monday in the hospital due to peculiarly disgusting circumstances, but seem to have made a full recovery thanks to yet another miracle drug. I have also been given a third option to replenish my missing iron (other than the two Ive tried, makesmesick and costsamint), so we’ll see how that goes starting tomorrow.

  96. Maher-shalal-hash-baz
    People will think he’s named after Mahershala Ali.

    May I suggest Keren-happuch?

  97. I remember the TV series Crossing Jordan mainly for having an actor whose first had six syllables (Mahershalalhashbaz—he was still using the full form then) and a character whose last name had thirteen (Vijayaraghavensatanaryanamurthy).

  98. John Cowan says

    Perhaps Maher-shalal-hash-baz ‘haste-speed-spoil-booty’ for a boy, Keren-happuch ‘horn of kohl’ for a girl. But I was alluding primarily to the apparent haste in conceiving a child so soon after the birth of the previous child.

  99. ‘Quick-booty-hastens-plunders’, more precisely.

  100. Keren-happuch ‘horn of kohl’ for a girl

    Safer nowadays than Jemima.

  101. John Cowan says

    Yes, I interchanged speed and spoil. The point is that the name is a compact version of the semantic rhymes typical of Biblical Hebrew verse: two lines with more or less the same meaning.

  102. apparent haste in conceiving a child so soon after the birth of the previous child

    My grandmother (born 1925) still refers to this as “Irish twins.”

  103. Trond Engen says

    Ni måneder og et kvarter mellom ungene “Nine months and 15 minutes between the kids”.

    The family structure of certain Protestant sects as described by an old colleague of mine.

  104. John Cowan says

    During the month of April when I was waiting for the consulting job mentioned above (April 18) / to come through, I went on searching. So though I have been working the job since May 6 , I took one morning off to go on an interview, and got accepted a while later. So I resigned (by email) on Friday afternoon after filing my timesheet, and I start the new, much better paying, hopefully more interesting, so-called-permanent job on Tuesday after the long weekend. Hurrah! (“Permanent” merely means that there is no expected terminalion date; the other job was for a year with the possibility of another year, but after that would definitely come to an end.

  105. Hurrah!

  106. Trond Engen says

    Happy news!

  107. John Cowan says

    The new granddaughter is still due in the second half of November, but has now acquired a sex (female) and a name (Peyton, which I was against, but who listens to me). Due to my son-in-law’s inability to find decent chef jobs in NYC, they have all moved to Philadelphia; Dorian (the eldest) spent most of this weekend with us and some time with his father, as he hasn’t seen either of us for several months. The era of long-distance grandparenting has arrived, though I still get desperate “Dorian is behaving badly!” phone calls. He’ll be back for the Veterans’ / Armistice Day long weekend.

  108. For what it’s worth (zero), I agree with you about Peyton. It reminds me of this.

  109. Stu Clayton says

    Only us OFs make a connection with the novel and the scandal. Young folks now will never come across it.

    I found where my father’s copy was hidden and read it, I suppose when I was 9 or 10. One scene in particular I remember vividly. My goodness, the things folks get up to !

  110. People of my generation and younger have probably only ever heard of Peyton Place from “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The song, ironically, seems to have more cultural staying power than a fair number of the things it refers to. From another viewpoint though, that actually makes quite a bit of sense, since Billy Joel wrote the song to point out how many remarkable and shocking things had occurred over his lifetime, especially the 1950s, which were later stereotyped as a period of calm and conformity, with so much of the cultural, political, and social ferment of those times seemingly forgotten.

  111. The Gang of Five (daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren) are here for the weekend, though only the oldest grandson (now 11) will actually sleep in our apartment.

  112. Irene and family have since moved to Virginia to live with their other grandparents, who have the advantage of living in a house instead of a couple of closets NYC apartment. Gale and I went down there for Thanksgiving (the extended family is epidemiologically as one anyway) and had a superb turkey with all the trimmings. We returned on Saturday with Dorian, who is now with us until Thursday, when he’ll have to return for an in-person doctor’s appointment.

    In other news, Peyton was born with a club foot, from which she has now almost completely recovered; Luca at slightly more than two years old does not talk, for which there is no diagnosis (yet). He isn’t deaf but may be hard of hearing; alternatively he may be autistic, but he doesn’t have most other symptoms of that multifarious system of problems. No attempt has been made yet to teach him to sign, and he expresses his wants and needs by howling, there being nothing better available to him.

  113. John Cowan says

    Luca is definitely hard of hearing, and would probably have been successfully treated in the pre-pandemic era; there’s going to be an attempt to fix him once there is a definite diagnosis. The fourth grandchild, not yet born, is male and named Aidan (or Aiden, I have only heard it over the phone).

    In other news, Gale was hospitalized for shortness of breath; the CT showed a spot on the lower left lung, but beyond that all we have is a bunch of exploded hypotheses. She’s home again and on an oxygen concentrator (a great gadget the size of a small suitcase that extracts oxygen directly from the air without any need of a tank).

    On the gripping hand, Dorian will be with us probably until fall; he’s doing remote schooling from Virginia.

  114. Yikes. Very sorry to hear about Gale; I hope she emerges from whatever it turns out to be with flying colors. These are hard times.

  115. The fourth grandchild was born about 40 hours ago.

  116. Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

  117. From me as well! But how’s Gale doing?

  118. Oh, sorry. After a course of antibiotics, which were efficacious whether or not whatever Gale had would call for them, she was fine in a week.

    As for /eidn/, I meant to post that unlike the rest of us he could not say “I wasn’t born yesterday”, but I missed the window to do so by five minutes. But then I reflected that he still can’t say that (or anything at all):

    One Sunday we had been reading Plato together so diligently, that the usual hour of exercise passed away unperceived: we sallied forth hastily to take the air for half an hour before dinner. In the middle of Magdalen Bridge we met a woman with a child in her arms. Shelley was more attentive at that instant to our conduct in a life that was past, or to come, than to a decorous regulation of the present according to the established usages of society, in that fleeting moment of eternal duration styled the nineteenth century. With abrupt dexterity he caught hold of the child. The mother, who might well fear that it was about to be thrown over the parapet of the bridge into the sedgy waters below, held it fast by its long train.

    ‘Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?’ he asked, in a piercing voice, and with a wistful look.

    The mother made no answer, but perceiving that Shelley’s object was not murderous, but altogether harmless, she dismissed her apprehension, and relaxed her hold.

    ‘Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?’ he repeated, with unabated earnestness.

    ‘He cannot speak, Sir,’ said the mother seriously.

    ‘Worse and worse,’ cried Shelley, with an air of deep disappointment, shaking his long hair most pathetically about his young face; ‘but surely the babe can speak if he will, for he is only a few weeks old. He may fancy perhaps that he cannot, but it is only a silly whim; he cannot have forgotten entirely the use of speech in so short a time; the thing is absolutely impossible.’

    ‘It is not for me to dispute with you, Gentlemen,’ the woman meekly replied, her eye glancing at our academical garb; ‘but I can safely declare that I never heard him speak, nor any child, indeed, of his age.’

    It was a fine placid boy; so far from being disturbed by the interruption, he looked up and smiled. Shelley pressed his fat cheeks with his fingers, we commended his healthy appearance and his equanimity, and the mother was permitted to proceed, probably to her satisfaction, for she would doubtless prefer a less speculative nurse. Shelley sighed deeply as we walked on.

    ‘How provokingly close are those new-born babes!’ he ejaculated; ‘but it is not the less certain, notwithstanding the cunning attempts to conceal the truth, that all knowledge is reminiscence: the doctrine is far more ancient than the times of Plato, and as old as the venerable allegory that the Muses are the daughters of Memory.. .’

  119. Okay, so Luca’s diagnosis turned out to be that his ears were full of wax: this being removed, he can now hear fine, and is starting speech therapy now. He is most likely autistic, though I don’t know how they know that yet (three would be old enough ordinarily, but his lack of speech obviously has nothing to do with that).

    Dorian is also now believed to be on the autistic spectrum, though he gets a new set of diagnoses every time he changes schools or psychiatrists.

  120. John Cowan says

    New job yet again, starting last month. I got this one with the greatest of ease: no take-home exams, no grueling 2-, 4-, or 8-hour interviews, just a half-hour conversation with my boss-to-be and my team-lead-to-be and they made me an offer at the end of it. So far, no actual programming involved, except that after doing the same thing about ten times (pushing changes to a git repo) I wrote a bit of shell to do it for me and for a colleague who was sharing my duties. Hopefully that will change soon.

  121. Nice! Thanks for keeping us posted.

  122. David Eddyshaw says

    Good news.

    Bareka nɛ tʋʋma! (as we say in Wales.)

  123. Lars Mathiesen says

    That kind of interview process is always a good sign. Jeg håber du vil trives med det!

  124. Stu Clayton says

    So far, no actual programming involved, except that after doing the same thing about ten times (pushing changes to a git repo) I wrote a bit of shell to do it for me and for a colleague

    This is programming – showing how to save time by just doing it. You have thereby saved even greater costs: the time that would have been spent in meetings to discuss what to do. This has been covered magisterially by Dilbert passim.

    To live a life of contemplative fulfillment on a desert island, I would have to decide between the collected works of Luhmann or Dilbert. Xkcd is too edgy for me.

  125. John Cowan says

    This is programming – showing how to save time by just doing it. You have thereby saved even greater costs: the time that would have been spent in meetings to discuss what to do.

    Alas, no. On many days I still spend eight hours in meetings, though what would in normal times be covered by sitting down at a colleague’s desk must now be elevated to the dignity of a “meeting”. And in this case what to do was clear enough: it was a question of whether to type a “cd” [change directory] followed by “git pull” followed by a “cp” [copy] followed by “git commit -a -m ‘trivial update'” followed by “git push”, or just running my script passing the source argument of the “cp” (which also tells me what the argument to the “cd” and the destination argument to the “cp” should be). A trivial time saving, but far less error-prone, especially as to the “cp”.

  126. John Cowan says

    Still with the same job, now writing code in Oracle PL/SQL.

  127. Lars Mathiesen says

    Different strokes. I may be asked to maintain Perl code at my next assignment, time will tell.

    As long as you don’t start writing PL/SQL to generate PL/SQL and execute it. Sometimes you have to put down the hammer and get a screwdriver.

  128. start writing PL/SQL to generate PL/SQL

    awww Writing SQL to solve a Sudoku puzzle? There’s some famous single-statement monsters.

  129. Stu Clayton says

    As long as you don’t start writing PL/SQL to generate PL/SQL

    You could start with PLVgen, a PL/SQL Code Generator. The section 5.13 of the book, which appears when I followed a hit link, is concerned with setting constants for indentation. This is crucial for generated code, because you always have to go into it and correct things.

  130. John Cowan says

    Only in a stereotyped way: you cannot write a TRUNCATE TABLE directly in a procedure, because for some unfathomable reason it is considered DDL. As ‘DELETE’ is considerably slower, I resort to EXECUTE IMMEDIATE ‘TRUNCATE TABLE ‘.

    And anyway, why no DDL in procedures? Shouldn’t a procedure be allowed to create and drop tables freely?

  131. Lars Mathiesen says

    I’m not sure I follow why the string in EXECUTE IMMEDIATE is not itself subject to the same restriction, if it is in fact an instance of PL/SQL. But never mind — I hope I can reach the age of retirement without writing any more SQL for Oracle. (Only 5 years to go, just a little luck needed!)

  132. John Cowan: And anyway, why no DDL in procedures? Shouldn’t a procedure be allowed to create and drop tables freely?

    One famous reason why not.

  133. John Cowan says

    That’s about interpolation of SQL statements, and has nothing to do with SQL/PL.

  134. Stu Clayton says

    Around these parts it’s called SQL injection.

    The comic considers the case where the injection is due to a dynamic SQL statement jerrybuilt by concatenating string literals with data. That’s the reason for the non-alphabetic characters ‘); in the kid’s name. When concatenated, they make the semantics of the resultant statement different from what was intended.

    The statement should have used parameter markers.

    During a code review a few years ago I discovered such a jerrybuilt DELETE statement concatenating a “where x in (” literal with other stuff. It would have allowed an attacker to delete the entire internal-user table of the company.

    I have no idea how I figured this out, since I am no way an expert on SQL or injection. I think I had just read some article on SQL injection, and decided to pretend I was a malicious actor looking for evil things to do, just for fun and without having clue one.

    I reported the error, the author said “that”s not possible”, so I had to spell out the details for him in an example. I said if he doesn’t believe me, he could try out my example on the table in the production database. A day later he backed down and changed the code.

    Is it often the case that people in IT know just enough to intuit that something’s wrong, but can’t pin it down until hours of head-scratching and boning-up-on-forgotten-basics have passed ? This happens to me a lot. Instead of producing bahnbrechende papers, I operate by the seat of my pants.

    Of course the hours of head-scratching often enough end with head-slapping, when I finally know enough to see I was wrong about something being wrong.

  135. Lars Mathiesen says

    That feeling sounds very familiar. However I can’t intuit that there is anything about IT to make it more common, I assume it happens to practitioners of tetrapod zoology too, to take one field of study at random.

  136. David Marjanović says

    I don’t know how it could, actually (said I at random). Of course it happens that, say, a phylogenetic tree looks wrong, but looking for the cause of that hardly involves any head-scratching. We don’t have many problems that can be solved by thinking about them – and those that can be generally belong to programming at least in a broad sense.

  137. John Cowan says

    I am reading some of John Masefield’s prose, and just finished his memoir of Synge, which is a strange thing, though not so strange as his book on Shakespeare (also at PG).

  138. his memoir of Synge, which is a strange thing

    What do you find strange about it ? Perhaps it is unlike other work of Masefield, or gives impressions of Synge different from others you have encountered ?

    The title is Synge: A Few Personal Recollections, which is no more nor less than what it is. I have not read anything by Masefield, but I sure will now, on this showing.

  139. I have never read any other prose by Masefield, but it is certainly very different from his verse.

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