All posts for the month November, 2003

(Broad-band internet link from Aotou, China enables this post !) Finished Barfield’s History in English Words and started Rorty’s Contingency, Irony and Solidarity on the flight.

Barfield uses etymology of English words to paint a picture of the history of thought through language, not just through the stems and origins of the individual words, but most importatly through their evolving useage and semantics. (See the Aryans post below) He comes down very heavily on the side of the poets who’ve contributed the most – Shakespeare, Coleridge and Wordsworth in particular, and the Oxford English Dictionary as the best source there is (1953). How does one get access to the full OED, rather than all the various “concise” forms ?

As for Wordsworth he quotes the lines from Tables Turned …. Our meddling intellect, rhyming with, We murder to dissect. Apart from re-inforcing the death of / through logic angle – I couln’t help hearing “analysis paralysis” in murder to dissect.

Rorty – this is the first I’ve read since struggling with his Mirror of Nature, apart from his autobiographical essay Wild Orchids and Trotsky – Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. Apart from the preface and intro, I’ve read only the “Contingency of Language” chapter so far. Absolutely brilliant – natural follow on from Barfield. He very much supports the line that if its human nature you’re interested in it’s a work of fiction you should be reading, prose or poetry. Apart from the usual Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel, Kirkegaard, Heidegger, Dewey, James, etc, he relies strongly on Donald Davidson here. [Quote] Davidson breaks with the notion of language as a medium , and not for either representation or expression.[Unquote] Very much the same as Lakoff’s conduit metaphor rant, and evocative of McLuhan.

Also, of more than passing day-job interest [Quote] … the term intrinsic is one which it would pay us not to use, one which has caused more trouble than it has been worth.[Unquote] Tell me about it.

I’ve tried to keep Psybertron away from global politics subjects, despite noting the subconscious kick in the pants 9/11 gave to its motivation (see footnote on every page), mainly I guess not to overstate any impression of self-importance and to keep in perspective of what I might aim to achieve in my world of business, rather than the world.

If the professional philosophers out there will overlook my mis-use of the word paradox yet again, and permit me to draw attention to another awful irony in the War Against Terrorism – We really must recognise and address the Catch-22 in which we find ourselves (see the manifesto in my header on every page, and remove the word business if it helps).

Many commentators yesterday and today (including good old BBC Radio 4 Today) reporting with outrage the 100,000 protesting in London against the Bush / Blair policies (and actions ?) the same day as 27 die in a terrorist attack against Brirish targets in Istanbul.

“They’re protesting against the wrong thing, etc ….” Well, perhaps not so,
They are warring wrongly against this thing.
With me so far ? No I thought not.

Remember any one of my many dozen re-statements of the Catch-22 (Northrop this time) [Quote] The basic paradox of our time [is that]

“sound” theory tends to destroy the state of affairs it aims to achieve

[Unquote] (His 1944 scare quotes, not mine). When will the world wake-up ? 1944 ? Well I could find you quotes from 3500 years ago if you’d prefer, this “problem” is as old as the hills metaphorically if not literally – as old as historical time. Catch-22 is the paradox of all time. Older than the post-Socratic blind-turn. It was ever thus.

We could look at the choice of Istanbul – ancient Constantinople – the historical cross-roads of East-West civilisation (and conflict). We could speculate at the irony – the coincidence or synchronicity, or perhaps the pre-meditated point in the heads of the terrorist. Whichever of these extreme cock-up or conspiracy views you prefer, it’s hard to ignore the significance.

Anyway back to the immediate – the palace security breaches – whilst London is at a state of maximum security for the visit of Dubya ? The (do-gooder, woolly, week-minded, liberal, but inescapable) point is that the way to fight against terrorism is not with security, backed by super-power might alone. It’s a battle for hearts and minds too. The causes of terrorism. It always was and it always will be.

Is it the direct – actions speak louder than words,
or is it the ironic – sticks and stones … ?

And I say this not with some high-minded aims, but with simple personal motivation – everyone today is speculating about the next British / London target – I’m flying BA through Heathrow tomorrow, thank you.

You’ve got my point now, right, anyone, anyone who matters, Bush, Blair, anyone ?

To finish, a couple of personal ironies (I could do hundreds, but I wouldn’t want you to think I was some kind of mystic)

Also on Today this morning, Peter Gabriel being grilled over his efforts to create a live 7-piece band performance as a contribution to the BBC’s Children-in-Need charity night, and the suggestion he’s just a cynical old rocker looking to get his face back on the telly. To his credit, whilst being affronted at the suggestion, he actually said “well of course there may be some of that, but …”. Anyway my irony is (see that footnote again, that’s at the bottom of the page peeps) that it was Peter Gabriel’s words that came to mind when I saw those images of 9/11 and cried.

Also, on the doormat this morning, an invitation from my alma mater business school, to a celebration of entrepreneurship, featuring the upcoming success of a winning brand of Vodka called ….. Kalashnikov.

Don’t ask me to spell that one out please.

Have Aryan’s been air-brushed from history ?
(Apparently the term is no longer PC – Indo-European is preferred – but was this just a region containing a group of peoples, or a people consiting of a common culture and language ? – a key point blurred by the PC term – thanks to LanguageHat.)

I’m reading Barfield’s History in English Words, (as recommended, but following up a strong pre-existing etymological interest), and finding it fascinating, and suprisingly packed with gags (more on which later). This edition was published in 1953, though Barfield had it first published in 1925 (thanks Danny Smitherman), before Hitler’s Nazism gave the Aryan race a bad name, and Barfield feels the need to apologise for any lack of political correctness in referring to the Aryan “race” as a major source of Indo-European Language.

Barfield is meticulous in detail, and traces words not just back to basic Greek or Latin stems, or Old English forms, but notes their evolutionary webs and points of creation / speciation from original Aryan inhabitants of central Europe through all the various ripples and reversals of migration, trade and invasion, and the different era’s of all the different civilisations along the way. As I say fascinating, but when I look at the Oxford Reference Online’s Concise Dictionary of Etymology, to corroborate one or two of Barfield’s claims, I can find no reference to Aryan at all. Not only that, the Oxford Etymology is surprsingly one-dimensional in it’s sources.

I suspect much of Barfields stuff, whilst stated declaratively, is actually highly speculative – Sherlock Holmes style – and probably “unproven” to more scientific etymologists, but I find it incredible to find no reference to Aryan.

I know who I would believe to be the speaker of truth – but how can that be ?

Strange because I checked Frederick Bodmer (ed Hogben) The Loom of Language (1944) and find this also refers to the Aryan origins of the well-defined family of Indo-European languages (p189). [This is the 1945 3rd Impression by George Allen and Unwin, optimistically published as part of the series “Primers for the Age of Plenty”, a book purchased by my father for 15/- (75p) in 1946 in Bombay. Amongst other things it contains a marvellous database or “Language Museum” which I really must compare with Barfield.]

Language Hat – Interesting linguistic site blogged here by the Apothecary.

In view of the Owen Barfield posts below, and coming next, you’ll understand why this post on an (sic) obscure word struck a chord too. If we only ever read writers who only ever used words we already knew in contexts we already knew, everything would be extremely boring and sterile – and, more’s the point, knowledge would never advance. Interesting given Barfield’s point extolling Archaism, that this particular complaint is about William Gibson using a word from common currency in the early 19th century.

There’s is a valid point here actually about education and learning of the individual, not being left behind some elite snobbery at the level of advancement of human knowledge. The point would be all the more poignant if the particular word “Luddite” was reasonably obscure anyway, but even now I find a dictionary-rate tolerance myself. I’m reasonable educated, intelligent and I’m deliberately reading a great deal at present with learning in mind, but even I have a threshhold for how many words I need either to look-up or battle through in ignorance, before deciding a book is too much effort. No gain without pain, but you can have too much pain for too little gain, unless you’re a masochist. Give the girl a chance (eek – on second thoughts this is not some teenager, she’s actually a published sci-fi author herself in a spat with Gibson – and describes Neuromancer as a “yawner”.)

Which reminds me I still haven’t read Gibson yet, so I’d better be careful what I say.