Friday, January 21, 2011

Parvum Opus 382: Binge Writing

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere
Our desktop computer crashed so I’m using my laptop, which means any notes I made for Parvum Opus in the first part of January are unavailable to me right now. We’ve been too busy to take the computer to the shop.

Free Stuff
Learn Out Loud is just one site with free podcasts of literature in the public domain, such as The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton. Since I’d never read this classic of detective fiction, I listened to some of it online, but haven’t finished yet. First published in 1908 the book feels modern in certain ways because of the clash between “anarchists” and everyone else. In those days anarchists were throwing bombs from time to time. For that reason alone, the book is worth reading—to get historical perspective on contemporary conflicts.
But listening interrupted, if not wholly spoiled, first by Chesterton’s style. I like his writing, as dated as it seems, but noticed that he uses too many vague qualifiers like “seemed to” and “somewhat” and “like”.
Second, this web site, or at least this book, apparently uses volunteer readers, which makes sense because it probably wouldn’t be cost-efficient to hire professional actors or readers. The Man Who Was Thursday might be read by an American trying to affect British pronunciation, who ends up over-pronouncing words, and mispronounces some, as when he says “asketic” for “ascetic” and “convival” for “convivial”. When a French character appears in the story, the reader starts to sound a little like Inspector Clouseau, using an “outrageous French accent” a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Once again, the amateurs, bless their hearts, make me appreciate the professionals more.

Personal disclosure: I smoke cigarettes once every year or two. I buy a pack of cigarettes—American Spirit (no additives) or else something exotic—and smoke maybe one cigarette, or maybe the whole pack, usually around the holidays, so it’s a bit of a festive occasion. I told a doctor about this once when she asked if I smoke, and she said she’d never heard of this kind of “binge smoking”. Is doing anything for fun at rare intervals a “binge”? “Binge” applies a medical or psychological label to a bit of fairly harmless enjoyment, making it into a pathology. Sounds like a lost weekend, if not a long dark night of the soul. Should I get treatment? Go to confession?

By now you may have heard that a Professor Gribben has called for a censored version of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and is going to get it, because modern students are too tender (or stupid) to read about and understand how people really spoke, i.e. using the N word. I’ll say it: Huckleberry Finn referred to his friend Jim, a slave, as a nigger. This is the word the average Southerner would have used in the 19th century, a pronunciation variant on Negro, which means black (lest we forget). As you know, today rappers use the word all the time, but white people are practically prohibited by law from doing so.* You could lose your job over it. So a publisher is going to make it easier for everyone by erasing history and rewriting literature.
Shakespeare was censored for children, and family reading, in the 19th century by Bowdler, from whom we get the term “Bowdlerized” to mean censored. When I was a senior in high school, Miss Mostenic assigned Romeo and Juliet to the class, using a textbook with every line numbered. Our homework might be to read lines 400 to 600, for example. But she would tell us to skip over anything she thought was bawdy, such as the Nurse’s lines. I wonder if any of the students actually did not read those lines, to save time perhaps.
If books like these are not suitable for children, they should not be used in classrooms at all until at least college. This is bad education.
(Along the same lines, I just discovered that the Miami University Redskins became the Redhawks, which means that instead of a brave Indian warrior as a mascot, or an Indian brave, they now have a guy in a bird outfit.)
*I am going to assume I have a few drops of Negro blood somewhere in my many millennia-long ancestry that qualify me to use this word in this essay.

This and That
· “Proud flesh” is an old expression I first heard from my mom, which means flesh or skin that is inflamed or scarred and rises above the surrounding flesh.
· One of those little things that has hung on in my memory for many years is:
In the telling phrase of Baedeker, it offered “little that need detain the tourist”. Through the miracle of the Internet search, I was able to track it down: Thomas Wolfe wrote it in his novel Of Time and the River. Does anyone read Thomas Wolfe anymore (not to be confused with Tom Wolfe, the journalist)? Anyway, Baedeker is or was a popular series of travel books, and I found Wolfe’s quote irresistible. I apply it mentally to various situations and people.
· Mark Cantora wrote an interesting essay on The Great Satan (you and me, of course) and the origin of the word “satan”, which like “devil” means “the adversary”.
· Useful tourist info: Fred informed me that tommy-k is British slang for tomato ketchup (is there any other kind?).
· Heard on the radio: “in storge” (one syllable) for “in storage”, rhymes with “forge” and “gorge”. The “a” disappeared. It makes me wonder why the “a” in that word hasn’t disappeared by now, not that I’m pushing for the one-syllable version, but people pretty much always give it both syllables.
Mike in the New Year
Mike Sykes wrote:
While I completely understand why what you call the Revolutionary War must of necessity have preceded the Civil War, I think "any" might be a bit overstating it. True, civil wars tend to follow revolutions, but the converse could perhaps have happened after a lapse of time. Come to think of it, not many revolutions are explicitly associated with revolutionary wars—the war that followed the French Revolution** was not known as a revolutionary war, though it's ostensible purpose was to restore the French monarchy. And the Spanish Civil War was arguably revolutionary, though it wasn't attempting to throw off a colonial yoke. I suppose strictly speaking a revolution is an end, rather than a means. Though that makes 'revolutionary war' somewhat anomalous. We might recall that it's pretty much the same as a rebellion, though rebels prefer not to be called that (think 'the rebs'***).
**The French Revolution was a civil war. Perhaps our Revolutionary War was too. Perhaps all wars are, if we are all brothers, but we’re not.
***I don’t think Southerners today object to “rebs”.
Your reflection on appointment method raise all sorts of interesting thoughts. I'm reminded of a lovely phrase used in the British civil service: 'lateral arabesque', meaning the moving an incompetent to another job of ostensibly equal status but where they can do less harm.
What a great phrase!
Regarding the painting of an Indian and a telephone pole:
Don't we love reading more into stuff than was ever intended? Isn't that deconstructionism?
Deconstructionists seem to purposely ignore what the artist might have intended so they can substitute their own (much less interesting) ideas.
Regarding pronouncing your “Rs” (pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd):
Pardon my ignorance, but this went straight past me. But what do mean by 'correct'? Who's to say?
I’m all about saying what’s correct, but my point was that we have a common language partly because of standardized spelling around the world, even though the spelling does not always indicate local pronunciation (one reason foreign students have trouble with English). I think it’s good to keep our more or less standardized but peculiar spelling, and recognize that the spelling may symbolize a variety of “correct” pronunciations (at least the comprehensible ones).

Bill Roberts passed on a Gina Barreca column, “Gina's List of Books We're Not Buying This Christmas”, and these are my favorites. But you will have to write these books yourself:
· The Crying Woman's Guide to Handgun Safety
· Feckless!
· Self Deception and You
· Puppies and Espresso: What To Give Your Stepchildren Before They Return Home [variation on a popular sign in coffee shops]
· Only God Can Make Topiary: Inspiration by (or in) the Yard [maybe all trees and shrubs ARE topiary]
· Virginia Werewolf: The Blood Curse of Bloomsburg
· Lulu, the Anxious Last Lobster in the Big Sad Tank (Not appropriate for readers with seafood allergies unless they have insurance)[could be part of a gift set along with PETA’s “Your Mommy Kills Animals” comic book for kids]
Feckless! is my favorite title. Maybe my favorite word; it’s from the Scottish, “effectless”. Which makes me wonder if the f**k word might not come from this source rather than the unpleasant Saxon word for “strike”.

We’ll have to avoid all war terminology from now on, especially in politics. The recent murders in Tucson by a man who looks like he’s demonically possessed have been attributed by her enemies to the influence of political metaphor on a map used by Sarah Palin’s people in the last election (who happens also to be a hunter). Of course the other side did the same, but they get other people to kill their meat, therefore they are innocent. Some words to eliminate from your vocabulary:
Target (verb or noun)
In my sights
Blow them out of the water
We’ll beat them
Aim at
In the crosshairs
Etc. etc. etc.
Copyright 2011 Rhonda Keith Stephens