synaptic-disunion

Month: August, 2015

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?: Relativistic and Universalistic approaches to world view and reality perception.

I wrote this short essay for a Linguistic Anthropology class in the fall of 2013.  It is the highest viewed essay on my Academia.edu page by far.  I’m not sure why.  I thought I’d share it here under the Anthropology tag here.


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Topic Sentence: Relativistic and Universalistic approaches to world view and reality perception.

Topic: Using examples from the Hopi language and lecture notes from our class, I intend to dissect and explain the two major ways of approaching Linguistic Anthropology, relativism and universalism, their advantages and their pitfalls.

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“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

One of the many questions that linguists, both Universalist and Relativist, are trying to answer with regard to language is, to put it quite simply, whether thought affects language and perceptions of reality (Universalist view), or whether language affects thought and perceptions of reality (relativist view).  In this short essay, I intend to dissect  these two approaches, give examples of both using the Hopi language, and draw from lecture notes, articles mentioned in class, and my personal thoughts and ideas regarding possible pitfalls and advantages in both ideologies.

A friend who is a neurobiologist mentioned to me recently, on the similar subject of cognition, thought, and language that his personal view, from a biological perspective, was “the egg came first.” (His phrase)  By this he seemed to be indicating that the mechanics and biology needed for thought and language as an abstraction of thought had to be in place before either could evolve.  I find this to be a solid argument.  Once we move beyond the initial spark of thought and language, however, into that vague world of perception, it seems to me that things become more clouded and deserve closer inspection.  What happens when we think?  What does thinking entail, outside of the obvious biological nature of neurons firing and giving the perception of internal dialog?  Does thought lay outside the venue of language, relying on language to articulate and simulate in whatever way it can, the thoughts occurring within the human mind, or is it the opposite?  Does language somehow manipulate thoughts by internalizing words and phrases that have meanings, giving us pictures and ideas in the form of thought?

The relativistic approach, first hinted at by Wilhelm von Humbolt, who proposed that language was the very fabric of thought itself.  Meaning, thoughts are the internal dialog of the human mind, and therefore reflect the grammar and syntax of the native speaker.  This internal speaking then in turn greatly influences the world view (Weltanschauung) of the person thinking (speaking to oneself internally).  Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, then took up this idea while studying the language of the Hopi people in the American southwest.  The now famous and much debated “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis,” as it is known, is the basis behind most Relativistic thinking and study.  This relativistic theory came about after Whorf studied the Hopi people, who he asserted had in their language “no words, grammatical forms, construction or expressions that refer directly to what we call ‘time’ or to past, present or future …”.  So how does Whorf come to this conclusion?  Let’s look at an example directly from Whorf’s article we read for class entitled “Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language.”  In this article, Whorf writes that in the Hopi language, “all phrase terms, like summer, morning, etc., are not nouns, but a kind of adverb, to use the nearest SAE (Standard Average European) analogy.  They are a formal part of speech by themselves, distinct from nouns, verbs, and even other Hopi ‘adverbs.’  Further on, he continues that when speaking in Hopi, “One does not say ‘this summer,’ but ‘summer now’ or ‘summer recently.’  There is no objectification, as a region, an extend, a quantity…,.”  This “objectification” he’s speaking of is, as I understand it, the tendency of our language, and other SAE languages to objectify time, slice it up, as it were.  To segment it as “a summer” or “last summer” or “a minute” or “tomorrow.”  This, he says, does not happen in Hopi.  He explains that “Nothing is suggested about time except the perpetual ‘getting later’ of it.”  Later, as Whorf is attempting to tie this notion of timelessness to the conceptual perceptions of the world through Hopi eyes, he says “Everything is in consciousness, and everything in consciousness is…”  That is to say, with regard to time, that what happened is still happening, and what will happen, is already starting.  For example, one might say in SAE, “I’m going to Texas for Christmas,” whereas in Hopi, one would say something similar, but the meaning would be “we are and have always been preparing to go to Texas and be there for when it is Christmas.”  To Whorf, this seemed to indicate a different view of the world, and of perceptions of time.  Whorf clarifies this idea, in Language, Thought and Reality, when he says:  “We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significance as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way — an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language… all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated.”  What I take it he is saying here, especially when he says “all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe” that he believes thought itself, and perceptions of the surrounding world, are different depending on what (as he calls it above) “speech community” to which they belong.  Therefore, their language affects their thoughts, and how they view the world around them.

Universalism, as you would guess, comes at this from a different angle altogether.  Universalism asserts that language does not construct reality, as is the case in relativism, but that reality constructs language and thought.  Though differences in language do occur, it is clear to the Universalist that those differences are still descriptions of the same objective reality.  Scholars like Anna Wierzbicka and Noam Chomsky see language as a human universal, comprising of structure and semantics across all human populations.  That is to say, language is something uniquely human, and all humans use it in the same way.  This isn’t to say that ideas and concepts are diverse across human populations, but the methods used to describe those concepts are all done through the device of language.  Using the same example as I have for the Relativist position, I will describe how a Universalist would understand the problems presented by the Hopi idea of time, but focusing on intervals of time.  For example, in Hopi, the interval between days is rarely mentioned.  One might say, “we left on the fourth day after we arrived.”  The word would literally be something akin to “fourtimesday.”  As I understand it, Whorf asserts that intervals of time are not counted; however, Helmut Gipper’s article Is there a Linguistic Relativity Principle? he states the following:

                “And is it correct to conclude, as Whorf does, that the intervals, strictly speaking, are not counted at all?

                Yes and no.  In fact, the meaning of the two translations of ‘fourtimesday’ and ‘the fourth day’ may be nearly identical in many cases.  Nevertheless it is hypothetical to interpret, as Whorf does, that time intervals are not counted: It is the same daylight which returns, only a little older.”

So the Universalist, though they would acknowledge that the Hopi do not normally count the intervening days in individual numbers, would disagree that the Hopi do not acknowledge them in their world view, or that they do not exist as objective entities within their world view.  Ekkehart Malotki, a student of Gipper, confirmed these findings during a study of the remaining Hopi speakers in the early 1980s.  Malotki says in Hopi Time: A Linguistic Analysis of the Temporal Concepts in the Hopi Language:

“As it turns out from among the numerous suffixes that the Hopi verb can select to mark the grammatical categories of aspect, mode and tense, one is specifically reserved to refer to time, or rather the sequential ordering of events or states. This temporal marker is -ni whose referential force is futurity. Its temporal function is primary; however, in many contexts i-ni also takes on a number of secondary, atemporal functions which essentially belong to the modal category (imperative, hortative, desiderative, etc.). Since no markers exist to point out present or past time, Hopi, like many other languages, can be said to be endowed with a future-nonfuture tense system.”

In other words, a Universalist sees that the Hopi do have a tense system, albeit different from ours in many ways.  Malotki hints that our perceptions of time might be clouded by our own technology, by the timepiece and the introduction of the Roman calendar.  I can see this as a valid point, because we interpret the perceptions of others through the filter of our own experiences, however, this doesn’t mean that the experiences of others are non-transferable to our own.  Because the Hopi have their own calendaring system and method of time reckoning, doesn’t mean that they do not reckon time in a way that we cannot comprehend, or that we reckon time in a way that they cannot comprehend.  It may be that our methods are so different that the translation and reasons we reckon time in our respective ways is foreign and meaning less, but time is still present, and tense is still a factor in both languages.

As is normal, it seems that there may be some pitfalls within both approaches to language and thought.  It is at this time in the essay when I will draw from what I’ve learned and read and thought about during the discussions and lectures for this class, to attempt to discover what those pitfalls might be.  In Relativism, the advantage is that the great diversity of language, thought, and ideas is brought to the fore.  There are definite ways in which humans think differently, and objectify the world around them in unique ways.  However, it seems to me that were this relativistic approach to be taken to its logical conclusion, then humans shouldn’t be able to share experiences in any meaningful way at all.  Let me explain: In the relativistic view taken to the extreme, my experience is unique to everyone else.  Therefore, the language I use is my own and is tied together with my own thoughts and perceptions.  Nothing I say would have the same meaning to another human being, even if we were using the same system of letters, codes, and words.  The meanings and symbolism would be something completely different for everyone else but me.  This is the biggest pitfall I can see within the relativistic approach.

Within and extreme version of Universalism it seems to me that the biggest pitfall would be that we are all homogenized into one system of thinking and perceiving and all understand each other’s meanings implicitly without problem.  In this hyper-universalist model, all languages would be structured the same, all meanings would line up, and all thoughts and perceptions would line up together across all human species without fail.  Though I do believe there to be many linguistic (among other) universals, I believe this extreme view to be lacking in nuance.

For my own part, I will take what I can from both approaches and apply them to my study of linguistics.  To say one approach is “better” than another, is a value judgment that I’m not willing to make at the moment, but I am very willing to be careful of the pitfalls within both that I’ve mentioned above.  For me, cognition, thought, perception, and language, all seem to dovetail together to form an emergent system of complex communication within our species.  I think it logically follows that the egg had to come first, that the biological components for this system of communication to emerge from had to be present within our species, even if in a rudimentary form.  Along with this, the environment had to present the need for this communication, for as we’ve discussed in class, “evolution doesn’t do any more than it has to do” to continue the species.  Perhaps it’s serendipitous that this survival mechanism we call “language” has provided us with so much more than was initially intended from its simple beginnings.  With language we can conceive the world around us, put words to our experiences and thoughts, and create stories and mythologies, which shape cultures and peoples in colorful ways.

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His name was Johnny Virgil… : Kevin Gilbert’s “The Shaming of the True.” A Review, and Response: Part 2

Note: It took me a long time to finish this.  I sincerely hope this isn’t a portent of how often I’ll be able to update this blog, but I fear it may be.  That’s ok, I suppose.  I have full time responsibilities outside of this that frequently take priority.  The needs of the others, outweigh my own personal needs, always.  Anyway, on with part two, and the conclusion of this review and response.

When the opening notes of a concept album, or any composition, are dissonant, the composer is trying to convey a feeling.  This is easy to see. It’s no different with the opening notes of this album.  But how do we interpret this opening unsettling sound, this ear disturbing mismatch of tones, as it slowly congeals together into a pleasant chord?  What is the composer doing here?  Are we, as the listener, drifting from dissonance, that is to say, disorder, chaos, feelings of being adrift and lost, into something more pleasant and ordered, supposed to use these auditory signals as an allegory for something that is to come later in the piece?  I believe so.  Our hero, the central character in this opera, Johnny Virgil, is an aspiring singer, songwriter, rock star…at least that’s where his heart is…he has desires of greatness, he has a song in his heart and he wants to share it.  The lyrics clearly say he’s been listening to Dylan, he’s been listening to the Dead.  A parade of people who have come before him, who he venerates, these are the saints of the past, guiding the devotees of the present, in to the future. These are some of his influences, and he’s found a path down which he wants the saints above to help him walk, and it brings him something pleasant, ordered, a chord of existence for which he was searching for during the chaos of dissonant notes just moments ago.  He has decided what he wants to do.

As he traverses this path, he comes across someone who has already been down this path, and returned to the nothing from which they came.

The attendant at the Texaco saw the guitar case in my back seat
And decided to impart his tragic tale
He said: “I used to play in a band like you
We even made a record too”
And sang a bar that hardly rang a bell

He doesn’t want to see this as an omen or a portent of his own future, he looks away, tries to disengage in, he wants to go to the city of the sun, in this case, Sun Studios comes to mind.  Musicians have their holy places, as many orders to.  Sun Studios is one such place, Abbey Road another, Tupelo Mississippi yet another, and so it goes, as someone else once said.

From this place of uneasy hope, our hero, Johnny Virgil, has a series of adventures both amazing, and disturbing.  The song Suit Fugue (Dance of the A&R Men), is a musical piece of genius, in this reviewer’s humble opinion.  In round form, voices of these marketeers bespeaks the amazing things that are in store for Virgil, the lights, the money, the women.  This schmoozing, is all almost too much for him.  He tries to maintain his autonomy, until these front men convince him that he is the focus of their pocketbooks, their priority, and hand him over to the image makers in the industry, who create, through him, a character that can be packaged, marketed, and sold to the masses…and then the video…the music video.  Remember?

Some time in the late 90s, MTV stopped being Music Television, I think, in favor of some sort of Lifestyles of the young X’ers on the West Coast station.  My generation.  We were the generation of the transition between traditional music industry, and this new whatever industry it is now.  During the 90s, we watched the decline of MTV, bemoaned it…but did nothing about it, save get more piercings and tats…or focus on our internet start-up job in the brick-walled loft we called an office.  But the “industry,” that machine that pooped out music for us to consume, was changing, and we barely noticed.  But that’s all gone now, water under the bridge, where we kept our porn magazines, before we could just see it online for free, without worrying about being found out.  Those were our plans, those were our halcyon days, after Lewinsky, and before the tech-bust of the early 21st century.  Those were the days of our best laid plans.

Virgil’s plan went awry, as so many do, as so many of ours did.  One day you’re dreaming of pursuing a dream, a decade later, you’re still dreaming, but as a wage slave to your accidental career, just trying to make ends meet, while engaging in the fringes of what would have been your dream career, from your armchair, or as a gas station attendant.  Virgil lead his life almost like you did.  He was in front of crowds of screaming fans, loving fans, fawning fans.  Singing his songs, grinding his hips, owning the stage, with the excitement of a black gospel choir, sweat dripping off him, fervor of dedication to music and energy, sending it all to the crowd, who injects the experience like a drug.  This is the high point in the arc of our hero’s story…then comes the drop.

He becomes empty, surrounded by smug name-dropping psuedo-art types of dubious intellect.  The drugs flow, the parties are nonstop, he lives in a constant state of altered mind and consciousness, until he is a shell.  He becomes as empty as a Ken doll on the shelf.  He delivers what people want, what they need, and he is alone.  Somewhere along this dark corridor, he hears the tiny sound of his own mind, screaming in it’s tiny way, for release, for reality again.  He searches the emptiness within himself and tries to find his way back home, home now being his own self, who he wanted to be, who he wishes he was, who he thought he was going to become but for the redirection of others.  During this transition, he has to destroy the person he’s become, and becomes the archetypal bad-boy rock star.

Still, he knows he’s talented, while at the same time being used by others to line their pockets.  He’s a tool, nothing but a product.  So aptly put in this bit in the song “A Long Day’s Life,” toward the end of the album:

Three nights running now I’ve had the most unusual and disturbing dream, where I’m a 19th century French painter with a pallet and paint brush and beret and an ill-fitting black suite and I’m painting perfectly rectangular white lines on an endless snaking desert highway and people are yelling at me “you missed a spot.”

He wanted to be so much more, but this is what he’s become.  He had…still has…so much potential and talent, but his drive is gone, his will is broken, his love for his dream is lost.  It’s the end of all this now, he’s slipping into nothingness, obscurity, sliding down, letting the water close over his head and breathing in the cool liquid of nothingness.  He’s lost his way, he’s at the end of his days.

Just as we think the end has come for Johnny, we find that he is a survivor of sorts.  He moves on, he is crucified by the industry, and rises again, but he realizes that we are all prisoners of apathy and fear, and we’ve lost the way back home.  All of us, each of us is drifting though this life only to find that there are no simple solutions, no last judgement day, there is only the trying, the journey, the way to our homes.  That home is our peace, our comfort, a place we’ve found where we are as we want to be, a place where we can be who we are, express what is inside of us in whatever way we need.

This ending is melancholy, true.  Johnny’s last song is in his own mind, contemplative, and mournful in a hopeful sort of way.  He has traveled this road, left a mark on the world, and faded into obscurity.  The last track on this album, it is said, was recorded in one take, on the back porch of the studio, real rain, and the serendipitous sound of the train…it wasn’t planned, the universe just aligned that way, at that moment, for the mother of all endings…the train is the world moving on without Johnny, the rain is rejuvenating and calming, as he slips back into nothingness, having completed a real life bildungsroman, in secret.

As can be seen, I connect with this album, for whatever reason.  Truth be told, I connect with alot of albums I listen to, but really, none like this one.  There’s something deeply personal about it, for me.  Maybe I’m still in the middle of my own personal bildungsroman, or maybe my story is still unfolding.  I do know that I sometimes chase dreams, though others may find my chasing useless.  Something in me keeps me driving, hesitatingly, forward, nonetheless.  Perhaps one of these fits and starts, will lead me to an ending of my own.

Kevin Gilbert: The Shaming of the True Wikipedia article

Complete Lyrics from LyricWiki

Purchase the album here:

His name was Johnny Virgil… : Kevin Gilbert’s “The Shaming of the True.” A Review, and Response: Part 1

Kevin Gilbert’s The Shaming of the True was the last album recorded by Gilbert, before his untimely death, due to auto-erotic asphyxiation. I wanted to go ahead and get that out of the way, the auto-erotic part, that is, so we could go ahead and shove aside the idea that the composer of this album was a degenerate of some sort. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.  It doesn’t really matter, in the end.  To me, sad though it is that he either purposefully, or accidentally, took his own life while pleasuring himself, matters not one iota the level of what I consider genuine musical talent found on this album. All of us are troubled in some way, all of us have some weirdness about us that we’d rather the outside world never know. Each of us has our own private life between our ears, and behind our eyes, that nobody else will ever know about or understand. Kevin was no different.

Now, on to something more important. This album is undoubtedly an opera. It follows a story line, and is a tragedy, like so many opera’s before it, both classical and rock genera operas. What makes this one different? What makes this one special to me? The story of this opera is the story of the struggle of artists in this world we’ve set up around us. This society that venerates popularity, so much so that it seems the more outlandish you are, the more bombastic, the louder and more offensive, the more likely you will be able to top the polls and have a good chance at becoming both a national embarrassment, and the leader of that same nation…but I digress.

Over the past twenty years since this albums was conceived, and recorded, the music industry itself has changed. The internet has opened up opportunities for little known, yet talented musicians to be seen and heard, while at the same time
making traditionally minted, signed, and marketed people of dubious talent, see their sales slip, even if just a fraction. Perhaps it’s a leveling off of opportunity, or maybe it’s just that the record industry is lagging behind, just a little, until it finds it’s foothold in the new normal and can become the primary image makers they want to be, like they always have been.

This album’s story captures the traditional struggles, not the new normal of downloads and freebies and self-promotion. It captures the contract signing, the pushy producers, the obsessive tour managers, the whirlwind of marketing and popularity creating. The music is aggressively melancholic, positively cynical, and dripping with allegory, illusion, allusion, and disturbing descriptions of the unsettling lifestyles of the musicians who have sold their souls to the record company in the name of profit.

I can understand and sympathize with selling one’s soul in this way, however, and I hold no grudges against musicians who are forced down this path to make a living. It’s the way our world is arranged, it’s how enough of us have agreed to approach the people who should be our consciousness, our sages, our poets, our storytellers…we look at them and wonder, “that’s nice, but can it make money?” The lure is real, and strong, it’s not right or wrong. It just is.

I’ll stop here for now, and present this in a series of posts, lest one post become too lengthy and boring for anyone to complete.

End of Part 1.  More to come….until then, listen to the first track below.

Track01:Parade

Kevin Gilbert: The Shaming of the True Wikipedia article

Complete Lyrics from LyricWiki

Purchase the album here:

What album to review first?

Those who know me in person know that music figures prominently into my life.  I have to agree.  Music expands my imagination and takes me to internal emotional and psychological landscapes of experience that for me are akin to mind altering drug use.  I can feel the meaning in a chord, I can hear the emotion in a note, I can see the visions of the melody in my head.

In my parent’s music room, there is a black Steinway baby grand piano bearing teeth marks made by my baby teeth.  My mother would play church hymns and classical pieces on this richly tuned beautiful 1917 model (or thereabouts) piano.  Later, as I grew, and my siblings left the house, leaving me alone with my parents, this piano and me became even better acquainted, through piano lessons, and my own improvisation.  When alone in the house, instead of doing what many teenagers might do, I improvised on this piano.  Even when my parents were home, I would spend hours just trying out melodies, chord progressions, attempting to translate the cacophony of emotions in my head, into sound.  When my mother, from the adjacent kitchen, would call out “play a song!”, my father would, from his chair in the living room, say “let the boy play.”  And I would continue.  I think my father, though not as musically talented as my mother, understood where music came from, and what I was doing.

Having said all that as a short introduction, it has been difficult to decide what album to choose to be the first album review here.  There are so many that I enjoy, so many that are meaningful to me.  There are albums from almost every genre known. Given my own emotional oddities, I tend toward music, and albums, that I feel are complete works of art.  Not simply albums with twelve mildly connected songs, but albums that have an over-arching depth of meaning, story, and art style contained within the music, and the packaging.  This is not to discount albums that are encapsulations of songs indicative of where a group or band is in their current career path.  No. Those albums have their place and I will be reviewing the ones I find significant.  For this inaugural review, however, I wanted to choose an album that represented as many genre’s as possible, and had a relevant story line for this category.  I have chosen The Shaming of the True, by the late Kevin Gilbert.  I’m formulating and writing the review over the next few days, and it will appear here this week.  If you’d like to join my mental voyage through this album, spin it up on whatever device you have, if you have it.  If not, go out and get it, it’s worth your money.

Kevin Gilbert: The Shaming of the True Wikipedia article

Complete Lyrics from LyricWiki

Purchase the album here:

Diamond

Preface:
Many years ago I was a devotee of a 19th century Scottish writer by the name of George McDonald.  I still enjoy his writing today.  McDonald was a religious mystic, having come out of the Calvinist tradition, and also being a clergyman for a time, ended up espousing religious ideas that set him apart from the more strict Calvinist tradition of the time.  The short story I’ve presented below, is a short response to a book by McDonald that was published in book form, after being serialized in a children’s magazine, in 1871, entitled At the Back of the North Wind.  This book left a deep impression on me, but I felt one important element was left out of the story.  Without giving too much away, the story surrounds a sickly young boy named Diamond, who has nightly flights with a character that is actually a personification of the element, the North Wind.  North Wind carry’s Diamond on many adventures, until one day, Diamond must pass through North Wind’s body, to reach the back of the north wind, where there is warmth, and life.  We surmise that North Wind is also Death, who gently takes this boy from his sickly existence in to a warm and healthy afterlife.

Overall, it is a beautiful, if dark, tale.  The character of Diamond is described as having an affect, not unlike an angel, on all those he meets during his short life in this world.  What I feel needed responding to, in this tale, was the effect of his absence, specifically, the emotional response of his father, who figured prominently in the story.  It is the father’s perspective that I have tried to capture in this short story.  I hope you enjoy it.


Diamond.

The ground under his feet was saturated, soaking through his canvas shoes as he walked through the darkness. These fields of peat soaked in the abundant moisture brought to them by the rains off the North Sea, like a sponge.  He didn’t know how long he’d been walking, he just started walking without purpose as soon as the bagpipes had stopped an hour before at the pub. North. Ever northward.

The rain, almost solid in it’s consistency, pelted his face as he strained, step after step against the wind. Then, the ground stopped. He had come to it, the end of the world. The edge. Far to the southwest, the winter sun finally found a break in the clouds as it set after it’s short time low in the sky.  An eerie red glow was cast weakly on the undersides of the black clouds, and causing the chasm at his feet to seem bottomless. He knew the North Sea was there, below him, he could just see the white tips of the windblown waves. Looking northward, from where the wind was coming, he saw nothing but blackness.

Soaked to the bone, cold rain on his face, blending with the salt tears from his eyes, as the last rays of the setting sun left him, he stretched out his arms, leaned forward over the abyss, and flew. He flew forever.

He flew forever, just above the sea spray. Between the blackness of the water, and the blackness of the clouds above, he was transported, he knew not how, to a field of ice. All at once, the sound of the wind stopped, and their was stillness, peace.

His body felt cold, he shuddered. He stood on an unremarkable flat expanse.  He did not know this place.  The lights of the aurora glowed overhead, illuminating the vast emptiness.  As a child, he’d dreamed of finding the place from which the lights came from.  Some said they came from somewhere beyond the north wind, from the back of it, natural philosophers said they were electrical pulses from outside the earth.  His child-like mind wanted there to be a place he could go, something tangible, something real.  He could feel the icy fingers of the north wind across his face as he looked up and remembered his son.  His Diamond, who had talked warmly of the icy fingers of the north wind.  He steeled his resolved, and walked into the wind, always facing it, ever northward.

He hadn’t dreamed of much of anything as an adult. His life was full of pain and loss and joy and happiness. His life in London as a cabby had been modest, and though his family happy and large, he’d always felt cheated after losing his oldest son. His happy and strange son, the one they had all called “God’s Baby” as they twirled their fingers around their temples. He missed his little Diamond, and wondered where he’d gone, and why he was taken.

After some time, he came to a wall of ice. He looked up and couldn’t see the top. It seemed as if it was endless. From over the top, came the lights, streaming southward behind him. Before him the ice was smooth and almost featureless. Then he reached out his hand, and touched it, feeling it’s deep cold. The deep and never ending cold of death.

“Come closer.” said a soft voice in his head.

“I cannot.” he replied internally.

“You can.” it repeated.

“I don’t know how.” he said as he felt frozen to the spot.

“Diamond is here. He’s waiting for you.” the voice said.

Anger welled up in his body. Was this the thing that had taken his little Diamond from him? Without a word, he turned around, and started walking southward again.

Then he stopped. Without turning around, he said “Why did you take him?”

Out of the blackness of the clouds above him, stark against the vast plain of white, came the form of a woman who’s hair blew around her and seemed to be a part of the clouds themselves.

Her voice, soft and gentle, said “I don’t know the answer to your question. But I can show you where he is.”

“How can he be anywhere?” He stammered out. “I was there the day we found him, face down in the hallway in front of his little attic bedroom, peaceful and as white as alabaster. It was I who closed his eyes and placed his body on the bed. He was light as a feather that day.”

It was true, little Diamond had passed away. He had been such a special child to so many, however, that the funeral was quite large. He had touched so many lives with his smile, his innocence, and his dreamy talk of walking with the north wind.

“I was there that day too.” said the woman.

“Am I dreaming?” the man said.

“I don’t know what dreaming is.” She replied.

“I fell…no…I jumped.”

“Yes.”

“Then…where am I?”

“Turn around, and I’ll show you. But I can only show you a cloudy image of where you are, for it is not time for you to pass completely through me yet.” she said as she floated around him, her hair floating about her like a cloud.

“I don’t want to turn around.” He said, after considering for a while.

“You must have faith.” The woman said.

“Faith in what? Faith is nothing but the blind belief in a fantasy.” He said, with some bitterness.

“For some, maybe. But for many, faith is the act of balancing hope against doubt. Do you have hope?” She said.

“I did, once.”

“Turn around.” She said, quietly.

He turned around and saw a cave in the ice, a blue light filtering through it. The shape of the cave was that of the woman, the silhouette, but she was nowhere to be found. He walked into the cave, and could see that there was a soft warm light issuing from the farther end of the cave. The cold bit at his hands and his feet. Soon he couldn’t feel his legs, or his arms, but he pressed on. Just as he thought he would lose consciousness, he saw it, a green and pleasant land. He saw it as if through a mist, or a cloud. He heard the sound of a little river, it seemed to be singing a tune that his little Diamond had sang so many times before.

Then, from over a distant green hill, a boy came running. It was Diamond, his little Diamond. He tried to reach out, but he could not feel the rest of his body. He felt like a spirit watching, unseen. Little Diamond ran in circles and laughed, other children joined him and danced together on the grass. He smiled, and was happy. Hope returned in his heart as he watched, then all went dark.

“Wake up! Oh please! Wake up father!”

The taste of salt water on his lips told him all he needed to know. He could hear the sounds of surf mingled with the muffled sounds of people running and coming closer to him. Someone was already there, however, hovering over him and grasping him and lifting him off the rocky ground, but he couldn’t see anything, all was complete blackness.

“He’ll be fine miss, just let us get him back….it don’t look like he broke nothing.”

He moaned as they picked him up and carried him off. He had, however, finally found peace.


 

Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”

I’m still absorbing this book, having only just completed it recently.  I think it may stick in my psyche for some time to come, even as I move on to more of Eco’s work.  Aside from the murder mystery, embedded in this book are symbols, meanings, allusions, signs and signifiers.  Every line, every description has multiple possible meanings or metaphorical signs.  A passage toward the end of this novel stands out to me, above all others, though I’m still struggling with it’s implications.  The line is as follows:

“It was the greatest library in Christendom,” William said. “Now,” he added, “the Antichrist is truly at hand, because no learning will hinder him any  more.  For that matter, we have seen his face tonight.”

“Whose face?” I asked, dazed.

“Jorge, I mean.  In that face, deformed by hatred of philosophy, I saw for the first time the portrait of the Antichrist, which does not come from the tribe of Judas, as his heralds have it, or from a far country.  The Antichrist can be born of piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth, as the heretic is born from the saint and the possessed from the seer.  Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.  Jorge did a diabolical thing because he loved his truth so lewdly that he dared anything in order to destroy falsehood.  Jorge feared the second book of Aristotle because it perhaps really did teach how to distort the face of every truth, so that we would not become slaves of our ghosts.  Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from the insane passion for the truth.”

Is this a treatise on the love of learning, or an admonition against the passion for truth?  Is this a statement against truth as an end, or against close minded fundamentalism?  The central line “Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.” seems to be the key to understanding this passage.  But I’m open to other interpretations.  A friend of mine, A. Scott White, wrote to me after he read this, saying:

To me it’s about the danger of believing absolutely that you know the truth and deciding that you will unquestioningly champion that truth with zeal. Most true tyrants and despots believe things with great fervency. They are always wrong. Good people question their beliefs, change them, reject them.

I think he’s right about that.  Even science, that bastion of knowing through rigorous testing, re-testing, and peer review (when done correctly), leaves open the possibility of new knowledge that changes current knowledge.  In all cases it does this, in every case.  If there were evidence enough to proclaim errancy in the law of gravity, it would be taken seriously, considered, and tested in order to establish its veracity.  The only difference is the probability of that evidence coming to light.

another beginning, of sorts…

I wanted to write again, I don’t know why, or to what end.  I have things I sometimes want to share, about what I listen to, about what I read, about what interests me, and I suppose I need an outlet, of sorts.  One thing is for sure, I want it to be simple.  There is so much clutter in our lives, so much vying for our attentions, alerts, emails, calendar invites, facebook comments and posts, twitter feeds, news, news, news, an endless barrage of content hammered into our senses, that sometimes it’s hard to find what’s important, between our ears, and behind our eyes, and send it out into the world through our mouths or our fingers.

I want this to be simple.  Clean.  I want it to be thoughtful, intellectual (if I can use that term without sounding elitist), and maybe even graceful.  I want to write about the things I enjoy, that’s really the thing.  That’s really the only thing.  I have a number of things I find interesting and enjoyable, and hopefully someone else will find these things interesting and enjoyable also.  Some of those things are, in no particular order:

Music:

I have always enjoyed music of many types, with very few exceptions.  To be sure, I find some styles more appealing than others.  Modern Country music, for example, does not appeal to me, nor does much of modern Pop music.  However, from my perspective, leaving those two out is like leaving two salt grains out of the ocean, and enjoying the rest.  They have very little meaning to me, in the long run.  I guess you could say I enjoy listening to things that were made to be listened to, not made to be sold.  I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me.  It probably, again, sounds elitist, maybe it is elitist.  I can’t tell.  I enjoy what I enjoy, for my own reasons.  I hope people can appreciate some of the same things I appreciate.

Anthropology:

In 1995, I completed an undergraduate degree from the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, labeled Bachelors of Applied Arts and Sciences.  I did over 98 credit hours in Anthropology, covering all of the sub-disciplines in that science, Archaeology (I was in the only Archaeological Science class in the nation, at that time, that had a Lab component), Linguistics, Cultural Anthropology, and Biological Anthropology.  I rounded out the rest of my BAAS in Film Production, Music Theory, and Sociology.  The BAAS was a catch-all for those of us who could never really decide what we wanted to be when we grew up, the result of which was, most of us never grew up and are still students today, as I am.  Since 1995, I have taken Hebrew Language, more Linguistic courses (both sociological and anthropological), and advanced linguistic courses such as Rhetoric, Narrative and Discourse.  Additionally I have taken Medical Anthropology, along with Myth, Magic and Ritual.  You could say I know a lot about Anthropology, for not actually being an anthropologist, but I would say, the more I learn about Anthropology, the less I feel like I know, and the more complex the human species seems to me, but perhaps I’m just overthinking things, I have that tendency.

Semiotics:

Semiotics is, well, the science of signs, symbols, and analogy.  Questions  like “why is a stop light or sign ‘red’?” is asked by semioticians.  How did it come about that the color ‘red’ has the meaning it does?  I came across semiotics during the coursework in Anthropological Linguistics, and found it fascinating.  Ferdinand de Saussure is hailed as the “father” of semiotics, but I’ve recently been reading books by many others in this field, Barthes, Eco, Guiraud, Foucault, and etc.  Semiotics appeals to my inner need to overthink things, and make things much more complicated than they probably need to be, in order to discover why mankind thinks, acts, and cognates the way he does.  I’m odd that way, I suppose.

Film:

Film.  Of course film.  Film was my other major in college, and I always love to talk and pontificate about good cinematography and creative story telling.  In film, I can blend all the above areas I enjoy, (music, anthropology, semiotics), in to a cohesive whole.  Film is sometimes where all these elements meet.  Sometimes those elements blend well together, marrying and creating a child of beauty, and sometimes they bump into one another, fight mercilessly with one another during the course of a film, and eventually fall apart leaving the viewer empty.

For the time being, that covers most of what I find interesting in this world.  Of course I am a political person, but I will be actively trying to disengage myself from any and all political or religious discussions in this venue, especially with the 2016 election cycle beginning in earnest, and people choosing sides, and the media spinning up their blitzkrieg-like coverage of the minutia of each of the candidate’s lives, successes, failings, ideas, clothing, hairstyles, and so on.  It’s not that I’m not interested, I am.  I want my candidate to win as much as everyone else wants their candidate to win, but I don’t want this venue to be the place for that.  I need an escape from that, I think we all do, from time to time.  It seems to me that we often times need to be reminded that we are citizens of the world, first, and our home country, less so.

Thanks for reading this lengthy opening post.  As I’ve indicated, I have no idea where I will go with this.  I have a few ideas.  Some prose from the past I might dig up, from previous lives.  I hope at least one or two of you check in from time to time.  Thanks.