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Showing posts from September 2, 2012

perversion and topic grammar

The divide between what is written and what is drawn is often passed over rather hastily in the history of the invention of writing. In Tim Ingold’s Lines, he quotes from an anthropologist in Australia: “Both men and women among the Walbiri routinely draw designs in the sand with their fingers, as they talk and tell stories. This drawing is as normal and as integral a part of conversation as are speech and gesture. The markings themselves are standardized to the extent that they add up to a kind of vocabulary of graphic elements whose precise meanings, however, are heavily dependent on the conversational or storytelling contexts in which they appear. Thus a simple straight line can be (among other things) a spear, a fighting or digging stick, or a person or animal lying stretched out; a circle can be a nest, water hole, tree, hill, billy can or egg. As the story proceeds, marks are assembled into little scenes, each of which is then wiped out to make way for the next.” [125

Oliver Sacks exciting adventure

As every New Yorker and London Review of Books subscriber knows, one begins by being utterly impressed by the sheer stuff that these mags offer, and one ends up like an inhabitant of Vicksburg in 1863, besieged and bewildered as the issues just keep zooming in: there’s another Paul Anderson 14 pager on Nehru! There’s the issue on the Olympics! There’s the short story by Michaelchabonzadiesmithalicemunroe! Which is how the magazines have piled up in the office, and how I lag behind, reading them. Last night, I finally made my way through the issue in which Oliver Sacks recounts, with an astonishing lack of apology, his drug experiences   from the sixties. I especially like his description of getting the DTs from overdoing the chloral, and – after the initial shock of going home on a bus filled with insect-headed humanoids – resolving to experience the whole thing, rather than checking into a hospital. That’s the spirit! I remember once telling someone that I feared that if I took

on the immortals

When Eric Auerbach enquires about the notion of “figure” and its broader use in rhetoric and literature, he begins by going back to Varro and the adaptation of Hellenic thinking by Roman writers in the 1 st century B.C. When I begin thinking about the notion of “mortal” and its use as a category term to denote human beings, I begin by going back to “Bewitched” and the cartoons featuring “Thor”, which I saw as a boy in (it seems to me, now) the living room in the house we lived in on Nielson Court in Clarkston, Georgia. I long for Auerbach’s scholarly depth, but depth must bow to the multitudinous experience that feeds it. Plankton, after all, sustains the whale. It does seem to me, looking back, that the use of “mortal” for human being was a fact I accepted without thinking about it too much. It seemed that certain creatures – superheros, witches – would think that humans are mortals. But it didn’t seem to me that this meant humans were limited by death. Death, in those pj-ed,

Montaigne and the witches

The witches “Firstly, private error makes public error, which in turn, makes private error.” –On the lame, Montaigne In the English speaking world, the credit for the idea that the witches persecuted in the witch hunts of Europe were actually members of an underground pagan cult, trapped like a bubble inside Christendom, goes to Margaret Murray, writing in 1921. But the idea was actually articulated long before Murray in 1862, in Jules Michelet’s book, The Witch. Michelet, familiar with the philologists, used the comparativist method that became a craze for desk bound anthropologists in Murray’s time, like J.G. Frazer. It did not escape Michelet that the ‘odious’ custom of brothers sleeping with their sisters in Basque country, an accusation relayed by Pierre de Lancre, the head of the witchhunting commission in Labourd (Southwest France)   in 1609, reproduces a custom of the mages of Persia. De Lancre is a mysterious character, a footnote in not only the histories of w

For Clint

“The world is turning into vinegar.” Thus spoke the gentleman who bought our desk, yesterday, when he came to pick it up. He was explaining that he and his wife, for “ideological” reasons, now attempt to get all their things second hand. “Things are in the saddle and they ride mankind,” Emerson said. This man’s opinion was that things were now riding all too roughly, and crushing not only mankind but the whole world, the lock stock and barrel of atmosphere, continents and ocean. This is a sentiment I’ve heard a lot of in Paris, lately. I thought of this guy when I read the portrait of Justin Bieber’s manager, “Scooter,” in the New Yorker this morning [Note: Technically, this way of changing a top is known in rhetoric as the “spitball transition”, and it is illegal in league play. But it is good enough for Limited Inc!]. I learned a lot of things about Justin Bieber in the profile. I learned, for instance, that he was discovered by Scooter on Youtube. This warmed my heart