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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

April Birthdays

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

T.S. Eliot begins his epic poem, The Waste Land, with these immortal lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Perhaps Eliot did, or perhaps he did not, know that two great men were born in April, and thus April is not such a cruel month after all.
Today is traditionally held to be the birthday of William Shakespeare , who was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers; so much of what we know, or think we know, about him comes to us from public and court documents, with a fair measure of inference and speculation. We do know that his father John was a glove maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William’s extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek likely came from his education at the well-respected local grammar school. That was the extent of his formal education, which has led to hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays, since many found it unbelievable that he could have written so knowledgeably about history, politics, royalty, and foreign lands on a grammar school education. Various figures, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I, have been put forward as possible – though unproven – ghost writers.

We know that he married the older – and pregnant – Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that, and son Hamnet died at age 11. It’s speculated that his son’s death hit Shakespeare hard, because he began to write Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 – possibly to escape deer-poaching charges in Stratford – and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was popular in his lifetime, but his popularity didn’t rise to the level that George Bernard Shaw referred to as “bardolatry” until the 19th century.

In 1611, he retired to Stratford and made out his will, leaving to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed be he who moves my bones.”

Though biographical details may be sketchy, his literary legacy is certain. He wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and shifted effortlessly between formal court language and coarse vernacular. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. His idioms have woven themselves so snugly into our daily conversations that we aren’t even aware of them most of the time, phrases such as “a fool’s paradise,” “a sorry sight,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “slept a wink,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

Though we have no way of knowing whether the Bard of Avon was writing of his own impending retirement when he wrote Prospero’s soliloquy from The Tempest in about 1610, it’s satisfying to think so:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

 

It’s also the birthday of Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant , born in Königsberg, Prussia on April 22,1724. His father was a saddle maker. He studied theology, physics, mathematics, and philosophy at university, and worked for a time as a private tutor; he made very little money, but it gave him plenty of time for his own work. He lectured at the University of Königsberg for 15 years until he was eventually given a tenured position as professor of logic and metaphysics in 1770. Though he enjoyed hearing travel stories, he never ventured more than 50 miles from his hometown, believing that travel was not necessary to solve the problems of philosophy.

In his most influential work, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he argued against Empiricism, which held that the mind was a blank slate to be filled with observations of the physical world, and Rationalism, which held that it was possible to experience the world objectively without the interference of the mind; instead, he synthesized the two schools of thought, added that the conscious mind must process and organize our perceptions, and made a distinction between the natural world as we observe it and the natural world as it really is. He viewed morality as something that arises from human reason, and maintained that an action’s morality is determined not by the outcome of the action, but by the motive behind it. He is also famous for his single moral obligation, the “Categorical Imperative” namely, that we should judge our actions by whether or not we would want everyone else to act the same way.

He wrote, “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe […] the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Angle for Anglo-Saxon, or Enlighten with Latin?

Monday, February 6th, 2017

For those who read my blog and who are writers, this short article should be quite helpful. Sent to me by my good friend, Stephen Dubel.

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/should-you-angle-for-anglo-saxon-or-enlighten-with-latin/

Should You Angle for Anglo-Saxon, or Enlighten with Latin?

By Mark Nichol

Arguments for and against favoring Latinate words over Germanic ones, or vice versa (or, if you prefer a non-Latinate phrase, the other way around), have been heard over the years. What’s best? How about the status quo?

The vocabulary of Modern English is the result of a unique admixture of words (and phrases) from a variety of languages. But only about one-fourth derive directly from Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, and other Germanic languages. More than that come from Latin — and Latin’s progeny (mostly Spanish and French) account for as many more words. Admittedly, many Latin words are used primarily in legal, scientific, and medical contexts, whereas Germanic words tend to be more practical for everyday life, but the Latinate contribution is still predominant over native words, and the language is richer for the widespread borrowings.

Given the choice between words from the Germanic root and those of Latin origin, which should one choose? How about one or the other, on an ad hoc basis, or as your mood strikes you? Various movements have attempted to eradicate non-Germanic vocabulary from the English word-hoard, or at least minimize it, but these absurd endeavors, which have sometimes included efforts to create or calque (translate) new words, have been prompted by nationalism, not by any sensible motive.

To communicate plainly, Germanic words, which tend to be shorter, are often preferable, but the Latinate pain, for example, is as simple as the Germanic ache, and Germanic anger and wrath are slightly more complicated than ire and rage, both of which are of Latin provenance but could easily be misidentified as Germanic words.

If you do want to introduce more Germanic words into your writing, it’s easy, for instance, to target classes of words with specific suffixes: For example, words that end in the Latinate suffix -age have more concise synonyms: Think of advantage (gain), marriage (wedlock), savage (wild), and voyage (trip). But where would we be without parentage? “Mother and father” may be more concrete, but the Latinate term is more concise, more precise, and more flexible when it comes to nontraditional families.

For another example, words ending in -ity are often more complicated; why not, for example, write selfhood instead of identity? Unfortunately, identity often refers to a collective, rather than individual, impression. (And often, when one considers alternatives for Latinate words, the first synonym that comes to mind is non-Germanic, too: Quick, what’s another word for fidelity? Loyalty? That’s from French. Allegiance? French.) For yet another example, though words ending in -ology are of Latin origin, there’s no suitable Germanic equivalent for the suffix.

Ultimately, word choice depends on various factors, but the ground a word sprang up in shouldn’t be one of them.


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William James

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

My friend, Sol Shalit, sent me a reminder that Jan 11, 2017 was the birthday of William James who was born 175 years ago in New York City. Sol included this wonderful tribute to James’ life and work. I think it is worth republishing for others to read.
It’s the birthday of William James, (books by this author) born in New York City (1842). As a young man, he studied art, then went on to Harvard University and earned a medical degree there. But he was never a practicing doctor — instead, he stayed on as a member of the Harvard faculty. He said: “I originally studied medicine in order to be a physiologist, but I drifted into psychology and philosophy from a sort of fatality. I never had any philosophic instruction, the first lecture on psychology I ever heard being the first I ever gave.”

In 1872, a group of Harvard intellectuals, including James, began a conversation group. Charles Sanders Pierce wrote: “It was in the earliest seventies that a knot of us young men in Old Cambridge, calling ourselves, half-ironically, half-defiantly, ‘The Metaphysical Club,’ — for agnosticism was then riding its high horse, and was frowning superbly upon all metaphysics, —used to meet, sometimes in my study, sometimes in that of William James.” Members came from various academic disciplines, including law, medicine, and philosophy. William’s younger brother, Henry James, wrote about Oliver Wendell Holmes: “He, my brother, and various other long-headed youths have combined to form a metaphysical club, where they wrangle grimly and stick to the question. It gives me a headache merely to know of it.”

William James’ most famous contribution to philosophy is an idea called pragmatism. Pragmatism was first conceived of by Charles Sanders Peirce, but it didn’t catch on. James himself had a hard time understanding Peirce. He wrote to his brother: “I am amused that you should have fallen into the arms of C.S. Peirce, whom I imagine you find a rather uncomfortable bedfellow, thorny and spinous, but the way to treat him is after the fabled ‘nettle’ receipt: grasp firmly, contradict, push hard, make fun of him, and he is as pleasant as anyone; but be overawed by his sententious manner and his paradoxical and obscure statements, wait upon them as it were, for light to dawn, and you will never get a feeling of ease with him any more than I did for years, until I changed my course and treated him more or less chaffingly. I confess I like him very much in spite of his peculiarities, for he is a man of genius and there’s always something in that to compel one’s sympathy.”

Unlike Peirce, William James was not a philosophical genius, and he didn’t see anything wrong with taking a complex concept and oversimplifying it for the sake of making it more accessible. The term “pragmatism” was first used in a lecture James gave at the University of California Berkeley in 1898. But James was quick to give the credit for the term to Peirce, who he said had thought of it about 20 years earlier.

According to James, pragmatism valued the practical outcome of an idea above the idea itself. He saw a huge divide in philosophy between what he called “tough-minded” and “tender-minded” ways of looking at the world. He associated a “tough-minded” view with science, empirical evidence, atheism, pessimism, skepticism, and materialism. “Tender-minded,” on the other hand, went along with idealism, optimism, religion, dogma, and free will. James thought that pragmatism was a way of getting beyond this divide, and plenty of other dualities that caused conflict.

The way that pragmatism bridged these divides was to ask, with every idea, what the practical outcome of two opposing sides would be. If there was no significant difference in a practical outcome, then there was no significant conflict between two sides. One of James’ examples was the conflict that philosophers perceived between free will and determinism. James pointed out that there was no clear practical difference between having free will and believing in determinism — therefore, there was no fundamental conflict.

James also said that pragmatism was a philosophy of truth. He said, “The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite assignable reasons.” In James’ pragmatism, “truth” was a large concept — something could be true because it was actually experienced in a direct way, or it could be true because it contributed to overall happiness. So he allowed for a lot of religious and spiritual beliefs to coexist with empirical thinking, because religion was true in the sense that it added meaning to life. He said: “If theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true, for pragmatism, in the sense of being good for so much. How much more they are true, will depend entirely on their relations to the other truths that also have to be acknowledged.” That was another idea of his — that abstract ideas (like religious beliefs) were fine, and could coexist with empirical observations, as long as they did not “clash with other vital beliefs.” So until they started to get in the way, they were true enough.

James’ pragmatism was based in empiricism, in the sense that experience should be the ultimate context for everything. But unlike some of the more rigid empirical philosophers like David Hume, who thought experience was only what was experienced by the senses, James said that experience could also include metaphysical ideas, religion, or anything at all that was part of our experience as human beings.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, it made sense that Americans embraced pragmatism — a new approach, a practical approach, and an attempt to reconcile seemingly opposing sides. Pragmatism was popularized by James, Peirce, and John Dewey, one of Peirce’s students. Dewey lived until 1952, and he had a long and prolific career. By the time he died at the age of 92, he had published 40 books and hundreds of articles. Dewey called his philosophy “instrumentalism” rather than “pragmatism,” but he is generally considered the third major pragmatist. He helped make the philosophy seem even more relevant to Americans, writing about education, art, civic life, and government.

Even though it is such a complex philosophy, today we use the word pragmatism in an offhand way, to mean “practicality.”

Another term that James coined and popularized was “stream-of-consciousness,” which he meant as a psychological term. He said, “It is a fact that in each of us, when awake (and often when asleep), some kind of consciousness is always going on. There is a stream, a succession of states, or waves, or fields (or of whatever you please to call them), of knowledge, of feeling, of desire, of deliberation, etc., that constantly pass and repass, and that constitute our inner life. The existence of this stream is the primal fact, the nature and origin of it form the essential problem, of our science.” But eventually he settled on “stream-of-consciousness,” an idea that other scholars lifted from psychology and used to talk about literature.

Lost Month, Happily the Last One.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Lost Month Happily the Last One.

I am now 26 days postop and ready to start blogging again. Sorry, to the very few who care about this blog, for the long hiatus. I just didn’t have the interest to put up any posts. I suspect that this mindset has begun to change and I have, once more, the urge to start over again.

I did some reading over the past month and I do have a couple of books that I believe are really top notch and worthwhile.

1. Stone Mattress–– nine a wonderful short stories by the incomparable Margaret Atwood.

2. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Although in some aspects it is dated, it provides a marvelous glance into 19th century American times and literature.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a chilling glance into a possible future dystopia. We’re almost there. Read it and you’ll see.

Meanwhile, the bloody world continues to whirl. Obama fights Shia in Yemen and Sunnis in Iraq. So, he’s buddies with Iran in Iraq and Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Of course, an impossible situation since he is trying to negotiate with Iran over their nukes. He has also decided that Israel is no longer a reliable ally and probably will drop his defense of Israel in the UN. Oh sure, that makes sense ––– body-up with the world’s number one terrorist supporter and supplier and give the cold shoulder to the only democracy in the region. Makes perfect sense. Certainly don’t give arms to the Ukrainians, just let Russia do whatever it wishes. Why not? It’s their sphere of influence, isn’t it? Aw, let Putin have his way. Rambunctious, but at heart a good guy. Right?

And of course on the domestic front, the battle between the imperial president who regards the Congress of the United States as an archaic symbol of our colonial and slave past. So, Obama does what he wants. If Congress agrees, great! If Congress disagrees, to bad. He’ll do it anyway.

Finally, watch out when you fly. Make sure your pilot and and copilot aren’t on antidepressants and suicidal. Could be bad for YOUR health.

Musing on Medicine and Its Long History As a Healing and Proud Profession.

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Well, I have exhausted most of the material I know concerning ObamaCare and the dreadful effrets it will have on the economy and ultimately on the practice of medicine and the care for sick patients. Already, many physicians are optioning to retire or go into non-patient care activities in medicine. If ObamaCare is fully implemented, thirty million new patients with insurance will be clamoring for care which cannot be provided by the shrinking number of physicians. So, people will have an insurance card, but long and often fatal delays as they seek healthcare. I thought it might be worthwhile to return to  Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician of the fifth century B.C. and then some excerpts from a wonderful article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2013:106:288–292 with the hope that despite these dismal times those young physicians of the present and those of the future will not forget the legacy they inherit.

The Hippocratic Oath

(A Literal Translation)

I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Health and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses, making them witnesses, that I will make complete this oath and this written covenant according to my ability and discernment:

– To regard my teacher of this art as equal to my parents and to share my livelihood (with him), and to make a contribution to him when he is in need of a debt, and to judge his offspring as equal to my brothers in manhood, and to teach this art – if they want to learn it – without wage and written covenant (to them), to make an imparting of the set of rules and lecture and all the rest of instruction to my sons and those of my teacher, and to those pupils who have been indentured and who have taken an oath according to the medical law, but to no one else.

– I will use diets for the assistance of the sick according to my ability and discernment; but also to keep away injury of health and injustice.

– I will neither give any deadly drug, having been asked for it, nor will I guide the same advice. Similarly, I will not give an abortifacient pessary to a woman. In purity and in holiness I will maintain my life and my art.

– I will not use the knife, not even on those suffering from the stone, but I will give way to those who are practitioners of this work.

– And as many houses as I may go into, I will go in for the assistance of the sick, being free from all voluntary injustice and mischief and the rest, even abstaining from sexual pleasures of both female and male persons, both free and slaves.

– That which I may see or hear during treatment, or even outside of treatment concerning the life of men, which must not in any way be divulged outside, I will not speak, regarding such things to be unutterable.

And so may it be to me making complete my oath and not making it of no effect that I enjoy the benefits of my life and art and be honored by all men for time eternal; but may it be the opposite of this to me transgressing and swearing falsely.

A Medical Legacy

“The words that the writer uses in Ancient Medicine to describe the medicine of older generations could be used today to describe Hippocratic medicine itself:”

“…..we ought not to reject the ancient art  as non-existent, or own the ground that its method of inquiry is faulty, just because it has not attained exactness in every detail. Having been able by reasoning to rise from deep ignorance to approximately perfect accuracy, I think we ought to admire the discoveries as the work, not a chance, but of inquiry rightly and correctly conducted.”

(Ancient Medicine. Jones,WHS.  Hippocrates. Volume I. With an English Translation  by WHSJ. Cambridge,MA, London: Loeb Classical Library, 1923)

“ Despite today’s advanced knowledge though, it seems that contemporary medicine can still turn to Hippocrates for inspiration and understanding. And the complexity of medical practice, which is accurately described in the first Hippocratic Aphorism, still applies to modern   healthcare professionals:”

“Life is short, the Art  long, opportunity fleeting, experience false, judgment difficult. Aphorisms4.”

(Jones,WHS.  Hippocrates. Volume I. With an English Translation  by WHSJ. Cambridge,MA, London: Loeb Classical Library, 1923)

“This timely  statement and other unchanging truths in the Hippocratic Corpus, written around the fourth century B.C. , continued to ring true today. What will remain of the medicine we practice today in 25 centuries, we wonder?”
Finally, I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you, the reader. I can only hope it does.


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