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Archive for September, 2017

Latest Reviews (23/ix/2017)

Do and DieThe Reason Why, Cecil Woodham-Smith (1953) (posted at O.-o.-t.-Ü)

Liddell im WörterlandLiddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (1843)

Lunar or LaterMoon: From 4.5 billion years ago to the present: Owners’ Workshop Manual, David M. Harland (Haynes 2016)

Headlong into NightmareHeadlong Hall (1816) / Nightmare Abbey (1818)

Twisted TalesBiggles’ Big Adventures: Four Classic Stories Starring the British Empire’s Most Fearless Pilot Adventurer, Captain W.E. Johns (Sevenoaks 2007)

Stop the Brott – staying the serial slaying of a sanguinivorous psychoanalyst


• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

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Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (1843)

Here’s something I learned only recently: the Liddell of the Lexicon was the father of the Alice of Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass fame. I knew her surname was Liddell and that she lived in Oxford, but the possible connection never occurred to me. Partly it must have been that the Lexicon is so soberly academic and Alice in Wonderland so surreally imaginative. But the connection is appropriate, because classical Greek would be the perfect language to translate Alice in Wonderland into. It has all the necessary richness and subtlety:

Sample from the Lexicon #1 (click for larger)

And the Greek script in its fully developed form, with minuscule letters and diacritics, is much more beautiful than the Roman alphabet. This lexicon is a bibliophile’s delight and it’s easy to download PDFs of the full edition. But I also own a physical copy of an abridgment of it. A real book has advantages over an electronic text. You don’t make happy discoveries by accident as easily with an e-text and you’re cut off from history when you’re reading from a screen. Liddell and Scott worked with paper:

Sample from the Lexicon #2 (click for larger)


Paper was also the medium for most of the poets, historians, philosophers and novelists whose words they define. But not for the most famous of all: Homer’s two great epics were originally composed and transmitted without pen or paper. They were products of the pre-literate Bronze Age, when poets and storytellers relied on memory, not manuscripts. A lot was lost with literacy, but civilization depends on it and this lexicon is one of the great monuments to the influence that Greek civilization still has on the world.

But rich and interesting as this book is, it has one big disadvantage: it’s bilingual (or trilingual if you count the Latin). As I pointed out in my review of a Larousse de Poche, monolingual dictionaries are best for learning a foreign language. If a word in Greek is defined in Greek, then “no officious English word intrud[es]”, as C.S. Lewis put it in Surprised by Joy (1955). Liddell and Scott were good enough scholars to have written entirely in Greek and I wish they had done so. There could have been two Lexicons, one translating Greek into English and one defining Greek in Greek.

No Latin dictionary is so famous as Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, which probably and partly reflects the earthier and more utilitarian nature of Latin. But a Latin lexicon defining Latin in Latin would have been good too and something that Victorian scholars could easily have created.

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Moon: From 4.5 billion years ago to the present: Owners’ Workshop Manual, David M. Harland (Haynes 2016)

It was a clever idea: to put out a guide to the Moon in the same format as one of Haynes’ famous car-maintenance manuals. And the execution matched the idea. This is a detailed and interesting history of selenological speculation and lunar exploration, all the way from the ancient Greeks to the Apollo missions and beyond.

Except that there hasn’t been much beyond the Apollo missions. As the book’s final page notes:

On 31 December 1999 National Public Radio in the United States asked Sir Arthur C. Clarke, renowned for forecasting many of the developments of the 20th century, whether anything had happened in the preceding 100 years that he never could have anticipated. “Yes, absolutely,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation. “The one thing that I never would have expected is that after centuries of wonder and imagination and aspiration, we would have gone to the Moon… and then stopped.” (“Postscript”, pg. 172)

And we’ve been stopped for some time. Neil Armstrong died in 2012, forty-three years after that “small step for a man” and “giant leap for mankind” in 1969. But David M. Harland ends on an optimistic note: he thinks that “The Moon is humanity’s future.” It will be our gateway to the rest of the solar system and perhaps even the stars.

But it will be more than just a gateway. There is still a lot we don’t understand about our nearest celestial neighbour and big surprises may still be in store. One thing we do now understand is that the scarred and pitted lunar surface got that way from the outside, not the inside. That is, the moon was bombarded with meteors, not convulsed by volcanoes. But that understanding, so obvious in hindsight, took a long time to reach and it was actually geologists, not astronomers, who promoted and proved it (ch. 5, “The origin of lunar craters”). It was the last big question to be settled before the age of lunar exploration began.

Previously scientists had looked at the Moon with their feet firmly on the ground; at the end of the 1950s, they began to send probes and robotic explorers. Harland takes a detailed look at what these machines looked like, how they worked and where they landed or flew. Then came the giant leap: the Apollo missions. They were an astonishing achievement: a 21st-century feat carried out with technology from the 1960s, as Harland puts it. Yet in one way they depended on technology much earlier than the 1960s: pen and paper. The missions relied on the equations set out in Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687). Newton had wanted to explain, inter multa alia, why the Moon moved as it did.

By doing that, he also explained where a spacecraft would need to be aimed if it wanted to leave the Earth and go into orbit around the Moon. His was a great intellectual achievement just as the Apollo missions were a great technological achievement, but he famously said that he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Harland begins the book with those giants: the earlier scientists and mathematicians who looked up in wonder at the Moon and tried to understand its mysteries. Apollonius, Hipparchus and Ptolemy were giants in the classical world; Galileo, Brahe and Kepler were giants in the Renaissance. Then came Newton and the men behind the Apollo missions.

Are there more giants to come? The Moon may be colonized by private enterprise, not by a government, so the next big names in lunar history may be those of businessmen, not scientists, engineers and astronauts. But China, India and Japan have all begun sending probes to the Moon, so their citizens may follow. Unless some huge disaster gets in the way, it’s surely only a matter of time before more human beings step onto the lunar surface. Even with today’s technology it will be a great achievement and more reason to marvel at the Apollo missions. And the Apollo photographs still look good today.

There are lots of those photographs here, with detailed discussion of the men and machines that allowed them to be taken. The Moon is a fascinating place and this is an excellent guide to what we’ve learned and why we need to learn more.

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Headlong Hall (1816) / Nightmare Abbey (1818)

Dubious disciple of Tarzan expresses proud ornithophilia (6,4,7)

I’m no good at cryptic crosswords. I’d like to think this is because I didn’t do them as a kid, but then I never felt any inclination to do them as a kid. Where there’s no inclination, there’s often no ability. Either way, it’s a pity, because cryptic crosswords can be great fun. The fun lies in playing with words and ideas in a light-hearted way.

Rather like reading the books of the writer this review is about. His name is concealed in the cryptic clue above. If you haven’t worked it out, don’t worry, because I wouldn’t have either if someone else had invented the clue. So let’s take it a step at a time. Who was a dubious disciple? Well, he was a bit more than a disciple, but “apostle” didn’t alliterate (among other things). My saying that should allow you to work out that the first word is THOMAS. Now, forget about the bit in the middle and concentrate on the bit on the end. “Ornithology” is bird-study, so “ornithophilia” must be bird-love. And it’s proud. But is that “proud love” or “proud bird”? My asking that should allow you to work out that the third word is PEACOCK. Now let’s try the bit in the middle. A disciple of Tarzan called Thomas is expressing his love for peacocks. How might he go about it? Well, how did Tarzan go about expressing the same emotion? Tarzan love Jane. My explaining that should allow you to work out that the full answer is THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK.

He sounds like a ’sixties psychedelic band, doesn’t he? Maybe he was – if he wasn’t, he should have been. First and foremost, though, he was a writer, born in 1785, died in 1866. In Weymouth and London, respectively. He was only a minor literary figure even in his day, but that’s part of what I like about him. That and his name. And his books.

Well, two of them, anyway. He wrote seven-and-a-bit: Headlong Hall (1816); Melincourt (1817); Nightmare Abbey (1818); Maid Marian (1822); The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829); Crotchet Castle (1831); Gryll Grange (1860); and Calidore (which he never completed). I’ve tried four of them, and given up with two. The two I gave up with were The Misfortunes of Elphin and Crotchet Castle. The two I didn’t give up with were Headlong Hall and Nightmare Abbey.

Those two are also his most famous books, which suggests that they’re his best. And his best is very good. Headlong Hall is a satire on, among other things and other people, the Romantic Movement and figures like Shelley and Byron; Nightmare Abbey takes a narrower view and satirizes the Romantic Movement through just Shelley and his hopeless love-affairs. For a flavor of the first, here is Mr Foster, the perfectibilist, who believes that the human race is getting better with every generation:

“In short,” said he, “everything we look on attests the progress of mankind in all the arts of life, and demonstrates their gradual advancement towards a state of unlimited perfection.”

Foster and his perfectibilism are adamantly and absolutely opposed by the deteriorationist Mr Escot, who believes that, on the contrary, the human race is getting worse with every generation:

“[T]hese improvements, as you call them, appear to me only so many links in the great chain of corruption, which will soon fetter the whole human race in irreparable slavery and incurable wretchedness: your improvements proceed in a simple ratio, while the factitious wants and unnatural appetites they engender proceed in a compound one; and thus one generation acquires fifty wants, and fifty means of supplying them are invented, which each in its turn engenders two new ones; so that the next generation has a hundred, the next two hundred, the next four hundred, till every human being becomes such a helpless compound of perverted inclinations, that he is altogether at the mercy of external circumstances, loses all independence and singleness of character, and degenerates so rapidly from the primitive dignity of his sylvan origin, that it is scarcely possible to indulge in any other expectation, than that the whole species must at length be exterminated by its own infinite imbecility and vileness.”

But Escot and Foster are opposed, or perhaps balanced, by Mr Jenkison, the statu-quo-ite, who believes that the balance of good and bad remains the same from generation to generation:

I have often debated the matter in my own mind, pro and con, and have at length arrived at this conclusion – that there is not in the human race a tendency either to moral perfectibility or deterioration; but that the quantities of each are so exactly balanced by their reciprocal results, that the species, with respect to the sum of good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, happiness and misery, remains exactly and perpetually in statu quo.

Throw in more philosophers and scholars attached with equal fervor to other, and odder, world-views, mix with absurd incidents, absurder love-affairs, and season with genuine learning and wit, and you have the recipe with which Thomas Love Peacock has appealed to a small but select audience ever since Headlong Hall was first published in 1816. Two years later, in 1818, he followed it with Nightmare Abbey, which is less a feast than a single dish, but no less delicious for that. Even better, you can buy both for a pound in the Wordsworth series at a bookshop near you now.

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Biggles’ Big Adventures: Four Classic Stories Starring the British Empire’s Most Fearless Pilot Adventurer, Captain W.E. Johns (Sevenoaks 2007)

Some of the Biggles short stories, particularly those set during the First World War, are excellent and inventive literature. The Biggles novels, on the other hand, are usually formulaic pot-boilers. Reading them can be like watching the same play over and over again with different scenery. That’s certainly true of the four novels collected here: Biggles in the Baltic (1939), Biggles Sees It Through (1940), Biggles Flies North (1941) and Biggles in the Jungle (1942).

Each has the same plot: Biggles and his comrades Algy and Ginger face a ruthless and cunning enemy, are captured and imprisoned, escape, and ultimately triumph. Sometimes they’re captured and escape more than once. Little else varies but for the landscape, the name of their enemy and the nature of his ruthlessness and cunning. In Biggles in the Baltic and Biggles Sees It Through it’s the Nazi Von Stahlhein; in Biggles Flies North it’s a crook called Brindle McBain and in Biggles in the Jungle it’s a crook called The King of the Forest.

I’ve never managed to finished Biggles in the Baltic, because it’s so dull. There’s little memorable in any of the others apart from a bar scene in Biggles Flies North in which McBain puts a bullet through Biggles’ cup of Bovril and Biggles puts a bullet through McBain’s bottle of whiskey. All the same, reading the middle two novels of this collection has been one of the most interesting literary experiences of my life, because I carried out a simple experiment I’d been meaning to try for some time.

What did I do? I read the the novels upside-down. That is, they were upside-down, not me. I simply turned the book through 180° and read the lines of text right-to-left and from the bottom of the page to the top. It was hard work: from being a fluent, fast and careless adult reader I was transformed into a slow and stumbling learner again. I had to spell some words through letter by letter. I made mistakes and jumped to wrong conclusions about the word I was trying to decipher. It was hard work and the stories were a lot more interesting than they would have been if I’d read in the usual way. They were also more frustrating: when Biggles & Co. were captured or otherwise in difficulty, I couldn’t get to the bits where they escaped or overcame the difficulty as quickly as I wanted to.

And I was much more aware of the acting of reading – its strangeness and its power. Or perhaps you could just say that I was aware of the act of reading. It wasn’t easy and automatic any more. But it might have become so if I’d continued the experiment for long enough. My skill at upside-down reading improved even over the course of two Biggles novels. Something was happening inside my brain: I was re-learning to see words as Gestalts and not as sets of individual letters. Would I ever read upside-down as easily as I normally do? In time, perhaps. I doubt I’ll ever try to find out, but it was certainly an interesting experiment and I may try it again if another suitable book comes my way.

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Pre-previously on Papyrocentric Performativity, I asked a single stark and simple question:

Is David Slater* a serial killer aficionado?

Today I want to ask a starker and simpler question still:

Is Mikita Brottman a serial killer?

At first glance, the question seems ludicrous, even crazy. But bear with me and I will present good evidence that it may not be so ludicrous or crazy after all. Indeed, that single stark and simple question is not enough. I want to go further and ask:

Is Mikita Brottman a serial killer with a vile white-supremacist agenda?

Now the question may seem to some even ludicrouser. How on Gaia could Mikita Brottman be a serial killer, let alone a serial killer with a vile white-supremacist agenda? This mild-mannered literary scholar and yoga-enthusiast is a passionate member of the progressive community. She has a PhD in EngLit and another PhD in psychoanalysis. She is a committed reader of the Guardian and has been for decades. She was a core contributor to Cleaner, Kinder, Caringer: Women’s Wisdom for a Wounded World (2008). She has signalled her core commitment to progressive values in a thousand ways in a thousand venues.

Indeed she has. But is “signalled” not the operative word? I would suggest that Brottman, like countless other beneficiaries of white privilege, is an expert at camouflaging herself as progressive while making no real contribution to advancing the progressive agenda. For example, although Brottman has undoubtedly enjoyed white privilege all her life, she has never acknowledged this glaring fact, let alone sought to atone for it. And when she is called out for her white privilege, she resorts to the most disingenuous and transparent tactics of evasion. She has claimed in one interview: “I do not identify as ‘white’ – I identify as Freudian.”

What nonsense! As though Sigmund Freud is not a paradigmatic example of a Dead White European Male! Furthermore, Freud taught us to probe beneath the surface. If what is in the depths were invariably the same as what is on the surface, there would be no need to probe beneath the surface. Q.E.D. We should therefore be very suspicious of Brottman’s progressive veneer and of her claim “not [to] identify as ‘white’.” And that is even before we consider another core data-quantum: her move to the Black-majority city of Baltimore. What was she up to? Indeed, what is she up to? I would suggest that this recent headline provides us with a clue:

Baltimore could surpass New York City in homicides

BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore could surpass New York City in homicides this year. The Baltimore Sun reports that for the first time Baltimore, with a population of less than 620,000, could record more murders in a single year than New York, which has a population of 8.5 million. As of Sept. 3, Baltimore has recorded 238 homicides, while New York City has seen 182 murders.

How on Gaia is it possible that Baltimore, with a population of less than a million, could ever record more murders than New York, with a population of over eight million? Well, vile white racists and white supremacists have an easy answer to that core question. They claim that it is the so-called “Ferguson Effect”, in which protests by the progressive organization Black Lives Matter (BLM) cause the de-policing of vulnerable districts in various American cities. Black-on-Black homicide rates then rise sharply and shockingly – according to the vile white racists and white supremacists.

I have a different and much more plausible theory: that the so-called “Ferguson Effect” is real, but caused not by Blacks homiciding other members of their Community, rather by homicidal white racists seeking to make BLM look bad. And how, you might quite reasonably ask, are homicidal white racists able to operate in vulnerable Black districts without being detected? I will let TransVisceral Books answer that question:

Baltimore Booty: An Anglo Academic Goes Undercover in Da Ghetto

Mikita Brottman’s über-controversial memoir of how she has regularly used skin-dye, wigs and prosthetic buttocks to enter and share the life of one of America’s most vulnerable Black communities. – TransVisceral publicity for Baltimore Booty (2016)

There you have it. On her own admission, Brottman has regularly operated “undercover” in Baltimore’s Black Community whilst wearing prosthetic buttocks in which it would be very easy to conceal lethal weaponry. Perhaps she carries a powerful handgun in the right cheek of her prosthetic buttocks and additional ammunition in the left cheek. Or vice versa. It is impossible to be sure. At this moment in time, we can only speculate as to the precise details of Brottman’s blood-soaked work on behalf of the white supremacist cause.

In a Black-majority jail, a white-majority yoga club:
Mikita Brottman lurks behind a vulnerable minority

Nor am I, of course, seeking to suggest that Brottman could be solely responsible for the disturbingly anomalous increase in the Baltimore homicide rate. If my theory is correct, she would be merely one amongst a number of white racists operating in the Black Community while wearing similar disguises. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible that she is the deadliest and most dedicated member of the right-wing death-squad.

And why should she have confined her atrocious attentions to Baltimore? It could very well be the case that this so-called “Anglo Academic” has been at work in other cities subject to the so-called “Ferguson Effect”, such as Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee. What can we conclude? It’s simple: Racism Never Sleeps. Nor must anti-racism. And I have only one thing left to say:

Stop.

The.

Brott.


*Simul-scribe of seminal snuff-study Killing for Culture: A Dysmorphic Duo of Death’n’Decomposition-Dedicated Deviants Called Dave Sniff Out the Slimiest Secrets of Snuff’n’Stuff (Visceral Visions 2016).

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