Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts.

Puppy dog tails

Crystal Smith follows up her analysis of children's advertising with a similar exercise applied to the shows and films that children watch. Her post has the details, Word Cloud: Male and Female Character Descriptions.

Here are the boys.

And here are the girls.

Gender and language, easily seen

Crystal Smith has prepared a couple of graphics based on the nouns, verbs and adjectives contained in the advertisements for children's toys. Her blog post, Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes, contains the details.

What I also found intriguing was that the advertisements for boys toys contained approximately twice as many words as the advertisements for girls toys.

Here is the graphic display of words used in boys advertisments.

And here is the one for girls.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself

God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis. Page 48

Christians are taught to love their neighbours. How, there- lore, can they justify their attitude of supporting the war?

You are told to love your neighbour as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to he hanged. You may even think that you ought to go to the Police and own up and be hanged. Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained. It seems to me, therefore, that when the worst comes to the worst, if you cannot restrain a man by any method except by trying to kill him, then a Christian must do that. That is my answer. But I may be wrong. It is very difficult to answer, of course.

Our cities are our own – we make them inside us

Liveable v lovable by Edwin Heathcote. An excellent article on the issues attendant to creating subjective lists and in particular exploring the conundrum that magazines that put together lists of the best cities in which to live, usually end up with cities which don't particularly attract many people to live in them. Logically, to answer the question of which cities are those best to live in, one would look at the cities where people choose to live and one would have Mexico City, Beijing, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, etc. Instead you have Vancouver, Geneva, Vienna, etc. Wonderful cities each but on what basis can it be said that they are the best place to live if the majority of people are choosing to live in such cities as Hong Kong, Cairo and Chicago.

The answer is not dissimilar to the challenge of those book lists where reading enthusiasts try to identify the best books of all time.

Heathcote's comment regarding judging cities might equally apply to books:
Of course, the ultimate difficulty with these surveys is that tastes are individual. I find London infuriating but –with the possible exception of New York – couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. “The city is a unique and private reality,” wrote Jonathan Raban, author of Soft City. He proposed that his London was a “soft city”, a place that everyone remakes in their own manner, in which every place evokes a personal memory or connection and which we navigate through our own unique mental maps. Our cities are our own – we make them inside us. No city means the same to two people so how on earth can we measure them?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Children afraid of the night

Auden - September 1, 1939, from Harper's Magazine.

Here is the poem in its entirety. Auden later took against the poem and tried to expunge it from his oeuvre but it has endured in popularity
Septmber 1, 1939
by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Safeguards are often irksome

From The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, page 1
Safeguards are often irksome, but sometimes convenient, and if one needs them at all, one is apt to need them badly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Luther had never seen a Bible until he was twenty

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Brian Jacques.

I purchased this book probably four or five years ago. It has travelled with me to the beach a couple of times and not been read. It has made it from my library to my bedside several times and resided in the stacks of books to be gotten to. Finally, this past week, I read enough of the first pages for the kindling to catch. What an enjoyable read. New information, new perspectives, artful articulation of familiar thoughts. And I haven't yet finished the first chapter.

Here is Barzun on some of the consequences of the Protestant Reformation with a particular focus on the consequences to reading, communication, and thinking. Page 27. I note the common culture message in the final paragraph and the implications of deep reading in the first.

Another discard: the mumbling in Latin to uncomprehending ears by an absentminded priest. Clear words in everyday language carried the homily, now called sermon. It has shrunk in size over the years, but when it first became the main part of the Evangelical service, and particularly when it celebrated public events, it could last three hours. Well into the 19C the "lesson" expounding a sentence or two from the Bible still needed an hour, and attendance at two services on one day was no uncommon habit. "The English Sunday" came to signify a peculiar division of human time. Lacking relics and images, Protestants go to church only for services (children for Sunday school), instead of at any hour of the day for prayer or recollection, as Catholics still do.

The Evangelicals made the sacraments less awesome. No rites for the dying, and the others ceremonial rather than magical. Communion—earlier, the Eucharist—was celebrated less often than the Mass had been; Luther thought four times a year was enough; and it could no longer help the dead or relatives and friends. Other emancipations: a Protestant could marry a first cousin and, if really "advanced," could refuse to take oaths or serve as magistrate.

The change of greatest consequence, a cultural step comparable to Mohammed's gift of the Koran to his people, was making the new life find its mental and spiritual food in the Bible. Luther had never seen a Bible until he was twenty. His very thorough religious education had been based on a selection from the church Fathers. But more than one thinker before him had wanted to bring the word of God to the people and a dozen translations into the common tongues had been made. Once again, it was Luther who compounded these efforts and made the Bible The Book for all Protestants (bible means book) and even forced it into the Catholic consciousness.

The results for Protestants were remarkable. To start with, it gave whole populations a common background of knowledge, a common culture in the high sense of the term. A 19C incident makes the point vivid: when Coleridge was lecturing in London on the great English writers, he happened to mention Dr. Johnson's finding on his way home one night a woman of the streets ill or drunk in a gutter. Johnson carried her on his broad back to his own poor lodging for food and shelter. Coleridge's fashionable audience tittered and murmured, the men sneering, the women shocked. Coleridge paused and said: "I remind you of the parable of the Good Samaritan" and all were hushed. No amount of moralizing could have done the work of rebuke and edification with such speed and finality.