Posts tagged ‘Ancient Greek’

27 September, 2011

Metaphor = APORIA

I try to limit the amount of super dense crap I put up on the internet, but this is too beautiful an analysis of the nature of metaphor to pass up sharing.

The rhetoric of metaphor is, after all, grounded in aporia. Metaphor, like its extension, allegory, is resorted to when the proper term is deemed inappropriate or unavailable and a non-proper term is inserted in its place–to the effect of a hovering validity which is held in suspense by the knowledge that the term is not the proper one. The paradox of the wrong term being the only appropriate or possible one accounts for the precariousness of metaphoric speech.

Hofmann, Klaus. “Keats’s Ode to a Grecian Urn.” Studies in Romanticism 45.2. Boston: 2006.

LOVE IT. I love the idea that the effectiveness of metaphor is the very knowledge that the image created through comparison is disparate from the object. It is the paradox of needing to draw weird comparisons to understand what is already understood that just screams Socratic aporia.

Aporia, incidentally, is not understood simply as the definition in the dictionary– an irresolvable internal contradiction in a text or argument– but also as the poignant Greek literal meaning: to be in a state of loss. Aporia is what the Socratic method reduces its “victims” to. A weird logical limbo, where the old understandings of a thing have been torn down. It is, literally, to “be at a loss.” Slack-jawed.

Metaphor as a state of aporia. LOVE. SO. MUCH.


18 September, 2011

Week two, check; Heraclitus and Big Brother and the Holding Company

Briefly, this week I attended part of a hermeneutics conference. Being that my knowledge of Gadamer is zilch, however, I respectfully bowed out after the first lecture. There was a salient crumb from the hour and a half I spent there, however– I was reminded of Heraclitus.

Heraclitus is remembered for his interest in logos— the word, reason, plan which drives and unites the universe, and for his doctrine of flux. All is in flux, ever changing– each instant we are in a different universe.

πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης”
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei … kai … dis es ton auton potamon ouk an embaies
“Everything changes and nothing remains still …. and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

–Heraclitus 402a, qtd. from wikipedia (because I don’t feel like cracking my ancient Greek philosophy books.)

In each moment the world is changed. Flux is constant; action now is different from action even a millisecond from now. Nothing is ever repeated. It’s a terrible beauty.


September 12: I found this beautiful oddity tacked to a telephone pole while attempting to find the grocery store (I realized about five seconds after snapping this that I was in fact walking the wrong way).


September 13: The leaves are starting to turn on campus and in the parks. This is outside of Gasson– expect indoor shots of the beautiful Gasson Hall later next week. There’s a poetry reading in there that’ll take me back in there in the coming days.

September 14: This week I embarked on the sacred quest for a Most Excellent Used Books Purveyor. I haven’t found a good, grungy one with dirt cheap books yet, but I did find Brookline Booksellers, which is wonderful, filled with books, knick-knacks, and all sorts of charming things. Like magnets. They also have the Jesus Shaves/Saves mug, which I NEEEEEEED.

Also, in the used book cellar, the far wall is “Mystery, Mystery, Mystery, More Mystery and Still More Mystery.”

September 15: My studies force me to have hermit days every so often, so here’s a tableau of hermit day #1 in this set: my book, and my snack bowl. It’s a beautiful green glass beauty that I got at a garage sale this summer for a dollar. Also, my proliferation of flags, which pretty much make flagging pages useless, given their overwhelming number.


September 16: There’s a beautiful patch of sunflowers on my walk to the T. I snapped this just as a car was zooming past. Flowers in motion.

September 17: I left the Copley library on Saturday needing coffee. Found this tri-corner wearing Godzilla demanding that I pahk the caaah in a  Starbucks. Love it, and Bostonians’ acute awareness that they talk silly. Because so many people who live here are college transplants like myself, however, you rarely hear the Boston accent.

This is in the Copley library. Each section of the hall I was sitting in had the name of a great thinker, artist, or writer carved and gilded below the coffered barrel vault ceiling (fear my art history jargon). WITHOUT LOOKING, I sat myself under Socrates. This is the kind of stuff that happens to me. Things chase me. Socrates is one of them.

September 18: another academic hermit day. This, by the way, is the view out my window into part of the playground/park/field that I live next to. I took a nap face-down in these pillows today instead of reading about reception history.

And, to round out a completely disjointed set of images and thoughts, Janis and Big Brother Caterpillering. ❤


14 March, 2011

Pi Day | On language, literacy, and intelligence, as we understand them…

Today I’m a reading teacher, which is the inspiration for today’s line of inquiry. As I was sitting across from a well-spoken teenager who struggles with reading, I really started thinking about the way we measure intelligence in the 21st century.

We live in a world of standards and schematics–especially in education. There’s a number, graph, ratio, or descriptive box to fit everything in. We live in a world of staggering amounts of information.

To access it, however, you usually have to be literate. Language, literacy, and intelligence are inexorably bound up together. What does it mean to be well-spoken, but unable to read, then? It certainly puts you at a disadvantage, but I don’t believe that being unable to read means that you are unintelligent, or even less capable than that guy reading James Joyce in the coffee shop.

Literacy as a primary measure of intellectual competence is a very modern concept– consider that not long ago most adults in the developed world were illiterate. The measure of “literacy” has admittedly changed: in Romantic era Britain, literacy meant being able to read and sign your own name. Now the demands of literacy are a little more comprehensive.

Not just anyone could write like Keats…literally. Even with such a limited definition of literacy, most Romantic-era Britons were illiterate.

However, these illiterate people (and generations before them) could “read” allegorical artwork, they could consider themselves “versed” in local history, politics, mythology, etc. They could possess great quantities of information and understand complex concepts, just not via written language. Comparatively, today most Americans are “literate,” but it’s debatable how much they really understand what they read, and deplorable how little they really ruminate on and retain.

I have this notion that personalities go in and out of style. With those trending personalities, I figure that styles of learning and communicating–and the corresponding perception of a person’s intelligence–go with it.

I often wonder if the personality of that kind of an “illiterate” society is necessarily different from our “literate” American society today. Compare the pedantic, distant intellectual authority of someone like Stephen Hawking to the trendy, almost foppish behavior of Aristotle:

When [Aristotle] arrived [at Plato’s Academy] practically everyone noticed him, in part because he was something of a dandy. Plato is reported to have said that Aristotle paid more attention to his clothes than was proper for a philosopher.  To be fashionable, Aristotle cultivated a deliberate lisp, the speech pattern that the Greek elite used to separate themselves from the masses.

Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy by Douglas J. Soccio (pg. 154)

Could we take him seriously today, given that he doesn’t fit with the intellectual mold? Could you take a Fabio seriously if he started talking about Nichomachean Ethics?

Similarly, compare the speaking prowess of George W. Bush to that of Cicero. I’m stacking the deck here, but really think about the social circumstances that make these personalities possible, or even probable. My background in Roman history is not strong enough that I’m willing to make claims that a speaker like Bush (bumbling, frequently mincing words, almost purposefully nervous and halting) could not exist, but it seems a far less likely.

Note: I’m not saying that all Greeks and Romans were Aristotles and Ciceros, or that all Americans are Hawkings and Bushes. I’m pointing out that these are the notable personalities that are likely to survive our era. No matter how you feel about his politics, you have to admit that President Bush II was memorable. Plus, now that you know that Aristotle was man-pretty, you probably want to know more (this, sadly, is one of the things that hooked me.)

borrowed from a rather dated article on "Candide's Latest"

I’d be fascinated to study the shift from interpersonal oral discourse to written language as a means of primary learning. You could argue that we still do use the former in the United States, but lecturing is strongly discouraged in K-12. You physically and mentally can’t sit for lectures as a younger student–I’m not sure most students ever outgrown this lecture handicap, either. You’re not going to excel if you can’t function with written language. Almost all assessments are written language, unless you have testing modifications.

I also have to wonder, with the increase in technology and the readily available adaptations, will the importance of written communication decrease, and illiteracy (in the sense that we know it) rise? With so much done for us, delivered to us, via means such as the television, radio, and Youtube video, will people stop reading?

HAPPY PI DAY, by the way (I spent my morning convincing students that tomorrow is the better holiday– Julius Caesar Commemorative Stabbing Day. Being that they’re teenaged boys, they bought my argument. Stabbings are a little more special than pie and math puns.)

3 February, 2011

The Belly of the Whale

Six years ago (woah, that feels weird) I was writing a senior thesis for AP English Literature about Campbell and the Hero.

Every hero follows the same journey, according to Campbell. There are several pit-stops in the journey. Today, as I was doing someone else’s laundry and watching a rom-com, I started thinking about the Belly of the Whale– it’s the lowest point in the cyclical hero’s journey.

The Belly is the darkest place– its where all hope seems lost. It’s name, of course, comes from the Biblical Jonah, who was swallowed not by a whale but by a giant fish (being a pseudo-classicist means I get to occasionally be fussy and split hairs like that.) What makes this agonizing literary midnight interesting, however, is the fact that the hero can’t climb out alone. He needs assistance to get out of the disastrous mess he’s in. Theseus is dead until Ariadne gives him the string to help him navigate the labyrinth; Jason is dead until Medea gives him the tools and the magic he needs to get the fleece; Psyche is dead until everything from Cupid down to the lowest ant gives that dumb butterfly the assistance she needs.

I often wonder if there’s any parallel in real life. If mythology is a functional understanding of the world, surely its mimetic qualities are myriad. Sure, strip away the minotaurs and the Argo, but underneath, a lot of things hold true– team work, jealousy, interdependence, complicated family dynamics, angry mothers, chutzpah, fearlessness, and most importantly, the ability to take that hand up when you need it.

Maybe that’s what mythology’s most important lesson is– you can’t do this shit alone, and that’s okay. To any of you hanging out down here in the dark with me, it’s okay to accept help– if thousands of stories and, if the shared wisdom of the human race is any indication, you’ll need it in order to move onto what comes next.

25 February, 2009

Archilochus: the Hedgehog

Yesterday I was introduced to one of the most fantastic little poems by one of the smartest people I know. It comes from the ancient Greek lyric poet-soldier Archilochus:

The fox knows many tricks;
The hedgehog only one.
A good one.

This was the translation he gave me. If I could find the original Greek I could tell you how good it is– I don’t really trust the internet’s popular translation. Sadly, I can’t find the Greek online, and I have too much else on my plate to go searching after the original Greek…perhaps later, many moons from now.