Posts tagged ‘Ancient Roman’

11 September, 2011

Mapping the World

“Different maps tell very different stories, and assume very different forms, according to their function, or their point of view. Ptolemy mapped the heavens by standing on earth. Galileo remapped them by imagining that he was standing on the Sun.”

–D.F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, 44.

I stumbled awkwardly through a mire of hilightings and underlinings until this sentiment and I ran headlong into each other on page 44. Yes, it might have been my nerd senses tingling at the mention of a Ptolemy (not, in case you’re wondering, a Pharaonic Ptolemy, but still an Alexandrian), but I also have a pronounced interest in maps and cartography.

Maps are essentially attempt 90 billion on the part of humans to put the universe into nice, neat boxes (or nice, neatly drawn grid squares, in this case), and our need to understand through cataloging is something of a source of perpetual entertainment for me.

One of the strangest realizations is that maps don’t have to be objective. They can show whatever they want to know. They are a reflection of a reflected reality. By this I mean, they are an imperfect written record of an imperfect and biased view (the cartographer’s) view of the world.

I have a character in the project I’m (re)working through right now who’s a cartographer. I wonder what form of imperfection his maps have?

Anyways, onward with the photo project…

Sept. 6: So much rain this weekend. While I was walking to campus from the T stop, I happened to look down. I like sidewalk cracks. Looking at them reminds me that nothing’s forever, and that sooner or later, everything is fragmentary. Sorry, there was no way to phrase that without sounding emo/heavy handed.I could talk more about sidewalk cracks, but I’ll spare you.

Sept. 7: I walk by several goofy signs every day, and while there is nothing inherently goofy about the phrase “Not a through street” in and of itself, I love how squished it looks on this big yellow diamond, like it’s outgrowing the constrictive size of the sign. Think of it like a typographical sumo wrestler trying to wedge himself into skinny jeans.

Sept. 8: This was my day of discovering enormously odd tiny things. Like this guy, hanging out on the concrete steps by the main library. You can tell it rained a little, looking at the discolored concrete.

Sept 9: My city’s library is cooler than your city’s library. Just saying. Beyond those paneled wooden doors? That’s a courtyard. With sculptures. And a fountain. And a garden. And chairs. Just saying. Sorry for the lousy photo quality.

Sept. 10: Today was a pretty productive exploring day. I went to two street festivals, through Quincy Market, and bookstore hunting. More bookstore hunting is in my future. I bumbled into an outdoor concert down by Quincy at the Boston Arts Festival (ahts festival, if you like) and stayed until the group finished their set. I read my book history book. I wonder if the fellow with the card in his hat is a Lackadaisy lover?

Sept 11: I, in fact, didn’t leave my apartment today, so you get a picture of something weird in my room, namely, a sculpture that I now use to keep my hair sticks in check.


Until next time, friends.

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.)

2 February, 2011

Groundhog’s Day; Stubbornness

There are several blogs I read, for the sake of preventing my brain from turning to mush, for the sake of happiness, and for the sake of just blind indulgence.

The Worst Professor Ever has a brilliant observation or six about Groundhog’s Day (the movie). {x}


Sometimes things get hard. A lot of people live with regrets. I try not to. That doesn’t mean that I don’t– it mostly means that those regrets get compressed and tucked neatly into the back broom closet in my brain, waiting for the day when they are shafted, like remains of the dead, and forgotten for good. I am very good at forgetting. I am also very good at hiding. These are survival traits, pure and simple.

Hope is stubborn, though. Helplessly stubborn. Despite how many boxes and closets you put hope in, it worms through the cracks, back up to the forefront, like some bolded, triple-underlined, size-256 flashing neon sign behind your eyelids.

Hope is painful. It flies in the face of what we know is most likely true. It stares down fact and empirical observation and just snorts and giggles like it heard a hilarious fart joke. Hope is the death of a realist.

I wish I didn’t have hope; I have no reason to, and yet there it is– snorting and giggling, flashing in neon, despite my best efforts to remain firmly grounded.

Stupid people always dismiss as untrue anything that happens only seldom, or anything that their minds cannot readily grasp; yet when these things are carefully inquired into they are often found not only possible but probable.

Apuleius, The Golden Ass


Enjoy your days, friends. You don’t know how many of them you get, and hope is a terrifying buoy.