Category Archives: biblio

and that was July

Once again I’ve got only a single blog posting for the month. The photostream records a succession of grill-watching evenings:

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(Kate does the grilling, I having no genes for that activity.
She includes kohlrabi and green beans and zucchini as regular grillage,
and it seems possible that ALL garden produce can be grilled…)

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Organizing projects in shop and Library Annex proceed:

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I bought a couple of professional-grade book carts to facilitate the Library (re-)organization process:
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…and it proceeds slowly, arranged by my own idiosyncratic and ever-morphing categories:
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It’s been very pleasant to spend afternoons sitting here dipping in and out of a succession of rediscovered books.
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In Convivium space, I spent quite a while thinking about the Future. On other frontiers, lots of books read, music played, videos watched, trash picked up. Quite content to be mostly At Home, going from thing to thing.

Fungi and Education

The London Review of Books is a continual delight, every issue replete with surprises and challenges, lambent writing, and things I had no idea I was interested in until I started reading. This week’s case in point: a review by Francis Gooding of Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds And Shape Our Futures, which I was reading and listening to (via Audible) about a year ago. This (summarizing “what we know of mycelium and its habits”) is from the last paragraph:

The explosive growth of interconnections, the development of flexible new relationships, the filling of spaces with a tangle of new pathways, novel and powerful exchanges and flows of information coursing through an electrically excitable network: what else but this would a fungus do if it really did seize hold of your mind… an entanglement of intimate, sudden, pulsing fresh connections between the things around it?

What a marvelous characterization of Education, I thought, and how very like what I experienced (mostly outside of classes…) with friends in the halcyon days of 1969-1971 at Stanford, and now and again in the years since (though the “electrically excitable network” didn’t really bloom until the 1990s), and mostly on my own in 16 years of retirement. Perhaps the greatest pleasure is never knowing when and in what modality the next inspiration will present itself, but they keep coming.

KFTF

I’ve been thinking about the perennial problem of Keeping Found Things Found, and about narrating explorations of the past and present, and that has led to consideration of Finding Aids for my various collections. Many happy hours have gone into the process of figuring out how to construct such summaries and guides, and most recently I’ve been using LibraryThing to build the database for my library of photography books (see a list of those tagged ‘photography’ for its current state) and considering how to sort and sub-categorize that collection to make it more useful and accessible. Others will follow.

This morning I picked up Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, which I’ve had for 10 years or so and dipped into now and again. A couple of passages leapt off the pages and seem to cast useful light on my present concerns:

The closer we look, the more detail we find. The only limitation to our view is the limitation of our ability to see. In order to find something new, we simply have to be willing to look more closely, more carefully.

We refer to the written work of the past to see what has been done and how it has been done… we focus on the maker’s methods and assumptions. We find tools and ways to use them… our work will, inevitably, echo and respond to the work of the past that resonates most strongly for us.

We all have our touchstones.

Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination, pages 207, 220, 221

Impostures

An astonishing book has fallen into my hands and into my life: Michael Cooperson’s Impostures by al-Ḥarĩrĩ: Fifty Rogue’s Tales Translated Fifty Ways. It’s worth recording how that ‘fallen’ transpired: first, a blog post by Victor Mair at Language Log (which often delights, often mystifies), which pointed to a Wall Street Journal review by Sam Sacks (June 27) and provoked an Amazon order. One of the key hooks in Sacks’ review was reference to maqamat, glossed as ‘improvization’ and so directly parallel to a musical form I’m well acquainted with and always seeking broader understanding of. There’s also a clear link to my explorations of Oulipo (and OuXpos of various sorts) that are themselves a bit more remotely tied to my wanderings in Benjaminia, thus linking several threads of the last 6+ months of reading and thinking. Just what the resulting tissu or macramé amounts to, or might lead to next, is less than clear at the moment, but it surely harks back to Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language, and to the grand problems of translation /übersetzung, ‘over-setting’/, and thence to ruminations on Culture and the deep complexities of understanding and en- and de-coding. I’m a wanderer in these forests, always open to new delights. And rogue threads are forever finding their way into the macramé, viz. Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan “I contain multitudes”. These are all two-bit epiphanies, bits of insight rather than pointers to grand revelations. And mostly probably intransitive, for my own amusement and edification and pleasure. Reason enough.

Isogloss bundles

This morning, while waiting in the barn for today’s Zoom yoga session to start, I gathered up a few word books in the general realm of American English and one fell open to a map of isoglosses, which immediately called to mind a song written Donkey’s Years ago by my dear friend Ken Stallcup, who said that he got one good song out of every career. I quarried the mind for all that I could remember of the text as I lay on the mat, and here it is (there might be verses I haven’t remembered, indeed I hope there are…):


Little peasant upon the land
what’s that implement in your hand?
How many years have you been here?
What do you call your mother’s brother?
Tell me what you shouldn’t do and what you oughta,
Now that I’ve got my data I’m on my way

Anthropologist pen in hand
Now you’re standing here on my land
You to me are but a passing breeze
Kroeber, Lowie, Leach and Levi-Strauss
and even Malinowski have stayed in my house,
Now that you’ve got your data, where’s my pay?

Dialects run along isogloss bundles
Leaving little wavy lines across the land
And everybody knows they must be documented carefully
Fron the Andaman Islands to the Rhenish Fan

Academics flow in a circular motion
Hurrying and scurrying across the Earth
With money from Ford and it’s all very interesting
But other than that, tell me what is it worth?
Other than that, tell me what is it worth?


I’m contemplating a heap of books on American English and on dialects thereof and trying to figure out how to make an efficient and interesting summary of their whats and whys, via comparisons and tasty extracts. How is one to make sense of these riches, thousands of pages of words and analysis and commentary, difficult of access and best consumed in sporadic tastings, not in epic bouts of reading? The collection or more exactly collocation would be perfect for bit-by-bit consumption in the Locale of Easement, but for the unwieldy format of the Large Book. A cleverly designed hinged or rolling desk might be the solution, but would perhaps not meet with universal enthusiasm if constructed and installed as a fixture in the Smallest Room. Perhaps a Dictionary Alcove built onto the side of the house…

At work upon several future posts in these realms.

le mot juste du jour: Sprachgefühl

I’m working in the direction of a posting on books about American English, but along the way I encounter all manner of things that divert and inform and goad and send me haring off into wanton serendipities. The Language Log blog is dependable that way, and today’s post on Ancient Chinese mottos is a case in point. It has to do with a text from ca. 700 BCE, and ends with this deliciousness:

To do this kind of high level translation requires hard work going through old annotations and commentaries. To make the English felicitous demands inspired creativity and a high level of Sprachgefühl.

Yeah, I know that word, but was hazier than I might have been:

intuitive feeling for the natural idiom of a language.
“it’s not genes or culture but Sprachgefühl that sets the French apart from the Finns, and the Russians from the Romanians”

the essential character of a language.
“each language has its own personality, or Sprachgefühl, which limits its speakers to a certain mode of thought”
(https://www.lexico.com/definition/sprachgefuhl)

And, just because I can, I looked it up in the German Wikipedia:

Als Sprachgefühl bezeichnet man das intuitive, unreflektierte und unbewusste Erkennen dessen, was sprachlich als korrekt (in Wortwahl und Grammatik) bzw. als (situativ und kontextuell) angemessen oder aber als falsch bzw. unangemessen empfunden wird. Geprägt wird es insbesondere im Zuge des Erwerbs der Muttersprache, wobei Herkunft, soziales Umfeld und Bildung und die entsprechenden sprachlichen Erfahrungen des Kindes eine maßgebliche Rolle spielen. Durch intensive sprachliche Erfahrungen in der alltäglichen (auch medialen) Kommunikation, wozu auch literarische und andere Leseerfahrungen gehören, kann das Sprachgefühl aber auch in späteren Jahren trainiert und modifiziert werden.

The problem with the American English books is that there are so many, and they are so various: descriptive, evaluative, jocular, narrow, broad, thick, thin… each has something to add, and I’m still wrestling with a typology. And I’m so damned Sprachgefühl re: American English. So I’ll be back to that subject.

Lexicon of Musical Invective

Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995) is famous for several things, the most immediately relevant here being his Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time. The Amazon blurb:

A snakeful of critical venom aimed at the composers and the classics of nineteenth- and twentieth-century music. Who wrote advanced cat music? What commonplace theme is very much like Yankee Doodle? Which composer is a scoundrel and a giftless bastard? What opera would His Satanic Majesty turn out? Whose name suggests fierce whiskers stained with vodka? And finally, what third movement begins with a dog howling at midnight, then imitates the regurgitations of the less-refined or lower-middle-class type of water-closet cistern, and ends with the cello reproducing the screech of an ungreased wheelbarrow? For the answers to these and other questions, readers need only consult the “Invecticon” at the back of this inspired book and then turn to the full passage, in all its vituperation.

The Invecticon lists 30+ pages of calumnies and disparagements:


and examples of Critical Response: Stravinsky, Webern and Varèse

There’s a lovely Nicolas Slonimsky Documentary- A Touch of Genius (56 min)


and an interview with Slonimsky about his friendship with Frank Zappa:


Another example of Slonimsky’s genius is his Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns, known to Jazz and Classical musicians alike.

Survey of Modern English

Quarrying the books in the Auxiliary Library (i.e., upstairs in the barn) produces some treasures, legacy of past projects and enthusiasms. Stephen Gramley & Kurt-Michael Pätzold’s
A Survey of Modern English (1992) was acquired when Betsy was working on Speech Works: the accent reduction tool. Since 1992 there’s a second edition of Gramley & Pätzold, and Amazon says that a “fully revised and updated” third edition is in the works.

Gramley & Pätzold were senior lecturers at the Faculty of Linguistics and Literature at the University of Bielefeld, and the original version of the book (Das moderne Englische) was designed to meet the needs and interests of their German students. A quick look at the Contents makes it clear that a native speaker of English can find elegant explanations of niceties of English that might not appear in native-English sources, in which much about the language is taken for granted:


Chapters 1, 2, 5 and 6 are especially relevant to my exploration of ‘word books’, but anybody curious about languages will find other sections that look fascinating. A few especially choice examples from the text:



Gramley & Pätzold is one of those books I can open to any page and find an engaging 15-minute diversion that provokes searches and ponderings and more slips of paper with stuff written down for later exploration. I’ve done it a thousand times, such that it’s become a modus operandi. Good thing that I now have a place to put all that stuff…