Category Archives: Semantics

There’s not a great deal to minimalism— otherwise, what’d be the point?

It looks like you can write a minimalist piece without much bleeding—

And you can. But not a good one…

David Foster Wallace

iuSo with that in mind: I’d like to begin with an idea I had about using stray cats as temporary ‘cats-eyes’. They might not be as hardy as the real thing, but at least you could run over them nine times before replacing them— that said, I am in no way condoning the use of animals as traffic signals or road signs: I love cats, and with any luck the rest’ll be a little less cruel.

*

Minimalism is very much like dance— ballet to be exactI am utterly baffled by it. It seems to demand a rather off-putting level of technical knowledge, knowledge I’m afraid would require me to slip into a pair of tights to fully gather. For instance, unless the performer actually falls over, it’s hard to know whether they were dancing moderately or spectacularly.

The same is true of classical music and art— where only an expert can really detect a wrong note or incompetent brush stroke— but with those forms we have the compensations of emotion, colour and story— except, admittedly, in the case of atonal music and art of the blank or practically-blank variety. And it seems that dance, whether classical or contemporary, shares with minimalist symphonies and abstract painting, a problem of narrative.

While great art can contain no story and bad art can consist of nothing but plots, our natural instinct when faced with entertainment is to try to extract a tale or meaning. When watching ballet, I was never sure whether to think he’s pissed with her or she’s trying to stab him or he’s asking the gods for, I don’t know— something?

The problem is that we’re most comfortable with art that achieves its effects verbally. It’s no coincidence that the mass art-forms are literature, cinema, pop, television and theatre. Even with a Beethoven or Mozart symphony, it’s comforting to have a programme or sleeve note revealing what the piece is about.

With dance I always felt as if the audience had to provide mental subtitles for what is essentially a silent film. Some choreographers compensate for this with the use of mime, but this just repels me further— mime being the only art form lower on my list than ballet.

I can only speak for myself, but I’ve found that learning about anything, not only improves your understanding of it, but also your ability make fun of it; should you need to lighten the mood in the the company of over-bearing pretentiousness of course. As such, I think it’s a point that should be hammered home in schools: if the class clowns think they’re funny now, imagine how funny they could be if they could read. The country that does will top the world’s league tables for achievement.

Minimalism is one of those things that needs to be snickered at I think, if not openly mocked— not just because it’s crap and because of the people it attracts— but for a combination of the two. There’s nothing better than observing the complete abandonment of reason that stalk those who follow it.

It just doesn’t have the stories. No matter how you attempt to roll it off the tongue, minimalism is dull:

A 20th century art movement stressing the reduction of work into a minimum number of colours, shapes, lines and texture with no attempt to represent or symbolise anything. It is sometimes called ABC art, minimal art, reductivism, and rejective art.

Now that just about sums it up for me: no attempt to represent or symbolise anything… For example:

Frank Stella, whose pin-striped paintings feature nothing but straight lines running parallel to the edges of the canvas for instance, delivered the ultimate sound-bite of minimalist philosophy, when he declared there was nothing besides the paint on the canvas and what you see is what you see. Wow!

Salvador Dali once gave a lecture in a deep-sea diving suit but had to be extracted from his metal helmet with pliers after becoming asphyxiated. Hilarious, but to a minimalist? I can imagine them either turning up their noses or suggesting he should have done it behind a screen, silently, with no audience— in darkness. What you cannot see therefore, is something you simply cannot see. A kind of Minimalism without the effort.

And what greater expression of minimalism could there be than not turning up to give a lecture no one would be present for anyway? I can imagine them patting themselves on the backs and marvelling at their brilliance and how triumphantly clever they are and wondering why no one had thought of it before.

That said, they must make wonderful house-guests, providing your plates are the right shade of white and the food is all the same colour. Quite…

The Minimalist sedulously eschew obfuscatory hyper verbosity and prolixity, in the smallest possible way of course— and therein is its charm.

As for me, I think I’m far too simple to really get it, beyond the facile syllogism it is what it is, but perhaps that’s the point. I like simple things, like carrier bags, no doubt for similar reasons: every time I go to the cinema there always seems to be hordes of children running about with them over their shoes. I don’t know why and I don’t particularly want to know. I won’t think less of them for their fashion choices and it’s not as if I will take a camera crew to their house and get the neighbours to re-decorate it.

But some people would; and decorators are as culpable as any for the proliferation of minimalistic lexis:

  • Share space between different uses

  • Remove formal spaces

  • Add double-height space

  • Reduce circulation paths

  • Build furniture into rooms

  • Use bedrooms for sleeping

  • Add a focal point

  • Bring in the outdoors

  • Invite natural light

  • Tie spaces together

  • Reveal the structure

  • Be playful and imaginative

  • Separate spaces

  • Plan for flexibility

And all these things appear quite normal until you actually start to combine a couple of them— and then you get to the bottom of what they really mean. These are not scholars of the English language, otherwise they’d not’ve bothered. This is ‘verbosity’ merely posing as minimalism: bob-a-jobbers posing as intellectuals or stylists or whatever the professional nomenclature is these days…

The tying of spaces together to separate spaces make for endless hours of shuffling, especially once any formality of space has been withdrawn. But then again, what you see is what you see, so let us reveal the structure by bringing the inside out, whilst bringing the outside, inside-in; inviting ‘in’ the natural light to accompany the focal point. Hell, why not an indoor water feature?

Perhaps then we could entice raccoons to dinner; the sun past the zenith; sing a one word hymn to the dribble of damp bamboo; and find a way to squeeze through the space that was once formal.

I am curious though, as to how one actually reduces circulation paths unless you‘re actually tying spaces together: wouldn’t that cause asphyxiation and require evacuation with pliers? And how does one share space between different uses unless the different uses are in fact the separation and binding of spaceis it prior to them being de-formed? Surely this taints the principal behind it somewhat.

If it is what it is— it must surely and can only mean, that it is and wants to be a de-form of some kind. Or perhaps it has no choice? Anti-art for no-one’s sake whatsoever.

And this is before we’ve been playful and imaginative by building our furniture into rooms. I know I can do it— especially after adding a double height ceiling; but how this would squeeze into the minimalist ethos, I’m not entirely sure.

As for extreme minimalism, I suppose less truly does mean more and to hell with ceilings altogether.

Thinking about it now though leaves me strangely depressed. Perhaps I should have stuck to thinking about:

  1. aubergine juggling and

  2. novelty uses for children as expressions of style;

  3. all the other all important questions I haven’t addressed, including:

  4. Is there room for growth in minimalism?

  5. What do they really call themselves?

And if so, where does it go next?

I value little my own opinions but I value just as little those of others…

Michel de Montaigne

On Procrastination…

Mrs B once said, when asked what she’d like to read—

I am still about procrastination … but that could be that I am procrastinating on finding another topic!

Needless to say that was in 2004…

548125_10151091945136041_908074081_nStarting is always the hardest part, or is that beginning? Starting begets beginnings I suppose. If only I could get as far as that. Sometimes it’s just too hard.

I had an idea at first— for the beginning, but abandoned it. It wasn’t bad, in fact I quite liked it— the thought of it I mean, but the start is always a thought too many and a beginning too few and I always get the feeling I’ve been overtaken by the thought of having to do more than simply think it. And then I consider it. That’s the best part. What would it’d be without having done it? I pore, and I always convince my self to sleep on it.

This is where all the best things aren’t done. I sometimes pretend to sleep, just to see what doesn’t happen— and I’m mystified when I realise I’m not doing it. I don’t want to you see. Because the way I see it, there’s no point in avoiding something if you cannot sleep; and then sleeping to forget it when you’re only going to wake up with a hint of something you’d neglected to put there. And then it’ll bother you ’til you remember it— because you’d have to. And sometimes it’s just too hard.

It’s like getting back to the beginning again; right where I was going to be when I started it yesterday. Only I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say. It’s not that I was trying too hard; it’s just I recalled the killer word: The ‘E’ word. There should have been two of them in ‘demon’— at least it sounds that way to me. Perhaps they couldn’t’ve been bothered much either that day— and lacked the killer word too.

It was right after that cuppa I’d made after the comfy mock-snooze on the pea-green beanbag I’d been engaged in, that it suddenly dawned on me that I’d forgotten something else. This pleased me a great deal. Had it’ve been lingering— even ever so slightly, I may have been a little miffed; but it had gone. The fact that I could, even started to displease me after a while— but the longer the displease, the weaker the ‘effort’ it required and it killed too little a time— time I never really had anything put aside for anyway. To plan too far ahead in my eyes is to get ahead of one’s self— especially around the eyes, and it’s preferable to hide from these things rather than encourage one’s self to do anything about it. A day doing nothing, is sweeter than a day wondering anything. And a day wondering anywhere is an even greater waste.

They say of some, that they take, ‘one step forward and two steps back’ and I say ‘twaddle!’ Primarily because I like the way the ‘d’s’ sound and feel on the tip of the tongue when you’re overly deliberate with the ‘-le’; and secondly, because anyone worth salt would simply stand still, sit down or remain and just be— exactly where they were. Let’s not split peanuts over the minimum effort debacle, when you can eat the whole nut with none what-so-ever, and still pip the nincompoop by a nose. If only you could be bothered…

If I could only get passed the first bit I’d be fine.

Where was I?

I’ll finish it tomorrow…

Image: something I designed for my classroom

The semantic identity crisis surrounding all-in-one pyjamas…

Look back, and smile at perils past—

Or simply find the nearest grown-up in toddlers’ habiliment…

7720_204996201040_7432759_n

An adult in a baby-grow is wrong— in fact it’s practically retarded. Practically, that is, but not quite. Pleonastic perhaps, but entirely necessary. Regressive would probably be the better term, although reaction formation might do also, were it only a word and far too early in the peace to get defensive. I certainly wouldn’t feel the need to narrow my semantics any further to accomodate an r-word, particularly when there’s already a narrowing between metaphor and metonymy— that’s if, I were to believe in such a thing. The occupation of infant by adult is scant enough to satisfy my minimalism and certainly disturbing enough once summerised: contiguity via wardrobe. Three words. I could quite easily has decided upon, onesies are stupid or, jump-suits? Seriously? But I didn’t.

There. I said it: onsies are stupid;  the word ‘onesie’ is stupid; jump-suit is no better either. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to prefix novelty nightwear with the word jump or anything remotely like it, the clobber in question had better be fucking lacy; frilly even and not, even remotely opaque. Sleep-suit is at least sensibly self-referential, but to accept its self-evidence, one must also accept far too much sibilance for my liking. An abundance of s’s should ideally be held back for more ironic or moronic purposes. It’s also mean to would be readers who lisp.

If I had to pick a pillow to chew however, I’d opt, much like any other self-respecting inner-linguist-ninja would, for romper-suit; particularly for it’s ambi-sexual gender relevance— something which should resonate with everyone; kind of bringing us back to the word ‘onesie’: the adjective this time, not the noun.

That and I think I’d feel less of a wanker wearing something to sleep in which came with ears:

Romper-suit it would seem—

Ticks all the appropriate boxes.

Which still don’t make it so…

If Teaching facts makes you a bad teacher, does rocking when you’re not stressed make you a bad autistic?

A monkey glances up and sees a banana, and that’s as far as he looks—

Eoin Colfer

Monkey tricks by VicaVersionOn perception:

One of my pet hates is when I hear educators moan about facts as if they were hazardous to health. I’ve heard them moan that they serve no purpose, that they’re a waste of time; outdated or are somehow superfluous; that it’s not proper teaching. There are numerous complaints, too many to list— however the median I seem to come across most, might as well be the very devil himself: the date:

1066, the Battle of Hastings;

1588 and the Spanish Armada

1805, Trafalgar and so on and so forth…

And to some degree I agree that there is a limited quality, albeit a limited re-usable quality to this type of knowledge. Personally, I love it, can’t get enough but that’s just me, give me more…

However, facts make learning easier. Facts give concept-based teaching context. Facts make learning more effective. This is not a judgement call, nor is it an opinion— unlike approaches based purely around concept, there is mountains of data which suggest that the use of facts as part of a learning strategy works; having a solid bank of knowledge regarding a particular topic, then makes conceptual-learning effective, not the other way around. The very notion that anyone can form long lasting contextual assessments on anything without knowing what it is they’re supposed to be contextualising is counter-intuitive— but this is one of the things modern teachers are taught to do, even though it flies in the face of most of the available evidence.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the ability to conceptualise is an imperative to successful learning; and the reasoning that the way it’s now used is ‘best’ and the way it should be done comes from reasonable sources— these are not stupid people. It just doesn’t work as they’d like it to work; it cannot work because the reasoning is built on whimsy, not the real world.

Facts: those concrete, unshakable units of information which are not subject to change are unpopular, when they should be the foundations upon which effective practices are built.

It’s difficult to understand why the idea of learning useful, relevant and re-usable information is so frowned upon— as a former practitioner, I do at least understand the potential difficulties involved in the presentation; I did all the time— but again, the median argument against it is just as unreasonable: we can’t just have kids reciting dates over and over…

Of course not— that really is stupid. Professional teachers should be able to incorporate some kind of fact-based content into their lessons if they are proficient in their subject, without the furore— they do it everyday to some degree as it is, but there’s just something about the word fact that they’re taught not to like. I would’ve taught in a dress if I had cold hard data suggesting cross-dressing made learning more effective; and that should be the only thing that matters. There are approaches which work and some which work better than others; some are just unpopular.

Now the reason I bring it up actually has nothing to do with teaching, but the underlying trait which shapes this particular issue.

It’s a packaging problem— rightly or wrongly our perception becomes this: so it’s gotta be true. It’s exactly the same problem we have with labels— some of which effectively describe certain people and conditions, but are wildly unpopular. Some of which are too accurate so a semantically broader variant is encouraged as preferable. Personally, I struggle with aspects of this— I don’t find words, tags or labels to be inherently functional without context. One of the problems of being concept-based people instead of substance based, will be an increased obsession with eradicating ‘offensive’ lexis, regardless of context. Which in itself, is an act I find deeply offensive.

Anyway, the catalyst for this came about from several sources, independent of which, I wouldn’t have had a contextual springboard to unite them— however when taken together, there are similarities which I think are fascinating.

The first was this article1, which recounts the author’s experiences with a couple of group sessions for adults on the autistic spectrum. She writes:

“I told the group about my own experiences in coming to terms with autism, about wanting to be autistic because it was the only thing that felt like all my experiences finally made some sense. About redirecting my energy and efforts towards things that would help me cope, instead of things that would make me appear normal. Allowing myself to be more visibly autistic.

“At those last words, the entire group gasped in shock … I’m not joking. I was the only one there who thought it wasn’t actually all that bad to be stimming in public.”

Now my first reaction was to try to empathise with group— some of whom were clearly uneasy with the author’s rocking but I couldn’t consolidate what it was about the article that was impressing upon me without resorting to speculation, despite the resonance of one of the questions: “If I don’t do things like that, then maybe I’m not actually autistic?”

It wasn’t until I read this post, that it all clicked into place: that, like some teachers’ point-blank refusal to accept that facts do not give you cancer, what I had in front of me was another packaging problem— which lead me to re-read the question as, I wouldn’t mind being autistic if I didn’t do things like that…

What struck me upon the second reading was an event from another session, which thanks to the second article, had even greater meaning in this context:

“[O]ne of them said to me that maybe I needed a time-out to calm down, because I was rocking back and forth so much. And when I said I was just focusing on the conversation, and not feeling anxious at all, he didn’t believe me.

Was she not believed because: autistics only rock when their stressed; or because ‘he’ only rocks when he’s stressed: so it’s gotta be true? It starts to become clear that across a wide range of things— how narrow and inflexible our associations can really be.

However, without Disabled, Not Broken2, I wouldn’t have written this at all. It finds the author posing a simple question and answering it by defining what he is and what he isn’t through a short exploration of language and its denotations: even the words which we use to define other words, which we then use to define who we are or what we think we are, aren’t always satisfactory contextually.

Add to that, that if you rock back and forth you are defined by your actions and emotional state: you must be autistic and you must need a time out. If you’re a teacher and heaven forbid you teach facts: you are defined by an historical context; that you’re out of touch, you’re doing something wrong and a bad practitioner. Perhaps, by the same reasoning: if you rock and you’re not stressed, it makes you a bad autistic?

In each case there are misconceptions based on a perception that has attributed to it, a value of some kind, so if you do it, think it, use it or say it, according to that perception: it’s gotta be true.

Right?

I don’t know, it’s just an observation—

But without a bank of knowledge to draw on, I wouldn’t have been able to get far.

Just a little background: noise & biography…

Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.

Bertolt Brecht

iuI read that and instinctly think cats. That’s biography.

I am fascinated by the heroic age of Antarctic expedition, history, education, great sex, openness, cats, cameras; the space race; sentence-structure, lexis, discourse conventions and phatic communication; cinema; the sounds of cricket and its numbers; golf swings, sortes, piropo, productivity, logical fallacies; fagottists— which leads to the double-o phoneme and coda-less syllables; falderals, nonsense; nanism— my fear of developing it and albino-clowns who already have. Ironing, long-sleeves, compound swearing, yellow pads, yoof-speak and linguistic representations— meh. Books, tea, science, feets, unnecessary plurals and corrugated-cardboard to name but a few.

It’s a pointless list because there isn’t much I’m not interested in. I like the feeling of insignificance in knowing how little I know; and how each little thing helps me know what I already know a little better.

And I still don’t know what this makes me, but it kind of works like this:

Perhaps it just makes me English since ‘England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity … hobbies and humors.’1 Quite whether the world thinks we are small or great, but such is the context of opinion. Goethe wrote that, ‘people of uncommon abilities generally fall into eccentricities when their sphere of life is not adequate to their abilities.’ Well spheres be damned as, ‘No one can be profoundly original who does not avoid eccentricity.’2 But to what end is thought’d: ‘eccentricity in small things [is] crazy’3 and though it ‘destroys reason, [it does] not [the] wit?’4

All I’m really trying to do here is to show a little of what it’s like to be autistic— from the ground up I’ve taken my traits and applied them to certain functions within the texts: from word orders and word types, semantic variances, repetitions and rhetorical devices— even archaic syntax to the very deliberate structure I use to present things. It’s not always easy to read and it’s not meant to be, It’s supposed to be a little overwhelming at times and take the reader in circles— but it’s a desirable difficulty designed to stimulate a little over-processing, in the same way real life does to me. It’s the only way I know how to present what it’s like to me: to demonstrate it, not write about it— especially when there are a million people out there able to just describe it so much better.

I was going to just post the blueprint, but thought the meta-language would just make it pointless— like the list…

I’m not just a linguist or educator or golfer or cricket fanatic or autistic or anything for that matter—

I’m just curious…

And I guess lists should be conspiculous by its absense, but it’s really not…

1 George Santayana
2 André Maurois
3 Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton
4 Nathaniel Emmons

I sometimes google autism and the nun; autistic nun; nuns on the spectrum – just AS nuns, sometimes do…

It’s habit, but what exactly to call it—

And would it smell as sweet?

530420_10150764779066041_2054832089_nI am terribly fond of trifles— a trifle cleverness for instance, provided it’s not too early in the morning. There’s always so much to do and what with wakefulness becoming such an undertaking, I find it unnecessary in the extreme. I’m far too fond of taking my particulars in a pedestrian manner— just one of the customary customs I’m accustomed to, to speak nil of the custumal. I’d call it routine were I able to abide the laziness of it— there’s far too much of that about, especially when everything else I have to write about is stripped of unnecessary words. And while nude text is most effective when dealing with the real world, I must confess how partial I am to the eccentricities of abusing syllables to the dozen when a few would certainly do. Suffice to say this trifle is rather filling. But let’s see…

I like a particular light, a particular quiet, in a particular room; two particular pints of one particular tea in twice the particular mug— though I’d refrain from describing this as fussy; not in the slightest— just a superficial type, more trinket than trapping that I’d hate to break: habits are most certainly not records.

By pint number three I may have settled into my reading, sometimes it’s hard to tell— the simmering awkwardness that accompanies me throughout the day’s most noticeable at this time, so it’s best to tread carefully. It’s also so rather dependant on the weather— the rain makes a racket and the gloom makes the room; then there’re those bloody wind-chimes: there really ought to be some observances regarding their uses enforceable by civilians prone to a little grumpy now and then.

Whether ritual or routine, it isn’t any wonder why we’re co-dependant, or simply compatible; or whether we’re just mutually beneficial— there’s always an elegant symmetry in antistrophe: I to the text, the text to I— to say nothing of the tea… or the light, or the quiet, the mug, weather or…

Each year one vicious habit discarded, in time might make the worst of us good.

Benjamin Franklin

Or at the very least, freak out a tad before doing so…

The Gramm’azis’s a rude bunch. Even the term [just spoils my tea]…

When was their 1919 moment?

Besides the mobile-phone…

536031_10150755819601041_591256550_nGramm’azis sometime jump all over paragraphs, because in their rage they sometimes fail to recognise them as paragraphs; instead focus on a particular phrase. Even the term— perhaps even the use of Nazi in the plural tense— perhaps even the use of italics instead of the inverted comma. They’d complain that ia sentence wasn’t a sentence and didn’t make sense and blah to the la-de-dah, calling people stupid and whatever. And in one version of the universe— where cohesion, elision, endophora, hell, even the minor sentence didn’t exist— they’d be quite right, which is why I find the very term Grammar Nazi so apt. There really couldn’t be a more fitting soubriquet; it’s accurate with just the right hint of irony. Lucky for me however, I live in a galaxy far, far away from the one party state where a little sterilisation is OK. Because although language is a constituency of one, grammar is just one of the bits. Granted it’s one of the big bits, but without a complement of bits, shit gets sterile; and that would be— as long as you accept gramm’azis turd is safe to eat— an ineffective form of rule. And a contradiction: shit should not be fit for human consumption.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Standard English and think it ought to be protected. As a teaching tool it’s invaluable and as a means with which to measure English variance, there’s really no substitute, but holy-moly. I wouldn’t want to imagine a world where these guys go unopposed, which shouldn’t be too Earth-altering because they inhabit a really small place; it’s not even part of the planet. It’s a place with zero separation of spelling and grammar— which is a big no no Brown-Shirts, and if the metonymy offends you, you’re gonna love this one: grammar is based on sound, not words. The your, you’re, their, they’re, there place— I don’t know what to call this ego-enhancing pleasure-palace— is not a grammar problem, it’s a representation issue, it’s orthography; and yes, it’s annoying and best avoided, but in comment-boxes? Really? Is there really no higher place to call? Did pragmatics and deixis suddenly disappear?

That was me thinking out-loud. And that was me being flippant. And that was me wondering why anyone— and let’s be clear here— anyone with but a rudimentary grasp of language think it’s perfectly acceptable to respond to something with— wah, wah, grammar police wah fucking wah wah?

Clever people don’t do that. Linguists and language folk don’t do that. In fact the guys who are in a position to comment upon specific language uses, tend not to make the mistake of using too many logically fallacious statements, especially not ad hominem, tu quoque crap like your momma’s do— come on. I mean, god— is there some kind of high-register discourse convention for comment-boxes that I don’t know about? The one where anything short of five-part essay-standard formality is open-season for the sanctimonious? Aren’t comment-boxes supposed to be a convenient way to get a point across when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to instead of working? Are gramm’azis so blind-sided by blues-and-twos that they cannot see that good points sometimes come in shitty packages?

The ability to spot these mistakes then point them out does not require any particular skill or training, it really doesn’t. It doesn’t make you smart— it makes you an asshole. It means, at the very least you have a rudimentary grasp of language and are conscious of it. Our cueing systems are remarkable things, brilliant; they’re not toys to throw at each other. Now, most non-drivers can tell the difference between a good and shitty driver, and on this I’d steak a gamm’azis’ momma. Driving is not an inherent attribute. Language acquisition and development is pretty uniform the world over which means we are all, to some degree grammatical creatures, we are also contextual creatures— with few exceptions, I should know, I’ve worked with a few. But I’m also careful not to generalise too sweepingly and incur wrath from the fallacy police, even though those guys know how to party.

I can go on for weeks, literally. It was my job— Actually, I rarely left a dry eye, but I’d rather not. These people are ruining just about every article I read these days.

Bollockations—

I just don’t like the rude, it’s not contructive…

Damn you gramm’azis! All I wanted to do was read about cricket, drink tea and find my day!