Tuesday, April 23, 2013

alternate definitions: a selection

While reading, one of the things I like to collect are definitions―alternate, non-literal, or poetic.

Sometimes an author's words are a few steps removed from what I've fashioned out of their provisions. Take the following excerpt from Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion:

"By making the invisible visible, he confronts the people who exercise material force with a new environment, sets ideas and feelings at work in them, throws them out of position, and so, in the profoundest way, affects the decision."

Lippmann's subject is the role of an ambassador, and his sentence inspired one of the definitions below. But as you'll see, the word I selected has little to do with his original intent.

Other definitions are only slightly altered, with most falling somewhere in between.

Credits can be found at the end.

* * *

"Why do we call all our generous ideas illusions, and the mean ones truths? Isn't it a sufficient condemnation of society to find one's self accepting such phraseology? ...I know how names can alter the colour of beliefs." ―Lawrence Selden in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905)

Art: a parenthesis within the real world

Artist: someone who makes the invisible visible; someone who confronts the people with a new environment, sets ideas and feelings at work in them, throws them out of position, and, in the profoundest ways, affects them

Chance: the name given to our ignorance of causes

Charisma: the power to persuade without the use of logic

Common sense: the foundation of the bourgeois statement of fact; truth when it stops on the arbitrary order of him who speaks it

Duty: a term used by the the bourgeois to mythify strength 

the freeing of the mind through the discipline of wonder

Love: to desire someone else's happiness over your own, no matter the cost to you

Maturity: a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists

Nationality: that core of images and devotions without which man is unthinkable to himself

Order: the name the bourgeoisie gives to itself

Plastic: the excrement of oil

Rich: when one is able to meet the requirements of their imagination

War: the legal return to a state of savagery

See also: Sweet Ambrose, Nectar of the Gods

In order:

Robert Hughes (The Shock of the New); Walter Lippmann (Public Opinion); Lamarck (via Philippe Soupault's Last Night of Paris); Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly (Dandyism); Barthes (Mythologies); Ibid.; Mortimer J. Adler (How to Read a Book); (?); Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle); Lippmann (Public Opinion); Barthes (Mythologies); Norman Mailer (video interview); Henry James (Portrait of a Lady); Paul Leautaud (via Dan Franck's Bohemian Paris)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

a certain type

"Their ideas are perpetually conversant in lines and figures. If they would, for example, praise the beauty of a woman, or any other animal, they describe it by rhombs, circles, parallelograms, ellipses, and other geometrical terms, or by words of art drawn from music, needless here to repeat. [...] And although they are dexterous enough upon a piece of paper in the management of the rule, the pencil, and the divider, yet, in the common actions and behaviour of life, I have not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy people, nor so slow and perplexed in their conceptions upon all other subjects, except those of mathematics and music. They are very bad reasoners, and vehemently given to opposition, unless when they happen to be of the right opinion, which is seldom their case. Imagination, fancy, and invention they are wholly strangers to, nor have any words in their language by which those ideas can be expressed; the whole compass of their thoughts and mind being shut up within the two forementioned sciences."                                                                                                          
                                                                                                               —Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


"In the beginning is the scream. We scream.

"When we write or when we read, it is easy to forget that the beginning is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO.

"The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that thought is born, not from the pose of reason, not from the reasoned-sitting-back-and-reflecting-on-the-mysteries-of-existence that is the conventional image of 'the thinker'.

"We start from negation, from dissonance. The dissonance can take many shapes. An inarticulate mumble of discontent, tears of frustration, a scream of rage, a confident roar. An unease, a confusion, a longing, a critical vibration...

"Our anger is directed not just against particular happenings but is against a more general wrongness, a feeling that the world is askew, that the world is in some way untrue. When we experience something particularly horrific, we hold up our hands in horror and say 'that cannot be! it cannot be true!' We know that it is true, but feel that it is the truth of an untrue world...

"That is our starting point: rejection of a world that we feel to be wrong, negation of a world we feel to be negative. This is what we must cling to...

"Our anger is constantly fired by experience, but any attempt to express that anger is met by a wall of absorbent cotton wool. We are met with so many arguments that seem quite reasonable. There are so many ways of bouncing our scream back against us, of looking at us and asking why we scream. Is it because of our age, our social background, or just some psychological maladjustment that we are so negative? Are we hungry, did we sleep badly or is it just pre-menstrual tension? Do we not understand the complexity of the world, the practical difficulties of implementing radical change? Do we not know that it is unscientific to scream?"
—John Holloway (Change the World Without Taking Power, 2002)

Guernica (Picasso, 1937)

"If the moral fire of anger were not capable of being identified with all forms of Fire, visible or invisible, it would not be worth the trouble of living and for that matter we would never have been able to live, for after all, of what else are we made?

"Between the anger of a furious mind and the devastating force of all fires, there is in reality no distance. But there is something to be found. I have found this something and this is what permits me always to speak with complete assurance."
—Antonin Artaud (Letters, 1937)

"To think deeply in our culture is to grow angry and to anger others; and if you cannot tolerate this anger, you are wasting the time you spend thinking deeply. One of the rewards of deep thought is the hot glow of anger at discovering a wrong, but if anger is taboo, thought will starve to death." —Jules Henry (Culture Against Man, 1963)