Tag Archives: words

You have to understand vagueness.

The work of the philosopher is a marshalling of remembrances for a specific purpose.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Last week someone I know used the phrase, “The marvelous clouds,” and I immediately remembered a book by that name that I bought a couple of years ago and wrote a very short post about, before it had even arrived in my mailbox. Recently I had moved that book from an upstairs shelf to a downstairs one, seemingly at random, so it was close at hand and I looked inside today. How surprising to see that back then I had read the introduction. I can tell because many passages are underlined 🙂 It is comfortingly full of references to the material world and other real things, which of course the title would lead you to believe, but the subtitle, about media theory, sounds… um… scarily theoretical. Here is my first post on the book:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared that language is fossil poetry. Many words that we use carelessly have, embedded within their amber-like exterior, the remnants of long lost perceptions and intuitions. When received thoughtfully and with some delicacy, words have the capacity to allow us to travel back in time, to imagine how and what the world meant to our ancestors. But unlike the insects, or dinosaur DNA fixed in amber, the meanings within words are changing, evolving, as human perceptions change.”

-Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio Journal, introducing his interview of John Durham Peters about his new book, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

I listened to this interview and have ordered the book, though I fear it will be above my head, like clouds. The author was not hard to understand when he was talking, and he spoke of so many things that I would like to “hear” him discuss further, after I get the book and can read the words on paper, and flip back and forth and underline a phrase here and there of his meaningful prose. How can I resist a book that contains all together in its title the words Marvelous, Philosophy, and Clouds?

(Originally “Words have skins like amber.”)

Albert was one of several commenters in 2016 who were inspired to put this book on their To-Read list, and he shared what he found in his research:

‘Wondering if I could benefit from reading The Marvelous Clouds, I looked for information about the author, and found a rather detailed interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

‘Here is John Durham Peters talking about why a book on media would use clouds as its chief metaphor: “Clouds illustrate media ontology. [They] exist by disappearing. They exist in time. . .  their dynamic materiality is suggestive for media under volatile digital conditions.” And,

‘“Clouds bear significance, but without any code to clarify what they mean. Their meanings are essentially vague. . . .  [They] are the original white noise.  . . . The ability to represent the indefinite is one of the great achievements of modern mathematics and media, and clouds were at the vanguard here too. If you want to understand how meaning works, you have to understand vagueness, and clouds are a chief example.”

‘At this point I almost gave up — his ideas were too cloudy for me — but I pressed on. Half way through, when the questioner brought up the possible negative effects of limitless storage and quick retrieval of data, a new idea was discussed as “something more insidious, a kind of existential de-orientation, in which presumptions of universal storage alter our relation to loss and death.”

‘Now I was interested.

‘It turns out to be a really good, comprehensive interview. By the end I could see better. My clouds were dispersed, somewhat. For a person whose book budget is limited, Brian Hanrahan’s interview is well worth reading. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-anthropoid-condition-an-interview-with-john-durham-peters/’

Speed forward to August of 2019, and I read the Intro again, gleaning the quote at top, and have continued into Chapter 1!! I thought some of you might be interested in the author’s introductory outline of the scope of the book, in this paragraph:

“In the first chapter I outline my intellectual debts and sketch the relevant landscape of media theory. In chapters 2 and 3, I examine sea and fire media, and in 4 and 5, the two main kinds of sky media. At first such realms as ocean, flame, and the heavens would seem to be unpromising realms for human creativity or technical handling, each being hostile to our works in its own way. But in spite of their resistance, or rather because of it, such elements are seedbeds of arts and crafts, many of them so basic that it took eco-crisis and the digital shakeup to make them obvious. Hostile environments breed art. Enmity is the mother of invention. In chapter 6 I explore the earthy media of body and writing, and chapter 7 tackles the would-be ethereal medium of Google, each medium also having its own productive meditations. Finally, I offer a few concluding meditations.”

Chapter 7 is titled “God and Google,” and the last chapter, “A Sabbath of Meaning.” My goodness, but I wonder how the meat of the chapters will satisfy my appetite that has been whetted by so many provocative phrases. But it does sound fun, especially from chapter 2 on, to make a philosophical journey through sea, fire, and sky, going on to explore “earthy” media… God will surely balance out whatever about Google might bore me in Chapter 7, and if I’m exhausted by the end, well, Peters has wisely put a sabbath right there in a helpful place.

A ramble like this doesn’t lend itself to a good ending, so I’ll close with one more quote from The Marvelous Clouds:

Einer Hilfe bedarf der Mensch immer.
(The human being always needs a help.)
-F.W.J. Schelling

But you don’t need to read the book to know that.

A dog without a tail.

gl-robot-at-computerI still get a few spam comments on my blog, but they are usually pretty boring these days. In the past I began a collection of the interesting ones, including the purely delightful combinations of words that always made me wonder if chaos theory applies here, or was it just very poetic and sweet non-native robot speakers of English ? with their charming and childlike misspellings…

First, I enjoy the often-thankful comments from those who are philosophical like me:

**Thanks for this post. I undoubtedly agree with what you might be saying. I have been talking about this topic a good deal lately with my mother so hopefully this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

**My wife and I have been very blessed in our lives. We have also lived troguhh very tight times ( I. E., blood donations.)

**Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: prceoius life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.

And there are the practical and encouraging tips and admonitions:

**When you have replied after 7 years, how do you except the reply immediately. Be Patient. Just wait for 7 more years to receive the reply. I use it every day.

**Paragraph writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with after that you can write if not it is complicated to write.

**Open cupboard doors if your drain pipe is frozen or slice into
your surfaces or ceilings allowing the heat from your home to get to the pipes.

**so-called light cooked dress is not necessarily going to formal, just a feeling, albeit obscure, unlikely uncertain. Do not follow the rules but the atmosphere of printing , is hit the color of a new pattern of it, A glyph When did you start to become so confident? Perhaps it is because of your confidence.gl-spot-looking-in

**If you are the kind of person who feels it’s important how a body of a loved one is disposed of, then I would recommend cemiatron most because it’s difficult to bury a body deep enough to protect it from scavengers. And if you had your cat euthanized, the scavengers could get sick from leftover euthanasia solution.

**I needed to csmoope you one very small remark

Lastly — and I need to get these out of the way so they don’t drag me down (actually I think the fathers say that down is up…?) with pride during Lent — are the compliments, which may be just flattery, I know 😦 A couple of these I’m not entirely certain which category they go in, but since this kind of feedback is rare anymore, I’ll count them as pats on the back:

**Ab fab my gooldy man.

**You have touched some fastidious points here.

**I am writing to let you be aware of what a beicfneial encounter my friend’s child encountered using your webblog. She even learned too many things

**Your individual stuffs outstanding. At all times care for it up!

**Right away I am ready togl-breakfast-at-computer-mine do my breakfast, later than having my breakfast coming over again to read more news.

**nice paragraph and pleasant urging

**You do such a good job for a dog without a tail.

🙂

Words have skins like amber.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared that language is fossil poetry. Many words that we use carelessly have, embedded within their amber-like exterior, the remnants of long lost perceptions and intuitions. When received thoughtfully and with some delicacy, words have the capacity to allow us to travel back in time, to imagine how and what the world meant to our ancestors. But unlike the insects, or dinosaur DNA fixed in amber, the meanings within words are changing, evolving, as human perceptions change.”

-Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio Journal, introducing his interview of John Durham Peters about his new book, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

I listened to this interview and have ordered the book, though I fear it will be above my head, like clouds. The author was not hard to understand when he was talking, and he spoke of so many things that I would like to “hear” him discuss further, after I get the book and can read the words on paper, and flip back and forth and underline a phrase here and there of his meaningful prose. How can I resist a book that contains all together in its title the words Marvelous, Philosophy, and Clouds?

Strolling Kate’s neighborhood.

gle-row-housesThough Kate has lived in Washington, DC for almost eleven years, I’d never spent a night in any of her dwellings before. This time, I stayed five nights with Tom and Kate in their apartment that I was seeing for the first time.

I am a country girl who lives in the suburbs – I’ve never in my life been a city-dweller. When I get the chance to take any kind of walking tour of a city with this much history, I find myself stopping and staring a lot. Just the brick row houses could keep me occupied for hours, if I had hours to spare.

131 neighborhoods are unofficially recognized in our nation’s capital. One of them in the “Old City” is Dupont Circle, arranged around streets that extend like spokes from the traffic circle that was part of the original plan for the city, designed for President George Washington in the 1790’s. This is Tom and Kate’s neighborhood for a few more months; you can see it just west of the center of this map:

dc_neighborhoods_map-lg

Pierre Charles L’Enfant was the architect who laid out the streets of what is now called the “Old City.” Much of the area was not developed until after the Civil War; in 1871 the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the traffic circle that was then called Pacific Circle. About ten years later Congress renamed it Dupont Circle after Samuel Francis Du Pont, to honor his service in the Civil War. He was the grandson of another Du Pont I heard about a few days later. Here is one of his original drawings:

dc-1280px-lenfant_plan_original-lg-ca-1794

I arrived in D.C. the day after the presidential election. The next morning Kate and I walked through her neighborhood….

gle-dupont-circle

…and on to the White House, where the President-Elect Donald Trump was meeting with President Obama. Some quiet demonstrators were there, too. Lots of construction was going on and we couldn’t get as close as usual.gle-demonstrators

gle-talking-at-the-white-house

This young woman was talking for as long as I would watch, to the boy in the Trump t-shirt. He was listening meekly. I wondered if he ever got a chance to talk, or had anything to say. There at the White House, I didn’t see anything hateful, and I don’t believe in speculating about the thoughts of other people’s hearts.

We spent quite a while touring the Renwick Gallery – so much beautiful artwork, which my pictures don’t do justice to, so I’ll just share one bit of Jennifer Trask’s art; she creates her designs with the antlers, teeth, and bones of many different animals including snakes, water buffalo and camels.

gle-bone-art

My daughter and her husband have been living the best kind of city life, the kind where you sleep, work and worship all in the same neighborhood. On Sunday we walked a couple of blocks to their church, the Cathedral of St. Mathew the Apostle, where I also had not been before. I was sorry to leave after the service, there were so many beautiful mosaics to gaze upon, and quotes from St. Francis in the side chapel dedicated to him.

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gle-st-mark-and-dome

 

 

 

Because that first photo blocks the face of St. Mark, I will share another, which shows a part of the beautiful dome, and all of St. Mark.

 

 

 

 

gle-st-francis-water

This quote from the prayers of St. Francis took my thoughts back home, where we really appreciate every drop of moisture that falls on our farms and gardens. Speaking of farms, Kate’s neighborhood boasts a farmer’s market, which we walked through after church, to sample fruit and salsa and pickled jalapeño okra. We bought apples and a jar of the okra.

gle-kate-apples

gle-columbian-embassy

Right next to that market is the Colombian Embassy, and in front of it a fiddler was busking.

A bookstore-café, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, is a popular spot in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. It was the first of this kind of duo to open in the capital. We browsed in there, too, and I even took pictures of books 🙂

gle-voting-dangerously

gle-speaking-american

Tom bought a different book that afternoon, Speaking American by Josh Katz, which kept us busy for hours afterward — and afterwords in this case — because it is full of statistics on regional differences in word usage: Do you say sneakers or tennis shoes, sub or hoagie? Maps show where you likely live, if you prefer one word or the other. Tom seemed to be “from” all over the place.

This example from the book shows something I already knew from living in that neighborhood for a few days, that in D.C. they say “traffic circle,” not “roundabout. But all in all, it’s a pretty inexact science.gle-speaking-american-exampleBeing in the nation’s capital during this particular week meant that I engaged in more political thinking and talk than is usual for me, but as a group we weren’t entirely consumed by the kind of emotions that the media stories seem determined to rouse. We were too busy exploring all the rich cultural, natural and even culinary riches to be had close at hand. Oh, yes, if you don’t mind I will indulge in just one food photo, of some coconut milk panna cotta I had for dessert at a restaurant that actually wasn’t in their neighborhood. We got there via Uber!

gle-panna-cotta

Another reason for our relative calm may be that we have been influenced throughout our lives by the truths and reality exemplified in another quote that I found in the neighborhood, right in Tom and Kate’s living room. The words from the Bible were part of a gift that Kate’s brother made for them the first year they were married, and they do help keep things in perspective.

gle-trip7

In my next post there will be more books, buildings and quotes.
Come back again if you also like this sort of thing!