Monday, May 10, 2010

Other People's Words

2301 / 3000 words. 77% done!
Tomorrow it will be finished - I am done mapping out the Mount of Wisdom and am almost to the Fountain of Prudence!

Some days words and ideas seem to settle in all around you and you feel like you can understand them and appreciate them and live with them. (Other days, they flit about like bats mocking your inability to capture anything at all of substance). Today was a "settling in" day, despite rocky moments (and aren't we glad that I don't twitter every familial and academic anxiety? oy!).

An example: my sweet Iris is homesick - intensely, powerfully, clingingly homesick... for about five minutes in the morning when we drop her off for school. This makes no sense to me at all (we've been here four months, her teacher positively glows with how well Iris understands and speaks French, she has little friends who adore her and they all do the "bisou" kisses in the morning), but it is very real and so I am awed and saddened by it. Even though it only lasts five minutes - even when we walk past her window having dropped off Eleanor (who can't shoo us out the door fast enough), we can see that she's at a table busily working on something, today, even humming. She and I talk about how even when times get tough you always have the choice to look within yourself or out among your friends for support. We talk about looking forward to the next great thing (the circus is coming to town tomorrow - as Oliver said "That's a pretty rare thing"). We talk about how even in adventure, there are down times. But of course she found her own solution today, and of course it was writing. So Iris is six years old, and here is what she wrote today:

Dr Mom i'am riting tis latr to you cus i wot you to now haw sid i am bt not in agr. transliteration: Dear Mom, I'm writing this letter to you 'cause I want you to know how sad I am but not in anger.

It's the self-knowledge that gets me here - it's true: when Iris is sad, she often lashes out - defensive measures and all that. But here, she isolates her sadness from her anger, and writes me this little note. And then, this other note:

I stay awside so lonlee and kold i miss you, O I throlee do. transliteration: I stay outside so lonely and cold I miss you, O I truly do.

Iris is in the second group to go in for lunch, and it makes her nuts that Oliver and Eleanor are in the first group, while she has to wait outside. And here, I'm not quite sure what she's doing - she says that she doesn't want to play with her friends, she just wants to be inside with Oliver and Eleanor eating, and warm. But it's the "O I truly do" that I love. A little flourish to her suffering. And then, the cloud lifted, and my little dear drew this:

It's me on an elephant (something I told her I'd like to do if I were in the circus)
and this:

It's Iris on a trapeze (which is what she'd like to do if she were in the circus)
Oh my but I love that hair and that great big smile.
and, finally, this:

...which is a heart into which are written our names (Mom and Iris) as though in a concrete poem.

And now, for the best segue ever...

My second "Other People's Words" for today comes from Ernst Jandl (1925-2000), by way of Thinker and Friend Extraordinaire, Howard Pollack-Milgate and was in response to the Armistice Day blog.

1944 1945
krieg krieg
krieg krieg
kreig krieg
krieg krieg
krieg mai

(Markierung einer Wende)

The last words means "Taking note of a change" and "Krieg" means War (Mai is May). I was immediately struck by how much the repetition and structure recalled medieval annals - basically, terse lists of major (but not all major) events. A medieval annals might look like this:

King came
Duke dies


What's interesting is that at first read, you just see a bunch of words, but as the second and third and so on reads build, the emotion can get more and more intense. Add the fact that most of Jandl's poetry is best heard rather than read, and you have another link with medieval literature in its oral tradition (yes, even historical texts like annals were read out loud). How does history convey emotion? How will Iris's words (O I truly do) sound to her when she is 17? How will the emotion have translated through time, through her own history? How does Thenaud's emotion at seeing Jerusalem for real get communicated in the dreamscape of his didactic moral allegory? How does he transmit his anxiety about the ever-encroaching Ottoman (Muslim Turkish) invasions? These are the kinds of questions I've found myself asking of others' words today.

And then, I can also ask: Wow! What was he thinking? Here comes a pretty decent segue...

L'Explorateur is on the 3rd level of the Mount of Wisdom and walking through the Pavilions of Politic, Economic, and Ethic (three famous treatises by Aristotle, and here three presiding ladies). In the Pavilion of Politic, he quotes Socrates who apparently said (rapidly translated by me):

"...the public good is best governed by royalty, aristocracy and timocracy, but it is corrupted when governed by tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy."

What strange bedfellows late medieval didactic allegory makes: we would be hard pressed to find tyranny coupled with democracy in our modern political rhetoric (rather, in our current war (and in what seems like an endless repetition since the Greeks fought the Persians) the two are radically opposed to each other). And yet here, on the Mount of Wisdom, they are alike in their harm of the public good - along with oligarchy, which seems to me like timocracy gone bad. In the second volume of the Triumphe of the Virtues, the one on Fortitude, Thenaud will make much ado about the tyranny of the Ottoman Turks, himself borrowing liberally from Herodotus, whose Histories was one of the first texts to elaborate the West (democracy) vs. East (tyranny) trope we are still unfortunately operating under today.

and now, with no segue whatsoever, I am thrilled to report that the long-dormant witticisms of "Chaucer Hath a Blog" have returned with this absolutely hilarious post for Mother's Day, from Grendel, to his Mum. The geek factor is incredibly high here, you are duly warned, but oh the hilarity ("cake-lured"? oh when and how can I use that in my next conversation with someone?).

And so, thank you, Other People, for all your words and ideas, spanning centuries and ages of man.

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