Category Archives: Links

Links on tiny books, illuminated books, handmade books

1. A New York Times story about a collection of tiny books.

2. The Book of Kells, digitized and online.

3. 800 illuminated manuscripts online

4. Larkspur Press in Kentucky (letterpressed books)

5. American Academy of Bookbinding

Link: There are only 4 Old English books

According to this story in the New Republic, there are only 4 extant book written in Old English. I didn’t know this number was so small. There are also cool links about old books in that story.

Link: The Books that Defined the Decades

This list of The Books that Defined the Decades by Emily Temple at Literary Hub includes the big names of the canon as it seemed to be when I was in college in the ’90s, and it also includes some names I am less familiar with (like Jean Toomer’s Cane), and it also mixes in some nonfiction (The Joy of Cooking).

Doris Lessing on schooling

According to an article at Lit Hub, Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing quit formal schooling at age 14 and wrote, in The Golden Notebook, an assessment I think worth considering (though I’m not quite sure yet if I agree with it or not):

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself—educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

‘Trump’s an asshole,’ sings Denis Leary, 2016 asshole update

Since this post of Denis Leary’s song seems popular and pertinent, I’ll add the updated, 2016 version, done by Denis Leary and James Corden:

Here’s the original:

Link: ‘The Mind: Less Puzzling in Chinese?’

In an essay at The New York Review of Books, writer Perry Link questions whether Western languages’ emphasis on using nouns over using verbs perhaps contributes to, or even creates, philosophical problems.

Link begins by explaining that:

Indo-European languages tend to prefer nouns, even when talking about things for which verbs might seem more appropriate. The English noun inflation, for example, refers to complex processes that were not a “thing” until language made them so. Things like inflation can even become animate, as when we say “we need to combat inflation” or “inflation is killing us at the check-out counter.” Modern cognitive linguists like George Lakoff at Berkeley call inflation an “ontological metaphor.” (The inflation example is Lakoff’s.)

When I studied Chinese, though, I began to notice a preference for verbs. Modern Chinese does use ontological metaphors, such as fāzhăn (literally “emit and unfold”) to mean “development” or xὶnxīn (“believe mind”) for “confidence.” But these are modern words that derive from Western languages (mostly via Japanese) and carry a Western flavor with them. “I firmly believe that…” is a natural phrase in Chinese; you can also say “I have a lot of confidence that…” but the use of a noun in such a phrase is a borrowing from the West.

Link points out that how we talk about things can shape our thinking. If we label something with a noun, that might lend some sort of existence to that something:

Ancient Chinese philosophers did discuss “being,” but to do it they used the words you, “there is,” and wu, “there is not,” both of which are fundamentally verbs. By contrast ancient Greek thinkers often conceived their puzzles in terms of nouns: What is “justice”? “Beauty”? “The good”? And so on.

I wanted to see whether “assuming that things exist just because nouns that refer to them exist” might cause problems for serious Western philosophers. I read Colin McGinn’s book The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World about the “mind-body problem”—which, briefly put, is the problem of how “mental substance” and “physical substance” can affect each other. Although a major problem in Western philosophy since Descartes, the question has scarcely been noticed in the history of Chinese philosophy. I much admire McGinn’s writing; I chose him purposefully as a powerful representative for the West.

At one point in his book, McGinn focuses on the curious fact that our perceptions of the world are often perceptions of things in space, and yet the perceptions themselves occupy no space. He writes:

Consider the visual experience of seeing a red sphere two feet away with a six-inch diameter. The object of this experience is of course a spatial object with spatial properties, but the experience itself does not have these properties: it is not two feet away from you and six inches in diameter. …When we reflect on the experience itself, we can see that it lacks spatial properties altogether.

For me, the crucial phrase here is “the experience itself.” Is there such a thing? The noun “experience” exists, but that is not the question. Does the experience exist? We might feel intuitively that it does. But does that intuition arise, in part, from the grammatical habit of using nouns like “experience” and assuming that they refer to things? Classical Chinese poets see, hear, and feel in all sorts of ways—they have no trouble “experiencing.” But they find no need to talk about “experience” as a noun. The modern Chinese word jīngyàn, “experience,” was invented to accommodate Western language.

Link also points out something that I’m often arguing to my students, that numbers and ideas — “mental things” — don’t need to exist:

McGinn goes on to point out that numbers, like the experience of red spots, do not occupy space. “We cannot sensibly ask how much space the number 2 takes up relative to the number 37,” he writes. “It is hardly true that the bigger the number the more space it occupies.” Then he writes:

To attribute spatial properties to numbers is an instance of what philosophers call a category-mistake, trying to talk about something as if it belonged to a category it does not belong to. Only concrete things have spatial properties, not abstract things like numbers or mental things like experiences of red.

In my imagination an ancient Chinese philosopher might well accept McGinn’s point, but then ask him: why do you talk about “mental things”? Is that not also a category-mistake? If I see a red spot, do I not simply see a red spot? The red spot, yes, is a thing, but “I see” is not a thing. I see is I see. If you change it into “my sight” or “my experience of seeing,” you are performing a grammatical act, but that grammatical act has no power to change the way the world is. Your perplexity about how two “things” relate comes only from your grammar.

Link concludes thus, focusing on language contexts of philosophical problems:

Once one enters an Indo-European language, the mind-body problem indeed is hard, and I had not been trying to solve it on that turf. At most, I have discovered only a question: are people who think in Indo-European languages better off because their languages lead them to clear conceptualization of an important puzzle, or are thinkers in Chinese better off because their language gets them through life equally well without the puzzle?

After reading this, I wonder whether Link’s point applies not just to philosophy but also to Buddhist ideas about seeing what things are real.

‘Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound’: Notes from a week in the South

The full name of this store is "Crabs - We Got 'Em"

The full name of this restaurant at the public parking lot at Pensacola Beach is “Crabs – We Got ‘Em.” 19 June 2016.

“Have fun on your stupid trip,” said Caitlyn One Waitress at our diner as we ate breakfast before leaving for a 14-hour drive to Pensacola, Florida. Of course, Caitlyn One also told us, “I could barely go to Wisconsin Dells,” a two-hour drive away. 18 June.

"Pensacola Bch"? Pensacola Bitch?

Pensacola Bitch?

Crossing the Ohio River from Illinois into Kentucky, my wife said, “Now it’s really vacation. We’re not in Illinois anymore … though I’m not really sure now much ‘Kentucky’ says ‘vacation.'” 18 June.

View of Pensacola Beach from the third-floor men's room near the Drowsy Poet

View of Pensacola Beach from the third-floor men’s room near the Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. The Quietwater Beach is on the left, the south-facing, gulf-facing beach is out of sight beyond the center of the photo.

“Alabama is definitely the Nebraska of the south: a long frustrating state … between me and where I want to be,” my wife said as we drove south on I-65. Alabama is “prettier,” she said, but “just as unrelenting in its nothingness” of roadsides showing but wall-to-wall forests. 19 June.

Truck-nuts of a state highway logo.

Alabama exit sign.

“Truck nuts of a state road sign,” my wife said of the Alabama logo, where the gulf coast part of the state does seem to dangle a bit. 19 June.

A black skimmer bird, I think, at the beach at about sundown.

A black skimmer bird, I think, at the beach at about sundown.

As M. drove on I-65, she said of other drivers as she was speeding up, “Alright, fukkers, you’re between me and my beach.” 19 June.

Groovy sand dollar remains.

Groovy sand dollar remains.

At lunch in the Boardwalk Cafe at the Quietwater Beach at Pensacola Beach: A mom-ish woman said to a teen-ish girl, who’d been talking about parasailing: “You know what you’re gonna do? You’re gonna end up talkin’ yourself out of it … and it’ll all work, and if you did drop your sunglasses, you can say, ‘remember when I went parasailing and watched ’em go smash?’ It’ll be a better memory.” And then the young woman said, “Are you guys gonna be out on the boat with us?” And the older woman answered, “No, we’re goin’ shoppin.” 20 June.

Crucifix tramp-stamp.

Crucifix tramp-stamp.

“Think of Jeezus as you’re doin’ me from behind,” I heard someone say as we both spied a woman with a crucifix tramp stamp. 20 June.

Garbage bin at the marina: No fish carcasses!

Garbage bin at the marina: No fish carcasses!

“No shirt, no shoes, no problem, but please, no Speedos,” said a guy on a dolphin cruise boat — the “CHASE-N-FINS” — over his loudspeaker. 20 June.

Two days later, I heard a roll-call coming from that same boat. A young adult was calling out these names, to which elementary students answered “… Analise, Oliver, Micah, Isabelle, Hunter, Kaden, Isaac, Riley … Scarlett…” 22 June.

No booze, except at the beach.

No booze, except at the beach.

“Atticus was the daddy I always wanted,” said a woman at the hotel pool who saw me reading To Kill a Mockingbird. 21 June.

Alligator heads at Alvin's Island store.

Alligator head end cap display at Alvin’s Island store.

These alligators died for farm-related reasons.

These alligators died for farm-related reasons.

“Wur ’bout to do this thang,” said a white guy, seemingly in all seriousness of accent, outside of a watercraft rental place at Pensacola Beach. 20 June.

A beach corrugation with white sand.

A beach corrugation with white sand and sand dollar.

“Life and death. There it is, right off the end of the marina,” I said of big fish chasing little ones. 20 June.

A barracuda lies in wait around the corner of the elevator at our hotel.

A barracuda lies in wait around the corner of the elevator at our hotel.

“seh-CURE-ih-tee!” mock-shouted a 50-60-year-old dark-haired woman at the hotel pool as she tried to adjust her chaise lounge. She finally said, “I got it!” Another of the women in her party said, “I doubt it.” “Security!” was about the only spoken word of hers that I could make out through her southern accent. 21 June.

“He’s swimmin’ nay-ow!” said the dark-haired older woman to a gray-haired women, who had been teaching water-motility skills to a young boy. “And that’s how you can float on your back,” she’d said to the boy earlier. 21 June.

Please don't crap in the Hampton hotel's pool.

Please don’t crap in the Hampton hotel’s pool.

 

At the beach at evening, a woman said to a toddler, “Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound,” with that last word having two syllables. 20 June.

The view on walking into Flounder's boutique.

The view on walking into Flounder’s boutique.

“I’m almost sick of the ocean — there’s too much of it,” said my wife as she was a little overwhelmed on the morning of our second day at the beach. She was less overwhelmed after a nap. 21 June.

A morning view of the marina near the coffeeshop.

A morning view of the marina near the coffeeshop.

“Now he’s walking slow as molasses … he hasn’t gone all day,” said a woman to another woman, perhaps about the 3-4-year-old boy as they and my wife and I all rode the hotel elevator one floor. 21 June.

At the Cactus Flower restaurant on the boardwalk, a 40-ish-year-old woman whose button-down shirt stopped well short of her white-patterned bikini bottoms came in with her family. A posted sign said that shirt and shoes were required, but the sign hadn’t claimed the necessity of pants. 21 June.

Two jazz musicians at Lillo's at Pensacola Beach.

Two jazz musicians at Lillo’s at Pensacola Beach. 22 June.

Be “ready to catch the meatball,” said the sax player at Lillo’s Tuscan Grill as he picked up his horn and aimed it toward my wife and me. His guitarist had already started playing a jazz version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Later, near the end of the song, the sax player added, “meatball’s comin’.” 21 June.

We went to Lillo’s the next night, too, and we heard him joke of the place, “you can tell it’s a classy place when they have lefthanded forks,” said Joe, the sax guy, 22 June.

“Don’t try to jump on that, dude. It’s pretty unpredictable,” said an adult guy in the pool. He had a full (but not long) beard, sunglasses, and a rust-orange baseball cap with an outline of the state of Texas on it. He said this to a young boy who was trying to jump on a floating object from the edge of the pool. After warning the boy a second time, the man said, “I did that one time; it didn’t feel good.” 22 June.

A little later, that boy, or his brother, was told by their mother, “five minutes time out. If he wants to act dumb at the pool, I’m gonna act dumb with him, too.” 22 June.

A folded bill on the tip jar at Drowsy Poet cafe.

A folded bill on the tip jar at Drowsy Poet cafe.

A waitress asked if she could get the plates “out of yer-all’s way?” 21 June.

“Would you stop talking like that? You’re gonna do it in public and then we’re gonna have to get killed,” my wife said of my repeating certain southern-accented phrases, such as when I heard a man at a breakfast place order “a sahd of” hash browns or something. 22 June.

A young girl declared that she was about to do a “butt-sit” on the bottom of the pool. 23 June.

From the balconies above the hotel pool, I heard a Southern- accented teenage female voice shout: “Let me see ’em — Ah get to pick!” A short time later, I heard the same voice shout, “You take one mo-er and this goes off the balcony!” 23 June.

My journal in front of a palm tree

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal in front of a palm tree at Pensacola Beach.

I asked a serious-seeming woman about the fairy tales books on her table at the Pensacola Beach Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. She said she was doing academic research about fairy tales and Shakespeare, and we talked about teaching writing. It was a fun conversation. Later that day, I searched her name, “Tana” (short for “Montana,” she said), and “Shakespeare,” and I found this website that seems to be hers, and it lists a number of her publications, several of which I was glad to read. It was neat to find out someone I had just met was so accomplished, but had I known that before meeting her, I might have acted like an awed fan, and then I might not have had as good a conversation. This was something I thought about again when I went to the Harper Lee hometown and thought of Lee not as a regular person but as an idea, quasi-magical Writer Harper Lee.

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal at the Monroeville, Alabama, County Old Courthouse.

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal at the Monroeville, Alabama, County Old Courthouse. 25 June.

After a tense couple minutes during which several lifeguards had searched for a missing boy at the Quietwater Boardwalk, the boy was found and he was safe, and as the lifeguards were leaving the boardwalk, a bystander teasingly asked if there were any sharks out there. “We checked all the waters: you’re set, man,” responded one lifeguard. 24 June.

The gray streak on left side of photo is the dolphin seen by boatmate Jeff and my wife, on right.

Swimming with wild dolphins off the Panama City Beach coast. The gray streak on left side of photo is the dolphin seen by our boatmate Jeff and my wife, on right. 23 June.

A dolphin.

A dolphin in clear blue water. As this was the best view I could get from above the water, I decided to push off the front of the pontoon boat with the others and see through the goggles. We saw dolphins several times, including babies with big ones, and my wife got within arm’s length of one big dolphin that glided slowly below her. I also heard some of the dolphin’s squeaks when my head was below water line.

View of Shell Island near Panama City Beach from the back of the pontoon boat from which we sought dolphins.

View of Shell Island near from the back of the pontoon boat from which we sought dolphins. Floating facedown and parallel to the waves, I felt lifted and dropped, like I was in a car getting a little airborne over a hill.

Beach lizard in my view as I wrote my journals, 25 June.

Beach lizard in my view as I wrote my journals, 25 June.

At the Tennessean truck stop near Lewisburg, TN. The fine print explains that $99.99 buys 16,000 firecrackers.

At the Tennessean truck stop near Cornersville, TN. The fine print explains that $99.99 buys 16,000 firecrackers. 25 June.