April 29, 2005

I've been reading lately about Christ for some reason, and this reading has been mostly fictional. Ie. Christ has been a character in several stories I've read. So, it's not like what I've been reading is doctrine.

And I've realised that I have formed an opinion about Christ that colours my perception of what I'm reading, and that that opinion has no basis in fact. You'll say: it is natural that reading fiction has influenced your fictional opinion of Christ. But I have the feeling that my opinion of Christ originates from something I have read before this fiction that I have read recently. Because my opinion conflicts with the character of Christ in the fiction.

The opinion I have formed is that Christ was naïve. Perhaps this does not conflict with doctrine, when examined closely. I wouldn't know: I don't know doctrine. But I do feel that this opinion conflicts with the church that arose upon Christ's message. What I mean is that Christ's message is inappropriate to this world, and only a naïve person could accept that following his proposal would actually work.

A lot of my memories are suddenly coming together. I remember that Yourcenar puts this same opinion in Emperor Hadrian's mouth. The reason why Christ's plan would not work is that, although it is based on the-- the-- astonishing power of humility and compromise (I should just say "love" I guess), it does not take into account those people who take advantage of the humility of others. Ie. Christ's plan works as long as everyone agrees to love each other, but all it takes is one mean guy to take advantage of the loving-people, and the whole thing fails.

To put it in one sentence, the opinion I have somehow lately formed on Christ, from reading I suppose heathen works on Christ, is that his proposal will never succeed. And thus the opinion I'm forming of fiction that portrays Christ as a triumphant character whose plan only needs time to succeed is that this fiction is itself naïve.

Whether or not you agree and whether or not my incumbent opinion is valid, I would still like to know where it came from. I believe that a series of ideas has led me to juxtapose the idea of the "leader" with the idea of "Christ", and I have been led to judge the latter infavourably with respect to the ideal characteristics of the former.

April 17, 2005

Science is the most ponderous means of gathering human knowledge; it is not surprising, then, that it has not caught up, in extent, to the other domains.

Given this fact, science is not unjustified in its disapproval of the more eager modes of learning, as its disagreement often resides--if not on correctness--on a very sound prudence.

Because of this prudence, science can be both astonishingly naive and dull in comparison to its homologues, as well as possessing the power to cut their legs out from under them with an untouchable finality.

No wonder it is both hated and revered.

April 13, 2005

Why are Harry Potter's Spells in Latin?

I have noticed that spells in the Harry Potter books are cast in Latin. For me, this contradicts the fictional universe of the series.

One of the interesting things in Harry Potter is the amount of Celtic influence behind the sorcerer culture. At times, this influence makes sense simply because the setting is England, a country that accentuates its Celtic heritage. At other times, though, the pre-Roman elements are specifically associated not just to England, but to sorcery. In general, things that have been imagined with a Celtic point of view are those things that don't exist in real life: sorcerer's tools, fashion, and magic symbols. I find it strange, then, that the verbal incantations come from a culture that is in almost every way the opposite of the Celtic: Latin.

The logic, of course, is somewhat excusable. First of all, these are children's books, and whether magic words are spoken in Latin, Welsh, or Chinese probably goes beyond the level of education that the target reader has had the opportunity to attain. However, I don't think it's appropriate to treat children's literature as throwaway literature, and I'm sure Ms. Rowling and all children's authors would agree. Writing for children is just as demanding as writing for adults, and often perhaps adds a certain responsibility for not leading innocent readers into delusion. Now we should examine whether this responsibility towards children goes as far as to include a total historical exactitude with respect to ancient languages. I don't claim that it does.

The second excuse for misusing ancient languages--if, that is, I can show that they are being in fact misused--is that it cannot be proven with certainty that one ancient language is more appropriate than another in describing an element of a fictional world. And I agree, that since Harry Potter is a work of the imagination, there is no certain response to which language should be used for the spells. It should, after all, be an entirely invented language, shouldn't it? If you were going to write a book about fictional magicians, in what language would you make their spells?

In fact, Rowling's spells are invented. They only sound Latin, but they are not real Latin. Nevertheless, they are recognisable Latin, probably because they heavily use Latin morphemes. And any reader that speaks a language that has borrowed from Latin will at least subconsciously recognise the similarity between the incantations and Latin-sounding words in their own language.

So Ms. Rowling did not entirely invent her incantation, but allowed herself to be inspired by Latin. Perhaps she was following the "hocus-pocus" tradition, and she is certainly justified in doing so. But all her Latin sounds very out-of-place and Churchlike among her Celtic/Gaelic/Breton magicians. And here is where my criticism lies. I get the feeling that Rowling chose Latin because it "sounds old", but I think Gaelic would have been much more appropriate-sounding to the setting.

Will young Potter fans then confuse sorcery with the Roman Church? Will they subconsciously attribute witcherious powers when they later read of Caesar Augustus? Will they come to imagine Roman togas as dark, hooded capes?

I'm not saying they will, but I find the Latin incantations are an imperfection in an otherwise very imaginatively complete series of novels. I would have preferred to hear a more Druidic influence on the language of sorcery. This certainly would have fit in with Rowling's universe, where everything else feels Celtic.

What I'm saying is, when Rowling equates magic with pseudo-Celticism, she errs in casting Latin spells. The Romans conquered the Celts, and the imperial incantations sound much too august in a world that for me should be a maze of twisted dark trees.

Overall, it's a testament to Rowling's talent that I'm nitpicking on an element that takes up less than 0.001% of her text. It's just an oversight that could have otherwise set up a nice Celtic-Roman opposition in the engaging series.

And this makes me wonder with what else we subconsciously associate Latin?

April 12, 2005

Subject Day is now over. Merchants may take advantage to mark down prices on gifts and memorabilia. You should not feel compelled to stop titling things today, but neither should you expect the same reassuring ceremonious quality from titling that you received from the same acts yesterday.

April 11, 2005

Subject Day

I designate today, and all April 11ths to follow today, "Subject Day". Subject Day is the day dedicated to writing subjects or titles in emails, blog posts, comments, notes to self, photo albums, individual photos, and all things which have a little space for you to write a title.

Join me in celebrating Subject Day by titling all your things that visibly invite titling!

* Please be respectful of the property of others on this day. Subject Day wishes to promote peace and unity and in no way endorses corrupt use of Subject Day for derogatory or hurtful purposes.

April 08, 2005

Something different... in French...

  • in French
  • different
  • newspaper
  • right-wing
  • left-wing
  • in Canada
  • as a Canadian
  • in Polish...
  • -->Lastname!

And I had just been typing "Lastname"!

(Sorry--I've been lately reading Freud.)

April 04, 2005

He wrote a plan for a novel, about a culture whose writing system was not left-to-right nor right-to-left, nor top-to-bottom for that matter, but which was read from outside in, hopping from one side of the sentence to the other. Alternating. Like a spiral, but discontinuous. Like the words were points of a straight line intersecting with a spiral.

The word "sentence" disturbed him, and he tried to generalise it to a word that conveyed less of the linearity of known language.

It would upset computer parsers, he thought, as the binary parameter "direction" would be insufficient to encompass the scanning sequence inherent in this language.

Then he rejected "words" and "letters" and instead concentrated on defining a more fundamental symbol for the idea, before realising that he was incapable of distancing the already-existing fact of ideograms. This depressed him somewhat, as he had spent a good deal of effort on this portion of the plan, it having made him hungry, so thoughts of making a sandwich (with mustard) now distracted him from returning to his other ideas.

He wanted at least to think of a name for his hero before he went off to the kitchen.

But the word "hero" disturbed him. Why should he need a hero? Could he not just have a bunch of people experiencing different things from different points of view? Surely one could write a novel without deliberately centralising all the motivation on one character. What was a character but a construction of mustard, after all?

That's right: he had heard that before. A character was just a construction of text. So why shouldn't this construction, which was qualitatively no different from any other part of the text in a novel, always take on such tyrannical status? He would not put characters in his book, but just constructions of text. He imagined text as a river, in that it moved in one direction past your eye; but he did not see any reason to attribute to it any qualities beyond that of a river. It need not have internal borders that defined characters, dialogue, chapters, and ending, nor any elements we might traditionally see in a novel. It need not have internal references or names. Nothing stopped his text from naming things that it had not defined, using one name to reference multiple entities, nor using multiple names for the same entity. And then a thought struck him.

What if his book followed the spiralinear structure of his language? He could write it alternating words from the beginning to the ending, until they met in the middle. Or, he could start from the middle, that way avoiding the question of whether the right or left side would dominate as a starting point. Neither would dominate. Text could flow circularly from the center. He could even draw pictures out of this text, creating entities not from temporal structure, but from spatial structure, visible momentarily, experienced at a single point in time, like paintings, yet with access to a sequential experience, like music. Yes, yes that is what he would do. His book might even need a new type of binding to maintain all these ideas together, but that would only show the world how uncontainable his genius.

He had stopped writing on his plan for some minutes now, since this was all becoming so hard to express in written form. He drew a couple of spirals though.

Then he went down to make his sandwich. Apparently Seinfeld was on.