Tag Archives: English writing

Samuel Johnson Rambles on Dictatorship over Feelings

VFS109729 Dr. Johnson (1709-84) at Cave’s the Publisher, 1854 (oil on canvas); by Wallis, Henry (1830-1916); 49.5×59.7 cm; Private Collection; English, out of copyright

Temperance is not an abnegation of sensuous pleasure that is innate to our human nature. It is one’s willingness and ability to rein in his or her horse of impulsive id under moderation lest the driver of the mind chariot lose the control and fall by the wayside of life’s journey and leave it in the lurch of spiritual anomy. Yet, to obliterate the pleasure of the taste that our sense requires for nourishing the body and soul will only produce counterintuitive consequences, leading to noogenic neurosis, chronic depression, or existential frustration that life is nothing but a vast vacant lot. That is what Samuel Johnson, one of the great writers of the English language and a trailblazer of the English dictionary, discerned in his brilliantly unbridled and witty essay ‘The Rambler, No. 32, written on Saturday, July 7th, 1750.

Johnson was an intellectual of the best kind: erudite in the scope of knowledge drawn on his wealth of reading, artless in expressing his views on the Pooterish lettered caste that prided themselves on the florid display of arcane words and difficult syntax, and charitable in recognition of the vicissitudes of human life without prejudice. Perhaps, such admirable traits contributed to creating a dictionary of the English language, which required the universal understanding of humanity to comprehend the origins and meanings of a language of any kind. According to Johnson, Stoicism seemed too puffed up with its lofty philosophical principles of restraining feelings that would only beget misapprehension of the old school of thought for denying the most natural human emotions.

Emotions measure changes on a continuum of arousal on the one hand and the pleasantness and unpleasantness on the other. For example, High Arousal and High Unpleasantness produce Fear, whereas High Arousal and High Pleasantness equal to Ecstasy. Low Arousal and High Unpleasantness beget Misery, but Low Arousal and High Pleasantness lead to Satisfaction, which is a positive emotion. It is this physiological state of feeling that Johnson deemed it desirable in the face of existential frustration. One in despair can not eradicate the low tide of an emotional wave but can divert it in a direction that gives a fresh viewpoint on the heart’s malady, thus making life worthwhile to continue with every new try. It is logical reasoning because consciousness predicts the world we live in, a constant revolving hypothesis of reality triggered by neurons in the visual cortex. Since the brain does not have a function to think of itself, it uses a template of emotional scripts based on experience. Thus, instead of willing away unpleasant emotions, one can translate it on a different emotional template, measuring it on the arousal continuum for positive emotional affects. 

While Stoicism advocates the puritanical governance of the sense and taste for Reason’s eminence, humanity’s natural law revolts against the unnaturally philosophical dictatorship under the disguise of decency and propriety. Stoicism is a school of philosophy that distinguishes the cult from “the sensibilities of unenlightened mortals.” Johnson was right in saying that repressed feelings about pain could only lead to a dormant sense of guilt in a denial of physical reality and later erupt into violent tantrums or perverted forms of debauchery. Pain is part of life, and the way to relieve its severity is by way of finding its riddle with fortitude through doing things that channel the concentration on the pain to something meaningfully pleasant, creating a sense of fulfillment. This concept is also parallel to Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy about willingness to meaning in life as a result of responding genuinely and humanly to life’s challenges. Both Johnson and Frankl denied no tactile sense of pain, emotional or physical, and prescribed a palliative solution for mitigating a malady of heart.

Johnson’s essay on criticism on Stoicism agrees with my idea of expressing genuine feelings about sadness to effectively communicate to listeners’ hearts in a compassionately empathic way so that pains will be less burdened, griefs shared in halves, and loneliness complemented in companionship. Likewise, I believe that suicidal feelings arise from that utterly helpless loneliness alienated from the world. They are usually concealed by the actor’s self-made barriers, where the emotions are despotically imprisoned. And I believe that Johnson would have agreed with me.

‘The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language’, by Steven Pinker – review

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates LanguageThe Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


People tend to judge who you are according to how you speak and write as an effortlessly conspicuous touchstone of your intelligence. The pesky lexical solecism in writing, funny way of talking with accents, and fumbling manner of delivering thoughts are the Three Capital Sins decreed by English Language Purists regarding English Undefiled. Since English is not my mother tongue, such derisive experience often forced me to conform to the notion that the language ability determines general cognitive ability, until I read Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct.

Pinker, who himself came from a French/English/Yiddish linguistic family background, asserts that the salient features of language should not be synonymous with the performer’s general reasoning ability. He expounds that the language is the instinct, a survival mechanism resulting from human evolution, universal in humankind, whether technologically primitive or advanced. It is a highly specialized mental module established through the passing of times by wonderfully flexible human faculty of learning by mutation, heritability, and isolation. The aptly fitting allusion to the biblical Tower of Babel illustrates the universality of language due to the innate universal human consciousness. Hence, different languages are the descendants of the proto-type language with its changeable nature according to the passing of times, calling for changes in social and cultural modes of life.

In this sense, idioms and other forms of English-based pidgins demonstrate divergent evolutionary traits of English, not the illiteracy of the speakers of such languages. Pinker remonstrates with famous critics, editors, and writers, who are bulwarks of the Pure English since language is the instinct, not the mind itself. Their judging people based on how they speak and write shows the ignorance of the truth, seeing what they want from their designated vantage point of arrogant grammarians. Come to think of it, didn’t William Shakespeare, a former maker of leather gloves with a limited education of grammar school, ruffle the feathers of his university-educated colleagues in his time? Leo Tolstoy, Emily Bronte, and Jane Austen were not perfect spellers, nor was Jack Kerouac, who often stumbled into existential lingual vertigo because English was not his mother tongue.

The book covers everything you want to know about language: how and when people started to speak the way they do now, where the origin of proto-type language took place, and why language is not a barometer of intelligence. There is no such thing as linguistic relativity, a principle claiming that how you speak affects how you think, which alternately means that you are not as intelligent as you like to believe because your English is imperfect. I could not believe why many people disagree with Pinker’s view of the language instinct. They pillory him for being something of a language eugenist when he is against those language mavens, one of whom publicly derided Pinker for defending his parents’ less than perfect English language ability. The depth and breadth of knowledge that Pinker shares with his reader become scintillating with his trenchant wit and feisty honesty, comparable to Samuel Johnson, author of A Dictionary of the English Language. This book addressed my soul-searching question of language and its relation to intelligence, and it prescribed to my wounded soul with a new perspective of language as the instinct. Whether or not you subscribe to Pinker’s theory of the language instinct is voluntary, but don’t forget that prejudice darkens the knowledge.



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Our Mutual Friends

Some say animals do not have a faculty of mind that translates the sense into meaning.  I always find it ironic that educated people can sometimes be heartlessly benighted, belittling a simplicity of nature. That they do not have the emotional spectrums, ranging from guilty to remorseful, and to resentful, gives free rein on arbitrarily judging animal behaviors according to human rational thinking that supersedes instincts common to all living creatures. Nor does it sound sane to cosset pets with outpourings of maudlin sentiments out of anthropomorphism for our convenience. We are fortunate to live in the age of the Brilliance of Science. Still, the overflux of information sometimes begets counterproductive results. Amid the deluge of information on animal behaviorism available on the Internet, I am often doubtful, if not fearful, of the way I am raising my cat.

I observe how my 14-week old tabby Toro behaves from defecating in the litterbox to drinking from the water fountain, playing with his toys, and to watching his new finned friend, Hope, a Betta fish. Although they do not have the faculty to produce physiologically-driven emotional effects as complex as humans, my observation has yielded that cats exhibit a feline version of a continuum from pleasantness to unpleasantness. For instance, when I discipline Toro for not behaving, he does about-face and hides under the bed or goes to a corner of the room, sitting there like a mini sphinx statue, sulking and avoiding my eyes. Then in about 10 minutes or so, he slowly (and stealthily) approaches where I am while still keeping his feline pride in a way he doesn’t want to ingratiate himself with my favor. When finally arriving at his destination of Me, he announces his arrival with the unmissable “Meow,” with his eyes pleading for my petting. Cats may not have the same kind of grudge that we humans secretly harbor as in William Blakes’ ‘Poison Tree.” Yet, they possess the tactile feelings at the primary level, which can be akin to those exhibited by infants. Also, I don’t think raising a single cat will prevent her from socialization or emotional well-being. Most cats do not like to be with other cats unless they are littermates from birth.

My a posteriori opinion about a myriad of scientific theories and expert dos and dont’s about raising cats happy and healthy is an intelligent hypothesis of feline nature. It attempts to explain why they act the way they do so that we, as caretakers, should take care of them better and more effectively. From my personal experience thus far, it is really up to individuals’ discretion to respond to their cats (or other pets) because each animal has different characters with particular likes and dislikes. So I try not to read more than I need in terms of feline care. (i.g., Toro likes no cat tree, no chasing ball but likes to climb on chairs, shelves, and tables that humans use.) Cats are solitary and egoistic, but that is why they are so affectionate toward us.  As the Victorian British writer George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends, they ask no questions, pass no criticisms.” Therefore, I would treat my furry little friend as he is, rather than turn him into an obsequious, listless pet whose existence depends on the mercy of his master.

 

the journal of cat writer #1

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The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said, ” Don’t feel harmed, and you won’t be, and you haven’t been.” Centuries later the emperor’s medieval Christian heathen Thomas Aquinas corroborated that no words should do harm on the soul of the heard. Well, it’s easier to say than to be done, especially from the high chairs of big wigs. So much so that none of those self- hypnosis of affirmation prescribed by the privileged rings true to me as I am trying to put together pieces of my heart.

The cause of the malady of the heart ensues from my twitter correspondence with a literary man over my prescient knowledge of Theodora, a former comedian turned the wife of emperor Justian of East Roman Empire in the 6th century A.D. She was later canonized in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and her feast day is November 14, which he had denied. As it is my nature to strike up a meaningful conversation based on knowledge with an intelligent person with seeming affability, I commented on his tweet politely in bona fide intention to inform him of ill-conceived intelligence. However, the response felt heartbreaking with a blunt inflection that froze my heart instantly.

By the spirit of utilitarian knowledge, I guided him to Wikipedia source that corroborated the fact. Despite his gratitude for the rectification, the disheartening incident has only cemented my long-term speculation that it’s either I was born luckless to have a seamless casual conversation with a stranger or I am hexed to be kept from anything nice even to the simplest and smallest degree happening to me – ever. Methinks, everything I think and touch turns useless gold with a feckless Midas touch.

As Shakespeare aptly described, my nature is modulated by what it works in, like the dyer’s hand. I have also found that these flaunty intellectual men and women in the habiliment of affable erudition often turn out to be a superficiality of knowledge and disappointment of heart, floundering me ever in the lurch of disillusion. Moreover, although they seem so dazzlingly smart, they are not always omniscient. Maybe, I think, unless you are educated under the tutelage of kindly Chiron, the wise elderly centaur to whom Achilles, the son of Thetis, and Asclepius were entrusted, the immaculate acquisitions of knowledge and cultural finesse require divine intervention.

they come to her at night

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The night was a strange paradox of light and dark. It was too dark to invoke images of the bright beautiful things. It was too light to provoke imaginations of the blissful obliviousness. The night was a white heat of the sleepless senses that kept taking in all seen and heard even after the provocateurs were long gone out of sight. This was maddening and becoming madder and striking the notes of all madness. Iris couldn’t sleep as the night was getting deeper and darker, and it was consuming every part of her in a great white incandescent flame like a funeral pyre that once engulfed Dido’s forsaken body and unfortunate heart. The senses that kept her awake besieged her glass castle without mercy and started to screen the scenes of sadness and more sadness as an apparition of the past narrated the story buried in its tomb without an epitaph. She was wide awake at the bewitching hour, and she was helplessly defenseless against the force of the hour.

Since she was a little girl, Iris has been going through the same nocturnal rituals of waking up at 3:00 AM on time, precisely, continuously, as always. Every single night was every single rite of this uncanny performance of sleeplessness – that is, exactly at 3:00 AM. When she wakes up, the electronic digits always show 3:00 AM with glows that seems to grow lighter the more she looks at it in fearful awe. Fearful because Iris has learned that it is the hour when the gates of the underworld, the netherworld, the world beyond are open, and the regions of faeries and wandering spirits roam the earth as witches fly to the devil’s banquets. Hokum it may be, but the bewitching hour also seems to include Iris as a coterie of the supernatural for what’s worth. This secret is hers and hers only in fear of being branded as a weirdo or a witch’s apprentice even. Yet, because Iris’s soft heart cannot bear a secret too long for its painfully tender fullness of emotions and feelings to keep it to herself, it now agonizes her sense and antagonizes her sensibility. And it was this night that got her to a paroxysm of inquisitiveness, inadmissibility, and ineffableness, enveloped in the mysterious veil of incredibility so enigmatically eerie that it almost felt infatuating with the unknown.

The magical hour was now in possession of the waken Iris with wide eyes, and the effect was smeared into every part of her body without a miss like ink instantly and ferociously diffusing in a glass of clear water. She did not like it, but her opinion was useless under the power of the supernatural hour. Iris wanted to break the spell and doing so would require her of facing another unknown mysterious force. Her Catholicism would defy her magical assumption on the incredible symptom, but Iris knew that her religion itself entailed the magical qualities of belief and that it was only natural for her to connect the dots between the two belief systems as a solution to her ghostly malady. That’s it. She can’t take it anymore, she can’t have it any longer. Forget the religion, and think primal. Iris has made up her mind to start her investigation of the supernatural phenomenon that she has been going through to find whys and wherefores.