asking pardon of the spirit of the tree
May 31, 2015, 1:13 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: ,

Imagine asking pardon of the spirit of the tree before cutting a branch, of the mountain before extracting stone for aggregate, of the lake before fishing, the stream before removing water, the sky taking a bird, the earth mining minerals. Processes would slow down, awareness of the nature of things and the relationship between them would increase, respect for life and the earth would bloom. Would life be a perpetual ritual again and natural order restored? Would the tree, mountain, lake and sky respect us back?

Animalistic man behaves in the same way and thus acquires a very acute sense. He asks pardon of the spirit of the tree from which he has to cut a branch. He tries to conciliate the divinities whom he believes protect the world. His life is a perpetual ritual. Respect for the spirit which dwells in all things, in all beings, is thus the basis of all morality and religion, and allows man to reach a level of intuitive knowledge which the logical mind can never grasp. Animistic concepts have been perpetuated amongst the ‘primitive’ tribes of India. Animism is opposed to the appropriation of land, to property, and to agriculture which destroys natural order and to anything which subjects nature to man. It is against the development of urban and industrial civilization. Such a concept, however, appears to be one of the most fundamental approaches to the religious problem. The animistic attitude is not sentimental or ‘naturist.’ Hunting is the basis for survival, and the cruelty of the gods and spirits requires sacrifice.

Gods of Love and Ecstasy, Alain Danielou

southern man
May 31, 2015, 1:05 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

150520-insult changes voxeu chart
Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes

we are made for art, memory, poetry, oblivion
May 24, 2015, 7:25 pm
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: ,

The gods make trouble to spur us write and sing songs (Homer); we write down everything we see in the world (Mallarme). Mallarme’s full statement was “Tout au monde existe pour aboutir a un livre,” which means everything in the world exists to end up in a book.

These ideas are the same: life is poetry, poetry life. Art, memory, poetry, death.

“The gods weave misfortunes for men, so that the generations to come will have something to sing about.” Mallarmé repeats, less beautifully, what Homer said; “tout aboutit en un livre,” everything ends up in a book. The Greeks speak of generations that will sing; Mallarmé speaks of an object, of a thing among things, a book. But the idea is the same; the idea that we are made for art, we are made for memory, we are made for poetry, or perhaps we are made for oblivion. But something remains, and that something is history or poetry, which are not essentially different.

Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights

prospect park
May 3, 2015, 10:26 pm
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags:


being indecent
May 3, 2015, 12:46 pm
Filed under: brave new world, unseen world | Tags: ,

Beyond basic survival, you’re poor if you can’t maintain the sense of being decent in the eyes of the community you live in:

People are poverty stricken whenever their income, even if adequate for survival, falls markedly behind that of the community. Then they cannot have what the larger community regards as the minimum necessary for decency; and they cannot wholly escape, therefore, the judgment of the larger community that they are indecent.

John Kenneth Galbraith

photo: Dionisio González

the vase broke itself

OctaviusDetermine who did it, or assume it was accidental. Hunt the perpetrator or restore the victim. Punishment or restitution. English speakers tend to identify events with agents; Spanish and Japanese speakers don’t remember the agent. This leads to very different kinds of justice; also to very different daily human interactions. From Lost in Translation by Lera Boroditsky:

For example, English likes to describe events in terms of agents doing things. English speakers tend to say things like “John broke the vase” even for accidents. Speakers of Spanish or Japanese would be more likely to say “the vase broke itself.” Such differences between languages have profound consequences for how their speakers understand events, construct notions of causality and agency, what they remember as eyewitnesses and how much they blame and punish others.

In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn’t normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn’t encode or remember the agent as well.


Patterns in language offer a window on a culture’s dispositions and priorities. For example, English sentence structures focus on agents, and in our criminal-justice system, justice has been done when we’ve found the transgressor and punished him or her accordingly (rather than finding the victims and restituting appropriately, an alternative approach to justice). So does the language shape cultural values, or does the influence go the other way, or both?

Lera Boroditsky, Lost in Translation, Wall Street Journal

photograph: Kristan Horton