March 21, 2019
by Neelima
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The Knots of Language @ Link Wanderlust

Richard Seymour talks about the origins of the meaning of language and goes into great depth about how civilization perceives meaning from text. The essay is thorough and well-thought out. It may take two or three readings to get to the heart of the essay but it is well worth your time.

On one hand, language has a sacred identity and comes forth in the wake of divine proximity.

Caedmon… the ‘illiterate cowherd who couldn’t sing’. Only in a dream does the gift come to him; he is visited by a figure who might be the Christian God, and urged to ‘sing the beginning of created things’. And so he does, and ‘gorgeous verses praising God pour forth’.

In order to understand how language works, it is important to understand where the mnemonic systems came from. Seymour starts with the ‘talking knots’ of the Incas to trending emojis.

Ironically, speech is most closely approximated by using non-phonetic elements such as emojis. The term ‘emoji’ is taken from the Japanese, and transliterates as ‘picture-letter’. It resuscitates the pictogram familiar from Sumerian cuneiform, or medieval manuscript marginalia, in modern-day written language, allowing social media users to convey aspects of speech not included in the alphabet, such as register, mood and expression.

Another contention he has with perceptions about language is that clarity is overvalued. The poet Ezra Pound may have had ‘a puritanical suspicion of ornament’ and Orwell may have had reservations about excess but obstacles in language could inspire the reader to glean more out of oblique prose than simple text. We all know how Marxism shook world politics- fancy language may have done more than we give it credit for.

Granted that those examples of left-wing writing which Orwell mocks are indeed needlessly ugly, why should clarity necessarily be an alibi of political insight?

Read Caedmon’s Dream: on the Politics of Style by Richard Seymour.

schitts creek idk GIF by CBC

March 20, 2019
by Neelima
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That’s the Word for It: Satisfice

I first heard this term at a BYOB Party recently. Satisficing is a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic, a portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice. It was introduced by Herbert A. Simon, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, to explain the behavior of decision-makers when an optimal solution could not be determined. Satisficing describes something that meets the minimum requirements of a goal, performing something at a satisfactory level rather than at the maximum level possible.

Besides being used in business terminology, satisficing means to pursue the minimum satisfactory condition or outcome.

Here are some places where the word has shown up:

Satisficing is one of the foundations of productive human behavior; it prevails when we don’t waste time on decisions that don’t matter, or more accurately, when we don’t waste time trying to find improvements that are not going to make a significant difference in our happiness or satisfaction.”
― Daniel J. Levitin, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

“In reality, though, most of the time we don’t choose the best option—we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisficing.”
― Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

March 18, 2019
by Neelima
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Dystopia, Delusions and the Man @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for the road cormac mccarthySreeraj talked about the profoundly moving book The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This dystopian post-apocalyptic novel talks about the survival instincts of a father and a son. They walk through the barren landscape of an America that has been ravaged by fire and ash. It is cold and they do not know where they are heading to. All they have is a pistol for self-defense and a map that the man refers to. They go from uninhabited house to house, seeking food and shelter. The son keeps asking for reassurance as they see many gory sights on the way. Sreeraj was especially impressed by the kind of cli-fi words the author used dark, dead, grey, carbon fog, forest fire, ash, snow…The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was also adapted into a movie.

Most millennials relate to this kind of book as there are many post-apocalyptic series and movies these days. Take Bird Box and other zombie series where the primary themes revolve around people who are foraging and trying their best to survive. Post-apocalyptic situations are also rampant in video games like The Last of Us.

You can listen to Cormac McCarthy talk to Oprah about this lyrical book here.

Image result for y the last man amazonA book this reminded Poonam of was Y: The Last Man comic series by Brian K. Vaughan. The premise of this graphic novel is interesting. A sex-specific plague wipes out the 2.9 billion men on earth, including male animals — every creature with a Y chromosome. Except two.

While the idea of survival is a theme that sells, the reality may be quite boring and not as romantic as writers make it out to be, one of the readers mused. People would have to go back to agriculture and till the land. Another reader observed how human beings are built for survival, so much so that even if they are left to their own devices in a jungle, someone who is unfamiliar with forest terrain will try his best to live and adapt to the ways of the woods. Of course, they could also die in the process. Take the case of the Rapa Nui in Easter Island.

Image result for the god delusionAfter dystopian disillusionment, Aniket brought our attention to The God Delusion, a sensational book of 2006. Richard Dawkins’s theories must be understood in the context of a world where polarities like secularism and fundamentalism draw swords.  The idea of Darwinism is a heavily disputed idea even today. Dawkins views God as an excuse that human beings use to wage war and indulge in abuse. In spite of his infamous twitterfeed, Dawkins book is a seminal work and would interest seekers of knowledge. Watch Dawkins here. Aniket also mentioned having read the book Why am I a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor.

Image result for sapiensMani talked about the popular book of our BYOB Parties – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. He is still reading the book and is impressed by the author’s multidisciplinary approach. The book seems to be the talking point of all book gatherings today.

More books in Part 5.

March 15, 2019
by Neelima
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Visual Friday: Diverse Women Writers – Aminatta Forna

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March 14, 2019
by Neelima
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Checking Channels: By the Book Pod with Jolenta and Kristen

I chanced upon By the Book, a podcast By the Book Pod.

It’s a ‘half reality show, half self-help podcast’. In each episode, Jolenta Greenberg, a producer and performer in New York, and Kristen Meinzer, an audio producer and host, team up to live by the rules of one self-help book at a time. The format is interesting. Some of the points of the book are discussed and then lived by for the next two weeks. For instance, when the hosts came across a book on astrology, they tried incorporating the astrological sign advice into their routines. Sometimes the self-help techniques work; sometimes they laugh about it. It’s an interesting way to approach the huge number of self-help books out there.

By The Book was named one of the best new podcasts of 2017 by NPR and was selected by The New York Times as their Podcast Club Pick in Fall of 2017.

season 3 podcast GIF by The Good Place

March 13, 2019
by Neelima
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That’s the Word for It: Tergiversate

The word tergiversate was first used way back in 1590. But the word came back in full force and in 2011 it was named the Word of the Year by Dictionary.com as it represented the changing attitudes of the time.

Here are some instances of the word being used:

“I had a feeling once about Mathematics – that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me – the Byss and Abyss. I saw – as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show – a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.”

― Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life, 1874-1904

“Ages of prolonged uncertainty, while they are compatible with the highest degree of saintliness in a few, are inimical to the prosaic every-day virtues of respectable citizens. There seems no use in thrift, when tomorrow all your savings may be dissipated; no advantage in honesty, when the man towards whom you practise it is pretty sure to swindle you; no point in steadfast adherence to the cause, when no cause is important or has a chance of stable victory; no argument in favour of truthfulness, when only supple tergiversation makes the preservation of life and fortune possible. The man whose virtue has no source except a purely terrestrial prudence will in such a world, become an adventurer if he has the courage, and, if not, will seek obscurity as a timid time-server.”

― Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

March 12, 2019
by Neelima
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Readers can’t Digest-Week 222 (5-March to 12-March)

1.  Akwaeke Emezi, non-binary trans author, nominated for Women’s prize for fiction

well done applause GIF

2. Nobel Prize in Literature to return with two winners in 2019 after it was canceled last year

team usa peace GIF by U.S. Figure Skating

3. Tenth Walter Scott Prize Longlist announced

what do you mean GIF

4. Netflix to adapt One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

GIF by Camdelafu

5. ‘A dream’: out of print memoir shortlisted for 2019 Stella prize

me oh my i thought it was a dream GIF by Maggie Rogers

 

 

March 11, 2019
by Neelima
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Evolution and the Neocortex @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 3)

Image result for why evolution is trueSamarth talked about a book that he had read a long time ago since he is hard-pressed for reading time these days. Why evolution is true by Jerry A. Coyne, an American biologist, is an important book in times like these, especially when the debate about creationism is commonplace. “What’s the need for such a book?” Samarth asked. “We don’t have a book on germ theory as it seems pretty self-evident except in some strange cases- like the Fox host who refused to wash his hands for ten years as he couldn’t see the germs or the terrorist organization that refutes the idea of evaporation since it is a western concept. But evolution is not like that. It has to be understood.”

Statistics show that evolution is not accepted by a large majority in the US. Many think that evolution should be bunched up with other alternate theories. Darwin wasn’t the first to postulate the theory but his research provided the evidence needed to firm up the theory of natural selection.

Abhaya rationalized that though many of the readers in the room believed in Darwinism, their views were not always backed by understanding. The debate turned completely scientific and we landed on many subjects from Lamarck’s behaviorism and Darwin’s Natural Selection to biomimicry and the God particle.

Incidentally, the name God particle has been much criticized for referring to the very idea of God that the scientific community has been trying to disprove.

Image result for straw dogs bookHarshit spoke about a book called Straw Dogs by the philosopher John Gray. Gray questions Western philosophy from Plato to Marx and argues against the superiority complex embedded in human DNA. What makes humans think they are any better than animals? You might find this interview with Gray interesting.

The conversation mutated and evolved into varying subtexts – the fundamental difference between humans and other species- the neocortex. Listen to what a neuroscientist has to say about the brain systems –reptilian, limbic and neocortex. Then the discussion veered to IQ ratios, the decline of motor skills, how digital devices influence memory, loss of handwriting and how the brain declutters by default.

One book that could lead to a better understanding about how the internet is rewiring the brain is The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

More books and eye-opening discussions in Part 4.

 

March 8, 2019
by Neelima
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Visual Friday: Diverse Women Writers – Edwidge Danticat

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