Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Triptych Series: Glossary

And again Montaigne provides a lead in. He said everything first but only because he was ripping a lot of it off from Ovid and Seneca. Glosses are the individual entries that are often, though not always, collected in a glossary at the end of a book. I say not always because historically book makers have used other formats for presenting the commentaries that explain in various ways what the words in the central text mean. The image below from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website shows a different layout from a medieval manuscript.


 

These glosses have surrounded and started to choke out the original text. Montaigne described this over-glossing problem and the interpretive difficulty it can cause in his essay "On Experience." Paradoxically, efforts to make the original matter clearer do exactly the opposite when commentators crowd out the author's words with their own: "Who wouldn't say that glosses compound doubt and ignorance since we never see any book that the world has taken interest in, whether human or divine, where interpretation has dried up the difficulty. The hundredth commentary only leads into the next, more thorny and choppier than the first had found the matter...We spend more time interpreting interpretations than interpreting things; and there are more books about books than any other subject: all we do is inter-gloss each other."

With Montaigne's grumpy wisdom in mind (I've always found footnotes kind of annoying too), I'd like to build a moderate set of commentaries on some of the terms in my triptych posts. I'm having vague inklings of thoughts on book history, the way we know things, spatial arrangement of written text and hyperlinks. Perhaps, these ideas will develop more fully as I gloss. Maybe for instance the tipping point where glosses cease to clarify and start to confuse will become more evident. This post will be a work in progress that I will add to from time to time.  

Call bullshit on yourself (Triptych Series 3)-I've adopted this from a beloved literature professor who was discussing psychotherapy and how it can be beneficial in class one day. Freudian and other analytic approaches seek insight into past trauma by having people talk about the past. The general idea is that these traumatic moments continue to trouble people subconsciously without them being aware of it. Finding the source and becoming explicitly aware of what the trouble is/was relieves tension according to analytic thinking. My prof. saw things a little differently though. He told us that you really never get to the bottom of things because there's always something else a little deeper or further back underlying whatever old source of tension you reveal. He told us, and this is a paraphrase, that while talking about the past you slowly realize what your own bullshit ("conneries") sounds like. Ex. "I absolutely have to get this essay written by the end of the day or all is lost." When you learn to hear yourself in this way, you move on to other things.

I contradict myself (Triptych Series 1)-Friends from the literati will doubtless have recognized the nod to Whitman's Song of Myself :

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Coming back to that line to gloss it, I wonder how well or if Whitman knew Montaigne, the godfather of singing oneself. I know Emerson read him. I slip little snippets from the masters like this into my posts frequently. Some I will explain here, but I probably won't ever get to them all. If you hear an echo of something else you read before and wonder if it is intentional, it probably is. Does that make me a thief?

I'm cool with cliche (Triptych Series 2)-In Tommy Boy--rip Chris Farley--Tommy makes his first sale by using a colorful explanation about his competitors' packaging policies. The owner of an auto-parts store tells Tommy that his customers want to see the word "guaranteed" marked on the box:

"I could take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed."
"What's your point?"
"You'd be buying a guaranteed piece of shit."

After years in academics chasing after the topic that other scholars "have ignored for far too long," my attitude about originality is very much in line with Tommy's thinking on guarantees. I could fling a pile of elephant dung at a canvass and mark it original... But the fact that no one's ever done it does not necessarily mean that someone needs to. I'm not against good, original artistic projects. Being original though is not synonymous with being good. My friend Emily has mentioned David Foster Wallace--rip the infinite jester and glosser extraordinaire--in a comment on this running post. In Infinite Jest, Wallace does miraculous things finding meaning in the cliched, non-original language of a Boston AA group.